DON’T BOIL YOUR KIDS
I thought I was going to write a fascinating, expository essay about the transformation of a biblical commandment misinterpreted through the ages. Or at least a rare, archaic practice unnecessarily extrapolated into a daily routine. I thought I would share this unique insight with my readers. I refer to the admonition about boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. But upon a few minutes of research, I find I’m centuries late. It has perplexed even scholars for eons. And note for openers that you are not forbidden from eating a plate of tasty young goat – you’re only forbidden from cooking it up.
It must have been interpreted from Torah to Talmud by salesmen of knives, forks, spoons, plates, dishwashers, and even kitchens, since, as every Jew knows, it results in dual facilities. “Thou shall not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.” So says Exodus Chapter 23, Verse 19. It is cited once more in Exodus 34:28 and yet again in Deuteronomy 14:21. Check it out. Three times it is repeated. The Maker of goats and the Designer of the process that produces more goats must mean it. But He doesn’t mention butter on the table or a glass of milk to wash down your meat portion. He only bans this cruel and unnatural treatment of the baby goat.
It does not mention cheeseburgers or separate plates for milk or meat. It states clearly, with no danger of misunderstanding, a very straightforward rule: don’t cook a baby goat in the milk of its mother. It is a touching, tender ban, like the ban on grabbing eggs while the mother bird is in the nest. A tribute to Judaism. PETA would have loved it. We anticipated their concern for G-d’s creatures by a few thousand years. We were cool before kindness was cool.
How obscene, how repulsive to do otherwise to one of G-d’s creatures – even an animal. It would seem an insult to the Creator, Himself, to convert the miracle of birth into a supper for a hungry stomach. The statement, itself, is a sonnet to the beauty of Judaism.
And I’m happy to say I have never participated in such an obscenity. Never. I don’t even know a butcher who stocks baby goats. And certainly don’t know where I could buy a quart or two of mother goat milk.
Interestingly enough, in all three citations the ban is in the context of first-born creatures that belong to the Lord; not yours to seethe, fry, boil, stew, or barbecue because they are His – not yours. The accent is on possession, not the combination of young goatling and mother’s milk.
How it reached its present interpretation of meat and milk separation – beginning with the oral law, says Orthodoxy – is a mystery lost in the fog of history. Somebody said the benefit arising from the many inexplicable laws of Torah is in their practice, not in the understanding of their motivation.
From the Oral Law (we assume) the whole milk/meat Megillah jumped into the rabbinical imagination and thence to the Talmud. It would be fascinating to be able to track the process whereby a simple poetic impulse evolved into an industry. I’m only a scribbler. Ask your Rabbi, but that may not help because the great biblical scholar Ibn Ezra tells us: “The reason of this prohibition is concealed from the eyes of even the wise”. If Ibn Ezra gives up on the search, you needn’t waste your time. Go read Psalms.