Why I Leave the Cheese off that Burger

Two of the most common misperceptions about Judaism are that kosher food means food that has been blessed by a rabbi and that Judaism does not believe in an afterlife.

One of the reasons so many Jews mistakenly assume that their faith ignores existence after death is because the Hebrew Bible, known as the TaNaCH, contains so few references to what happens after death.

Indeed, throughout the Torah God promises those who live by the Covenant a good life in this world rather than rewards in the world to come. In spite of its importance, there is a reason for this paucity of information on the afterlife.

The reason is simply that the great mystery of death can easily overwhelm our lives, utterly robbing us of passion and spontaneity. Death, the shocking gateway to the unknown can easily infect our very essence, coloring our souls with a compelling but subconscious negativity. In some faiths, allowing death to become an obsession makes people contemptuous of life and diminishes the value of their own lives as well as the lives of others.

Thus Jews are urged to avoid all unnecessary contact with death. Séances or other gatherings intended to ‘raise the dead’ are prohibited. In no way does Scripture suggest that communicating with the dead is impossible, just that it’s a really bad idea.

Obviously people do die and we mourn. However, the mourning is not for the departed. Safe in the arms of our Father in Heaven, they are fine. It is we who are impacted by the death and it is for our loss that we mourn. One purpose of mourning is to go through a formal process that helps banish the aura of death, allowing us to return to our normal exuberant love of life.

Being subconsciously but overwhelmingly aware of death inhibits us from rapturously embracing life. It interferes with staying happy and diminishes our ability to plan our lives and live our plans. Though we know it is there, focusing on the afterlife is just counterproductive.

The seductiveness of death is clear to anyone who has slowly driven past an accident scene, peering at someone lying on the ground. It is equally clear to anyone who has sat in a darkened room watching a movie displaying people getting killed. Death exerts a fatal fascination while, at the same time, it subtly disrupts life in ways we don’t always recognize.

In an effort to separate our day-to-day lives from the oppressive and paralyzing impact of death, the Torah commands Jews to separate ‘death food’ and ‘life food.” Meat is viewed as a perfectly legitimate food for humans but we have to realize that an animal yielded its life to provide that hamburger. On the other hand, milk is the food of life. No animal died in order to provide it and furthermore, milk is the first nourishment all baby mammals encounter.

Both meat and dairy products are recommended foods in Judaism and indeed both have important ritual roles. However, as part of the laws of kosher food, meat and dairy are kept quite separate in Jewish cooking.

Ancient Jewish wisdom shows how the three-time duplication of the following verse lifts it from its literal meaning.

Do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Deuteronomy 14:21)

Scripture doesn’t waste our time with arcane commandments. Who would have thought of cooking a goat in its mother’s milk? Instead this passage reveals the cosmic truth that there is a deep gulf between meat and milk, which is to say, between life and death.

As humans we experience both but we need to keep them separate. Allowing the spirit of death to intrude can rob our lives of their full potential. While Jews should avoid eating meat and dairy foods together, all who wish to enhance their lives can choose to block obtrusive images of death in entertainment or the news and recognize them as a form of spiritual pollution.

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23 thoughts on “Why I Leave the Cheese off that Burger”

  1. teresa baumgartner

    I m very grateful for insights here. Dr Daniel Amen (Neuro Scientist, Psychiatrist) said similar emphasis, just in “non religious” words, thus your spiritually put….echoed that. Joyce Meyers, says grief ok, Not spirit of grief; same idea. I truly did NOT know, in quite the Clear way, you’ve said it here. o wow! thank you soo much. Teresa

  2. Dear Rabbi Lapin;
    I am what is generally classified as an evangelical Christion. I am also quite non-denominational, but firmly believe that the Scriptures are entirely inerrant and “… breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” As to keeping kosher, I do not understand that the dietary laws continue to be binding on Christians, but agree that adherence to them–at least in general outline–makes good sense physically as well as morally. It is absolutely true, in my opinion that the proscription against eating meat and milk together is primarily a spiritual teaching, originally undertaken in reaction against the prevailing modes of worship in which Israel’s neighbors in the Promised Land engaged, viz., the Amorites and Moabites (particularly loathsome, as illustrated by what transpired at Ba’al Peor). We should, as you urge, continue to (lovingly but firmly) resist the contemporary Amorites and Moabites in our midst, by which I specifically include homosexuality and abortion advocates, but also all those who believe that sexual license is acceptable. I believe that the prophetic warning applies without exception. I fear the curses of Deuteronomy 28 continue to have application, not only to the Israelites of Moses’ day, but to all peoples, everywhere and in every epoch. For that reason, I am skeptical of the continued viability of our “civilization.” I commend and thank you for your efforts to enlighten our society regarding the folly of contemporary thought, which has become unmoored from Biblical truth. Please keep up the good work.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Stephen–
      Thanks so much for writing. Just by way of information, our policies don’t allow us to publish websites and URL’s in letters nor do they allow extensive Biblical quotations. I am sorry. However, it is clear that you and I share a common view of Scripture as God’s message for mankind, a message which we ignore at our own peril.
      With warmest wishes,

  3. Jeanne Higgins

    Dear Rabbi, Thank you for sharing your teachings. I enjoy listening to you and Susan on TCT. I like your thought tools as well. I am going through a difficult time as I’m 63 and my divorced parents are each in their upper 80’s. I have animals too, horses and dogs. I have 2, 30-year-old horses and a 13 1/2 yr. old lab. I’m trying to be positive as this is God’s plan to get old and pass on, but I feel I am surrounded by end times here. Maybe I need more milk! Less meat. Haha, What words of wisdom can you offer for this season in life I’m facing? When I look into the future of my life I see what these old folks are going through and it depresses me. Every time I plan something fun someone gets sick or an urgency takes place where I can’t participate. I have been married for 35 years, to the same man, we have no children. We have been self-employed, mom & pop business most of my life in a service orientated business with horses. I enjoy this. I’m having trouble with keeping the old out of my thinking. I’m not obsessed with death, but it is all around me with those I love. There hopefully is more to growing old than doctors, surgery doom, and gloom. Thank you for any of your advice in advance. You are my Rabbi, Jeanne

    1. Jeanne, sorry to hear you sounding so down. I think your thought process is shared by more than one reader. In that vein, may we use this as an Ask the Rabbi question? You can let us know here or submit it with any changes you would like to make.

      This is the day that God made, let us rejoice and be happy in it.

      1. Thank you, Susan. I apologize if I am at times feeling down. I think with covid an lock downs it’s all so much more difficult. Anyone of these things I could manage one at a time, all together it is a overwhelm .
        I also apologize if I placed this in the wrong section. I’m rather new at social platforms. I enjoy reading others questions and answers, and by all means you can place this it the proper place.
        Thank you for your reply, Susan. – Jeanne

  4. Thank you very much for explaining the Kosher laws to me, as a Christian I only had inaccurate rumors or 2’nd hand knowledge. Very interesting point to not let life mix with death. But ever since you mentioned you can’t have a cheese burger in your books I kept wondering if there was a way around that for you. Why not use non-dairy cheese on your burger? Or imitation cheese (which is just oil and water)? But on a spiritual level I can see why keeping kosher might be of some value to anyone, just like it’s good to thank the Lord for the food we eat. One thing I have heard is that criticism of kosher is it costs us gentiles more money for our foods, is that true?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Jason–
      Yes, many Torah observant Jews enjoy a cheeseburger made with artificial non dairy cheese. Alternatively, they use non-meat substitute for the burger and then use real cheese. For me, I’m okay with the restriction–malnutrition is not a peril in the Lapin household. And I just prefer real cheese to fake and real meat to fake, and real truth to fake.
      No it is most certainly not true to suggest that the existing commercial kosher facilities raise the price of food for anyone except for observant Jews who have less choice. For any particular food product that carries a kosher seal, there are typically five or ten other alternative brands that carry no seal. The cost of kosher supervision when amortized onto a per can or per bottle basis is such an infinitesimally small fraction of a penny so as to be negligible, however, as I say, people are free to purchase products that do not carry such a seal. The factors that bear on the price of a can, box or bottle of food are many and are mostly far larger than the impact of kosher supervision. It’s like attributing the exhaustion of an elephant being used to haul huge teak logs in Thailand, to a half dozen flies that alighted onto his back. Anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of economics knows that the charge is ridiculous. You can accuse Jews of many things, such as encouraging and supporting left-leaning organizations such as the Democrat Party itself, and you’d be right. But not the silly charge of raising the costs of food. That is done entirely without Jewish assistance by greedy bureaucrats and venal politicians who tax and regulate everything in reach. Just talk to any housewife about how the size of food packages has shrunk over the past five to ten years while the price has risen.
      Thanks for writing,

      1. Thanks for that reply Rabbi,
        I do push back a little when folks I know go into conspiracy theories about the Jews. It’s refreshing to see a Rabbi lamenting some of his people supporting the left leaning secular folks ruining this country, that is brave of you. But I never hold ALL Jews responsible, no true Christian ever could. We also learn the stories of the Hebrews of the Bible and there’s always been a segment of the population rebelling against God, and it goes in cycles. Just like there is good and evil in every race of man and that’s just the way it is. Me personally I am not bothered by the kosher stuff in the stores at all.

  5. Oh my dear Rabbi! Finally, a great explanation for why we do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk.

    Also on the subject of keeping LIFE separated from death, I met a dear sweet Christian woman who talked about the wonderful mother she had. Her mother had died a few weeks before. While we had this somewhat pleasant chat about death, she displayed before me on her laptop pictures of an open coffin with her mother in it. I displayed no response or emotion to the pictures. I was trying to be respectful yet I was quite aghast by those pictures. I’m also quite aghast of people videotaping a body in a coffin whether it’s a funeral or not. I keep questioning in my mind, even to this day, would it not be better to just carry photos of the dearly departed being alive, healthy and happy? Why carry photos of the dearly departed in an open coffin?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hello Lisa-
      Thanks for writing. Your instincts are quite correct. It isn’t healthy to retain images of bodies once the soul has departed.
      What an awkward situation in which you found yourself. I strongly recommend against having open casket funerals.

      1. With so much corruption in this day and age, especially in the matter of unethical organ use of those who have not given donation consent, as well of other untoward practices, isn’t it best at least for the family of the dead to be able to identify the deceased? My mother, who suffers from cancer, was recently hospitalized due to pneumonia, in a hospital which, before the lockdown, had an excellent reputation. She was treated horrifically by ill-trained medical personnel, and was without basic care. She actually walked out, as no family members were allowed to be with her in the hospital, and was able to recover at home with care by family members, Baruch HaShem. If she had passed on, I would have wanted to see her body, as I had zero trust in the hospital personnel after my phone conversations with her, as she lay in the hospital at the mercy of corrupt people.

  6. I hope Rabbi will come back to this subject in the future. The difference between loving life and loving death cultures cannot be underestimated. Judaism creates optimistic builders. Others create nihilism and martyrs.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Menachem–
      Interesting enough the entire cult of homosexuality is death-centric using, as it does, the passage by means of which the body rids itself of dead cells and completely useless waste as opposed to the normal passage via which life enters the world.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Tony–
      I sometimes joke (only half in jest) that I can write a 12,000 word chapter in a few hours but a 970 word Thought Tool can take three days to write. So I appreciate you using the word succinct in your comment.

  7. Excellent scriptural explanation on meat (death) and milk (life). Should non Jews keep kosher laws?

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Antony–
      How can it hurt?
      In a soon-to-be-published “Ask The Rabbi” column we compare eating kosher to eating ‘organic’ or eating ‘locally sourced food’. While obviously far more substantial an issue, kosher rules impact the soul. I do hope you have already downloaded and read my free eBook “The Holistic You”. Yes, we are what we eat; not just body but also soul.
      So again I ask, how can following as much of the kosher structure as possible be anything but positive?
      Your question isn’t really clear. Are you asking whether Christians should keep the kosher laws as a religious obligation? I am a fan but not an expert on Christianity, but I am pretty sure there is no such religious obligation. But if you are asking, not from the angle of a religious obligation but from a more general perspective, I conclude with the same phrase, “How can it possibly hurt?”

      1. In Christianity there is a saying: We should not fear man but fear that which can destroy the soul. Perhaps this is also based on AJW. But I totally agree, Christians are not under obligations to keep kosher, but if there is some spiritual benefit to it, why not? Is there something about the way the world eats that is potentially damaging? Would it please my father in heaven if I was kosher minded about foods? This would be reason enough alone to commit to practice.

        1. Acts 15:20, 29 answers the question ‘Which commandments apply to non-Jews?’ It says non-Jews are to ‘abstain from sexual immorality, don’t eat things offered to idols, from things strangled, and from blood.’ The way to do the last 3 things is keep kosher. This makes sense. First century believers were meeting in one another’s homes, and hosts were expected to serve some kind of refreshments to their guests. Jews could not gather and eat food with non-Jews, unless the non-Jews were keeping kosher. It would have been difficult to get everyone up to speed as fast as the Christian movement was growing. Romans 14:14 says ‘There is nothing unclean of itself…’ I believe it was assumed everyone was trying to keep kosher, and this argument means ‘overlook minor details of kashrut; accept that your host is doing the best he can to keep kosher.’ I try to keep kosher but learned quickly its nearly impossible to keep kosher unless you live in a Jewish community. I keep kosher the best I can, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I feel like I understand the Bible better.

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