Shavuot FAQ

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By Rabbi Hayim Asher Arking and Rabbi Ezra Ghodsi 

 

Many have the custom to eat dairy on Shavuot. If one wants to make dairy bread, one should be cognizant of the halachot involved. The Gemara (Pesahim 30b) teaches that one is not allowed to make bread that was kneaded with milk. This prohibition was instituted by the Rabbis out of concern that one will forget or will not realize the bread is dairy and will eat it together with meat. Baking dairy bread is only permitted in certain instances. 

 

What are the conditions to allow one to bake dairy bread? 

One may bake dairy bread if one of the following conditions is met: 

1) Only a small amount is baked.  

2) The bread is baked in a shape that is recognized as specifically dairy or meat. If there is an identifying – not just a different – shape, that will remind people that it is meat or dairy one may bake even a large amount. 

 

What is considered “a small amount”? 

According to some opinions, it’s the amount that will be eaten in the coming meal. Some are more lenient and allow an amount that will be eaten within the next day. When baking such a small amount for the family there is no concern that it will be accidentally eaten with the other type. 

 

What shape should I bake the bread in? 

A shape only helps if those eating the bread would recognize the bread is dairy because of the shape. If the same shape is used for both dairy and pareve bread it will not help, as one may inadvertently assume that the bread  is pareve. Another option would be to sprinkle cheese on top of the dough, as this way it would be easily recognizable as dairy and it wouldn’t be eaten with meat accidentally.  

 

What if I already baked a large amount without a distinctive shape? 

If one forgot, or even if one was unaware of the halacha, and baked a large amount of dairy bread, all of the bread is forbidden to eat, even by itself, and must be discarded. Once the dairy bread is baked, it does not help to give it out to family and friends, even if each person is receiving a small amount and it will be eaten right away. 

 

What about crackers and pastries? 

Although one of the above conditions is necessary for both bread and crackers alike, those conditions are not required for sweet pastries or cakes. One is allowed to bake a large number of sweet dairy pastries or cakes even without an identifying shape. Since sweet pastries are not eaten together with meat we are not concerned that a mistake will happen. Although one who ate meat has to wait six hours before eating anything dairy, we do not go so far as to prohibit making something that might be eaten during that time, and only prohibit what might be eaten together with meat. 

 

What about items that are filled, like sambousak? 

In regards to sambousak or bourekas, there are varying customs. Some are careful to make them in an identifying shape. For example, cheese bourekas are triangles, while the meat ones are made into a square. The meat ones also have some of the meat showing to differentiate between meat and pareve bourekas. For sambousak, the meat and cheese ones are made in two different shapes to identify which one is which. Others are of the opinion that the prohibition only applies to bread that was kneaded with milk, as one who is eating it has no way to know that it is not regular bread. However, something filled does not need an identifying shape, as it is clearly noticeable that there is filling and one will find out what is inside before eating. Experience has shown that it is prudent to make bourekas or sambousak noticeably different, as people have mistakenly used the dairy ones for a meat meal or baked dairy and meat ones simultaneously.  

 

What if a small amount of pareve bread came in contact with dairy? 

If only a small amount of pareve bread came in contact with dairy, it is permissible to eat, however, one must be careful not to eat it with meat. In fact, the halacha goes further and requires that any bread eaten with a dairy meal may not be eaten at a meat meal, or vice versa, out of concern that the bread may have come in contact with meat or dairy. This halacha applies to any food that was on the table and potentially came in contact with dairy or meat. They should not be served at the opposite meal.  

 

What about the bread that was in the middle of the table and didn’t get touched at all? 

Generally, what was used for serving in the middle of the table may be used in both a meat and dairy meal, as it wouldn’t come in contact with the other food on the table. One should be mindful if there are children at the table, as it may be problematic to re-serve the food since it is more likely that the food would have come in contact  with their hands, which may have had food residue on them.  

 

Custom to Eat Dairy 

It is interesting to note that while there are many reasons given for the custom to eat dairy on Shavuot. The Rema (Shulhan Aruch 594:3) explains the custom based on the previous halacha. It appears the custom in his time was to start the meal with dairy and then in the middle clear off all the dairy and switch to a meat meal. The Rema explains that based on the above halacha, they would need to bring new bread to the table. The requirement to have two separate breads would then serve as a remembrance of the Sh’tei Ha’lehem – the two-bread offering brought in the Bet Hamikdash on Shavuot.