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As far as I can tell, there are 5 different traditions for how long one has to wait between eating meat and milk:

  1. wait 6 full hours
  2. wait into the 6th hour (thus, 5 hours and 5 minutes would suffice)
  3. wait 5 full hours
  4. wait 3 hours
  5. wait 1 hour

I know that waiting 3 hours is a German tradition, and waiting 1 hour is a Dutch tradition. I'm wondering if:

A) There are any other traditions that I don't know about; and
B) If anyone can tell me who came up with these hours, and why?

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Another custom is that of the Arizal to wait until the end of the day. –  Michoel Jul 26 '12 at 0:05
I know people who wait 4, and others who only wait 4 in the winter. –  Double AA Jul 6 at 22:10

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

(Taken from OU article here):

How long must one wait after eating meat before eating dairy?

The Talmud relates that the great sage Mar Ukva contrasted his approach to waiting after eating meat with that of his father: “If Father would eat meat now, he would not eat cheese until the next day at this time. I, though, will not eat [cheese] at this meal, but I will do so at the next meal” (Chullin 105a). Mar Ukva’s father was super-stringent and went beyond the requirements, whereas Mar Ukva went according to the letter of the law.

Mar Ukva’s practice of “waiting until the next meal” is seen by halachic sources as being the basis for the requirement to wait after eating meat before eating dairy. Posekim, however, do not agree on how long Mar Ukva waited. Some opine that Mar Ukva simply provided us with a general rule: Do not combine dairy and meat at the same meal; and, if you eat a meat meal, you cannot have dairy until the meat meal has been completed. Any further waiting is optional. Others maintain that Mar Ukva advocated waiting a specific duration of time, and that this is what halachah requires.

The Shulchan Aruch presents various approaches. In Yoreh Deah 89:1, Rabbi Yosef Karo—whose authority is binding on most Sephardic Jews—states in no uncertain terms that one must wait six hours after consuming meat before eating dairy. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Rema—whom Ashkenazic Jews follow—who posits that the rule is to not consume meat and dairy in the same meal. While Rema maintains that, according to the letter of the law, one may eat a meat meal, recite Birkat Hamazon and then immediately begin a dairy meal, he asserts that Ashkenazic Jewry has accepted the custom of waiting between meals, and this is a practice that is binding on all Ashkenazim.

Rema further explains that though the custom in his community (Krakow) was to wait an hour between meals, one should wait six hours. Nowadays, most Jews wait six hours, though Dutch Jews wait one hour, and German Jews wait three hours.

(It should be noted that instead of stating that one must wait six hours between eating meat and dairy, Rambam [Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot 9:28] states that one must wait “about six hours.” Rambam’s intent is a point of dispute among halachic authorities. Some interpret this to allow for a five-and-a-half-hour waiting period.)

Why are there such diverse views on waiting?

It all goes back to Mar Ukva’s statement about waiting “until the next meal.” Some interpret the “next meal” to mean six hours, the average amount of time from lunch to dinner or from a late breakfast—“brunch”—to dinner. (In Talmudic days, most people ate only two meals: “brunch” and dinner.) Others believe Mar Ukva meant that one should wait an hour, the amount of time it takes for digestion to begin (Chochmat Adam 40:13). Those who wait three hours may understand Mar Ukva to be referring to the interval between breakfast and lunch, rather than that between lunch and dinner.

Sephardic Jews must wait six hours as a matter of halachah; there is no room for divergent customs or leniencies (unless there is a medical need, of course). Ashkenazim, however, wait as a matter of accepted custom, similar to the Ashkenazic custom to refrain from eating kitniyot on Pesach. For Ashkenazim, it is always necessary, however, to recite the required berachot upon completing a meat meal before eating dairy. The berachot serve to separate the meals. If—after waiting the requisite period of time—one finds meat stuck between his teeth, he must cleanse his teeth and rinse his mouth. There is no need to wait any longer. (There is also a machloket regarding the one-hour period. Some posekim rule that a person who always waits one hour needs to clean his mouth before eating dairy, whereas others disagree.)

My personal understanding/interpretation of the basis of waiting (the story told in the Gemara), is that, basically, Mar 'Ukva is saying a couple of things. 1. His father was very pious, and he is not nearly so pious, though he admires his piety of waiting 24 hours between meat and cheese. 2. He thinks it is appropriate to wait until the next meal to eat cheese (if this meal is with meat). 3. He thinks it is minimally appropriate (if not required; this is ambiguous) to at least not eat cheese with this (meat) meal. Beyond that, I think how we derive minimum lengths of time depends on how we view these statements. We have a couple of options that I can think of: A. His statements are meant to be precise measures of time - wait the exact amount of time one would normally wait between meals, or B. His statements are meant to be situationally dependent - don't eat cheese in this (meat) meal, but wait until the next meal, whenever that is; by the way, if you are offered a snack of cheese between the meals, it's better to wait but it's ok if you eat it. or C. Very similar to B., except delete the part after the semi-colon (no cheesy snacks allowed).

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"Sephardic Jews must wait six hours as a matter of halachah; there is no room for divergent customs or leniencies" - shortly after saying Dutch jews (Spanish and Portuguese sephardim) wait only 1 hour. I've learned long ago not to trust ANYTHING OU says with regard to sephardim. –  Marc Jan 16 at 23:52
I'm not sure what you're getting at. Most Ashkenazic Jews regard Dutch Jews as separate and distinct from Sephardic Jews. Most Dutch Jews I know do too. –  Seth J Jan 17 at 4:21
Like most, you are using the term "Sephardim" to basically refer to all non-Askenaz jews. There are many different strains of non-Ashkenaz jews, all customarily lumped under the term "sephardim." This is not just a Dutch thing, and your comment actually proves the point. –  Marc Feb 17 at 22:26
I got dizzy from the circular logic. –  Seth J Feb 18 at 16:30

My family's tradition from both the ashkenazic (Russian) and sephardic (Libyan) sides it to wait 4 hours.

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This custom probably comes from the Pri Chodosh who claims that 6 hours are not hours of sixty minutes but rather sha'os zmaniyos. However many poskim say that if so four hours would only be in the winter, and in the summer it could be as long as eight hours! –  Michoel Jul 26 '12 at 0:03
@michoel, without further confirmation from Hacham Gabriel, I don't see how that would necessarily follow. –  Seth J Jan 7 '13 at 6:00

1) wait 6 full hours
2) wait INTO the 6th hour (thus, 5 hours and 5 minutes would suffice)
3) wait 5 full hours
4) wait 3 hours
5) wait 1 hour

I know that waiting 3 hours is a German tradition, and waiting 1 hour is a Dutch tradition. I'm wondering if

A) There are any other traditions that I don't know about

Seth J's good answer mentions other customs; one not mentioned there is my family's, which is to wait five hours and most of another (so, say, 5 hours 31 minutes).

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+1 for the additional custom! I'd heard of 5 and a half (5 hrs, 30 min), as mentioned in the article, but not 5 and a majority of the 6th (5 hrs, 31 min). Do you know the basis for it? –  Seth J Nov 29 '11 at 16:09
@Seth, nope, sorry. –  msh210 Nov 29 '11 at 16:48


all this and much more are all answered in this comprehensive article:

very worthwhile to read. the level of research this rabbi spitz does is astounding!

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cmb I'm glad to see you are returning to Mi Yodeya and I hope you continue to enjoy. Please see this post from our meta site (where we discuss site policy and whatnot) regarding quoting and excerpting external articles in answers. –  Double AA Jul 25 '12 at 16:44

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