Waiting 5 and 1/2 Hours Versus 6 Hours – a Halachic Analysis

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6-hours-left[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times]

IT IS A PROBLEM THAT a number of Jewish students face. At home, they have been accustomed to wait six hours between meat and dairy. This is their family Minhag. When they go away to their various institutions of learning, some of these institutions have a different policy. These institutions are serving dairy suppers only 5 and ½ hours after they have served a meat lunch. In this author’s estimation, it is a problem that over five thousand young Jewish men face. Why is it so large a problem? Because the institutions happen to be two of the largest Yeshivos in the world, one in Eretz Yisroel and one in the United States.

OTHER CUSTOMS

This is not to suggest that other customs are, heaven forbid, incorrect. Customs among observant Jews range the gamut from one hour (Dutch Jews) to three hours (German and British Jews) to five hours to five and half hours. But a number of questions do arise: What should these students who wait six hours be doing? Should the students undo their family tradition and adopt that of their Yeshiva? Also from where did the customs of 6 hours and 5 and ½ arise?

Before we answer these questions, let us first examine the source of the custom to wait six hours between meat meals and dairy meals in the first place, and then let us examine where 5 and ½ may fit in.
The Talmud (Chullin 105a) states:

“Rav Chisda said: One who eats meat may not eat cheese, [one who eats] cheese, may eat meat…
Mar Ukvah said: Regarding this, I am like vinegar, the son of wine. My father, if he would consume meat today, would wait until tomorrow to eat cheese. I, however, will not consume them during the same meal, but at another meal I will eat cheese.”

The Rif writes that by virtue of the fact that Mar Ukvah referred to himself as “vinegar the son of wine” – no authority permits a waiting period of less than six – from the morning meal to the evening meal. The Baalei HaTosfos disagree and understand the notion of another meal to refer even to a case where a second meal was started right away. [This is also the position of the Mordechai, the HaGaos Ashri, the Hagaos Maimonius and the Raavya.]

Nonetheless, the spread of the idea of six hours has taken almost universal dimension. Now, although generally speaking the term “one meal to another” is understood as approximately six hours, there is a debate between Rabbeinu Tam and the Vilna Gaon as to how exactly we understand Mar Ukvah. Rabbeinu Tam writes that even Mar Ukvah’s position is not the halachic requirement, but rather a pious position. He thus allows for other customs. The Vilna Gaon, on the other hand, is of the opinion that Mar Ukvah held of the six hours as a full halachic requirement. He writes that the source is based on a passage in tractate Shabbos – where the Gemorah discusses the different eating times of cannibals, thieves, the rich, the workers, and the Torah scholars. The Gemorah tells us that Torah scholars would not eat before the sixth hour of the day, nor after this time. The Vilna Gaon extrapolates from this that Mar Ukvah, who would not eat dairy until the next meal, held of the six hour waiting period as absolutely mandatory. This is the source of the six hour waiting period.

THE SOURCE AND POSSIBLE FACTORS TO BE LENIENT

What about the 5 and ½ period? Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l was one of the contemporary espousers of the five and ½ hour position. Where did he get it?

There is a concept in halacha called “Miktzas hayom Kekulo – a part of the day is considered like the whole day. We find that the Talmud (Psachim 4a) applies this to the laws of mourning and to the laws of purity and impurity to a certain extent. Could it be that this was his source? Although at the outset it would seem a good place to start, no halachic authority mentions it – nor do we find the concept ever applied to a period less than a day. It says “Miktzas Hayom” – not “Miktzas haSha’ah.”

We would need to look elsewhere.

The Rambam (Maachalos Asuros 9:28) writes that the parameters of a seudah is “kmo shaish shaos – like six hours.” It could very well be that the Rambam’s terminology is the source for the leniency. Others (for example the Darchei Teshuvah) disagree that this is a source for less than six hours and state that the Rambam only used this term “like six hours” to teach us that if one is unsure whether it was actually six hours, one may be lenient because it is a doubt on a Rabbinic matter, but not that he permitted 5 and ½ hours at the outset.

The Meiri, however, uses a similar expression to the Rambam but adds in the words, “or close to six hours.” The Meiri’s explanation is a clear precedent for the more lenient reading of the Rambam – unlike that of the aforementioned Darchei Teshuvah.

There is also another debate that is rather fascinating. What type of hours are we talking about? Are they regular full-fledged sixty minute hours, or are they something called “shaos zmanios” – halachic hours – which mathematically are calculated as one twelfth of daylight hours? This too is a debate between the Pri Chadash (halachic hours) and the Maharit (regular hours). We rule that it is regular hours – not halachic hours.

There is a third factor to consider. When a Yeshiva serves a meat lunch it is usually in the daytime, while the supper dairy meal may very well be at night. It could be that from a halachic point of view the fact that it is a different day altogether – may allow us to be a bit more lenient.

Finally, there is a fourth factor. The Leket Yosher (page 45), a student of the Trumas HaDeshen, writes that in regard to chicken there is more room to be lenient. The Meiri as well in his Sefer Magain Avos (page 48), distinguishes between chicken and meat and writes that one can be more lenient with chicken.

As mentioned above, this issue is not a theoretical discussion affecting just a half dozen people – it affects close to five thousand young men. With these four possible leniencies in hand, this author contacted some noted Poskim as to what these students should do. The Poskim replied that, notwithstanding all of the combined factors above to be lenient, it was indeed a problem and that these students should not be forced by the Yeshivos to negate their own family practices. This was the ruling of a number of American Poskim as well as Rav Vosner zt”l in Eretz Yisroel.

Oh well, we tried.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com




4 COMMENTS

  1. As always, notwithstanding the last paragraph of the article, if you didn’t make Rabbi Hoffman your shaliach to ask “a number of American Poskim as well as Rav Vosner zt”l in Eretz Yisroel”, you should get a personal ruling from your Posek on what to do.

  2. The conclusion is quite misleading. Many prominent poskim (R Dovid Cohen of Gvul Yabetz for one) allow the student to follow the minhag of the Yeshiva. Additionally, the authors conjecture as to R Ahron’s reasoning for 5 1-2 hours is both incorrect and misinformed. R Ahron explained his logic – see R Shmuel Felder’s discussion of the topic.

  3. The big yeshiva in Israel does wait 6 hours. Lunch is at 1:35pm and Supper is only at 7:50pm which means most people will have a break of six hours.