Question: What should a person do if he makes a brachah on coffee with milk and realizes (before he drinks) that he ate meat less than six hours before?
Short Answer: It depends, according to many poskim, how much time has passed since you finished eating the meat. Many poskim would allow the person to take a small sip of the dairy coffee (in order to avoid a brachah l’vatalah) if more than an hour has passed since you finished the meat.
I. Waiting Between Meat and Dairy
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 89:1) rules that a person must wait six hours after eating meat before eating dairy. The Rama (ibid) cites an opinion that a person does not need to wait at all after eating meat to eat dairy. He simply needs to wash out his mouth and bentch. The Shach (5) explains the two opinions. The Gemara requires the person to wait until a new meal to eat dairy. The Shulchan Aruch understands that a person usually waits six hours before eating a new meal. The Rama, however, understands that a meal is considered completed immediately after bentching, and thus a person only needs to wash out his mouth and bentch. See also the Taz (2).
Nevertheless, the Rama notes that many have the minhag to wait one hour after eating meat before eating dairy. Moreover, the Rama concludes that the proper minhag is to wait the full six hours. This is the minhag of many people today.
II. A Leniency
Rav Moshe Sternbuch (T’shuvos V’Hanhagos 2:389) posits that we only follow the Rama’s minhag to be stringent and wait six hours where the waiting of six hours is actually a stringency, i.e., it prevents you from eating dairy for a longer period of time. However, in our case, where you already made the brachah on the dairy coffee, waiting would actually cause a “leniency,” i.e., cause you to take Hashem’s name in vain by not drinking immediately after the brachah. In such a scenario, we do not follow the Rama’s “six-hour” waiting minhag, but instead bank on the “one-hour” waiting time period also mentioned in the Rama.
Rav Sternbuch cites a proof to this principle – that one only needs to wait one hour to avoid a brachah l’vatalah – from the case of a sick person who is medically required to eat dairy shortly after eating meat. The Chochmas Adam (40:13) writes that a sick person need only wait one hour (plus rinsing his mouth) after eating meat before eating dairy. Even though the Chochmas Adam writes (Chayei Adam 127:10) that a weak person who wants to only wait one hour needs to be “matir neder” (undo his “vow” to follow the strict custom), that is only where the person is merely weak, and not actually sick. Here, to avoid a brachah l’vatalah, the case is more akin to the sick person, and thus no “matir neder” is necessary. See also Pischei T’shuvah (Yoreh Dei’ah 89:1).
Rav Sternbuch concludes that if the person already waited an hour and rinsed his mouth after eating the meat, he may “taste” a sip of the dairy coffee if he accidentally made the brachah. He may not, however, drink more than a small sip. If he waited an hour but did not yet rinse his mouth, he may rinse before tasting a sip of the dairy coffee, as this rinsing is not a hefseik, because it enables him to drink.
While the S’dei Chemed (Vol. 6, p. 352) cites the Zachor L’Avraham, who rules that one may not taste the dairy coffee in such a situation, even if one hour has already passed, that is only for Sefardim, who are strict about the six-hour waiting period in accordance with the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. Ashkenazim may take a sip, as mentioned above.
IV. Other Opinions
The sefer Dor HaM’laktim (Isur V’Heter, Vol. 1, p. 401) cites a four-way machlokes on this issue.
First, some poskim require you to say “Baruch sheim k’vod malchuso” unless you have waited the full six hours. This is the opinion of Rav A. L. Shteinman zt”l and Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l.
Second, some poskim require you to wait four hours, based on the opinion of the P’ri Chadash, that generally one needs to only wait four hours in the winter months between meat and milk. This is the opinion of the above-mentioned Zachor L’Avraham, as well as the Sheivet HaLevi. If four hours have not yet passed, you must say “Baruch sheim…” and you may not drink the coffee.
Third, some poskim, including the Chayei Levi and the Noam Halachah, agree with Rav Sternbuch, that as long as one hour has already passed, you may take a sip of the dairy coffee. Interestingly, the Chayei Levi holds that if one can wait for a few hours without being “mei’siach daas” from his brachah, it is certainly preferable to do so.
Fourth, there are a few poskim who allow the person to take a sip of the coffee even if less than an hour has passed since eating the meat. This was the opinion of Rav Elyashiv and the B’eir Moshe. The Avnei Yashfe (3:30:5) explains this opinion based on the Rama himself, who acknowledges that fundamentally no waiting period is really necessary, as long as the person bentched or made a brachah acharonah. Accordingly, although we are generally strict about waiting, we drop everything when a brachah l’vatalah is at stake.
Next Week’s Topic: Should you wait after drinking regular coffee with milk before eating meat?