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Breastfeeding and Passover

April 2015

The Jewish holy days of Passover begin at sundown on April 3rd. I thought it appropriate to share just a bit on Jewish law as related to breastfeeding.

This is taken from "The Green Prophet" website:

The Talmud emphasizes the importance of breastfeeding. A mother is considered a “meineket,” or nursing mother, until her child reaches 24 months. Even if a baby has weaned, he or she can return to nurse at any time until the age of two. Between the ages of two and four years, or five if the baby is unhealthy, a child who has weaned for longer than 72 hours may not return to the breast, and age five is considered the upper limit for nursing in Jewish law. The mother is advised to begin on the left side, “close to the heart.”

Rabbis differ about whether the laws relating to a meineket still apply today, when babies are usually not dependent on breastfeeding for survival. Some rabbis grant an exemption from fasting on minor fast days to all mothers with children under two, whether or not the mothers are currently nursing.

According to the Talmud, widows or divorcees with nursing babies under two may not remarry. The concern is that the husband will naturally want his new wife to bear his child, and the new pregnancy could lower the mother’s milk supply and potentially harm the existing child. One friend who lives in a haredi community told me that her husband’s rabbi advises all of his students to practice birth control until their children have turned two. And the rabbi of another haredi friend does not permit women in their community to wean earlier without a medical reason.

And from Chibad in Mineola with Rabbi Perl:

Breastfeeding is valued by Jewish tradition. The Talmud discusses breastfeeding duration in a number of contexts and in most cases assumes a duration of 24 months (Ketuvot 60a, b) The Shulkhan Arukhcodifies a minimum of two years (Even Haezer 143:8) and a maximum of five years (Yore Deah 81:7) Maimonides recommends breastfeeding in his compilation of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah LeRambam (Gerushin11:26) Age five is considered the upper limit for nursing in Jewish law.

"I swear that I stilled and silenced my soul, like a suckling child ("gamul" in Hebrew) at his mother's side, like the suckling child is my soul. Let Israel hope to G‑d, from this time forth and forever (Psalms 131: 2-3)."

The Midrash and commentators on this verse explain that just as the suckling child is totally and completely dependent on his mother, so too is man dependant on G‑d. Breast milk and its composition changes as the baby grows to perfectly fit the child's needs.

Other commentaries concur with the translation of the Hebrew word gamulas a suckling child, but adds that this word in Hebrew is cognate with the word gomel, to perform kindness, for the mother does a great kindness to the child by supplying it with her milk.

It's hard to acknowledge that things are not in our control. Nursing a child teaches us that everything that's supposed to come really does come, but only at the right time does its arrival actually fulfill one's needs. The mother supplies her child with the perfect nutrition.

The commentator Radak writes that the word referred to here is really a child who has already been weaned as the Torah refers to the word in several places. A weaned child is somewhat independent and yet still hovers close to its mother for security, comfort, and love.


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Have a blessed Passover.


Kathy Parkes, MSN-Ed, RN, IBCLC, FILCA
Course Tutor, Step2 Education


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