Got Milk?

The old adage, “there’s no need to cry over spilled milk,” is probably fairly accurate. However, my experience today, was begging me to cry over spilled milk.

This afternoon, as we were ending an eventful grocery shopping experience (we have a rowdy 2 year old) at the cashier, I noticed the line wasn’t moving: The cashier had for some unannounced reason wandered down to the customer service desk. Finally, she returned and as she was putting the finishing touches on the current customer’s transaction, the customer in front of me allowed a friend with a handful of groceries to cut in line from the opposite direction. Now that I replay that event in my mind, I realize they had conspired the whole thing while waiting for the wayward cashier to return.

In an effort to divert everyone’s attention from his obvious selfishness, as the cashier was waiting for the register to finish its tally of his goods, he turned away from her and started waxing eloquent about nothing with his accomplice, the guy in line ahead of me.

Almost immediately, the register indicated the amount due, which the cashier dutifully repeated in his direction. He wasn’t listening: By chatting up his accomplice, he was avoiding the white elephant in the line – his own presumptuous self-importance. The cashier waited. I waited. Mr. Rude ignored her and avoided making eye contact with me. He knew I was staring at him. She waited. He continued talking. She continued waiting. Eventually, enough was enough. Actually, enough was more than enough and I gently (really) asked if he wouldn’t mind paying, and then I offered a reminder that he had already cut in line. Realizing the charade had been unsuccessful, he said, “you’re right,” paid the cashier and disappeared.

Now that Mr. More-Important-Than-Everyone-Else had finally moved along, so should the line, I thought. And the line was starting to move forward until IT happened. From deep within the mountain of groceries that were resting on the conveyor belt came a trickle…of chocolate milk. A jug of milk had sprung a leak, apparently from being crushed under too much weight.

From the reaction of the cashier, an uninitiated person might have thought toxins were seeping out of Grocery Mountain and expected her to call the haz-mat team. She hopped up from her stool [1], covered the electronic eye that automatically advances the belt with her left hand and reached for her roll of toilet paper [2] with her right hand. All this was done in one motion with the grace of an Olympic gymnast. Nice performance, definitely deserving of high marks.

When the customer realized what was happening, he tried to help by removing any items that had been touched by the offending milk. “Stop! Stop!” she exclaimed, “You’re making it worse for me.” Clearly, she didn’t want the milk to flow further down the belt and into the motor, but she was more concerned that the milk NOT leave residue that might contaminate groceries belonging to future customers. So, she dutifully cleaned each item, making sure there was no milk left behind. One by one, she wiped them all.

In Israel, milk poses a different problem than say soft drinks or juices. Yes, soft drinks and juices will ruin an electric motor the same way chocolate milk will, but they don’t create kosher problems like milk can.

In Jewish dietary laws, it is forbidden to mix meat and milk products. This principle is loosely based on the biblical prohibition against “boiling a kid in its mother’s milk,” which is found 3 times in the Jewish Bible – commonly referred to as the Old Testament (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21). I say loosely, because the Bible clearly does not forbid mixing milk and meat. However, the rabbinical authorities have determined the safest course is to forbid all mixing of milk and meat. The result is a distinction between meat restaurants and dairy restaurants; meat dishes and utensils and dairy dishes and utensils in religious homes; and panic in the supermarket if milk spills.

The potential problem of mixing meat and milk in this way was only theoretical since all the meats in the store are sealed in plastic. However, if some loose milk were to be carried into someone’s kosher kitchen and contact some meat, a theoretical problem would become a very real problem. This cashier was not taking any chances with theoretical or real problems. We would just have to wait for her to fix the situation; and wait we did.

Got milk? If so, don’t spill it.

[1] In Israel, grocery store cashiers sit while they work.
[2] For some reason, all store clerks in Israel use toilet paper to clean the counters and glass. Why they don’t use more sturdy paper towels is a mystery.


  1. I’d like to see a post from you on other mysterious things that they do in Israel. I bet you could come up with some good ones :-).

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