A Triple Prohibition
The prohibition of "לֹא תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ" is found in three places in Torah. In both Shemot 23:19 and Shemot 34:26, it appears at the end of a list of commandments relating to the holidays and immediately following the commandment to bring of one's first fruits to Hashem (בִּכּוּרִים). The juxtaposition implies that the two sets of laws are related, but what is the connection between cooking meat in milk and the bringing of offerings to the Mikdash? In Devarim 14:21, in contrast, the prohibition comes at the end of a lengthy list of forbidden foods,1 suggesting that it, too, revolves around prohibited eating. What might these differing contexts teach about the nature of the prohibition? Does it relate to cooking and eating or to the bringing of offerings?
In all three occurrences of the prohibition, the warning is formulated identically: "לֹא תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ". At first glance the meaning of the verse is clear; the Torah mandates that one may not cook a kid in its mother's milk. On closer inspection, however, almost every word in the sentence is somewhat ambiguous:
- "לֹא תְבַשֵּׁל" – What does "תְבַשֵּׁל" mean in context, to cook or to ripen and mature?2 While the mention of a "גְּדִי" might support the first option, Shemot's immediate context of first fruits might point to the second possibility.
- "גְּדִי" – If the verse refers to cooking, why is a goat singled out? Is the goat just an example, and the prohibition really applies to all animals, or does the verse imply that there is something problematic about cooking a goat specifically? On the other hand, if the verse speaks of ripening, what would this mean in reference to a goat? Might the word "גְּדִי" take on any other meaning?
- "בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ" – Is the focus of the verse the milk or the fact that the milk belongs to the mother? Moreover, is the phrase meant to be understood literally or might it be metaphoric, referring perhaps to the nurturing and nourishing of a mother?
These ambiguities, together with the varying contexts of the prohibition discussed above, allow for multiple interpretations of the commandment. What does the phrase "לֹא תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ" intend to prohibit and what is the reason for the prohibition?