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Kashruth Questions of the Week

Why do we eat dairy on Shavuos? 

The Rama on Orach Chaim 494:3 quotes a widespread minhag to eat dairy foods on Shavuos. The Mishnah Berurah (ibid. s.k.12) proffers the famous explanation for this custom: Bnei Yisroel, upon receiving the Torah on Shavuos, were unable to eat meat right after the Torah was given. There was no time to prepare and check shechitah knives, remove blood and cheilev (non- kosher fats) from meat, and kasher utensils needed to cook and prepare hot meat. Thus, it was necessary on that first Shavuos to consume cold dairy foods. We therefore commemorate this event by also partaking of dairy dishes on Shavuos. The Rama himself offers another rationale for eating dairy food on Shavuos: The Korban Shtei HaLechem is commanded to be brought on Shavuos; we therefore eat both dairy and meat foods on Shavuos, as this will require us to have two different breads (because we cannot eat the same bread with dairy and meat foods); the two breads necessitated by serving dairy and meat dishes, served on the table, which symbolizes the mizbayach commemorate the Korban Sh’tei HaLechem. (MB ibid s.k.14) There are some other, less-known explanations as to why we eat dairy foods on Shavuos: • Moshe Rabbeinu was taken out of the Nile on Shavuos and was thereafter brought to be nursed, and he refused to drink milk from non-Jewish women. • The gematria of chalav is 40, corresponding to the forty days that Moshe was on Har Sinai. • One of the names of Har Sinai is Gavnunim, similar to the word gevinah – cheese. • The Chok Yaakov (OC 494:9) quotes the Kol Bo (s. 52) that the minhag is to eat both honey and milk on Shavuos, as the Torah is compared to honey and milk (Shir HaShirim 4:11). The custom of eating dairy foods on Shavuos, however, remains cryptic and is not mentioned by many halachic sources, and that is why there are so many possible explanations. (Note that the Rama explains the basis for the custom with a partial conjecture, “and it seems to me that the reason is…”, rather than stating a definitive rationale, as this minhag is of unclear background.) The most common methods whereby people fulfill the custom to eat dairy foods on Shavuos are by having dairy Yom Tov meals or by serving dairy Mezonos foods after making Kiddush on Shavuos morning (and consuming a regular Yom Tov seudah later). This latter method is suggested by the Darchei Teshuva (YD 89, s.k. 19) as the ideal way to fulfill the minhag of eating dairy foods on Shavuos while partaking of a most proper Seudas Yom Tov. Each of these approaches requires a bit of halachic analysis. 

Is one allowed to have dairy meals on Yom Tov? 

When the Beis Hamikdash stood, the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov (Rejoicing on Yom Tov) was fulfilled by partaking of the Korban Shelamim. However, when there is no Beis Hamikdash, the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov is expressed in alternative forms. (See Pesachim 109a.) The Rambam (Hil. Yom Tov 6:18) states that – in addition to eating the Korban Shelamim – the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov is fulfilled by men partaking of meat and wine, women wearing fine clothing and jewelry, and children partaking of treats. The Tur (OC 529) quotes the Rambam’s requirement to eat meat, but the Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch (OC 529:2) have difficulty with the Rambam’s ruling and opine that there is no mitzvah to eat meat on Yom Tov in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash, for the Gemara (Pesachim 109A) states that once the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, simcha is only with wine. The Beis Yosef explains that since eating meat for Simchas Yom Tov is only mandated when one brings and consumes a Korban Shelamim, and that in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash, the mitzvah of eating meat thus should not pertain. The Bach (ibid. d.h. Kasav HaRambam) and others disagree and maintain that one should eat meat, even though it is not from a Korban Shelamim, as there is nonetheless a secondary concept of simcha that is obtained by eating meat, notwithstanding that it is not from a Korban and that the simcha obtained by eating meat is not the primary Simchas Yom Tov in the absence of a Korban Shelamim. The Mishnah Berurah concurs with the Bach and advises to eat meat on Yom Tov. (See Biur Halacha ibid. d.h. Keitzad.) The Bach and Mishnah Berurah hold that although one technically fulfills the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov even without eating meat, there is an enhancement of the mitzvah when meat is consumed. When applied to Shavuos, one who follows the Bach and Mishnah Berurah should ideally eat a meat meal rather than a dairy meal on Yom Tov day, despite the fact that he technically fulfills the mitvzah of Simchas Yom Tov with a dairy seudah. One who goes according to Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch would be advised to eat whatever type of meal he most prefers. According to the Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, one can lechatchilah eat poultry as his main course, whereas the Bach and Mishnah Berurah seem to hold that beef is preferred, as they note the idea of simcha being identified with basar, meaning “meat” proper. (There is an alternative interpretation of the Rambam, as submitted by some Torah authorities, including Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l, who explain that the Rambam mandates two levels of Simchas Yom Tov: an objective one, consisting of eating Korban Shelamim, as well as a subjective level, such that all people should experience the simcha of the festival as they personally prefer. This is why the Rambam writes that women should fulfill the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov by wearing fine clothing and jewelry, and that children should partake of treats – as this level of the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov is subjective according to the individual, and there is no one uniform rule for all people. This approach maintains that eating meat is merely an illustration of that which generally engenders simcha, but that there is no mitzvah to partake of meat per se according to the Rambam. Hence, the mitzvah of Simchas Yom Tov can be fulfilled by engaging in any act that brings one to simcha, according to this interpretation of the Rambam, although one must of course fulfill the mitzvah of Seudas Yom Tov, irrespective of the choice of foods he decides to serve.)