Don’t cry over spilt milk

Jewish demography

You know the joke about God forbidding the seething of a kid in it’s mother’s milk..

Said God to Moses: “Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk!” Moses replied, “You mean you don’t want us to make cheeseburgers? “Said God, mildly shocked and bewildered, “I just said — not a kid in the milk of its mother!” Moses frowned, twirled his beard, and responded, “You mean, don’t even use the same plates for cheese & meat?” God’s face reddened. “Just don’t boil a kid in the milk of its mother”! Said Moses, “My God! You mean we have to wait six whole hours after eating meat before we can have some milk?” God threw the Divine Arms wide into the Cosmos: “Have it your own way, Moses!” And so we do. (quoted in Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Down to Earth Judaism)

Well…. The Rabbis, in their wisdom, even made it more complicated.  They decided that if a drop of milk falls into a pot of chicken soup, as long as it’s less than one part in 60, it’s statistically and otherwise irrelevant  (batel b’shishim)…. the soup is kosher.

So does this mean, that one can add a drop of milk to every meat dish, as long as it does not exceed one part in 60?  Of course not.

The Rabbis, in their wisdom made a general distinction between doing the a priori right-thing הלכה לכתחילה halacha lechatchila (such as not drizzling a steak with drops of milk) and after-the-fact בדיעבד… Bidieved such as the chicken soup that was on the receiving end of a drop of milk… which can still be served at the Shabbat table…

Did the Rabbis stay awake at night wondering what kind of an example they were giving by permitting … and enjoying the tainted soup?  I don’t think so… they gave us more credit than that.

So when the demographers come out with still another study showing that we American Jews are diminishing ourselves through intermarriage, as they did this week in a new Pew report, I think that we need to use the same Rabbinic wisdom.  If we are concerned about the demise of American Jewry we need to focus not only on the half-full bowl of the alphabet soup of investing in Jewish education and enrichment, but also on its half empty counterpoint.

We need to realize that while, in-the-first-instance, intermarriage is not kosher, after-the-fact, we need to show Rabbinic wisdom and make it kosher…. Just like that bowl of chicken soup drizzled with a little dairy.  We need to embrace and encourage those of our community who make alternative choices to choose to engage and embrace the Jewish community as their own… just call it Jewish Penicillin.


Filed under Chosen People, Israel, Judaism, social commentary, Torah

7 responses to “Don’t cry over spilt milk

  1. To take your metaphor further, we need to remember why the rabbis decided that a 60 to 1 ratio was enough to nullify the forbidden element-it’s because at that ratio they determined that it was impossible for the forbidden element’s taste to be noticed. (also it’s only for an accidental drip, not a “sprinkling”.) So if you wanted to kasher intermarriage bedieved, you would first have to overpower the forbidden “taste” in it, i.e. the non-Jewishness…I’m not really sure how to do that without conversion, and then there’s no intermarriage, so…

    In case it wasn’t clear I disagree strongly, but it was fun engaging with your metaphor…

    Shabbat Shalom u’Madlik!

    • ok.. so the sun is setting… gotta rush this reply… but here’s the question… one drop of milk goes in but it’s less than 1/60 so the soup’s kosher.. right. now another drop, also less than 1/60 of the now fully kosher soup… still kosher? and another drop… and another drop… which drop changes the taste? Shabbat Shalom reb yossi

  2. Aya Goor

    As I understand “batel beshishim” refers only to the first drop, that falls by mistake.

  3. Ahh that is a great question. I’m going to have to go back to my Shulchan Aruch for that. Obviously the nafka mina (practical difference ed) is when all those drops add up to more than 1/60th-the question is whether they are “mitztaref” (combined ed) or whether after each drop the entire pot magically becomes 100% kosher and fleishig (meat and not dairy ed), absorbing the individual drops (the position of the Rosh, I believe). I don’t remember how we pasken (decide the paractical law ed) on that. But again, this is all in an accidental case…since each drop “converts” to be part of the greater whole, perhaps that is a way to legitimately improve the taste of the whole (klal yisrael)? But that’s when the conversion is done…

    • Thank you Aya for your question regarding “batel Beshishim” (1 part to 60 diffusion) and to you, Reb Yossi for clarifying and providing the sources for my droppings. It is understandable that the focus is on the alchemy of changing a liquid from one state (not kosher) to another (kosher). Surely it has been shown that magic is a real crowd pleaser… my personal favorite is water to wine, but the genuine point of my post was in the distinction between halacha (Jewish Law) before-the-fact (lechatchila) and after-the-fact (bideyeved). For those of us who are alarmed by the statistical diffusion of Jews into the American melting pot, i am suggesting that we give equal attention to how we address the needs of each of these holy droplets after-the-fact, as we do to retaining the faithful. Thanks for joining the conversation.


      Just read another review of the PEW report by Allen Brill who includes this quote: “The most significant statistic is the high rate of marrying those of another faith. But even those Jews are proud of their Jewishness. There is a joke going around this year that the predominate religion among this year’s Harvard freshmen is “half-Jewish”. Rather than spinning the story as one of the loss of American Jewry, the challenge for everyone should be how to increase Jewish markers in this demographic.” see post here:

  4. HenryF

    Your post made me think of the Sermon of Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove at New York’s prestigious Park Avenue Synagogue this Rosh Hashanah where he said:

    “why will we continue to push the envelope on embracing the non-Jew in our Jewish family? Because I know, and so do you, that neither you nor I can control who our child sits next to in freshman English, first year Torts or the first day on the job. Our community will continue to unapologetically preach the value of endogamy – marrying within the Jewish faith – and we will unrepentantly work to facilitate the journey of would-be Jews into our Jewish family. I am, we are, in the business of creating Jewish homes! Our communal culture must be one that facilitates, celebrates and supports the establishment of Jewish homes – Jewish by birth or conversion, straight or gay, single or married, with or without children.”

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