By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It is a problem that a number of Jewish students face. At home they have been accustomed to waiting six hours between meat and dairy. This is their family minhag. When they go away to their various institutions of learning, some of these institutions have a different policy. They are serving dairy suppers only five and a half hours after they have served a meat lunch. In this author’s estimation, it is a problem that over 5,000 young Jewish men face. Why is it so large a problem? Because the institutions happen to be two of the largest yeshivos in the world, one in Eretz Yisrael and one in the United States.
This is not to suggest that other customs are, heaven forbid, incorrect. Customs among observant Jews range the gamut from one hour (Dutch Jews) to three hours (German and British Jews) to five hours to five and a half hours. But a number of questions arise: What should these students who wait six hours be doing? Should the students undo their family tradition and adopt that of their yeshiva? Also, from where did the customs of six hours and five and a half arise?
Before we answer these questions, let us first examine the source of the custom to wait six hours between meat meals and dairy meals in the first place, and then let us examine where five and a half may fit in.
The Talmud (Chullin 105a) states:
“Rav Chisda said: One who eats meat may not eat cheese, [one who eats] cheese, may eat meat . . .
Mar Ukva said: Regarding this, I am like vinegar, the son of wine. My father, if he would consume meat today, would wait until tomorrow to eat cheese. I, however, will not consume them during the same meal, but at another meal I will eat cheese.”
The Rif writes that by virtue of the fact that Mar Ukva referred to himself as “vinegar, the son of wine,” no authority permits a waiting period of less than six–from the morning meal to the evening meal. The Baalei HaTosefos disagree and understand the notion of another meal to refer even to a case where a second meal was started right away. (This is also the position of the Mordechai, the HaGaos Ashri, the Hagaos Maimonis, and the Raavya.)
Nonetheless, the spread of the idea of six hours has been almost universal. Now, although generally speaking, the term “one meal to another” is understood as approximately six hours, there is a debate between Rabbeinu Tam and the Vilna Gaon as to how exactly we understand Mar Ukva. Rabbeinu Tam writes that even Mar Ukva’s position is not the halachic requirement, but rather a pious position. He thus allows for other customs. The Vilna Gaon, on the other hand, is of the opinion that Mar Ukva held of the six hours as a full halachic requirement. He writes that the source is based on a passage in Tractate Shabbos–where the Gemara discusses the different eating times of cannibals, thieves, the rich, workers, and Torah scholars. The Gemara tells us that Torah scholars would not eat before the sixth hour of the day, nor after this time. The Vilna Gaon extrapolates from this that Mar Ukva, who would not eat dairy until the next meal, held of the six-hour waiting period as absolutely mandatory. This is the source of the six-hour waiting period.
To Be Lenient
What about the five-and-a-half hour period? Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, was one of the contemporary espousers of the five-and-a-half hour position. Where did he get it?
There is a concept in halachah called “Miktzas ha’yom kekulo”–a part of the day is considered like the whole day. We find that the Talmud (Pesachim 4a) applies this to the laws of mourning and to the laws of purity and impurity to a certain extent. Could it be that this was his source? Although at the outset it would seem a good place to start, no halachic authority mentions it, nor do we find the concept ever applied to a period of less than a day. It says “miktzas ha’yom”–not “miktzas ha’sha’ah.”
We would need to look elsewhere.
The Rambam (Maachalos Asuros 9:28) writes that the parameters of a seudah is “k’mo sheish shaos”–like six hours. It could very well be that the Rambam’s terminology is the source for the leniency. Others (for example the Darchei Teshuvah) disagree that this is a source for less than six hours and state that the Rambam only used this term “like six hours” to teach us that if one is unsure whether it was actually six hours, one may be lenient because it is a doubt on a rabbinic matter, but not that he permitted five and a half hours at the outset.
The Meiri, however, uses a similar expression to the Rambam but adds in the words “or close to six hours.” The Meiri’s explanation is a clear precedent for the more lenient reading of the Rambam–unlike that of the aforementioned Darchei Teshuvah.
There is also another debate, which is rather fascinating. What type of hours are we talking about? Are they regular full-fledged 60-minute hours, or are they “shaos z’manios”–halachic hours, which mathematically are calculated as one twelfth of daylight hours? This too is a debate between the Pri Chadash (halachic hours) and the Maharit (regular hours). We rule that it is regular hours, not halachic hours.
There is a third factor to consider. When a yeshiva serves a meat lunch it is usually in the daytime, while the supper dairy meal may very well be at night. It could be that from a halachic point of view the fact that it is a different day altogether may allow us to be a bit more lenient.
Finally, there is a fourth factor. The Leket Yosher (page 45), a student of the Trumas HaDeshen, writes that in regard to chicken there is more room to be lenient. The Meiri as well, in his Sefer Magein Avos (page 48), distinguishes between chicken and meat and writes that one can be more lenient with chicken.
With these four possible leniencies in hand, this author contacted some noted poskim as to what the above-mentioned students should do. The poskim replied that, notwithstanding all of the combined factors above to be lenient, it is indeed a problem and these students should not be forced by the yeshivos to negate their own family practices. This was the ruling of a number of American poskim as well as Rav Vosner in Eretz Yisrael.
Oh well, we tried. v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.