A Shavuos Halacha Guide

August 02, 2016

By Rabbi Yonason Johnson

Throughout the Jewish world, it is customary to eat dairy foods on the first day of Shavuos. As far as Minhagim go, this culinary practise is highly enjoyable, a welcome change and novelty from the usual fleishig Shabbos and Yomtov meals. We go all out on smorgasbords of blintzes, cheesecakes, quiches, ice-creams and more, to celebrate the day of the Giving of the Torah.

In his glosses on the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (referred to as the Ramo), codifies this Halacha as being the custom throughout Ashkenaz. Rabbi Shneur Zalman (known as the Alter Rebbe or author of the Tanya), adds that Minhag Avoseinu Torah Hi, the customs received from our predecessors become a part of the Torah itself.

There are many reasons for this custom and its connection to the Yomtov of Shavuos and the giving of the Torah.

In explanation of the custom of eating dairy on Shavuos, the Ramo writes that one should wash and have a milchig meal and then (after bentching), wash again and have a fleishig Yomtov meal. Eating two meals with bread on Shavuos day recalls the two wheat loaves, the Shtei Halechem, which were the special Shavuos offering in the Beis Hamikdosh.

Whilst common practise is not to wash twice like the Ramo, we are still required to eat meat at every Yomtov meal to fulfil the mitzvah of rejoicing on Yomtov. The custom of eating milchigs does not substitute this requirement. Commonly the milchig meal will take the form of a Kiddush without bread, which is followed by the usual fleishig Yomtov meal. 

Since we are eating both milchigs and fleishigs in proximity, the Alter Rebbe warns: “Therefore they need to be careful not to come to violate the laws of milk and meat (basar b’chalav) and they should follow what it says in Yoreh Deah 88 and 89 - the laws of basar b’chalav”.

The Talmud (Shabbos 88) describes a debate up in Heaven when Moshe ascended to receive the Torah. The angels lay claim to the Torah, urging Hashem to leave the Torah in Heaven, rather than giving it to man who would inevitably struggle to fulfil it. One of the reasons why the angels’ request was denied was because they were not careful in the laws of separating milk and meat. This refers to when the three angels visited Avraham and consumed milk and meat together in the same meal. In contrast, the Jewish people would safeguard the laws of Kashrus in separating milk and meat. 

So even though these Halachas apply year-round, on Shavuos there is even more reason to be meticulous. Below are some halachic guidelines to keep in mind as we enjoy our milchig Kiddush and Yomtov meal.   

Waiting Between Meat and Milk

The Talmud (Chullin 105a) teaches that if one has meat at one meal, they may not have milk until the next meal. The Sefardi Rishonim explain that this requires waiting 6 hours before eating milk or milk products. This is codified in the Shulchan Aruch as Halacha for Sefardi Jews.

Based on the Ashkenazi Rishonim, the Ramo writes that the custom is to wait 1 hour before eating dairy. This is the custom of Jews of Dutch descent. Many German Jews have the custom of waiting 3 hours.

However most of Ashkenazi Jewry have adopted as a binding practise the stringency of waiting 6 hours after eating meat or foods cooked with meat, before eating milchig foods or foods cooked with milk.

One is not required to wait after eating Pareve foods which were cooked in fleishig vessels.

The six hours are measured as six full sixty-minute hours. The time is counted from the moment one finishes eating actual meat until the time they begin eating milk.

Even after waiting, any meat found between one’s teeth must be removed (one need not wait again).

There is halachic debate in a case where one is in doubt whether six full hours have lapsed yet or not. Accepted Halacha is to wait until one is certain that six hours have passed. 

If a bracha was recited over a milchig food and one realises that they are still fleishig; if at least one hour has passed, one should eat a small amount so as not to have made a blessing in vain. No more milchigs may be eaten until the six hours have passed.

Waiting Requirements for Children

Even very young children should not be given milk and meat together. When giving a milk bottle to a toddler after a meat meal, their mouth should be rinsed with a pareve drink beforehand.

Once the child is of an age where they start to understand the separation of milk and meat, they should be trained to wait, increasing the waiting duration commensurate with the child’s age. From age 9 children should ideally be waiting the full six hours.

Leniency and flexibility can be used in cases of need for children and the sick or elderly, provided that at least one hour has past. For more specific guidance contact your orthodox Rav.

Waiting Between Milk and Meat

After eating aged or cured cheeses (aged for more than six months), one is required min hadin to wait just as one does after eating meat. With many imported gourmet cheeses now available in Australia (parmesan, aged cheddar etc.), this is a relevant issue and one should verify their status before serving them.

For all other dairy products i.e. milk, ice-cream, yogurts and soft cheese, one need not wait at all before eating meat. One need only follow the steps listed below.

Many follow the custom recorded by Rabbi Yishaya Halevi Horowitz (known as the Shalo”h) to wait one hour after all dairy products (other than hard cheeses as above). The one hour is calculated from the time one finishes eating milk. Therefore, after the milchig Kiddush, one may serve pareve courses such as challah, fish, salads and soup within the hour.

Whether one waits an hour after dairy or does not wait at all, the following must be done before eating meat;

One should clean their hands to remove any dairy residue. If one did not directly touch the dairy foods with one’s hands then this is not required.

One must also rinse their mouth by drinking something and cleanse their mouth by eating a hard pareve food (with the exception of dates and vegetables). This is to remove any residue left from the milchig foods.

One should also remember to make an after-blessing (bracha achrona) after eating milchigs before starting the fleishig meal.

Other Precautions

After eating milchigs, the tablecloth should be changed and all food served on the milchig table should be removed. This certainly applies to milchig foods, but also pareve foods such as Challah, dips and salads which may have been “contaminated” with dairy.

The Kiddush becher and other cups used at the milchig meal should be changed for the fleishig meal.

Bread or challah that was cut with a milchig knife should not be eaten with meat (and vice versa). It is halachically preferable to have a designated bread knife which is kept pareve.

When adding spices and seasoning to pots with hot milchig or fleishig foods, there is the concern that the steam may affect the spices, making them fleishig or milchig. Preferably spices should be poured into one’s hand and then added to the pot. This avoids requiring two separate sets of spices

It is advisable to have separate tomato sauce bottles (and the like) for milk and meat. This is especially so with children who often touch the bottle to their food while pouring their sauce.


A raw onion, or similarly sharp food (lemon, pickle etc.) which has been cut with a fleishig knife or cooked in a fleishig pot becomes fleishig and may not be eaten with milk. However, one is not required to wait six hours after eating such an onion before eating dairy.

According to many authorities, an onion cut with a milchig knife or cooked in a milchig pot should not be eaten within the waiting period after eating fleishigs. There is a lenient view which permits this. For a practical ruling consult your orthodox Rav.

Due to the unique status of sharp foods, it is advisable to have a pareve knife for cutting sharp foods.


The Rabbis forbade making milchig or fleishig breads e.g. breads made with actual milk or butter etc. This was due to fear of inadvertently eating the bread with the other type i.e. using the dairy bread for a meat sandwich.

If bread was made with milk (or meat), it may not be eaten at all, even on its own, unless either one of these conditions are met;

· The bread is small enough to be consumed within one day.

· The bread has been baked in a different shape or has a feature which clearly marks it as dairy e.g. melted cheese on top.

This issur does not extend to bread baked in a clean fleishig/milchig oven, although such breads should not be eaten with the other type e.g. eating bread baked in a clean fleishig oven with milk.

The above prohibition does not apply to cakes and cookies but does apply to pastries such as pies and burekas.

Kashering the Oven

Ashkenazi custom is that we do not kasher keilim back and forth from milchig to fleishig and vice versa. This is due to a concern that one will forget what the current status of the vessel is. Nonetheless one may kasher their fleishig oven to bake cheesecakes for Shavuos (on milchig trays). This is because it is a one-off occurrence and not likely to lead to confusion.

Additionally some authorities hold that this custom applies only to vessels and not to ovens. Some Poskim also limit the application of this stringency to kashering through hagalah (boiling water) and not to kashering via libun (dry heat) as is done with an oven.

Milk and Fish

Halacha forbids eating fish and meat together. Our sages have a tradition that this can cause sakanah (harm or danger).

The Beis Yosef writes that the concern also applies with eating fish together with milk. The Ashkenazi commentaries explain that this was a scribal error, since there is no source for this in the Talmud.

Sefardim will not eat fish with milk (although many are lenient with butter). Most Ashkenazim will eat fish and milk together. Even amongst Ashkenazim, including Chabad custom, there are those who will not eat fish with milk but will do so with milk products such as butter and cream.

One should follow their family custom or consult their orthodox Rav for guidance on this issue.

Just as the Jewish people merited to receive the Torah in the zechus of their future observance of the laws of separating milk and meat (unlike the angels), in the merit of our halachic discussion, may we merit to receive the Torah once more on Shavuos and internalise its teachings in a joyful and meaningful way.