Thursday, August 25, 2016
Bagels, cream cheese and lox are a favorite treat for many Jews, especially at a seudat brit milah. Why, then, do many Sephardic Jews refrain from this delicious delicacy and all mixtures of milk and fish (perhaps with the exception of butter)?
We know that we do not eat fish and meat together because the Gemara considers it to be dangerous (therefore we rinse our mouths with water and some "abrasive" food such as challah between fish and meat served at a Shabbat meal). However, the Gemara in no less than three places indicates that it is permissible to eat fish together with milk. Why would Sephardim refrain from that which the Gemara clearly indicates is permissible?
The answer is that Rav Yosef Karo (reverently referred to as Maran by Sephardic Jews) notes in his Beit Yosef (commentary to the Tur) that it is dangerous to eat milk and fish together. Rav Moshe Isserles, the pillar of Ashkenazic Halacha, notes (in his Darkei Moshe commentary to the Tur) that he has not seen anyone follow this practice.
The Shach (the premier Ashkenazic commentator to the Shulchan Aruch) also notes that the Ashkenazic practice permits eating milk with fish. For this reason, Ashkenazim (with the exception of Chabad and some other Hasidic groups) enjoy bagels and cream cheese with lox as well as other fish and bread mixtures. Many Sephardim, though, heed the concern Maran expresses in the Beit Yosef.
Not all Sephardim adhere to Maran's warning. Maran HaHida observes that Rav Yosef Karo does not present this rule in the Shulchan Aruch. In both Yoreh Dei'ah 116 and Orach Chaim 173 he instructs us to avoid eating meat and fish together, but he makes no mention of refraining from fish and milk.
The Chida even makes a bold assertion—that the remark recorded in the Beit Yosef is a ta'ut sofer, a scribal error. Maran originally must have written in the Beit Yosef to avoid meat and fish due to the danger, but a scribe erroneously copied milk and fish.
A major 20th-century Sephardic authority, Rav Shalom Massas (highly respected by all and regarded by many Moroccan Jews as enjoying the final say on halachic matters) follows the approach of the Chida. Moreover, he notes that contemporary medical experts do not regard consuming fish and milk together to be dangerous.
Nonetheless, Hacham Ovadia Yosef notes that many Sephardic communities customarily refrain from eating fish and dairy together. He notes that the Ben Ish Chai, a major and wildly popular work that has had enormous influence on Sephardic practice, urges readers to refrain from combining fish and milk. Thus, Hacham Ovadia concludes, it is unlikely that the Ben Ish Chai regarded the relevant passage in the Beit Yosef as a scribal error. Thus, he believes it is best for Sephardic Jews to avoid mixing fish and milk.
Rav Eli Mansour, a noted rav in the Syrian Jewish community, wisely rules as follows:
"As for the final halacha, those who act leniently in this regard certainly have authorities on whom to rely. However, in light of the stringent position taken by Hacham Ovadia Yosef, whose rulings we generally follow, and given that this was the practice of our forebears in Halab, it would seem preferable to avoid eating fish together with milk or other dairy products."
Therefore, do not be shocked at the next Sephardic brit milah you attend that bagels, cream cheese and lox are not served in accordance with the approach of Hacham Ovadia. On the other hand, do not be surprised to see Sephardic Jews who do mix fish and milk products, in accordance with the rulings of the Chida and Rav Shalom Massas.
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