The Dutch only wait one hour...so why wouldn't everyone choose to hold by the Dutch when you have the choice?
As a convert (and baal teshuva with no family tradition), you can generally choose how long you want to "wait" between eating meat and dairy. You'll often hear that you have a choice of 3 hours or 6 hours, but it's more complicated than that.
"1 hour" by the Dutch community
"Into the sixth hour" (aka, five hours and 1 minute)
I have read there are 4 hour, 5 hour, 5.5 hour, and 5.51 hour minhagim, but I haven't run into that in real life. Perhaps they have fallen into disuse by large groups?
Obviously (as in all halachic conversations), you should not generalize who holds by how long because there is a great variation among both communities and individuals. However, I've noticed that as more baalei teshuva and converts join communities, there is more standardization within communities.
So what's a good rule of thumb?
- Well, "the Dutch" don't exactly hold by an hour. I'm told that it's actually 72 minutes. (I believe most people who hold by this Dutch custom today are not actually Dutch - converts do choose this minhag. And remember that the Dutch community was actually Spanish and Portuguese!) The Dutch community often waits between dairy and meat for the same amount of time, I'm told.
- The German community (also known as Yekkes, though some find that term offensive) holds by 3 hours. It is believed that 3 hours is a chumrah of waiting 1 hour. See, I have chumrahs too!
- Sephardim generally hold by 6 full hours. This is the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (which was written by a Sephardi for a Sephardi audience - the Rema held differently for Ashkenazim).
- Ashkenazim are the most variable: 3 hours, into the fifth hour, or 6 full hours.
- The Chabad community waits 6 hours (whether those are full or not, I do not know), but they can also wait up to an hour after eating dairy.
- If someone says they hold by 6 hours, they may actually mean "into the sixth hour."
- If you become frum, you will be pressured to take 6 hours. Some batei din may require it. Whether that is 6 full hours or something less, I don't know.
How should you choose? I can't tell you which to choose (though I think we should all go to 3 hours like myself), but here are some of the ways people might choose.
First and foremost, what does your community do? It's often easiest to pick the community standard, but nowadays, people move communities often and communities aren't monolithic. There may be no community standard!
Do you have a family tradition? Do you have Jewish relatives who hold a certain way? Or is there family lore about how Jewish relatives used to hold? Even if you were not born Jewish, this can be a great way to create continuity with your Jewish ancestors.
Even if you don't have Jewish family, do you have a geographic/ethnic connection to a particular community? For example, I am from German/Italian background, so that influenced my choice of the German tradition. If you're actually Dutch, perhaps you should take the Dutch minhag to make sure the community is represented where you live! Did you study abroad in a Sephardi country? Do you have an affinity for a particular region or culture?
Do you have a Jewish spouse with a family tradition? Do you expect to marry into a certain community with a particular tradition?
Do you have a medical reason for needing a shorter wait time? If you are diabetic or have other blood-sugar related disorders, you may need greater freedom to eat frequent meals of whatever is healthiest for you to eat at that time. Medical reasons can even be used to change an already-existing minhag. You should do what is best for your health and consult a rabbi who understands your health concern. At the time I chose, this was my main concern: I had a problem with low blood sugar and needed to eat approximately every 3 hours. The 3 hour choice seemed natural, and many people believe that the hours do/should correspond to the "normal" time between meals. Allegedly, this is the reason why the German community held by 3 hours in Northern Europe (night comes awful early in the winter there).
Others are party-poopers who say that even if you eat meals more frequently than 6 hours, the rule is the rule. That's a valid argument. These people are holding that the time is related to the time to digest the meat itself or for it to otherwise disappear from your mouth and throat. In other words, it's about the meat and its "aftertaste," not the meal itself.
The question going forward is to ask when you start counting that time... Is it from the time you said the blessings? The time you finished eating meat itself? The time you finished eating the meal? I can't help you yet because I didn't even know this question existed until today!
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