Poultry has an interesting status in the world of Jewish law. It is the paradigm of rabbinic jurisdiction, underscoring the fact that the sages of the Talmud have the authority to transform halacha (Jewish law).

The prohibition of eating milk and meat stems from the Biblical statement that “you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” This verse, repeated three times (Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21), refers to mammals, since only mammals have “mother’s milk.” The additional restriction prohibiting Jews from mixing poultry with milk is a rabbinic law known as a gezayrah. It was established by the sages because of the fear that people would be confused by the similarities between the flesh of cattle and chicken, which might result in their cooking meat and milk together.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Who’d mix up steak and chicken”? While beef or lamb may not taste like chicken or duck, both foods are cooked in a similar manner. But the similarities are actually that both domesticated animals and fowl must be ritually slaughtered (not die a natural death), must prove to be blemish free (no defective organs or limbs) and must be properly drained of blood. Because so much of the preparation process is identical, the sages ruled that fowl should also be separated from milk (Chullin 113a).

Fish, on the other hand, is pareve (the kosher term for neutral, neither meat nor milk). Fish is pareve because fish does not have to be either ritually slaughtered or salted (for blood removal), thus distinguishing it from both meat and fowl.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.