Raanana Community Kollel
A Kosher Shavuot - Milk and Meat Meals
Rabbi Dovid Horwitz
Most of us are probably well aware of the custom to eat milk products on Shavuot. In fact, some families do not even eat meat at all on Shavuot, as they eat dairy at both meals. Others follow the custom of eating a milchig meal during the night and a meat meal during the day.
The Mishna Berura explains that when the Jews received the Torah and became aware of the laws of kashrut, they quickly realized that they were ill equipped to prepare any food containing meat. Therefore, until they were able to cleanse their utensils and prepare slaughtering knives, they subsisted entirely on dairy. To commemorate their dedication to the Torah, we too eat milk products on Shavuot.
However, there is another lesser known custom cited by the Rema that a person should eat a milk meal, followed by a meat one, as a remembrance to the two loaves of bread that were brought as a special offering in the Beit Hamikdash on Shavuot day. Thus, by eating both a milk and meat meal, one guarantees that he will eat from two different loaves of bread as it is forbidden to use the same loaf of bread for both a milk and a meat meal.
Another rationale to this interesting custom is based on the Midrash that describes how the angels wanted Hashem to keep the Torah in heaven rather than give it to the Jewish people. In response to their request, Hashem responded that the angels were unworthy of retaining the Torah since they ate meat and milk when posing as the guests of Avraham Avinu. Consequently, in order to emphasize our worthiness over the angels, we go out of our way to eat milk and meat together on Shavuot, in the halachically accepted fashion of eating milk first and then later meat. In truth, the proper fulfillment of this custom is not without its challenges. Although it is customary, after eating meat, to wait six hours before eating milk, there is no halachic obligation to do so if one wants to eat meat after consuming milk or soft cheese. (As consuming certain hard cheeses would require one to wait six hours before eating meat, a halachic authority should be consulted as to which hard cheeses would require this.) Nevertheless, there are certain cautions one must exercise when eating meat immediately after consuming milk or soft cheeses. Before eating meat one must clean out his mouth properly from all traces of milk. This is accomplished by first eating a piece of bread and taking a drink of water. Also, the tablecloth must be switched from a milchig one to a fleishig one, and lastly, as ones hands must be free of all milk and cheese, it is preferable to wash them before handling meat products.