Would Jesus Eat a Cheeseburger?
From Scribe’s Square – SVM Spring-Summer 2011
By E. J. Malone, JD.
Have you ever wondered why Jewish people do not eat cheeseburgers? The scribe is about to tell you. It is because the Jewish Talmud, a written collection of ancient Jewish traditions and exegeses regarded as an inspired supplement to scripture, prohibits mixtures of milk and meat. Jewish adherents base their restriction on Exodus 23:19 (repeated in Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) in which Yahweh tells Moses and the children of Israel, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”
Accordingly, religious Jews have set up a three- prong prohibition which dictates:
1) Not cooking meat and dairy products together (regardless of whether the result was eaten).
2) Not eating dairy products and meat together (regardless of whether it was cooked together).
3) Not benefiting from the mixture of dairy products and meat in any other way.
Observant Jews even extend this restriction to utensils. They go so far as to set up two sets of dishes, pots, pans, and utensils in their homes; one set for dairy products, one set for meats. They also wait six hours after eating meat before eating dairy food
The restriction against benefiting from the mixture of dairy products and meat is followed very scrupulously. Therefore, a religious Jew would not be allowed to sell cheeseburgers to a Gentile. However, since this milk and meat restriction only applies to kosher foods and because Gentiles generally do not place themselves under the Hebrew dietary laws, it would be perfectly fine for that same religious Jew to sell a ham and cheese sandwich to a Gentile!
This custom of not eating meat with milk is not only followed by religious Jews but by some Messianic Jews and is even gaining traction among Seventh-Day Christians.
But is God’s command in Exodus 23:19 really a restriction on cooking or eating meat and milk together? Let us see.
Plain Language of the Law
The plain language of God’s command was that the Israelites were not to “boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” As the Hebrew word for kid is gdi which means a young male goat, this was an injunction not to boil a goat in the milk of its very own mother. The injunction said absolutely nothing about eating meat and milk together or cooking milk and meat together but just like self-righteous folks today who conjure up their man-made commandments, ancient Jewish rabbis expanded God’s prohibition by using speculation and conjecture and stretching the meaning of certain words. Talmudic writers believed that since other domesticated clean animals such as sheep and cattle—and birds for that matter—have meat similar to that of goats, they therefore should prohibit these latter meats too from being boiled “in [their mothers’] milk.” The term milk, which literally means the white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals, was expanded to include all milk products such as cheese, butter, or cream. This created a general prohibition against mixing dairy products of any kind with meat from any kosher animal except fish.
Does God, however, approve of such judicial expansions of the meaning of His laws? Does he approve of building such walls around the law? No. Yahweh told the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 12:32 to be careful to do everything He commanded them to do and that they were not to “. . . add to it or take from it.”
Intent of the Law
Proponents of the separation of milk and meat might object and say, “No. We are not adding to God’s law. We are simply enforcing the spirit of the law rather than just the letter of the law because interpreting the law too literally would enable crafty lawyers to find loopholes to get around what God intended.”
It is certainly true that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law. After all, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 that “our competence is from God who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
A closer examination of this law based upon God’s intent would yield a less restrictive prohibition than meets the eye, not a more restrictive one. The injunction not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk was probably a prohibition against the pagan practice of boiling an animal in the life-giving milk of its own mother. The goal of this ritual was to either obtain supernatural assistance in increasing the yield of one’s flocks or to insure agricultural fertility. (See Solomon Ephraim Luntschitz, Keli Yakar, to Exodus 23:19; Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno, commentary, to Deuteronomy 14:21; and Peake’s commentary on the Bible) “In the polytheism of Canaan and Mesopotamia it was an accepted practice to prepare a sacrifice by cooking it in milk. The law here is evidently a rejection of the pagan custom in order to avoid obvious imitation.” (Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, volume 2, page 424.)
It is important to note that God accompanies all three of His commands against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk with reminders to Israel to offer the first fruits of their harvest to God. These acts of faith in the true God – not pagan rituals – result in supernatural assistance in increasing one’s yield.
We see then that the law against boiling a kid in his mother’s milk was not a dietary ban on eating meat with milk but really a ban on the pagan religious practice of sacrificing a goat in its mother’s milk. God disapproves of strange rituals performed to honor false gods, and He also disapproves of these strange rituals ostensibly performed in His honor. God makes this clear in Leviticus 20:23, Deuteronomy 12:30, and Jeremiah 10:2. Let us allow scripture to explain scripture rather than allow the Talmud to explain scripture.
Abraham, Milk and Meat
If the above evidence were not proof sufficient that God does not prohibit eating meat with milk, then an anecdote involving Abraham serving meat and milk to three journeymen should seal the deal. In Genesis 18:6-8, Abraham prepares a meal for three of his guests, one of whom the author calls “Yahweh.” The account reads, “And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”
If eating milk and meat violated God’s law, then this would have been a perfect time for Yahweh Himself to correct Abraham. Instead, Yahweh Himself ate the food along with his two travel companions.
Let Us Obey God’s Commandments
If God intended to forbid the cooking or eating meat and milk together, then He would have had no problem coming out and saying so without mincing words. If God wants His people not to do a certain thing, He has no problem telling them not to do so. David once said, “The law of the Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Yahweh is sure, making wise the simple”- Psalm 19:7.
Unless one sacrifices goats in their own mothers’ milk in honor of false gods or supposedly in honor of the true God, one has nothing to worry about. And unless one buys his or her meat from a farmer who sacrifices goats in their mothers’ milk, he or she has nothing to worry about.
This scribe does not know if Jesus would eat a cheeseburger. Sometimes it may be expedient to refrain from partaking of something which God does not restrict to avoid offending others – I Corinthians 8:13. A combination of milk and meat might be bad to consume for various reasons. However, it is not because of a dietary injunction God allegedly issued to Moses and the children of Israel. Let us obey the commandments of God and be careful not to make void the word of God through our man- made traditions.