The Torah in Parashat Mishpatim (23:19) introduces the prohibition of basar be-chalav, which forbids cooking meat with milk, as well as eating or deriving any other form of benefit from meat cooked with milk. As we know, Chazal enacted that beyond avoiding meat that had been cooked with milk, one must also refrain from consuming milk (or foods prepared with milk) for a period of time after eating meat (Chulin 104b-105a). Different views exist as to the precise duration of time that one must wait before consuming milk after eating meat, but the most common custom is to wait six hours, the opinion codified by the Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 89:1). The Rishonim explain that this duration is needed to ensure that one’s mouth is clean of meat residue before he consumes milk.
Conceptually, this requirement can be understood in two ways. The simpler understanding, perhaps, is that Chazal merely imposed a prohibition against eating meat during this six-hour period as a safeguard against eating meat and milk. Alternatively, however, one could suggest that Chazal imposed upon meat consumed during this period a status of basar be-chalav. While the Torah assigned this status only to meat and milk that had been cooked together, Chazal extended it to include even milk that one consumes within six hours of eating meat and thus mixes with residual meat particles in one’s mouth.
One possible practical ramification of this question relates to the situation of one who mistakenly recited a berakha over milk or cheese within six hours of eating meat, and before consuming the milk or cheese, he remembered that he may not consume the food at that point. Several halakhic authorities addressed the question of whether a person in this situation should take a sip of the milk (or a bite of cheese), despite the prohibition against drinking milk at this time, in order that the berakha would not have been recited in vain. The work Zekhor La-Avraham (Ma’arekhet Basar Be-chalav) states that one should taste the milk in this case, since some views do not require waiting six hours between the consumption of meat and milk, and thus one can rely on these views to avoid the recitation of a berakha le-vatala (blessing recited in vain). Seemingly, this ruling reflects the perspective that views the requirement to wait before consuming milk as nothing more than that – a requirement to wait. When this requirement conflicts with the prohibition against reciting a berakha in vain, then it is conceivable that we would opt for suspending the law requiring refraining from meat for this period to avoid the recitation of a berakha le-vatala. If, however, we view meat during this six-hour period as having the status of basar be-chalav, food forbidden for consumption by Chazal, then this ruling seems difficult to understand. After all, the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 196:1) rules explicitly that if a person, for whatever reason, eats forbidden food – regardless of whether the food is forbidden by force of Torah law or by force of rabbinic enactment – he does not recite a berakha over the food. Seemingly, then, in the case of one who mistakenly prepared to eat dairy food within six hours of eating meat, eating the food would not “protect” his berakha from having been recited in vain. Since this food is forbidden for consumption, it does not warrant a berakha, and so the berakha has been recited in vain regardless of whether the person partakes of the dairy food upon which he recited the berakha. The ruling of the Zekhor Le-Avraham, then, reflects the view that Chazal did not impose a forbidden status upon dairy foods during this six-hour period, but rather imposed a requirement upon the individual to refrain from dairy foods during this period – a requirement which, at least according to some opinions, is overridden by the desire to avoid a situation of berakha le-vatala.
(Based on Umka De-parsha, Parashat Mishpatim, 5774)