The practice of waiting six hours after consuming meat before resuming to eat dairy products has become one of the hallmarks of religious Jewish practice. And while there are varying traditions as to the actual number of hours which one is required to wait (some requiring as little as one), the standard practice among nearly all orthodox Jews today is to wait a full six hours in between meat and milk.
The source for this practice is none other than the Rambam, who makes the following statement in Hilkhot Ma’akhalot Asurot 9:27 –
מי שאכל בשר בתחילה בין בשר בהמה בין בשר עוף לא יאכל אחריו חלב עד שישהה ביניהן כדי שיעור סעודה אחרת והוא כמו שש שעות
“He who eats meat first – whether the meat of livestock [this includes the meat of trapped wild animals, e.g. deer] or that of fowl – should not eat afterward milk [cheese] until he waits between them the amount of time until the next meal, which is about six hours.”
The reckoning of the Rambam was also codified by Rabbi Yosef Qaro in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 89:1). And although it has become the almost universal practice, the specific number of six hours does not actually appear anywhere in the text of the Gemara. While the Gemara does mention waiting in one [arguably enigmatic] passage, a required amount of time is never specified by Hazal, only the pious practices of one hakham and his father (cf. b.Hullin 105a). The Rambam here is also clearly innovating by requiring that waiting must be done after consuming poultry, a position not taken by anyone before him which is in direct contradiction to the explicit dictum of the Gemara.
The origin of a mandatory waiting period between meat and dairy appears to have its origin in the words of Rabbenu Hananel (whose commentary in the form of an abridged translation appears on the page of most editions of the Talmud), which was then picked up by his student, Rav Al-Fasi (“Rif”), and then the Rambam with later [admittedly Spanish and North African] hakhamim taking various middle positions between he and them.
The halakhic works of the Geonim, however, are unified in their approach to the Gemara and do not require waiting at all. They only required the washing of the hands and the cleaning of the mouth, as we shall see.
The full sugyah is found b.Hullin 104b-105a and should be read carefully. There is not enough space here to translate it and explain all of it in detail, but it is imperative to the proper understanding of the following selections from the Geonic codes. [Once again, I do NOT recommend using Artscroll for this, but rather the Steinsaltz or some other accessible edition of the Talmud]
The following excerpts from the writings of several Geonim (and which exists in the quote of a Rishon) indicate that the unanimous geonic opinion with regard to eating dairy after meat is that one need not wait at all, but only wash their hands and/or cleanse their palate. Waiting was considered alternately as either a middat hasidut or an alternative to washing, etc. I say “unanimous” here, not because I consider what I cite here to be exhaustive, but only because in all of my research on this topic, I have never encountered another opinion on the meaning of this sugyah from any of the Geonim. If someone knows of one, I would be happy to know about it.
Both the sugyah in the Talmud and the statements of the Geonim use certain common phrases that I ultimately chose not to translate but to transliterate. The reason for this was that it made the translation really laborious to read and I felt that it detracted from the ability to track each of these concepts as they are used in each excerpt. I have instead opted to transliterate them and explain each of them as follows:
Gevinah – a reference to one of the many Middle-Eastern style cheeses, most of which are still common today.
Basar – when used by Hazal, this term specifically refers to red meat, usually of domesticated animals (e.g. goat, cow) or wild game (e.g. deer, antelope), but it does not refer to poultry (ohf).
Ohf – “poultry”
Kinuah [ha-peh] – qiynuah literally means “wiping” but that is a bit misleading since it does not refer to literally wiping out one’s mouth, but rather is a reference in Hazal to “cleansing the palate” with a foodstuff in between courses.
Hadahah – a reference to “rinsing” which some understand to be a reference to netilat yadayim and others understand to simply refer to drinking something as part of cleansing the palate.
Tavshil – a cooked dish containing only the broth or flavor of meat (i.e. not actual pieces) which was eaten with the hands. It appears that sometimes such dishes were made with the flavor of cheese/dairy and not meat, but the term tavshil appears to generally be a term used (at least in this sugyah) to refer to a meat dish.
The Halakhot Gedholot
“Rav Hisda says, ‘If one ate basar it is forbidden to [then] eat gevinah’ – this is specifically regarding one who did not do kinuah [ha-peh], but if he does kinuah ha-peh, it is permitted to [then] eat [gevinah]. ‘If one at gevinah it is permitted to eat basar‘ – without kinuah [ha-peh], but rinsing the hands (i.e. netilat yadayim) and the mouth is required between one and the other.
Rabbi Zeyra says, ‘Kinuah ha-peh is not done except with bread’ – this statement refers to wheat bread, but not to barley bread (i.e. because it is crumbly). And they did not refer to anything except cold bread since warm bread adheres (i.e. it becomes sticky and adheres to the palate – it doesn’t clean well). And this statement refers to bread that is soft (i.e. fresh) and not hard [and dried out]. But the halakhah is: Kinuah [ha-peh] may be done with anything except flour, dates, or [cooked] vegetables.”
(Hilkhot Berakhot – p.76)
Rav Yehudai Gaon
This quote is brought in Sefer HaRa’avyah on Hullin (perek Kol Ha-Basar), Siman 1108 in the name of Rav Yehudai Gaon. The critical apparatus in my edition assumes that it is a quotation from the Halakhot Gedolot since there was some confusion (beginning with the Semag) as to the author of HG, many in Europe erroneously maintaining that it was Rav Yehudai and not Shimon Kayara. However, the quote – when compared with the work of Shimon Kayara – does not appear to be from the Halakhot Gedolot, but a different work altogether. This other work would be none other than the Halakhot Pesukot of Rav Yehudai Gaon, a compilation which is no longer extant in its full form. This of course could be due an interpolation by Rabbenu Tam, but it appears to me that it is indeed the work of Rav Yehudai Gaon, as indicated by the Ra’avyah.
“And Rav Yehudai Gaon and Rabbenu Tam explained [the sugyah as follows]:
Rav Hisda says, ‘If one ate basar it is forbidden to [then] eat gevinah‘ – this is specifically regarding one who did not do kinuah [ha-peh] or hadahah, but through kinuah ha-peh and hadahah it is permitted to eat gevinah immediately. ‘If one ate gevinah it is permitted to [then] eat basar’ – without kinuah [ha-peh], but rinsing the hands (i.e. netilath yadayim) is required between one and the other. And this statement refers to [eating at] night, but [eating] in the daytime it is not necessary (i.e. rinsing the hands).
Rav Nahman says, ‘They did not instruct (i.e. that mayim emtzaim – handwashing between courses – is an optional practice) except between one tavshil and another tavshil‘ – meaning, between a tavshil basar [first] and a tavshil gevinah afterward, neither of which has actual basar or actual gevinah, then even at night hadahah is not necessary. But between a tavshil basar and [the eating of] actual gevinah, netilat yadayim is required – and this is specifically referring to [eating at] night. And thus [going from eating] basar behemah to gevinah requires netilat yadayim.
And Rabbeynu Tam adds to this by saying that between gevinah and basar one does not need kinuah [ha-peh] or hadahah, whether in the day or at night, since Rav Hisda did not argue on Rav Nahman that the tavshil is messy and sticky and therefore one who eats gevinah afterward requires netilat yadayim. And Mar Ukva is someone known for being excessively stringent in his personal practice.
And it appears to me (i.e. the Ra’avyah) that between a tavshil and gevinah requires either kinuah or waiting [until the next meal – i.e. several hours] even according to their halakhic methodology here.”
Rav Saadiah Gaon
In an anonymous work by a Yemenite author – a super-commentary to the commentary of the Rif to Masekhet Hullin – he quotes a portion of the dinim from the Siddur of Rav Saadiah Gaon which is no longer extant and is not included in the edition of his siddur which we posses today. This quote is an incredible find, however, since the anonymous author would not have fabricated it since he proceeds to rail against such an interpretation in light of the position of the Rif.
“But mayim emtzaim, behold it is the [washing] between one tavshil and another tavshil, are a reshut (i.e. an optional practice – a matter of propriety and manners, but not out of halakhic concerns) – if one desires to do so he washes and if he does not desire to do so then he does not. But if it was between a tavshil and gevinah then behold it is obligatory to do so (i.e. to wash the hands – netilat yadayim). And if one ate basar and wants to [then afterward] eat gevinah he is required to clean between his teeth and do kinuah ha-peh with wheat bread, and there are three things which are not used for kinuah ha-peh (i.e. flour, dates, and [cooked] vegetables). If one ate geviynah it is permitted for him to [then] eat basar without kinuah ha-peh, but he needs to rinse (hadahah) his mouth and his hands and then after doing so he may eat [basar].”
Rav Haye Gaon
The Rashba below quotes Rav Ha’iy Gaon in his hidushim on Masekhet Hullin (hat tip to Tzvi Adams in his excellent article here).
“…And the Gaon z”l wrote that one who ate basar it is permitted for him in another seudah to eat gevinah. And this statement (i.e. of Mar Ukva – that waits a number of hours after eating meat before consuming dairy) is of someone who is excessively stringent. But we (notice that the Gaon even includes himself in those who are not excessively stringent!) cleanse our palates (kinuah ha-peh), rinse our hands and mouths, and then eat [gevinah].”
This sampling represents the position of the Geonim in their understanding of what must be done between the consumption of meat and dairy or vice versa. They do not seem to know of the requirement to wait at all – unless one is either an excessively stringent person (such as Mar Ukva) or he neglected to properly cleanse his palate, rinse his mouth, or wash his hands in between.
The first to mention such a requirement was Rabbenu Hananel (i.e. the teacher of the Rif, who in turn was the teacher of the Ri Mi-Gash, who in turn taught Rabbi Maimon, who in turn taught the Rambam) and it appears that the position of the Rambam is an attempt to marry the opinion of the Geonim with that of his teachers’ teacher on this sugyah.