The Old Testament contains a passage, repeated three times* lest we fail to take note, prohibiting the seething of a kid in his^ mother’s milk. Ancient tradition takes this to mean that milk and meat must not be eaten together. This is a possible, and certainly a hoary, reading. So understood, it is a rather indirect command, and the God we venerate in the Old Testament is not known for beating about the bush when issuing commandments. “Thou shalt not consume milk and meat together at a single sitting” would be more expected.
And why the example of a mother and baby, if this proscription concerns itself only with the mingling of meat and milk? The relationship is important and gets at the essence of what these words are designed to convey.
The interpretation I prefer, one which hits me in the solar plexus with some force, is that human preparation and consumption of food must comport with our notions of decency. Boiling a kid in his mother’s milk is unseemly, to say the least. It’s indecent, it shocks the conscience, and, therefore, it may not be done.
This explanation has the added benefits 1) of being a much more direct reading of the words used, and 2) of echoing God’s joy expressed in Genesis when viewing the entirety of creation. One must be careful and respectful when taking an animal’s life, because animals are an integral part of the whole.
If taken to heart, such a reading carries with it far-ranging requirements concerning animal husbandry, practices of raising and slaughtering animals for human consumption. Current practices do not pass the test. They fail abysmally and continue only because most of us, myself included, have heretofore chosen to remain ignorant. The reality is so painful, and change seems so slow in coming. Further discussion of this difficult, this terrible subject, follows of necessity.
* in Exodus 23:19 and 34:26; and Deuteronomy 14:21
^ If the possessive pronoun “his” seems strange to you, that’s not unusual. The Bible, at least in the English translations available to us, uses the word “its” to refer to the kid. “It” is our language’s traditional usage when referring to an animal.
Our language and our attitudes resist referring to an animal by its gender. “It” objectifies. This animal has no gender and therefore no voice, no individuality. It is simply an exchangeable unit in a multitude of faceless units. Therefore we need take no note of this creature as a distinct life form. And therefore we can do to “it” as we will.
Beware of “it” in your usage, because language directs thought, and vice-versa.
mountain goats on Mt. Sinai – no, wait – this is Glacier National Park