When Meat is Not Meat (but also not Vegan)
Mar Ukva bar Chama said, “I, regarding this matter of waiting to eat dairy after eating meat, am like ‘vinegar that came from wine’ compared to my father. If he would eat meat today, he would wait until tomorrow before eating dairy, whereas I wait only from one meal to the next.”
This teaching is the basis for the halacha and widespread custom not to eat dairy immediately after meat, but rather to wait six hours in-between. (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 89:1) It should be noted that other waiting periods are practiced according to the customs of various communities.
There are two main reasons taught by the Rishonim to explain the need to wait. One is that meat, by its nature, exudes meaty fats inside the eater, and also that the taste is such that it lingers for this amount of time. (Rashi, Tur) A second reason is that there is concern that meat will remain in one’s mouth between teeth for an extended time until digested. (Rambam)
A practical difference is mentioned by the Turei Zahav (Taz) in the case where one is merely chewing meat for a child to eat. According to the first reason there is no reason to wait six hours before dairy, but according to the second reason there is. (The Siftei Kohen, the Shach, writes that the leniency suggested by the Taz in the case of chewing for a child seems difficult to accept.)
There is consensus among the great halachic authorities that we should accept the strict results of both opinions. This means that even when merely chewing the meat for a child one should wait before dairy, due to the concern for lingering taste and digestion of meat. And even if six hours have elapsed after eating meat, one would need to remove the meat before eating dairy.
It is interesting to note the Torah source for the opinion of the Rambam. When the Jewish nation was sustained by manna from Heaven, they adamantly demanded meat instead. In response, they were punished with provisions of quail, which they heartily ate from and then died while the “meat was still between their teeth.” Although the timeline is not clear, and one may argue that they died only after six hours, there is a teaching by Chazal that shows that their death occurred immediately, before they satisfied their wrongful yearning, and not after six hours had elapsed. (Sifrei to Beha’alotcha, cited and explained by the Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 89:2)
§ Chullin 105a