Did you know that in Bay Village, it is illegal to walk a cow down Lake Road?
This is a law that exists that we may not understand, but it is also an example of one of the main ideas of law creation – that laws are often created after society decides an action should be illegal. Why is it illegal to walk a cow down Lake Road in Bay Village? Someone walked a cow down Lake Road and the presence of such a sight implored the residents to pass the statute. This legal concept exists in Jewish tradition as well, though the nomenclature may differ.
In Judaism, there are examples of halacha following minchag, when Jewish law is made after a town decides a custom is correct or not. In our portion this week (Deuteronomy 14:21), we learn, “don’t cook a baby goat (kid) in its mother’s milk.” We could interpret that Torah forbids us from eating the meat of a kid that was cooked in its mother’s milk, while its aunt’s milk is “kosher,” or that goat’s milk isn’t OK, but cow’s milk is.
The rabbis of the Talmud interpreted it differently. In Mishnah Chullin 8:4 we read: “It is forbidden to cook the meat of a clean animal in the milk of a clean animal or to derive any benefit from it.” They have declared that the mixing of any meat with any milk is forbidden. Yet, we also learn of Rabbi Yose the Galilean, in the same Mishnah, who exempted fowl from this law.
In creating these laws, both in Talmud and in modern day, we save the discussions that surround their creation. When we study Talmud, we often find multiple opinions. Most commonly, mainstream rabbinic Judaism decided the “majority opinion” is what everyone should do. Nevertheless, we save the “minority opinion” enshrining the existence of practices that aren’t what “Jews should do.” The fact that we know of and can still learn from this minority opinion exemplifies the richness and beauty of Jewish thought.
At no point in our history has there existed one universally practiced Judaism (google Hillel and Shammai, for example), but Jewish community thrives when we acknowledge our diversity of belief and practice. Yes, someone may illegally walk a cow down Lake Road, but we need to remember that they aren’t the first, nor likely the last to do so. When we are at our best, we enshrine these differences and love each other all the same.
Rabbi Chase Foster is the rabbi for engagement and learning at jHUB.