Friday, May 30, 2014

Tracing the history of eating milchigs on Shavuos

Tracing the history of eating milchigs on Shavuos
by Eliezer Brodt

In this post I would like to deal with tracing the early sources for the minhag of eating milchigs on Shavuos. A version of this article was printed last year in the Ami Magazine (# 119).  This post contains a few corrections and additions to that version. A much more expanded version of this article will appear in Hebrew shortly (IY"H).

Eating the vast array of customary dairy delicacies on Shavuos including, of course, cheesecake, is a minhag that very few people find very difficult. But what is the source of this minhag?

This minhag goes back at least to the times of the Rishonim, and varied explanations for it also do. [1]

That the minhag of milchigs on Shavuos was observed widely in recent history is very clear. For example, in an informative nineteenth-century Lithuanian memoir, the author describes the milk-based Yom Tov atmosphere:

“And at home there was again roasting and baking namely, many butter cakes! On this Holiday you especially ate all milk and butter dishes. The traditional cheese blintzes with sour cream, a kind of flinsed, were essential… On the second day of Shavuos… a happy mood prevailed; we drank fine aromatic coffee and ate butter cakes and blintshikes.”[2]

In Yeshivas Volozhin, after staying up the whole night, the whole yeshiva would take part in a milchig kiddush at the Netziv’s house.[3] We find the same thing in the Lomza Yeshiva; they had a kiddush after davening with cheesecakes and the like.[4]

The question is, where did this minhag of eating milchigs on Shavuos come from? The Rambam, Tur, and Shulchan Aruch do not make any mention of it.

In this article, I will trace some of the earliest known sources that we have for this minhag and discuss some of the reasons that are given. This is not an attempt to cover all aspects of this rich minhag, I hope to return this in the future.[5]

One of the earliest mentions of this minhag can be found in a Pesach drasha from the Rokeach (1165-1240), which was printed from a manuscript for the first time just a few years ago.[6]

Another one of the earliest sources is found in the very interesting work Malmed Hatalmidim from Rav Yaakov Antoli. Rav Antoli was born around 1194 in Provence, in southern France. He married the daughter of Rav Shmuel Ibn Tibon, the famous translator of the Moreh Nevuchim into Hebrew. The Malmed Hatalmidim was only first printed in 1866, with the haskamos of many gedolim, but the manuscript form had been used before that by many Rishonim, most notably the Avudraham.

Rav Antoli writes that the custom is to eat milk and honey on Shavuos. He explains that this is because Torah is compared to milk and honey. Since milk is a very important food, so too, the mitzvos of the Torah are food for the soul, he says.[7]

Another early source for eating milchigs is found in the work Even Bochen from Rav Kalonymos ben Kalonymos (1286-1328)[8], where he describes milchig breads made with honey and formed into the shape of a ladder. (We’ll return to the ladder-shaped breads shortly).

Yet another early source can be found in the works of Rav Aharon Hacohen Miluneil (died around 1330) in his early work Kol Bo and in his later work Orchos Chaim. He writes, like the Malmed Hatalmidim, that on Shavuos people have the custom to eat milk and honey because Torah is compared to milk and honey. Women also bake challos with four heads, he says, as a zecher to the lechem hapanim. He says that others dip matzahs left over from Pesach into the spice known as zefrin since it causes happiness.[9]

Rav Avigdor Hatzorfoti (died 1275) brings a remez (hint) from the Torah for the minhag. The passuk about Shavuos says, “Ubyom habikurim bihakriyvchem mincha chadasha lashem beshivuaschem.” The beginning letters of the last three words spell out chalav, milk.[10]

This minhag is also found in the following early sefarim: the minhagim of the Maharam Merutenberg (written by a talmid of his)[11], Terumas Hadeshen[12], Maharil[13], Rav Isaac Tirina (born around 1380)[14],Meshivas Nefesh from Rabbi Yochanon Luria (1382)[15], Rama[16], Seder Hayom (printed in 1599)[17], Yosef Ometz (1570-1637)[18], and the Shelah Hakodesh (1570-1635).[19]

Aside from the reasons already mentioned, many additional reasons for this minhag have been given over the years. Recently, close to 150 reasons were collected by Rabbi Moshe Dinin in a small work called Kuntres Matamei Moshe.

Here are a few reasons and some interesting points related to them.

Rav Elyakyim Horowitz says that we eat milchigs because Dovid Hamelech died on Shavuos. The halacha is that when a king dies, all of the Jews have the status of an onen and are not permitted to eat meat.[20] This same reason can also be found in the work of Rabbi Shimon Falk.[21]

Rav Avrohom Hershovitz brings the Mishna at the end of Avos, which says that one of the 48 ways the Torah is acquired is through not indulging oneself. Since meat is considered an indulgence, we eat milk products during the chag of Matan Torah as a reminder that this is the way to acquire Torah.[22]

Rav Mordechai Leib Zaks points out that in the parsha of Bikurim it says that Hashem gave us the land of milk and honey. Therefore he suggests that the custom is to eat milchigs on the Yom Habikkurim to give thanks to Hashem for giving us the land of milk and honey and as a reminder of the mitzvah of bikkurim, which only included the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, the land of milk and honey.[23]

Rabbi Yeshuyah Singer in Zichron B’sefer (printed in 1900) writes an interesting reason which he had heard. The Torah was given on Shabbos. The meat they had prepared before learning the halachos of shechita was assur to eat. It is not permitted to shecht on Shabbos. Therefore Bnei Yisrael had to eat milchigs, as they could not eat the food that they had prepared beforehand.[24]

The Mishna Berurah mentions a similar reason that he heard in the name of “gadol echad.” Immediately after Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah, they were unable to eat anything but milchigs. The reason for that is because the preparation of kosher meat is very involved. A kosher knife and kosher utensils are necessary. Since this takes a long time, they just cooked milchigs.[25] Who is the “gadol echad” mentioned here? Rabbi Nachum Greenwald located this idea in the work Toldos Yitzchak, first printed in 1868. This idea is mentioned in the name of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak from Berditchev. It is interesting that the Chofetz Chaim did not say the name of the person he heard this idea from.[26] A similar idea can be found in the work Geulas Yisroel first printed in 1821.

Rabbi Kapach says that the Jews in Yemen expressed wonder at those who ate just milchigs on Shavuos. They did not like the reason given (as we mentioned before) that the meat slaughtered prior to Matan Torah would be neveilah afterwards, because they argued that only the Erev Rav were unable to shecht before Matan Torah. The rest of the Jews, they claimed, were shechting before Matan Torah, just as we know that the Gemara says that Avraham Avinu kept all the mitzvos of the Torah before they were given.[27] However this statement is not so simple, because even if they were shechting and doing mitzvos before it is heavily debated what that would be considered, since their status as Jews may have changed during Matan Torah. According to many it would follow that after Matan Torah they would need to kasher the utensils and shecht new animals.[28]

Rav Yissachar Teichtal deals with a related issue. He asks that since the Torah was given on Shabbos and they couldn’t shecht and their prior shechita was not kosher, how did they fulfill the obligation of eating meat on Shabbos?[29] Rav Teichtal first mentions the answer of the Zichron Basefer quoted above, which is that they didn’t eat meat that Shabbos. However, Rav Teichtel disagrees. He has an interesting answer to explain how they did indeed have meat on this Shabbos. Basing himself on various sources, he says that they had meat created through the Sefer Yetzirah. The Gemara relates that there were those who were able to create an animal via the Sefer Yetzirah; Rav Teichtal says that that was done here.[30]

The Toldos Yitzchak, quoted above, from Reb Levi Yitzchak Berditichever, gives another answer. There is a concept in halacha called Hoiel v’ishtrei ishtrei, which means that if something was permitted at one time, it remains muttar. It follows that they were permitted to eat anything they had prepared beforehand and did not have to throw out their dishes. Then he says that even though it was permitted, the Yidden were stringent and didn’t eat the meat. Since they were accepting the Torah that day, they wanted to be machmir.

A similar idea is found when Moshe Rabbeinu, as a baby, didn’t nurse from a non-Jew even though it was permissible. It appears that this idea is based on a concept found in numerous sources, called chinuch shanei. It means that the first time we do something, we do it in the best way possible, even if other ways are permitted. Moshe Rabbeinu could have been nursed from a non-Jew, but since he was the one who was going to get the Torah, he was kept from doing it. So too, here, the Yidden were machmir by not eating what was entirely permissible.[31]

Speaking of Moshe Rabbeinu, an original reason for this minhag is given by Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss, who says that Moshe Rabbeinu was found by the daughter of Pharaoh on Shavuos. Since they tried to give him milk from a non-Jew and he refused, we eat dairy to remind us of that.[32]

Cheesecake on the clock

Rav Dunner, in a recent article on the topic, lists many gedolim who ate the milchig seudah at night, including the Chazon Ish, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, and others.[33] It is questionable whether or not there is an obligation to eat meat at night on Yom Tov.[34] In other sources, we see the opposite. There were people who specifically ate milchigs during the day—for example, the Volozhin and Lomza yeshivas, which I mentioned earlier, where there was a kiddush with cheesecake after davening.[35] This is also what the Darchei Teshuvah suggests one should do to avoid many different halachic issues.[36]

There is much discussion in the poskim whether it is permitted to eat milchigs first during the day, and then wait and eat meat. There’s also discussion about how long to wait. Some wait an hour before eating meat. Other poskim deal with the question of whether there is an obligation to bentch after the milchig kiddush.[37] For example, the Knesses Hagedolah (1603-1673) writes that he ate milchigs and honey, then he benched, and after he waited an hour, he ate fleishigs.[38]

However it's pretty clear that the Magen Avrohom argues when he writes:

ועבי"ד סי' פ"ט דא"צ להפסיק בב"ה [בברכת המזון] אם אינו אוכל גבינה קשה (סי' תצד:ו).[39]

What’s interesting is that certain mekubalim did not eat milk the same day they ate meat products. Rabbi Eliyahu de Vidas, author of the Reishes Chochma (d. 1579), in his work Tosos Chaim writes that one should wait 24 hours(!) after eating meat before eating milk. According to this, it wouldn’t be possible to eat milk after meat on Shavuos![40]

The Yosef Ometz quotes the Shelah, who says that he would wait 24 hours after meat to eat milk.[41] But later on (in siman 854), he says that people were lenient about this on Shavuos.

Interestingly enough, the Tzror Hamor even says that one should not eat meat within 24 hours of eating milk, and vice versa.

לפי קבלת קדמונינו בא לאסור בשר בחלב. ואמר לא תבשל. ולא אמר לא תאכל. לרמוז לנו כפי חכמי האמת כי אסור לאכול בשר ואחר כך חלב. וכן אסור לאכול חלב ואחר כך בשר. ואעפ"י שנתנו חכמים שיעורים בזה. כבר כתב רשב"י ז"ל כי כמו שאסור חלב אחר בשר. כך אסור לאכול בשר אחר חלב. ודינם שוה לענין השיעור שהוא עד שיתעכל המזון שבמיעיו. שהם כמו שש שעות שהוא זמן מסעודה לסעודה. כי הבישול האמור כאן על בישול האצטומכא הוא. בענין שלא יתבשלו הבשר והחלב באצטומכא בזמן אחד. ולפי שיש אצטומכא מאחרת העיכול. ליראי ה' ולחושבי שמו אין לאכול גבינה ובשר ביום אחד. וכל שכן בשר וגבינה. וכן נוהגים המדקדקים במצות ואנשי מעשה. והטעם בזה לפי שאין ראוי לערב הכוחות אלו באלו. כח הדין בכח הרחמים. וכח הרחמים בכח הדין. כי הבשר הוא מדת הדין בסוד קץ כל בשר. כי מנפש ועד בשר יכלה הצר. והחלב הוא סוד הרחמים הגמורים המלבינים עונותיהם של ישראל. כאומרו כשלג ילבינו. והחטא הוא אדום בסוד הלעיטני נא מן האדום האדום הזה. ולכן יש להפרידם זה מזה כל אחד על כנו. ואת כל עורב למינו (צרור המור, משפטים, כג:יט).

According to this there would be appear to be no way to eat both milk and meat on Shavuos.

The Toras Chaim is also very concerned with this issue of eating meat after milk; he says not to eat milchigs on Shavuos.[42]

However, other rabbanim were to the other extreme. The Rokeach writes that his great uncle used to eat cheese, then wash his mouth out and immediately eat meat.[43] There is also a talmid of the Terumas Hadeshen who writes in his work Leket Yosher that his rebbi did the same[44].

From honey to milk

It would appear that this minhag of eating milchigs ties in with another minhag of Shavuos and perhaps is derived from there.[45] When the talmid of the Maharam Merutenberg brings among the minhagim of the Maharam the minhag to eat milchigs on Shavuos, he brings it right after he brings another minhag: “Special cakes with pesukim on them are made for children as they begin to learn on Shavuos these are made to help them have an open heart [for learning].”

There are numerous sources in Rishonim (such as Rokeach and Machzor Vitri) that on Shavuos when a boy begins to learn an elaborate ceremony is performed in which they eat from specially prepared cakes and dip their fingers in honey while saying certain pesukim.[46] This is done to help the boy’s mind open up and is a special segulah to help him remember what he learns. (Some sources do not mention that this was done on Shavuos; most do.)

This ceremony was done on Shavuos because it is the day we received the Torah. Interestingly, we find sources for a few hundred years in the Rishonim that this minhag continued, at least in German circles. But it appears to have eventually been forgotten. The Shach cites the Rokeach as having mentioned the minhag but says that now it is not done.[47] Rabbi Dovid Ginsburg writes that he only found out about this minhag later on in life and had he known about it earlier he would have definitely done it for his children.[48] Rav Yaakov Emden writes that the reason that in earlier times the children excelled in their Jewish education as opposed to in his times was due to that they stopped doing this ceremony quoted in the Rishonim![48] Recently this minhag has been revived as part of the upsherin ceremony.

Be that as it may, it is possible that this minhag of eating honey and sweets on Shavuos actually led to the minhag of eating of milchigs, because honey has always been associated with milchigs.

As mentioned earlier, some made special milchig breads in the shapes of ladders. In the work Even Bochen from Rav Kalonymos ben Kalonymos we find an explanation, that the gematria of sulam (ladder) is Sinai. The Yosef Ometz and others bring different reasons connecting a ladder and Shavuos. [49]

Professor Daniel Sperber suggested that the reason why the bread is shaped in the form of a ladder is that it ties in to the ceremonies for children who begin learning. To get the children to ask what is going on we make the breads in an interesting shape, similar to our methods of getting them to ask at the Pesach seder.[50]

[1] There are many collections of material on this issue see for example Rabbi Pinchas Schwartz, Minchas Chadasah, pp. 38-44; Rabbi S. Deblitski, Kuntres Hamoyadim, pp. 37-40; Kovet Eitz Chaim (Bobov) 6 (2008) pp. 239-242; an excellent collection of material in Pardes Eliezer, pp. 227-316; Rabbi Freund, Moadyim Lisimcha 6, pp. 490-505 ; Rabbi Yitzchack Tessler, Pininei Minhag, pp. 292-319; Rabbi Oberlander, Kovetz Or Yisroel, 32:104-120 and later updated in his Minhag Avosenu Beyadneu. See also Yehudah Avidah in his work on Yiddish foods, Yiddishe Macholim, pp. 43-44; M. Kosover, Yiddishe Macholim, p. 75, 77, 98.
[2] Pauline Wengeroff, Memoirs of a Grandmother, 2010, p.150.
[3] Reshumot 1, p. 340.
[4] See Pirkei Zichronos, (2004) p. 359
[5] I hope to return to many other aspects of the minhag in the near future.
[6] Drasha Lepesach, ed. Simcha Emanuel (2006), p. 39, 110. See the important comment on this from my friend M. M. Honig in Pininei Minhag, p. 292.
[7] Malmed Hatalmdim, p. 121b. I hope to return to this work in a future article; for now see my article in Yeshurun, 24 (2011), p. 457.
[8] Even Bochen, p. 34. Mahratz Chiyos in his Kol Sifrei (p. 236) quotes this as an early source for eating milchigs. Both Matai Moshe (siman 692) and Mekor Chaim quote this work when talking about eating milchigs on Shavuos. On Rav Kalonymus ben Kalonymus much has been written already see: Y. Zinberg, Toldos Safrus Yisroel, vol. 1, pp. 411-427; Uberto Cassuto in the intro of the facsimile edition of Mesechtas Purim printed by A. Haberman in 1978; A. Haberman, Toldos Hapiyut Ve-hashira, vol. 2, pp. 142-149; A. Haberman Iyunim Bshira Ubpyuit, pg 162-179; C. Shirman, Toldos Ha-shira Haivirit Be-sefard, pp. 514-541.
[9 Orchos Chaim, p. 78a, Kol Bo, siman 52. Most are not aware that this work was authored by the same person. There were actually those that thought the Kol Bo was authored by a woman; see my Bein Kesseh L’essur (2010) p. 143.
[10] See Rav Avigdor Hatzorfoti, p. 478 See his Pirush Rav Avigdor Cohen Tzedek printed in the Toras Chaim edition of Megillas Rus, 2011, p. 53. On Rav Avigdor Hatzorfoti see Simcha Emanuel, Shivrei Luchos, pp. 173-181; E. Kanarfogel, Peering through the Lattices, pp. 107-109.
[11] Minhaghim of Maharham, p. 30.
[12] Leket Yosher, p. 103
[13] Minhaghim p. 85
[14] Sefer Minhaghim, Reb Isaac Tirina (2000) p. 67-68. To be more exact this minhag is in the section which is called Hagahos haminhagim. It is unclear exactly who the author is of that section but it assumed to have been written rather early on. On all of this, see S. Spitzer in his introduction to this edition pp. 17-18.
[15] Meshivas Nefesh, p. 185. On the dating of this work see Rabbi Yakov Stahl, Deutsche 84, (2010) p. 6.
[16] See Igros Moshe OC 1:160. On this topic see this excellent article by my friend Rabbi Yehudah Spitz here.
[17] Seder Hayom Shavuos p.78
[18] Siman 854
[19] Shelah, Mesechtas Shavuos, p. 30a.
[20] Zichron Yerushlayim, p. 153. In Reshumot 1, p. 350 we find that some made a special seudah because of this and finished Sefer Tehillim.
[21] Shut Shem Mishomon, OC, 2:4, p.15.
[22] R. Avraham Eliezer Hershkowitz, Otzar Kol Minhaghei Yeshrun (St. Louis, 1918),p. 201
[23]Zemanim, (1951) p. 53 See also his Mili Demordechai, p. 125. For another connection between bikkurim and eating milchigs see Rabbi Shlomo Schick, Seder Minhaghim 1 (1880)pp. 83b-84a.
[24] Zichron Besefer, p. 122. See Emes Leyakov (Shulchan Aruch) p. 215 where Rav Yaakov suggests this reason himself and adds some points.
[25] Mishna Berurah 494:12. See also Rav Tzvi Farber, Sefer Moadyim, p. 26 (and see there for some other reasons). See also Rabbi Aron Misnik, Minchas Ahron, pp. 102-106; Pardes Eliezer, pp. 279-282.
[26] The Chofetz Chaim did not have a problem quoting chassidic sources; he quotes the Shulchan Aruch Harav numerous times. On the Chofetz Chaim and chassidus see what I wrote in the article “Censorship in the Sefer Chofetz Chaim,” here.
[27] Halichos Teiman, p. 31. See also Keser Shem Tov, 4 p. 16 who has a similar issue.
[28] The status of the Yidden before Matan Torah and the mitzvos performed then has been discussed in numerous works I hope to return to this topic at a later date. See also Rabbi Oberlander (above, note 1) p. 632- 633.
[29] Shut Mishnat Sachir, siman 136.
[30] Much has been written on how one creates something based on the Sefer Yetzirah and if one can use what has been created through such a method for a mitzvah or the like. I hope to return to this topic at a future date.
[31] A subject I hope to return to in the future.
[32] Elef Kesav, 1, p. 64.
[33] Kovet Eitz Chaim (Bobov) 6 (2008) p. 240
[34] See Eitz Chaim Ibid. See Darchei Tesuvah, 89:19.
[35] See Pirkei Zicronos, (2004) p. 359.
[36] Darchei Tesuvah, 89:19.
[37] See Darchei Tesuvah, 89:14; Dershot Mishnat Sachir, 2, pp. 347-348.
[38] Shiurei Kness hagedolah, 494. See Shut Sich Yitzchack, 234. On this topic see this excellent article by my friend Rabbi Yehudah Spitz here.
[39] I will deal with this Magen Avrhom at great length in the near future B"n.
[40] See Tosas Chaim, 2008 p. 79. In the back of this edition there is a lengthy Peirush Ir Hachaim, pp. 245- 249 and for in-depth discussion of this topic see the Pardes Eliezer pp. 233- 238. I will deal with this at greater length in the near future B"n.
[41] See Yosef Ometz, siman 137.
[42] Toras Chaim, Chullin 83a. However it is worth pointing out that the Toras Chaim in Bava Metzia 86b, says that the reason for eating milchigs on Shavuos is to show the malachim that we are careful about basar b’cholov and that when we eat milk we are careful to do everything halacha says to do before we eat meat.
[43] See Drasha of the Rokeach, p. 39
[44] Leket Yosher, p. 103
[45] This idea was suggested by my friend M.M. Honig. Rabbi Oberlander (above, note 1) also suggests this point. D. Sperber in his Minhagei Yisroel 3, p. 139 also connects the two.
[46] See my article on this in Yerushacheinu, 5 (2011) pp. 337-360 especially pp. 344-347.
[47] Shach, 245:8.
[48] See my article in Yerushacheinu (ibid), p. 347 note 65.
[49] Migdol Oz, p. 32.
[50] Others have different shapes and reasons; see Rav Yehoshua Falk, Choshevi Machsvos p. 152. See also M. Gidman , Hatorah Vehachaim 3, 108; H. Pollack, Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands (1648-1806), p. 102, 277
[51] Minhagei Yisroel 3, p. 139.

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