Nicole Ruane

Milk as a “Natural Symbol” of Matrilineality in an Enigmatic Biblical Law

For thousands of years, interpreters have pondered the meaning of the cryptic biblical law, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Ex. 23:19b; 34:26b; Dt. 14:21b). Though the law is the foundation of the Jewish ritual practice of eating meat and milk products separately, its significance and purpose are unknown. I argue that this law follows a larger pattern of identifying the maternal relationship between a mother animal and her offspring, but of intentionally banning images of that relationship from ritual practice. The prohibition on boiling a baby goat in its mother’s milk serves a patriarchal and patrilineal system that highlights the relationship between fathers and their offspring, but which must minimize bonds with mothers.