Fish and Meat in Halacha (Part 1)

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. The gemara (Pesachim 76b) states that fish that is cooked with meat may not be eaten because it is likely to lead to “davar acher.” Rashi (ibid.) understands “davar acher” to be a reference to tzara’as. The Shulchan Aruch (173) also rules that one must be careful not to eat fish and meat together because it may cause tzara’as.

2. Most authorities, including the Magen Avraham, understand the Gemara to mean that combining fish and meat can cause a physical sickness. When the Gemara says that it can lead to tzara’as, it means that the person will become physically ill. It is for this reason that the Magen Avraham writes that perhaps one may be lenient with fish and meat since the doctors today feel that there is no longer a medical concern (this will be discussed in part 2). However, there is a minority view that feels that the Gemara was referring to a “spiritual” sickness and not a physical ailment (see Tiferes Tzvi Y.D. 91 and Toras Chesed E.H. 5:5).

3. Rav Yehuda Ayas zt”l (Beis Yehuda 26) seems to feel that the prohibition of eating fish and meat together is biblical in nature. Similarly, the Shu”t Avnei Tzedek (Y.D. 49) writes that one who endangers himself by eating fish and meat together transgresses the positive commandment of “Venishmartem Meod Lenafshoseichem” and the negative commandment of “Lo Sasim Damim B’Veisecha.” The Pri Megadim (Sifsei Daas 97:3) also writes that if there is a doubt whether fish fell into a meat dish one must be stringent and discard the dish. He explains that since the prohibition of eating meat and fish together is biblical in nature one must be stringent in case of doubt (safek d’oraysa l’chumra).

4. However, other authorities, including Harav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook zt”l (Daas Kohen 55) and Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer Y.D. 8), rule that it is only rabbinically prohibited to eat fish and meat together.

5. This debate is, most likely, closely related to a broader debate amongst the poskim as to whether a person violates a biblical prohibition when he places himself in harms way or is it merely rabbinic in nature. This debate centers around a few seemingly contradictory rulings of the Rambam in Hilchos Rotzeach. The Rambam (Chapter 11:4) writes, “Similarly, it is a positive mitzvah to remove any obstacle that could pose a danger to life, and to be very careful regarding these matters, as Deuteronomy 4:9 states: ‘Beware for yourself; and guard your soul.’ If a person leaves a dangerous obstacle and does not remove it, he negates the observance of a positive commandment, and violates the negative commandment: ‘Do not cause blood to be spilled.’” The Rambam is quite clear that it is biblically prohibited to endanger oneself.

However, the Rambam continues (Chapter 11:5-6), “Our Sages forbade many matters because they involve a threat to life. Whenever a person transgresses these guidelines, saying, ‘I will risk my life, what does this matter to others,’ or ‘I am not careful about these things,’ he should be punished by makos merdus. They include: A person should not place his mouth over a conduit through which water flows and drink. Nor should he drink at night from rivers and lakes, lest he swallow a leech without seeing. Similarly, a person should not drink water that was left uncovered, lest a snake or other poisonous crawling animal might have drunk from them, and as a result, the person would die.” This teaching of the Rambam implies that our Sages forbade placing oneself in danger and it is not biblical in nature. Indeed the Beer Hagolah (end of Choshen Mishpat 70) questions whether the prohibition is biblical or rabbinic in nature.

6. The Sefer Tevuos Shor (Y.D. 13:2) writes that it is assur m’doraysa to enter a dangerous situation. This is also the view of the Sma, Levush (see Darkei Teshuva 115:57), Aruch Hashulchan, Marcheshes (20) and Minchas Chinuch (556).

The Sdei Chemed also cites authorities who maintain that according to the Rambam it is biblically forbidden to endanger oneself. They explain that although the Rambam writes that the “Sages” forbade these actions, he does not mean to say that it is forbidden on a rabbinic level. There are many times where the Rambam uses this terminology regarding biblical laws. His intention is that the “Sages” explained what the true definition of the verse is. In this case the meaning is that all dangerous actions are biblically forbidden. It is the Sages who define what is considered dangerous. Once they classify an action as dangerous it is considered forbidden on a biblical level. This is also the view of the Chasam Sofer (Y.D. 101).

7. The Sefer Shiva Einayim (cited by Darkei Teshuva ibid.) writes that it is only assur m’drabbanun to enter a dangerous situation. The verse cited above by the Rambam “Beware for yourself; and guard your soul” is not actually referring to guarding the physical body, rather it is requiring a Jew to protect his Torah knowledge and not to forget his learning. The Sages extended a rabbinic prohibition to protecting the physical body from danger (as the verse continues “Beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw”). Therefore, when the Rambam cites the verse as a source for the prohibition his intent is really that it is a rabbinic prohibition which merely finds a hint (asmachta) for it’s source in Torah.

8. The Sefer Maases Hamelech (on Rambam) also discusses the seemingly contradictory rulings of the Rambam. He explains that it is biblically prohibited to place oneself in danger and this is what the Rambam was referring to in his first ruling. However, the Sages forbade certain actions as a safeguard for one’s health even though it is unlikely that they will actually lead to mortal danger. The Sefer Divrei Malkiel also maintains that performing acts of which the Gemara warns against as being dangerous is only rabbinically forbidden.

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