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Thought for the Day: Is It Forbidden to Eat Mixtures of Milk and Meat OR Is Milk&Meat a New Forbidden Food?

When Klal Yisrael first came to Eretz Yisrael (nee K'na'an), Moshe Rabeinu decided that sending spies first was a good idea.  As we all know -- especially as we enter into the dark period of our year known as "the three weeks"; that decision was a disaster.  40 years later, Y'ho'shu'a also decided to send in spies before entering the land.  While everything turned out fine this time, many wonder why he took a chance like that, given the distressing historical precedent four decades earlier.  The Malbim has a lengthy piece on that topic, but the basic answer is that even though the execution was similar (spies were sent both times), the motivation and intent of the operation were completely different.  In a nutshell, the spies that Moshe sent were looking to see if entering the land was a good idea, whereas Y'ho'shu'a's (yikes that's a lot of apostrophes!) spies were looking for the best way to enter.

Almost 40 years ago to the day someone decided it was good idea to spend his date with a new girlfriend discussing chemistry (he actually talked about teflon, but that's not important right now).  Because of that decision, he lost the opportunity to have a relationship with that girl.  Good thing for me, as that girl is now the mother of my children, grandmother of my grandchildren, my best friend, and the one person that I know actually reads all my TftDs.  You might wonder, therefore, why I am going to discuss chemistry right now.  (Actually, if you know me at all, you are not wondering.  You are merely wondering how often that girl wonders if she really made the right decision; and if not, why not?!)

Sodium (Na) is a metal that explodes on contact with water.  Chlorine (Cl) is extraordinarily toxic; in fact it was used during WW I as an early modern chemical warfare agent.  Combine them into a compound (not just a mixture), and you get NaCl; aka, ordinary table salt.  Hydrogen (H) is an explosive gas that was responsible for the Hindenberg disaster.  Oxygen (O) is a gas needed for life, but in high concentrations is toxic and cause other things to explode.  Combine them into a compound (not just a mixture) and you get H2O; aka, water.  (Fine... water is also toxic in high concentrations... picky, picky).  When you combine salt with water, all you get is salty water.  There is no compound of salt and water; all you ever have is salt and water.  Even though the salt is dissolved in the water, it can always be removed; neither any worse for the wear.

Now... let's talk about meat and milk.  Both meat and milk are, of course, kosher.  Also, of course, the Torah forbids eating milk cooked with meat and Chazal extended that to any mixture of meat and milk.  The question is: Do we view milk and meat as forbidden mixture, or is there a new compound -- called milk and meat -- that is a forbidden substance?  You may be wondering what possible difference that could make.  I am actually banking on that!

There are two very practical differences that I know.  First, suppose you have a dairy pot in which you last cooked macaroni and cheese at 10:00AM yesterday morning.  At 6:00 PM yesterday afternoon, someone heated up leftover cholent.  Aargh!  Calm down, after 24 hours we know that absorbed tasted become icky (פגום is the technical term, but icky is much more evocative) and are no longer forbidden.  So... do we say that the milk becomes icky at 10:00AM this morning and from then to 6:00PM you have a kosher -- albeit fleishig -- pot; or do we say that a forbidden compound of milk and meat was formed at 6:00PM yesterday, and you'll need to wait to 6:00PM tonight for that pot to again be kosher.  (In any case, as we all know, we're going to need to kasher it; the question is really when can you kasher it.)

Another example is with respect to חתיכה נעשית נבילה, aka חנ''ן.  The term is precise: it is only נבילה/forbidden substance that we say that the entire chunk becomes forbidden.  If we have regular food, we never say that.  So... you have a milchig spoon that is 10 oz large that is soaked in 1 oz of hot milk.  That spoon is then put into a cholent pot with 60 oz of cholent.  We don't say that we have 10 oz of dairy in the form of a spoon; we only have 1 oz of milk absorbed.  But the spoon also absorbs some meat.  Do we say that meat also doesn't expand to the volume of the spoon (since it is regular food), or do we say that once the meat infuses the spoon even the smallest amount, then we have this new milk and meat compound that is a forbidden substance and so now say חנ''ן?

Before we resolve this (actually, we'll find -- surprise -- that it is a matter of disagreement among the poskim), we need one more idea: נ''ט בר נ''ט.  What's that?  Hang on... we'll get there!


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