Breast Milk: Just Like Honey From a Bee?


“Lactation Station,”
 a 2006 performance piece [see video here] by Toronto-based artist Jess Dobkin set out to challenge a deep cultural taboo. Dobkin invited audiences to taste samples of pasteurized human breast milk donated by a group of new mothers, and then facilitated a conversation between them. Six years later, Dobkin’s piece continues to stimulate spirited conversation—and grosses some people out, to be sure. But for Jews, it also raises a religious question: Is breast milk kosher? After all, humans aren’t kosher animals.

The medieval legal scholar Maimonides addresses this quandary directly: “Human milk is permitted to be eaten, even though the meat of a human is forbidden to be eaten.” (Mishneh Torah, Ma’akhalot Assurot 3:2) By way of explanation, one contemporary rabbi compares mother’s milk to honey—as a similarly exceptional case of kosher food derived from a non-kosher animal.

Maimonides does qualify his position a bit. While breast milk is kosher, it’s not kosher for an adult to drink it directly from the source. Why? “An adult who nurses from a woman’s breast is like one who nurses from a disgusting, impure animal.” Later commentaries explain that Maimonides’ unflattering comparison intended no offense to women: all he meant was that a suckling grownup might risk giving the impression that, as humans are technically non-kosher, the milk of all other non-kosher animals is permitted as well.

The bottom line: Breast milk must be expressed into a container before drinking. You know, if you’re into that.

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