Three times in the Torah (Exodus 23:19, 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) it states: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”
I believe this was originally intended as a protest against a fertility rite, where a baby sheep or goat would actually be cooked in this way, with the literal meaning obvious.
But later, rabbinic Judaism developed it into ever more rigorous requirements, separating meat and milk foods.
The kashrut kept by today’s modern Jews varies. Many, like me, do not insist on kosher meat. Yet we would never think of eating pork or anything containing the meat of a pig or other biblically “unkosher” animal.
Some will have only kosher meat in the house but eat all manner of things in a restaurant. Some will not have milk after meat, even if the meat isn’t kosher; others are happy to have cream in coffee after a steak meal.
There are also those, especially in our Progressive youth movements, who are inspired by their Judaism to choose a vegetarian diet. So while some Jews try to follow every minutiae of rabbinic Halachah, many more decide their own level of kashrut, not because they believe God is concerned by what they eat, but because it reinforces their Jewish identity.
As chair of the Beit Din of the European Union for Progressive Judaism, I hear many fascinating and inspiring stories of individuals returning to Judaism in Poland and Spain.
In the former, it is often prompted by the discovery of a Jewish grandparent. In the latter, a Jewish ancestor more than 500 years ago was forcibly converted to Catholicism.
One of the proofs often is the family never had milk and meat at the same meal. Festivals and rituals might define a Jew’s identity, but food also plays a key part.
Andrew Goldstein is president of Liberal Judaism