MILK (Hebrew, "ḥalab"; Aramaic, "ḥelba"):

A common article of food among the ancient Hebrews.

—Biblical Data:

Palestine is praised in the Bible as a "land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. iii. 8 et al.), milk representing the common necessities of life, and honey referring to luxuries. In Isa. lv. 1, milk is coupled with wine to denote a similar idea (comp. Ezek. xxv. 4). The Israelites used the milk of goats (Deut. xxxii. 14)and the milk of sheep (Prov. xxvii. 27). Cows' milk is rarely mentioned (comp. Deut. l.c.), probably because of its scarcity owing to the unsuitability of the mountainous country of Palestine for pasturing large cattle. Milk was received in buckets (Job xxi. 24) and kept in skins (Judges iv. 19), and was used as a refreshing drink at meals (Gen. xviii. 8).

Milk was supposed to give whiteness to the teeth (ib. xlix. 12), and was employed as a simile for the whiteness of the human body (Lam. iv. 7; comp. Cant. v. 12). Deborah refers to milk ("ḥem'ah" in parallelism to "ḥalab") as "a cup of the nobles"(Judges v. 25); and in several other texts it is spoken of as one of the most delicious beverages (comp. Cant. iv. 11, v. 1). Ben Sira counts milk among "the principal things for the whole use of man's life" (Ecclus. [Sirach] xxxix. 26). The abundance which the Israelites will enjoy in Messianic times is pictured in the figure that the hills of Palestine will flow with milk (Joel iv. [A. V. iii.] 18; comp. Isa. vii. 22). Cream or butter ("ḥem'ah") is also used as a figure denoting abundance (Isa. l.c.; Job xx. 17), and is frequently mentioned with milk (Gen. xviii. 8; Deut. xxxii. 14; Judges v. 25; Prov. xxx. 33; et al.). See Cheese; Food.

S. J. H. G.—In Rabbinical Literature:

Although regarded as a pleasant beverage (Ket. 111a; "Agadat Shir ha-Shirim," ed. Schechter, p. 187, note, Cambridge, 1896), milk was probably used more by the poorer classes of the community than by the rich (Ḥul. 84a; Yalḳ., Prov. 961). It was especially used as food for infants (Seder Eliyahu Zuṭa, ed. Friedmann, p. 195, Vienna, 1903; comp. Heb. v. 12; I Cor. iii. 2; I Peter ii. 2). A mixture of milk and honey was regarded as a delicious drink (Cant. R. iv. 22). One is counseled against drinking beer or wine after milk (M. Ḳ. 11a). In a figurative sense milk was used to denote whiteness and purity (Gen. R. xcviii. 15; Cant. R. v. 10). One who wishes his daughter to be fair should feed her in her youth on young birds and on milk (Ket. 59b). Milk is one of the five things (three, in Yalḳ., Isa. 480) to which the Torah was compared (Deut. R. vii. 3; comp. Ḳimḥi's commentary on Isa. lv. 1). On this account some maintain that the custom arose of eating food prepared with milk on the festival of Shabu'ot ("Kol Bo," 52; comp. Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 494, 3, Isserles' gloss; see Shabu'ot). He who devotes himself to the study of the Law will be greeted in the future world with sixty cups of milk, besides many other delicious beverages ("Agadat Shir ha-Shirim," p. 84, note).


The permission to drink milk was regarded by the Rabbis as an exception ("ḥiddush"), since it was held that the milk of mammals is derived from decomposed blood (Nid. 9a), and is furthermore something separated from a living animal and therefore to be included in the general prohibition against eating anything that comes from the living ("dabar min ha-ḥai"; Bek. 6b). The milk of an unclean animal is forbidden in accordance with the general rule, "that which comes from the unclean is unclean; from the clean, clean" (ib. 5b; comp. Gen. xxxii. 16). It is forbidden also to use the milk of an animal suffering from a visible malady which causes the animal to be ritually unfit for food ("ṭerefah"), or that of an animal found, after the ritual slaughtering, to have suffered from such a disease as late as three days before its death (Ḥul. 112b; comp. ib. 11a, Tos., s.v. "Atya"; Maimonides, "Yad," Ma'akalot Asurot, iii. 16; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 81).

Milk bought from a non-Jew is forbidden, the apprehension being that the non-Jew in his carelessness or from a desire to improve it may have mixed with it some forbidden ingredient. If, however, a Jew has been present at the milking, the milk may be used. Different customs prevail with regard to the use of butter bought from a non-Jew; and even with regard to milk and cheese later authorities are more lenient ('Ab. Zarah 29b, 35b; "Yad," l.c. iii. 12-17; Yoreh De'ah, 115; see Cheese). The process of curdling milk was effected in Talmudic times either by rennet ("ḳebah," 'Ab. Zarah, l.c.) or by the juice of leaves or roots ('Orlah i. 7).

Milk is one of the three beverages which, if left uncovered overnight, should not be used, because it is possible that a serpent may have left its venom therein. In places where serpents are not found, this apprehension does not exist (Ter. viii. 4, 5; Yalḳ., Judges, 45; "Yad," Roẓeaḥ, xi. 7; Yoreh De'ah, 116, 1; comp. "Pitḥe Teshubah," ad loc.). Milk is also one of the seven beverages that make articles of food liable to receive impurity (Maksh. vi. 4; See Purity).

Milk and Meat.

The Rabbis did not hesitate to admit their inability to assign a reason for the prohibition against eating meat with milk ("basar be-ḥalab"), and they accordingly labeled it as "ḥiddush," an exception, a unique law (Pes. 44b; Ḥul. 108a; comp. Rashi and Tos. ad loc.). Maimonides says in this connection: "Meat boiled with milk is undoubtedly gross food, and makes overfull. But I think that it was probably prohibited because it was somehow connected with idolatry, forming perhaps part of the services at a heathen festival." This latter theory he supports by the fact that in Exodus the prohibition against seething a kid in its mother's milk is mentioned twice in connection with the festivals ("Moreh," iii. 48).

Basing their opinions on an ancient tradition, the Rabbis explained the thrice-repeated prohibition against seething the kid in its mother's milk (Ex. xxiii. 19, xxxiv. 26; Deut. xiv. 21) as referring to three distinct prohibitions—(1) against cooking meat and milk together; (2) against eating such a mixture; and (3) against (deriving any benefit from such a mixture (Ḥul. 115b; comp. there the various attempts made to find Biblical support for the prohibition against eating meat with milk). It is curious to note in this connection that Onḳelos, a most literal translator, renders the passages in all the three places by "ye shall not eat meat with milk" ( ; comp. LXX. to Ex. xxxiv. 26). The expression "kid" was accepted to be a generic term including all mammals and, according to some, even birds (Ḥul. 113a). The prevalent opinion, however, is that the prohibition against eating poultry with milk is of rabbinic origin merely (Maimonides, "Yad," Ma'akalot Asurot, ix. 4; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 87, 3). Fish and locusts as well as eggs are excluded from the prohibition (Ḥul. 103b, 104a; Beẓah 6b).

The prohibition against eating meat with milk was extensively elaborated by the Rabbis, who provided for every possible occurrence. Not only was the eating of meat with milk forbidden, but also the eating of meat that had a taste of milk, or vice versa; for "the taste of forbidden food is forbidden as the food itself" ; Ḥul. 98b, 108a; Pes. 44b; 'Ab. Zarah 67b; et al.). If a piece of meat that had become forbidden as food becauseit had absorbed milk to an extent which made the taste of the latter appreciable in it was cooked with other meat in a pot, all that the pot contained was forbidden, unless the contents were sixty times as great as the prohibited piece. It was not sufficient that there should be in the pot sixty times as much meat as the quantity of milk absorbed in the piece of meat; for with regard to meat and milk the principle was that the forbidden piece became in itself a "carcass," i.e., a forbidden object; and when it could not be recognized, it was necessary that the taste of it should be annihilated (; Yoreh De'ah, 92, 4; comp. Isserles' gloss, where the principle is extended to all kinds of forbidden food).


A pot in which meat has been cooked should not be used for cooking milk, and vice versa. If such a pot be so used within twenty-four hours after it has been used with milk or meat respectively, everything that is in it becomes ritually unfit, unless the contents of the pot are sixty times as much as the pot itself. If the second cooking takes place twenty-four hours or more after the first, the contents of the pot are permitted for use; for the food which the pot has absorbed in the first cooking has by that time lost its agreeable taste, and the general rule is that any vessel which communicates an offensive taste () does not render food ritually unfit for use. The pot itself, however, should not be used either with meat or with milk (Yoreh De'ah, 93, 1; comp. SHaK ad loc.).

Food prepared with milk and food in which meat is an ingredient should not be eaten at the same meal. The general custom is to wait six hours between a meal at which meat has been eaten and one at which food prepared with milk is to be eaten, although custom varies in this particular, some persons waiting one hour only. There is no need to wait at all after eating food prepared with milk; it is necessary only to see that there is none of the food left on the hands, and also to wash the mouth before partaking of meat. It is forbidden to place meat upon the table at the same time with food prepared with milk, lest by mistake both be eaten together. In the households of observing Jews not only are there two separate sets of dishes and of kitchen utensils, but different table-cloths are used for meals consisting of food prepared with milk and those at which meat is eaten (Yoreh De'ah, 88, 89). As bread is eaten with meat it is not permitted to prepare it with milk unless the form and size of the loaf or cake are different from those of ordinary bread (ib. 96). See Dietary Laws; Food.

A. J. H. G.
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