Shabbat Parashat Naso| 5767
Ask The Rabbi
Question: Need one eat milchig on Shavuot? If so, when is one supposed to do so? What steps must he take regarding meat and milk? There are many minhagim and little clarity on the issue.
Answer: We can give you only partial clarity - and an assurance that there are many legitimate ways to fulfill the minhag. The minhag to eat milchig food on Shavuot seems to have emerged in Ashkenazic lands in the time of the Rishonim and is accepted by the Rama (Orach Chayim 494:3). It has begun to be more accepted among Sephardim, at least in Israel, where the dairy industry pushes the minhag aggressively (we wonder why?). The problem is that there are many educated guesses as to the rationale behind the minhag, which impacts on the optimal way to follow it. Also, some good ways of fulfilling it raise halachic problems. It is not surprising then that both rabbis and laymen have developed varied systems. This variety and the phenomenon that people often do as they feel on this not overly crucial matter are reasonable.
The Rama (ibid.) understands that the minhag is to remind us of the shtei halechem (two loaves of wheat), offered on Shavuot in the Beit Hamikdash. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.:8) explains that by eating both milk and meat in a meal, there will be two loaves of bread with which to eat the food. He says that in keeping with this reason, it is best to bake some milchig bread. Although bread is supposed to be pareve, loaves that are small or are made in a special shape, both of which were customary on Shavuot, are permitted (Rama, Yoreh Deah 97:1). This approach explains why many eat milchig and fleishig at the same meal despite the complications (see below).
Another reason to split a meal between milchig and fleishig parts is that many require a meat meal at night and in the day of Yom Tov (see Rosh, Berachot 7:23 with Ma’adanei Yom Tov; Sha’arei Teshuva 529:2). Others say it is sufficient to have meat in the day. Therefore, those who have one fully milchig meal on Shavuot, do so at night (see Piskei Teshuvot 529:11 & 494:11).
Other reasons for the minhag are based on kabalistic ideas regarding milk (Magen Avraham 494:6), hints of its acronym (Aruch Hashulchan OC 494:5), and the idea that after receiving the Torah, Bnei Yisrael required time to be able to prepare kosher meat (Mishna Berura 494:12). According to these approaches, it may be sufficient to have milchig food at any point during Yom Tov, including a snack or kiddush after Shacharit.
One should not compromise the laws of meat and milk in order to fulfill this minhag. Therefore, if eaten in succession, milchig is obviously eaten first. In between the two, one should clean the mouth by eating pareve food and rinsing his mouth and either rinse or inspect his hands (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 89:2). He should also change the tablecloth (Mishna Berura ibid.: 16). (Most people simply eat the milchig food on a plastic tablecloth on top of the regular one.) Some people are careful to make a full break between milchig and fleishig with Birkat Hamazone (or a beracha acharona for the many who fulfill the minhag with cake)between them (Pri Megadim on Shach 89:6). However, that is a special chumra, not halachically required (ibid.; see Mishna Berura ibid.; Melamed L’ho’il II, 23). If one does bentch, then there are varied opinions as to how long one should wait before starting the meat meal (beyond our present scope).
In brief, it is all but impossible to accept the most stringent approach to the integration of milk into a meat meal while following all the stringencies of the prohibitions of milk and meat (see Igrot Moshe, OC I, 160). Some systems are cumbersome enough for many people to take away from their simchat Yom Tov, cause them to make mistakes, or unnecessarily delay the minhag of learning all night. Therefore, people should continue a family minhag they are comfortable with or adopt one which works for them. One who wants to figure out the most machmir way to do so may be blessed but should be aware of “collateral damage.”
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