Friday, April 27, 2012

When Does Chicken Moo? Or, Is Chicken Dairy?

Dear Tanta Golda,
A question came up at our pot luck the other night, can you eat chicken with dairy? If not, why not? 
Also, isn’t there some holiday coming up where we are supposed to eat dairy? What’s that about?
Debating Dietary Dilemmas 
Dearest Debating,
As always I’m impressed with the questions all of you send me. Chicken - oye! The biblical injunction states:”you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”. (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, & Deuteronomy 14:21) This would seem to any logical person to refer to mammals alone, since for all intents and purposes only mammalian mothers produce milk. (I recently learned on Science Friday about an insect that does, but how many of us intentionally eat insects?) So, it would seem at first blush that chicken and milk would get the rabbinic nod. Ha!
In traditional Judaism chicken is not considered dairy - that is a food that can be eaten at the same meal as dairy products. This halacha is found in the Babylonian Talmud. The reasoning behind this stems from a) the fact that beef, lamb, and chicken are all slaughtered in the same ritual fashion, and b) because at least in ancient times they were all cooked in similar fashions and people might confuse them.
This is another instance when Tanta Golda just shakes her head and thinks that this shows once again how little men in ancient times understood about what went on in the kitchen. It’s not like ancient housewives went to the freezer and pulled out “mystery meat” and thought ‘is this chicken or lamb?’ In an age of no refrigeration, chicken was slaughtered usually a few hours before consumption. If I had just spent a half hour covered in chicken feathers, I’m pretty sure I’d remember that the meat I was cooking was chicken, not moo cow.
Some Jews choose to follow the biblical rules of kashrut alone, for them chicken and diary would be acceptable. If you are having guests over who keep kosher, you should check to see at what level they observe.
Now for your second question about a dairy holiday.
In just a few weeks we will be observing Shavuot (May 26-27 2012). It has become tradition to eat dairy dishes on this day. Several reasons are given.
One is that Shavuot has become associated with the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. While they were learning about the rules of kashrut, especially those regarding ritual slaughter, they refrained from meat and ate dairy instead. Another reason is that the words of Torah are often compared to milk & honey. Similarly, the land of Israel is referred to as the land of milk & honey. I think it’s a wonderful excuse to eat cheesecake and blintzes! 
Enjoy - and keep sending those questions!
Love, Tanta Golda