Rabbis detail the law of the Torah, apparently to make it clear. Such an approach, however, is wrong. By analogy with secular law,that which is unspecified in the law is left to personal choice. If one is commanded to bring a sacrifice, it is irrelevant whether he starts walking toward the Temple from the left or right foot. In rabbinical law, the simple rules of kosher food, and the prohibition of certain animals, evolved into a hodgepodge of petty, often absurd regulation, such as when a “milk” steel pot is prohibited for “meat” usage because the pot ostensibly retains “a taste of milk.” The rabbinical concept of exhaustive interpretation is open-ended: as we can mount questions about every rule, the more rules they heap, the more questions keep springing up. After the rabbis have established prayer texts and prescribed specific body movements during prayers, one can still ask how to breathe during prayers; this question is no more mundane than the artificial questions posed and answered by rabbis.

Jewish law was meant to put an end to superfluous pagan religious laws, with their myriad deities and complicated rites. The Torah leaves a lot to the people’s discretion for a reason: that they keep thinking about the law, and have no trouble practicing it.

Meat and milk prohibitions in Judaism

Rabbis began constructing a “fence around the law,” bringing up additional prohibitions to preclude inadvertent violations of major commandments when the Jews went into the Exile. Now that the Exile has ended, the concept of the fence has become irrelevant and highly counterproductive, as it drives Jews away from Judaism, whose rules are actually simple and straightforward.

Jacob bribed Esau with, among other things, milking camels. Jewish tradition asserts that the forefathers accepted the yoke of the commandments before Moses received them on the Sinai. That is, Jacob did not imagine that the prohibition of non-kosher meats precluded him from drinking camel’s milk (camels are a non-kosher animal). Non-kosher animals—just like the equally-unsuitable-for-food human beings—enjoy great protection in Judaism. We refrain from eating them out of respect for their lives rather than because of their uncleanness (humans are clean, but we’re not cannibals). Just as it is permissible to hire (but not eat) humans, it is also permissible to work, shear, milk or otherwise use non-kosher animals—anything short of killing them. Jewish children can play with pigs by the same logic which allowed Jacob’s household to drink camel milk.

By proclaiming some milk non-kosher, the rabbis created the problem of kosher milk. They require supervision to make sure that the cow’s milk is not mixed with horse or camel milk. If ever there were a far-fetched fear, this is truly the one.

Jewish children drink the milk of their non-kosher mothers for food, and can likewise consume the milk of other non-kosher animals. An obvious rejoinder is that children do not have to observe the commandments. But breast-feeding requires the participation of a Jewish adult; either all Jewish mothers grossly transgress by offering their non-kosher milk, or kosher laws don’t apply to milk. And indeed, Rashi says that kashrut is only applicable to meat, not to any other animal parts or products.

The meat-milk prohibition refers, according to Maimonides, to a pagan rite of boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk. He noted that the prohibition is in the section dealing with pagan practices rather than dietary laws. The meat-milk ban had nothing to do with food in the first place.

Rabbis expanded the meat-milk issue to avoid inadvertent violations. Boiling other meat in milk was originally prohibited because goat meat could theoretically be sold as beef. By such reasoning, all meat should be prohibited: what if someone is selling pork as beef? Inadvertent violations are not sinful, and the problem of fake beef is not urgent in our days of kosher supermarkets.

Chicken-milk combinations were banned lest someone see you eating chicken with cheese and think you were consuming a cheeseburger. By the same reasoning, you should not go out with your wife, lest someone think she’s your neighbor’s fiancée. Someone could see you eating a beef burger and think it is pork—that’s no reason to become a vegetarian. “They-might-think” reasoning is irrelevant at home: obviously, your wife knows she didn’t cook a goat in its milk. The absurdity is underscored by the fact that cheeseburger itself is not prohibited: it is beef rather than goat meat or veal, and it is not boiled in milk, as the Torah is careful to specify.

Rabbis advance yet another argument: self-imposed restrictions show our love to God, our willingness to go an extra mile. But do they read his mind? Why presume that he would like us to expand his prohibitions? The government limits driving speed to 65 miles per hour; would anyone show his patriotism by driving 20 mph?

I doubt your wife would interpret certain self-imposed restrictions as a sign of love. Why imagine that God wants more restrictions of us? He who created the animals and had the man name them to establish dominance would probably love us to eat meat in various forms. It is not even nice, let alone justified, to reject them. We’re explicitly commanded to enjoy the meat of our sacrifices. Judaism is not a monastic perversion but a religion of joy in that holiest place, the World Created.

The path of expanding prohibitions is arbitrary and precarious. There are prohibitions regarding various forms of incest. Should we expand them to the remote, even the seventh-degree kin out of love for God? Or take food: Through kosher laws, God banned all animals for food and only made a permissive exception for four animals. Here his intent to limit animal slaughter is manifestly clear. Should we all become vegetarians? Foreseeing our questions, the Torah enjoins us from subtracting from the laws—but also from adding to them.

“There are enough prohibitions in the Torah for you to invent new ones,” says the Talmud. The Torah’s laws are foremost practical. The laws are so easy that the nomadic Hebrews observed them in Sinai. Some commandments interpret the others: thus, the prohibition of homosexuality is consequential to “You shall not commit adultery.” It is sensible, therefore, to interpret commandments in the Oral Law—but not violate the commandments’ plain sense.

On one hand, the sages pronounced correctly that no word or letter in the Torah is superfluous. On the other hand, rabbis disregard the wording. The Torah says, “You shall not boil a kid in his mother’s milk.” “Boil”—not cook in any other fashion; a cheeseburger is okay. A specific prohibition of boiling makes perfect sense in the context of the pagan rite.

Another fixed point is “his mother’s.” That might be remotely interpreted as “someone of his kin,” just as “your fathers” refers to ancestors generally; but it cannot possibly be read as “any milk.” The Torah does not prohibit boiling a goat kid in cow’s milk.

There is some latitude in understanding the word gdi, kid. In the Tanakh, gdi never certainly means any other animal besides goats. In particular, a gdiah is a she-goat. Commentators assert ex nihilo that gdi can also mean lamb, but that’s unlikely, given that there are other words for she-lamb (rchl) and lamb (seh). Even if gdi means lamb, the two points are clear: gdi means only a young animal and never a calf. In many contexts, gdi is taken from herd; there were no herds of cows in the ancient Middle East. The most inclusive reading of the commandment prohibits boiling a young lamb or goat in, respectively, sheep or goat milk. The commandment is simple and unobtrusive; the balance is made by rabbis.

Consider the gap between Torah and halacha. Boiling a young goat in goat milk was extended to cows, then birds (chicken), then any mode of cooking, then any contact, then any food which includes chicken or milk, then dishes which were used to serve milk or meat, then storage, then sinks, then eateries—and now we have separate meat and dairy kosher restaurants.