Please explain the commandment: ‘Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk’ (Ex. 23:19).

Of the hundreds of commands in the Pentateuch, this prohibition brings much confusion. This law is uttered twice by God in Exodus (Ex. 23:19 and 34:26) and once by Moses (Deut. 14:21). The instruction is provided both within the context of dietary laws and religious festivals. Because the prohibition is noted three times, rabbis believed that it had the utmost importance to the dietary laws in Israel. Consequently, this law has become one of the foundational components of what is known as kosher (Hebrew, “proper”).

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Because the law mentioned both meat and dairy, rabbis insisted that an observant Jew could not eat meat and dairy products within the same meal. Thus, they divided all foods into three categories: meat, dairy and pareve (neutral). To ensure that the two were never to be eaten together, they were served at different meals, as far apart from one another as possible. This would give the person ample time to digest one before partaking of the other.

Observant Jews do everything they can to follow this law. In their homes, there are separate dishes and utensils for meat and dairy products. The sinks in their kitchens must be stainless steel, as porcelain cannot be effectively cleaned of contaminants. Even dishwashing soap must be free of food byproducts.

Often it is not always easy to know whether a food product is distinctly meat, dairy or pareve. To remedy this, modern rabbis have instilled a system to let adherents know the ingredients of processed food. For example, the Orthodox Union has created a symbol, which is placed on food labels (a “U” with a circle around it) to indicate if a food is kosher. If it is manufactured in a factory with dairy products, the letter “D” will be placed next to the symbol, to indicate that there may be some dairy in it. If there is no meat or dairy byproduct in the food, the word pareve is often placed next to the symbol for clarification.

While kosher regulations may have originated from this thrice-stated verse, the question remains: Is this how the verse should be understood? Most scholars believe it probably should be understood literally: The Israelites were not to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk!

Why such an odd practice was prohibited remains a mystery. It probably referred to a pagan ritual, similar to eating meat that still had blood within it (cf. Gen. 9:4). Participants of such rituals often believed that they would become empowered by the animals they ate. The Israelites, therefore, would consider such practices unclean. The prohibition, therefore, reminds them to avoid anything that would prevent them from following the Lord completely.

Ken Gore is professor of biblical studies at Dallas Baptist University. Email your questions to

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12 Responses

  1. Actually, this is likely a mistranslation. It is alleged that the word was not, “milk (halab)” but “fat (heleb)”. It is thought that this was likely a prohibition on killing two generations in the same day. Very similar to the prohibition against the taking of chicks and their mother in Deuteronomy. It is theorized, that because Hebrews believed the Torah was perfect, they assumed anything mentioned more than once, must teach something different. This may be wrong, but it was what I was taught and I believe it has greater explanatory scope and power than the former.  

    1. a good interpretation Christopher White. I feel it could have something to do with mercy as in Leviticus 22:28 “But you shall not slaughter, from the herd or the flock, an animal with its young on the same day.”

  2. If memory serves, Rushdoony comments that this is an application of the 5th commandment. The righteous man has regard for the life of his animal (Pr 12.10). Deut 20.19-30 prohibits the destruction of fruit trees and respect for the land. I put these together to reason that we must also show respect for the source of life and its implications for the generations. We are to be a people that think ahead and respect our origins and the blessings of our past. And the Lv 22.88 reference is excellent. Well done! Remember that, in addition to the religious significance of animals as symbols, they were physical realities; i.e., yes they represent the blood of Christ and payment for sin and a means of friendship with God and their sacrifice was obedience to God, but also, they had real value and were food. And simply, God said don’t do that. For example, He didn’t want defective animals sacrificed to Him and He also didn’t want baby goats to be boiled in their own mother’s milk.

  3. I also noted Lv 22.27, which requires a baby of ox, sheep, or goat to live at least 7 days with its mother before it could be accepted as an offering.

  4. Consuming dairy and meat results in improper digestion of the meat. When you eat meat the stomach releases a large amount of acid. When you drink milk the stomach stops acid production. I’m guessing there’s probably some negativity to your health because of the bad digestion.

  5. I was understanding it as the young goat was still on its mother’s milk – literally being FED by its mother’s milk. So until the goat was “weaned” off the mother’s milk it wasn’t to be cooked, basically a close interpretation to Tim Hill’s above.
    I am amazed that there is another interpretation of this command🤷‍♀️
    May Yah bless you all!

  6. Thank you for the likely alternate translation. I am currently on a tour of the Negev and our guide just gave us the same insight!
    Thank you Arkansas Baptists!!

  7. Is the question or issue about the young goat should not cook by it own mother’s milk? Or baby goat cannot cook with all goat’s milk? This bring me attention what really mean from God, to tell Moses as such an important message while 40 days in mountain.

  8. My understanding for all it’s worth: this could be associated with a pagan sacrifice to Molech. Basically, mother’s milk represents life, and the kid being boiled would kill it. They offered babies and children to the god of Molech by throwing their own children and babies, while still being breast fed, into the fire as a sacrifice. They played the drums very loud to cover up the screams of the children. I just returned from Israel and this is what our guide explained to us while at Hell’s gate.

    Another concept is don’t mix dead gods (religions, holidays, celebrations, or religious rituals) with YHWH, the Living God. Our God stands alone, y’all.

  9. The three times this phrase is used it seems out of context; that is, if it’s read as a literal commandment about cooking. However, if it’s read as a proverbial saying, it make more sense, something along the lines of when Jesus talked about ‘New wine in old wineskins,’ or ‘Putting a new patch on an old garment.’ It’s a saying about the foolishness of trying to bring together two things that are incompatible, and specifically about trying to mix something new with something old.
    In every case its used, it’s connected with commands about the firstfruits, when a farmer brought an offering (tithe) of the best of the first produce of the harvest. He might be tempted, in bringing his grain, to fill the basket to ¾ with last year’s grain that was a bit stale, and cover it with new grain, so he could keep more of the new grain for himself. He’s mixing new with old, and the old would contaminate the new. Boiling a kid in it’s mother’s milk is doing the same. The new generation, with the milk representing the old generation. So it’s a saying that means essentially, ‘Leave behind the old, and welcome and embrace the new.’ Israel stands in the in-between place between Egypt and the Promised land. They are to leave the old behind, shaking off the dust of Egypt and forsaking all its practices, and to put on the new things of the Lord’s covenant with them and live in the newness of his grace.

  10. Cooking a kid (H1423—a young goat) in its mother(H517)’s milk (H2461) commingles a source of life (milk) with a source of death (killing animal to consume). The context of Deuteronomy 14 makes this make more sense regarding consuming dead (Genesis 9:3-4—“Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.) animals:

    21 “You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

    I think James also brings up a concise point of mixing. May the Living God and Lord Jesus bless you all abundantly.

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