Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Parshat Mishpatim

The Kid and the Mother's Milk

Following on from the Ten Commandments of last week's parsha, this week's parsha sees the introduction of many laws.

They include: "You shall not cook a kid (goat) in its mother's milk" (Shemot 23:19).

From this the Rabbi's teach us that we may not mix milk and meaty foods. We must ask the question as to ho the Rabbis made this jump. The passuk is talking specifically about goats. While we might possibly understand that it could be referring to all animals, how do they get from that to all milk?

Avraham Ibn Ezra notes that has two other mitzvot, that are similar to the mitzvah we just saw:

  • You shall not slaughter an ox or sheep, it and its offspring on the same day. (VaYikra 22:28)
  • If you come across a bird's nest on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] chicken or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the chicks or upon the eggs, you shall not take the young in front of the mother (Devarim 22:6-7)
Note that each case is slightly different than the other. In one case the mother and offspring are being killed on the same day, in another the offspring are being taken in front of the mother, while in our case, the mother's milk, a symbol of her fertility, is being used to marinate her offspring.

The main point is that each case involves an action that is permitted. It is permitted to slaughter a young calf. It is also permitted to slaughter the mother (on a different day). It is also permitted to take young chicks or eggs and it is also permitted to cook a young kid goat.

However, all three of these mitzvot draw their inspiration from a single idea: killing a mother and its children at the same time, taking young chicks in the sight of the mother or boiling a kid in its mother's milk, all reflects a lack of sensitivity to animal life. Therefore, when the Torah forbade the mixing of milk together, it used an example that would teach us sensitivity to animals and their feelings.

Now that we have examined why the Torah uses an example of an animal in its mother's milk, we must understand why it highlights goats and not other animals.

The answer to this lies in Mishlei (Proverbs). There the scribe sepks of a time when Israel will have abundance. He states: "enough goat milk for your food, for the food of your household, and sustenance for your maidens" (Mishlei 27:27).

It appears that the staple milk that people drank in biblical times was goat's milk, not cow's milk. Therefore, the Torah uses an example that ancient Israel could relate to.
Nevertheless, the Rabbis explain that this example was applicable to all types of meats and milk.

Therefore, it we can now understand how "You shall not cook a kid (goat) in its mother's milk" (Shemot 23:19), applies to all animals and all types of milk.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Mishptim, entitled: "The New Covenant" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Mishpatim, entitled: "The Law" appears at

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