Eating Milk and Meat on One Table
The first mishna in the 8th perek of Chullin describes the prohibition of eating meat and milk at the same table. Even though they are being eaten 'separately' and by different people, they cannot be placed upon one table. Obviously, this prohibition is rabbinic in nature as the Torah onlyy prohibits cooking, eating and deriving benefit from meat and milk. This article will attempt to uncover the nature of the rabbinic decree of not 'combining' meat and milk upon the same table.
The gemara initially cites Rav Yosef's position that, in fact, poultry and milk is forbidden mi-deoraita. Even though the Torah refers only to the prohibition of a mixture of 'gedi' (calf) and milk, we can extend the literal meaning to include chicken and meat. If, indeed, poultry and milk are biblically forbidden, the mishna's prohibition of eating them at the same table is understandable. Placing them upon the same table would risk their being eaten together - a biblical prohibition. Therefore, the Rabanan prevented the violation of the biblical prohibition through their own decree.
Abaye attempts to defend the rabbinic prohibition of placing upon the same table even if EATING poultry is itself only a rabbinic prohibition. The gemara responds that such a stance would appear to violate the principle of "ein gozrin gezeira li-gezeira." The Rabanan cannot make a decree to prevent an issur which itself is derabanan; they may only issue decrees protecting against deoraita prohibitions. If eating poultry and milk together is only forbidden mi-derabanan, then placing them upon the same table cannot be banned. To this, the gemara responds that, in fact, the decree of not placing poultry and milk upon the same table protects against placing meat and milk upon the same table. This, in effect, protects against the violation of a biblical prohibition.
The gemara's answer still seems questionable. Placing meat and milk upon the same table is itself a rabbinic decree to prevent eating them together. Prohibiting poultry and milk to defend against placing meat and milk would again defy the principle of ein gozrin gezeira li-gezeira.
The Rishonim offer varied approaches to this question. From the Rambam (Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Assurot 9:20), it would appear that some situations do indeed warrant a gezeira li-gezeira. In cases in which 'lo badil minei,' where people have constant contact with the forbidden material (such as our case in which people always eat poultry and always eat meat), a double gezeira is warranted. The Me'iri, however, adopts a different stance. He claims that, in fact, our situation can be considered ONE large gezeira. According to the Me'iri, placing meat and milk upon the same table is indeed forbidden as a 'hedge' against eating them together. However, the Rabanan formalized this prohibition and redefined the placement of food on the same table as an extended 'virtual' form of eating them together. In their attempt to prevent ACTUAL eating of meat and milk, the Rabanan defined any foods which are eaten from the same table as if they were eaten TOGETHER. Hence, placing meat and milk is considered 'mi-derabanan' as if they were eaten together. Placing poultry and milk is forbidden since one might PLACE OR EAT meat and milk together – acts which would be considered as eating meat and milk together either in the strict biblical sense of literally eating together or in the extended rabbinic definition of placing them on the same table.
This notion of the Me'iri radically redefines the nature of placing meat and milk upon the same table. Instead of its being a gezeira so that they would not be eaten together, we can view the rabbinic prohibition (motivated by fears of eating together) as a redefinition of the act of eating. This perspective might greatly affect the scope and application of the issur of placing meat and milk upon the same table.
The mishna (Chullin 104b) allows placement of meat and milk upon a 'shulchan shel tavshilin' a table on which foods are merely arranged prior to their being brought to the eating table. Why should this table be excluded from the rabbinic decree? According to the Me'iri's definition of the issur, we might better understand this exception. The Rabanan considered food eaten from one table as food eaten together. This redefinition, however, might only apply to "eating" tables. Preparation tables from which food is not eaten would not be included within the issur. On the other hand, had the intent of the issur been to prevent meat and milk from entering the same vicinity, we might not so easily distinguish between eating tables and serving tables.
Rashi provides a different logic for the exemption of serving tables from the prohibition. Rashi claims that the chances of meat and milk being mixed on a serving table are greatly reduced since people don't normally move things around with their hands upon these tables. Though Rashi's assumptions are questionable, one thing is clear: he is trying to justify the serving table exemption assuming that the prohibition is designed to prevent the mixture of the two substances. Had the prohibition been formalized to mean that eating from the same table is considered as eating together, the serving table exemption might have been slightly easier to justify.
The mishna (Chullin 107b) allows two strangers who do not share the same food to eat meat and milk on the same table. This is understood since, on the one hand, the chance of mixture is limited and, on the other hand, we cannot consider their eating as one. Subsequently, the gemara ponders whether two brothers who do not share their food are allowed to eat meat and milk from the same table. In theory, the gemara might have been posing our question regarding the nature of the prohibition. If the prohibition centers around the chances of mixture as long as the two parties are not sharing food, the chances remain slim. However, if the issur became formalized into a ban of meat and milk on one table, we might consider two brothers partaking of a meal as sharing one table. In the case of strangers who don't share food, even though they physically share a table, they are not seen by halakha as eating from one table or one meal. The table upon which two brothers are eating – even if those brothers are not sharing their meal - might be formally classified as one table.
Effectively, the gemara might have been questioning whether the issur takes formal factors into account (whether we consider it one table) or merely revolves around the actual chances that the substances will be mixed.
What about placing "milk" which is not defined as food? The Pitchei Teshuva cites Or Zarua who rules that one may place a candle made from butter upon the same table as meat. If the prohibition centered around practical concerns, we might have reason to prohibit this case as well. Possibly, the wax will drip on the food or perhaps a person will move the candle, touching its wax and mixing it with his meat. If, however, the prohibition became formalized that one may not eat meat and milk on the same table because mi-derabanan they are considered one act of eating, we might only apply the prohibition to cases of eating meat and milk and not to cases of placing meat and milk items in contexts which are not related to eating.
A final issue might revolve around a solution which the Rishonim propose concerning placing something else on the table. See the Tosafot (Chullin 107a) and Rosh (Paragraph 20).
Does this item's placement serve merely as a reminder to the diners not to be careless about mixing the food they eat? Or do we view this item as a hefsek which effectively splits the table into 2 separate tables? The nature of this solution might reflect the essence of the prohibition. If the issur is based solely upon the chances of mixing substances, a 'heker' or reminder would suffice. If, however, the Rabanan redefined eating meat and milk from the same table as eating them together, we might require not only a heker but a hefsek which would effectively create two tables and thereby skirt the problem.
Whether this solution constitutes a heker or a hefsek can be gauged by two factors:
1) Must the item be a certain height - see the Darkhei Moshe on Tur (88:2).
If we demand a heker, height would be of no consequence. If, however, we desire a hefsek the height of the item might be meaningful.
2) Can the item be a parve item which is also to be eaten? See Rema on Shulchan Arukh 88:2. Again, if the solution constitutes a heker, any foreign unnatural item might provide this reminder. If, however, we require a hefsek between the two meals, an item which is being eaten as part of the meal would not be satisfactory.