Why Dairy on Shavuot?

Seven fas­ci­nat­ing rea­sons for this pop­u­lar cus­tom.

The Jewish Voice - - JEWISH FEATURES - By: Rabbi Shraga Sim­mons

Ahhh... the sump­tu­ous de­light of blintzes and cheese­cake. Eat­ing a dairy meal on Shavuot has be­come an en­dur­ing tra­di­tion. But what's the source for this? Here are seven fas­ci­nat­ing rea­sons:

Rea­son #1

When the Jewish peo­ple re­ceived the Torah at Mount Si­nai, in­cluded was spe­cial in­struc­tions for how to slaugh­ter and pre­pare meat for eat­ing. Un­til then, the Jews had not fol­lowed these laws, thus all their meat – plus the cook­ing pots – were now con­sid­ered "not kosher." So the only al­ter­na­tive was to eat dairy, which re­quires no ad­vance prepa­ra­tion.

This raises the ques­tion, how­ever: Why didn't the Jews sim­ply slaugh­ter new an­i­mals, "kasher" their pots in boil­ing wa­ter (ha­gala), and cook fresh meat?

The an­swer is that the rev­e­la­tion at Si­nai oc­curred on Shab­bat, when slaugh­ter and cook­ing are pro­hib­ited.

An­other point to clar­ify: How were the Jews able to ob­tain milk on Shab­bat, since milk­ing an an­i­mal falls un­der the pro­hib­ited ac­tiv­ity of me­farek?

The an­swer is that the Jews al­ready had milk avail­able from be­fore Shab­bat, which they had been us­ing to feed the var­i­ous an­i­mals that ac­com­pa­nied their jour­neys in the wilder­ness.

Rea­son #2

Torah is likened to milk, as the verse says, "Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies un­der your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Just as milk has the abil­ity to fully sus­tain the body of a hu­man be­ing (i.e. a nurs­ing baby), so too the Torah pro­vides all the “spir­i­tual nour­ish­ment” nec­es­sary for the hu­man soul.

Rea­son #3

The gema­tria (nu­mer­i­cal value) of the He­brew word for milk, chalav, is 40. We eat dairy foods on Shavuot to com­mem­o­rate the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Si­nai re­ceiv­ing in­struc­tion in the en­tire Torah. (Moses spent an ad­di­tional 40 days on Si­nai, pray­ing for for­give­ness fol­low­ing the Golden Calf, and then a third set of 40 days be­fore re­turn­ing with a new set of stone tablets.)

The nu­mer­i­cal value of chalav, 40, has fur­ther sig­nif­i­cance in that there were 40 gen­er­a­tions from Moses who recorded the Writ­ten Torah, till the gen­er­a­tion of Rav­ina and Rav Ashi who wrote the fi­nal ver­sion of the Oral Torah, the Tal­mud.

Fur­ther, the Tal­mud be­gins with the let­ter mem – gema­tria 40 – and ends with mem as well.

Rea­son #4

Ac­cord­ing to the Zo­har, each one of the 365 days of the year cor­re­sponds to a spe­cific one of the Torah's 365 neg­a­tive com­mand­ments. Which mitz­vah cor­re­sponds to the day of Shavuot?

The Torah says: "Bring Bikkurim (first fruits) to the God's Holy Tem­ple; don't cook a kid in its mother's milk" (Ex­o­dus 34:26). Since the first day for bring­ing Bikkurim is on Shavuot (in fact, the Torah calls Shavuot "the hol­i­day of Bikkurim"), the sec­ond half of that verse – re­fer­ring to milk and meat – is the neg­a­tive com­mand­ment cor­re­spond­ing to Shavuot day. Thus on Shavuot we eat two meals, one of milk and one of meat, tak­ing care not to mix the two.

In­ter­est­ingly, we are in­structed not to use the same loaf of bread for a meat meal and then later at a milk meal, lest some of the meat sub­stance had splat­tered on the bread. Thus by eat­ing two meals – one of milk and one of meat – we in­evitably have two loaves. This cor­re­sponds to the spe­cial "Two Loaves" that were of­fered in the Tem­ple on Shavuot.

Rea­son #5

An al­ter­na­tive name for Mount Si­nai is Har Gav'nunim, the moun­tain of ma­jes­tic peaks. The He­brew word for cheese is gev­ina, et­y­mo­log­i­cally re­lated to Har Gav'nunim.

Fur­ther, the gema­tria of gev­ina (cheese) is 70, cor­re­spond­ing to the "70 faces of Torah."

Rea­son #6

Moses was born on the sev­enth day of Adar, and stayed at home for three months with his fam­ily, be­fore be­ing placed in the Nile River on the sixth of Si­van.

Moses was res­cued by Pharaoh's daugh­ter, who adopted Moses and took him to live in Pharaoh's palace. But right away a prob­lem arose: what to feed the baby. In those days, there was no bot­tled baby for­mula, so when the birth mother wasn't avail­able, the care­taker would have to hire a wet nurse. In the case of Moses, he kept re­fus­ing to nurse from Egyp­tian women. The Tal­mud ex­plains that his mouth needed to be kept to­tally pure, as it would one day com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with God. Fi­nally Pharaoh's daugh­ter found one woman who Moses agreed to nurse from – Yocheved, Moses' bi­o­log­i­cal mother!

Ap­pre­ci­ate the irony: Pharaoh's mur­der­ous de­cree against Jewish babies was specif­i­cally in­tended to pre­vent a new gen­er­a­tion of Jewish lead­er­ship. So what hap­pened in­stead? Moses, the up­com­ing great Jewish leader, was raised, ed­u­cated and trained – right un­der Pharaoh's nose, in Pharaoh's own home, at Pharaoh's ex­pense! And on top of it all, Moses' mother got paid a salary!

The eat­ing of dairy foods on Shavuot com­mem­o­rates this phe­nom­e­non in the early life of Moses, which oc­curred on the sixth of Si­van, the day on which Shavuot falls.

Rea­son #7

Ac­cord­ing to one com­men­ta­tor, that day at Si­nai was the first time the Jews ate dairy prod­ucts. There is a gen­eral pro­hi­bi­tion of "eat­ing a limb from a live an­i­mal" (ever min hachai), which log­i­cally should also in­clude milk, the prod­uct of a live an­i­mal. Ever min hachai is ac­tu­ally one of the Seven Noahide Laws which the Jews ob­served prior to Si­nai (and which has ap­plied to all hu­man­ity since the days of Noah).

How­ever, upon re­ceiv­ing the Torah, which refers to the Land of Is­rael as "flow­ing with milk and honey" (Ex­o­dus 3:18), dairy prod­ucts be­came per­mit­ted to the Jews. In other words, at the same mo­ment that their meat be­came pro­hib­ited, dairy be­came per­mit­ted. They ate dairy on that orig­i­nal Shavuot, and we do today, too.

If the Jews ate dairy for the first time at Mount Si­nai, this raises the ques­tion how Abra­ham could have fed dairy prod­ucts to his three guests (Ge­n­e­sis 18:8).

The an­swer re­quires a tech­ni­cal un­der­stand­ing of the pro­hi­bi­tion of ever min hachai, "limb from a live an­i­mal." One way is to de­fine a "limb" as a piece of meat which con­tains bones and/or sinews. It is this type of ever min hachai which has al­ways been for­bid­den to nonJews. This pro­hi­bi­tion does not in­clude milk, be­cause al­though

milk comes from a live an­i­mal, it does not con­tains bones or sinews. Hence, Abra­ham was per­mit­ted to feed milk to his non-Jewish guests.

There is a sec­ond, ex­panded def­i­ni­tion of ever min hachai, which en­com­passes all prod­ucts from a live an­i­mal — in­clud­ing milk. It is this def­i­ni­tion which is pro­hib­ited to Jews. Thus it was not un­til the giv­ing of the Torah, with its ref­er­ence to "land of milk and honey," that dairy prod­ucts be­came per­mit­ted to Jews.

This dis­tinc­tion is spelled out clearly by the great Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, in "HaElef Lecha Shlomo" (Yoreh Deah 322).

Yummy cheese­cake, blintzes and other dairy delights are stan­dard fare on Shavuos. Eat­ing a dairy meal on Shavuot has be­come an en­dur­ing tra­di­tion. But what’s the source for this? Here are seven fas­ci­nat­ing rea­sons

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