Practical Halacha

An in-Depth look at Kashrut: Lessons from our Forefathers Part 1
Date Uploaded: 
Monday 13th October 2014

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz, KLBD

There is a plethora of relevant information that we can glean from the actions of our ancestors and forefathers. This knowledge is not limited to the realm of proper conduct and ethics, but even practical halacha.

One prime example can be seen later on in the book of Bereishit (which we start today), in parashat Vayera. Avraham generously served his guests, who, unbeknown to him, were actually angels in disguise. The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law, written 1563) states that if two people are eating together at a table, one eating meat and the other dairy, they have to place something between them to remind them not to share food with one another and transgress the prohibition of eating milk and meat together – this is called a heker. Typical examples of such a heker are separate placemats, or putting something distinctive down that is not usually on the table when eating.

Two of the preeminent commentators on the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (d. 1837) and the Pitchei Teshuva (Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Hirsch Eisenstadt d. 1868), disagree as to whether appointing someone to stand over the two people eating – to make sure that they do not take food from each other’s plates – is effective. Can a shomer (supervisor) take the place of a heker? Many halachic authorities through the ages have taken stances on both sides of this debate.

Interestingly, several later authorities, including the Me’am Loez (Rabbi Ya’akov Culi d. 1732) and the Lev Aryeh (Rabbi Aryeh Yehuda Leib ben Akiva HaLevi) bring a proof to this issue from parashat Vayera. A verse there states that upon welcoming the three angels, Avraham served them a meal fit for a king, made up of both meat (tongue) and dairy ingredients (butter or cream). The verse continues: “And he stood over them, under the tree, and they ate” (Bereishit 18:8). Both of the abovementioned commentators ask why the Torah specifically stated that Avraham “stood over them”. Why was this detail necessary for the Torah to add?

These authorities understand these extra words to indicate that while some of the angels were eating milk, the others were eating meat. By “standing over them”, Avraham was actually acting as their self appointed shomer. This is cited as a proof to the Pitchei Teshuva’s position that a shomer could definitely work in place of a heker between meat and milk.