Yesterday, we noted the Gemara’s discussion in Masekhet Bekhorot (6b) regarding the Biblical source for the permissibility of milk drawn from a kosher animal. As even kosher animals are forbidden for consumption until they are slaughtered, we would have intuitively forbidden their milk, in light of the rule that anything originating from something forbidden is itself forbidden (“ha-yotzei min ha-assur assur”). Therefore, there must be some source in the Torah for the permissibility of milk. The Gemara cites several Biblical sources for permitting the consumption of milk, after first unsuccessfully trying to suggest that the source is the prohibition against consuming basar be-chalav – meat together with milk. The premise of the prohibition is that meat and milk are independently permissible, and thus this prohibition seemingly provides us with a source for allowing the consumption of milk. The Gemara ultimately rejects this line of reasoning (as we discussed yesterday).
A number of writers raised the question of why the Gemara did not point to a different verse – the command in Parashat Mishpatim (22:29) to offer a male firstborn kosher animal as a sacrifice. The Torah writes that after the birth of such an animal, “it shall be with its mother for seven days, and on the eighth, you shall give it to Me.” An animal may not be brought as a sacrifice during its first week of life, but should rather remain with its mother – presumably, to nurse – for seven days and then be offered as a sacrifice. This means that the Torah permits – and in fact, requires – offering as a sacrifice an eight-day-old animal that had spent its first week of life nursing from its mother. Seemingly, this should prove that milk is permissible for consumption. The Rama (Y.D. 60:1) rules that an animal which has been fed exclusively non-kosher food – for example, if its mother was a tereifa (forbidden for consumption due to a fatal condition), and it had consumed nothing but its mother’s milk – is forbidden for consumption. If such an animal may not be eaten, it is certainly forbidden to be brought as a sacrifice. Hence, as the Torah speaks of a newborn animal spending its first seven days of life with its mother and then being offered as a sacrifice on the eighth day, we can, seemingly, prove that milk of a kosher animal is permissible for consumption. Newborn mammals during the first week of life are generally nourished exclusively from their mother’s milk, and thus if the Torah permits an eight-day-old animal as a sacrifice, this would seem to prove that milk is permissible. Why, then, did the Gemara not cite this verse as a source for the permissibility of consuming milk?
One possible answer is suggested by Rav Hersh Yaar, in his Chamudei Tzvi (Parashat Mishpatim), where he distinguishes between two types of prohibitions relating to the consumption of food. Some foods, such as the meat of a neveila (carcass of an animal that did not undergo halakhic shechita) or a tereifa, are forbidden because they are deemed unfit for consumption by members of God’s special nation. In some cases, however, the opposite is true – food is forbidden because we are not worthy of partaking of such food. For example, tradition teaches that before the flood, human beings were not allowed to eat animal meat, even from kosher animals that were properly slaughtered. This prohibition stemmed not from the “lowly” stature of the meat, but rather from the fact that mankind at that point was deemed unworthy of partaking of animals. (Some explain that after Noach rescued the animal kingdom during the flood, human beings were then worthy of eating animals.) Rav Yaar explains that foods in this second category are allowed to be offered as sacrifices, even though they are forbidden for consumption. And thus tradition teaches that Adam offered an animal sacrifice to God, even though animals at that point were forbidden for human consumption. Since this prohibition stemmed from the unworthiness of human beings, and not the lowly quality of the animal, the animal was fit for use as a sacrifice. (Rav Yaar cites this insight in the name of Rav Mendel of Radzymin.)
Rav Yaar applies this line of reasoning to the status of milk. If milk had been forbidden for consumption, due to its having been taken from a live animal, this would not have been a function of its lowly quality, of its being unfit for consumption by God’s chosen people. Rather, this would have been a function of our unworthiness of partaking of something produced by a live creature. As such, even if milk had been forbidden for consumption, it would have been suitable as far as sacrifices were concerned, such that an animal that had been nourished exclusively by its mother’s milk would not have been disqualified as a sacrifice. Therefore, the fact that the Torah mandates the offering of a firstborn animal on its eighth day of life does not prove that milk is permissible for consumption.