Project Genesis

Mixing Fish and Meat

If according to modern science and medicine the mixture of fish and meat is not dangerous, why do we still follow it? Is it crticial that we avoid this combination, if the reason it was given was for health?

Our sages of previous generations were obviously not privy to all of the scientific information we possess today (imagine, what did they do all day without TV or internet?). Rather, their expertise is an area of knowledge far more profound: understanding G-d’s revealed Will in creation.In certain areas, our sages record a tradition to be careful about certain things for what are apparently health reasons, such as your example: not eating fish and meat together. It is often not clear whether they received this tradition from some Divine inspiration or merely from the medical presumptions of their time. These traditions are recorded because of the mitzvah to carefully guard one’s health (thus an observant Jew must always follow the best medical advice, not only when illnesses arise, G-d forbid, but even in our day to day diets and routines.)

More recent authorities take different positions on the ruling regarding fish and meat. Some authorities do indeed hold that this law does not apply anymore because it seems that our physical natures have changed and this combination no longer poses a danger.

Most authorities, however, hold that the law still applies. How can they take such a position in light of modern science?

For two reasons.

One, it is possible that fish and meat eaten together does pose a health risk, but we, at present, are not aware of what that risk is. Many ailments exist today for which there is no clear known cause. Even with diseases which have certain known risk factors, why do some people exposed to those factors contract the condition and many others do not? It is possible that this combination of foods is an additional risk factor in certain diseases. Also, it is possible that this combination of foods truly adversely affects only a very small percentage of eaters (let’s say, 1 in 10,000). Such a small percentage would be ignored as statistically insignificant in a scientific study, but according to Jewish Law, one life in 10,000 or even a million or more is still infinitely significant.

Two, the Vilna Gaon stressed that every item that our sages codified as prohibited has many reasons for its prohibition. The sages may only have listed an overt reason to prohibit something, but there are mystical reasons as well to refrain, which they did not see as fit to publicize. Even when the overt reasons become obsolete, the mystical reasons still apply.

Be Well!

Shlomo Shulman
Waterbury, CT

2 Follow-ups »

  1. What is the Talmudic source for this?

    Tractate Pesachim (76b): “Ha’hi binisa…”—2 lines above the Mishna.Keep asking good questions!

    Much success,
    Shlomo Shulman

    Comment by ATR — June 22, 2007 @ 1:37 am

  2. As I read this Gemorrah 76b it says that fish baked with meat becomes fleishich, and cannot be eaten with milk ( e.g.with kutah). It doesn’t seem to go anywhere near objecting to cooking fish and meat together or eating fish and meat together. Others say that Chazal feared a health problem, resulting from this mixture but I don’t see that here either. What am I missing?

    It seems you stopped reading a line short. Continue from where you left off until the Mishna: “Mar bar Rav Ashi said: ‘even with salt (even to eat this fished cooked with meat with plain ‘ol salt) it is also prohibited because of the problem of the steam and the Other Thing’.”

    Rashi explains that “Other Thing” here means tzaraas—some kind of skin disease or, perhaps, other disease. “Davar Acher” / “Other Thing” is used in the Talmud as a gentle pseudonym for something unpleasant (as it is earlier on this very Amud, referring to a pig—line 6).

    Some commentaries seem not to have had the word “l’recha” copied in their manuscripts of the Talmud; thus, their version reads: “Mar bar Rav Ashi said: ‘even with salt it is also prohibited because of the problem of the Other Thing’.”

    Including the word, “l’recha” in the statement would seem to just be emphasizing that the reason the fish is prohibited in this case, where the fish and meat were not even touching, is because the Talmud here concludes that the law is according to Rav who holds “recha milsa”: meaning, the vapor which is released from food when it is heated has the same status as that food and can transfer its taste to another food (even though they never touched).

    Some commentaries suspect that our physical natures may have changed, removing this danger. Others say that it is only a danger in certain places (perhaps with only certain people who are susceptible to it or certain fish which are the dangerous ones). But since we don’t know any of this for sure, or where or when it might still apply, almost all authorities hold that this law still applies.

    See Shulchan Orech, Yoreh De’ah (and the Tur): 116:2. See also Sh. Aruch, Orech Chaim 173:2. Original source: Tractate Pesachim (76b):

    Keep asking good questions!

    Much success,
    Shlomo Shulman

    Comment by ATR — June 24, 2007 @ 10:38 pm

We respond to every follow-up question submitted, but only publish selected ones. In order to be considered for publication, questions must be on-topic, polite, and address ideas rather than personalities.


Powered by WordPress