How Do We Make Kosher Cheese?

Question: Is there a need for kosher cheese to cost such a premium over non-kosher cheese?

Before discussing the halachic issues involved in manufacturing cheese, we need to explain the basics of cheesemaking. Hashem made cow’s milk contain all the nutrients necessary for a newborn calf to grow big and strong until it is ready to be self-supportive by mowing the lawn – I mean, by eating grass for its nutrition. The major components of milk are lactose, or milk sugar, which provides the carbohydrates a young calf needs; casein and other proteins; cream (which is the fat component); various other nutrients, including calcium for healthy bones; and about 90% water, which keeps the other ingredients in suspension or solution. To make cheese, one causes the casein to precipitate (separate) out of the fluid milk and then to coagulate. The coagulated part of the milk, called the curd, separates from the rest, which is the whey.

What is the prohibition called gevinas akum, and why did Chazal prohibit it?

The origins of the rabbinic prohibition banning non-Jewish cheese are mentioned by the Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 29b), which records that Rabbi Yehoshua evaded explaining why the Sages prohibited cheese. In actuality, the Mishnah and the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 35) mention seven possible reasons why Chazal prohibited consumption of gevinas akum:

(1) The first reason mentioned by the Tanna, Rabbi Yehoshua: Because the gentiles set it using the stomach of a non-kosher slaughtered calf.

This approach is later reiterated in the Gemara by Rabbi Yochanan.

(2) The second reason mentioned by Rabbi Yehoshua: Because the gentiles use the stomach of a calf that had been offered for idol worship.

(3) Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: The milk may have been left in a place that snakes could poison it with their venom.

(4) Rabbi Chanina: The milk may have been adulterated with milk of a non-kosher species. Although most non-kosher species do not allow themselves to be milked, camels, donkeys, and mares (female horses) can all be milked and produce palatable product. Although milk from non-kosher species contains very little casein and thus cannot be made into cheese, some fluid remains in the cheese that could contain non-kosher milk.

(5) Rav Ada bar Ahavah: The surface of the cheese may be coated with lard.

(6) Rav Chisda: That non-kosher wine vinegar was used to set the cheese.

(7) Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak: That juice of an orlah fruit may have been used to set the cheese. The Torah (VaYikra 19:23) prohibits eating or benefiting from fruit grown on a tree during its first three years. Those fruits are called orlah, and the prohibition of the Torah applies whether the tree was planted by a Jew or a gentile, and whether it grew in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’Aretz.

The Rambam in his discussion of these laws mentions setting cheese with the juice of figs. Today, we extract an enzyme known as ficain (also known as ficin), usually from the sap of the fig, which can be, and is, used to make certain varieties of cheese.

As we will soon see, the Rishonim question whether these seven opinions are in dispute – meaning that each authority holds his reason to the exclusion of the others, or that they are each citing a different reason for the prohibition, and that the cheese was prohibited because of any of the reasons.

I want to share with you a curiosity: While researching information for this article, I discovered a forty-year-old article describing how one manufactures cheddar cheese (by the way, the origin of the name is that this cheese was originally developed in Cheddar, a village in England), which reports that the cheese was made by adding calf stomach rennet to the milk so that it curds, heating the curd, going through several processes to carefully remove “every scrap” of whey, pressing the curd and then plunging it into hot water briefly to form a thin rind, and then greasing the rind with pure lard to keep the shape and thicken the rind. Thus, three of the reasons mentioned by the Gemara to prohibit cheese were very much applicable to this cheese – the use of non-kosher rennet; the use of lard; and the remaining uncurded milk in the cheese which could contain adulterated milk, were it not processed so carefully to remove it all. Obviously, contemporary kosher cheddar cheese must use a different source for the rennet, and a substitute for the lard; but are those the only differences between kosher cheddar and non-kosher?

Why did Rabbi Yehoshua hide the reason?

Although we now have some background as to why Chazal prohibited gentile cheese, we have as yet no idea why Rabbi Yehoshua was reticent to explain the origin of the prohibition. However, the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 35a) does explain his concern, in the following passage:

“Why did he not reveal the true reason? As Ula explained: ‘When the scholars of Eretz Yisrael decreed a new prohibition, they did not reveal the reason for twelve months — lest someone dispute their reason and be lax in its observance.'” Thus, we see that even when the prohibition began, no reason was given, out of concern that this might affect whether the takkanah would be properly observed.

We find this issue echoed in a later dispute. In the times of the Rishonim, there were areas of Europe, particularly in Italy and parts of France, where there was a long-established practice to be lenient regarding the consumption of the local cheese of non-Jews. The lenience was based on the fact that the Jews knew the ingredients used by the gentile cheesemakers and that none of the concerns mentioned by the Gemara was germane. The cheese was set with “flowers,” some variety of plant-based enzymes. I am told that, to this day, there are cheeses in some parts of Europe which use an enzyme found naturally in a variety of thistle. Perhaps, this was the type of cheese that these communities used.

In any instance, many communities were in the practice of using gentile cheese and found halachic backing for this position. (Several Rishonim quote this lenient position in the name of the Geonei Narvona.) Tosafos quotes Rabbeinu Tam as saying “that we do not find an obvious reason to prohibit gevinas akum.” Rabbeinu Tam felt that the different opinions quoted in the Gemara are in dispute, and that the authoritative position for the gezeirah of gevinas akum is that of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi — that the cheese may be contaminated with snake venom. Rabbeinu Tam then opines that according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, the prohibition of gevinas akum was never instituted in a place where snakes are not commonly found.

However, most Rishonim rejected this reasoning, contending that the prohibition against gentile cheese exists even when none of the original reasons apply. They contend that the prohibition has a halachic status of davar shebeminyan, a rabbinic injunction that remains binding even when the reason the takkanah was introduced no longer applies, until and unless a larger and more authoritative body declares the original injunction invalid. Since a more authoritative beis din never rescinded the prohibition on gentile cheese, it remains, even when none of the reasons apply (Rambam, Maachalos Asuros 3:4; Rashba, Toras HaBayis page 90b; Semag, Mitzvah 223; Tur, Yoreh Deah 115). Others even contended that Rabbeinu Tam himself never permitted gevinas akum, but that his comments were meant to be theoretical in nature and not a definitive ruling (Semag; Semak).

The Shulchan Aruch rules in line with the majority opinion that there is no halachic basis to allow the practice of the Italian communities which permitted use of the local gentile cheese. The Rama follows a moderately more lenient view, permitting use of gentile cheese only in a place where one can ascertain that there was a long-established custom to permit it. Thus, today no one would be able to use gentile cheese, with the possible exception of an Italian community that can prove that they have such a tradition going back at least eight hundred years.

How is kosher cheese made differently from non-kosher cheese?

Having established that almost universal opinion contends that the prohibition against gentile cheese is alive and well even when none of the concerns apply, we need to clarify how one makes cheese in a way that it is considered Jewish cheese, not gentile. Does the cow or the milk require immersion in a mikveh and acceptance of mitzvos to become Jewish?

To resolve this issue we find a dispute between two major halachic authorities, the Rama (Yoreh Deah 215:2) and the Shach. These two authorities dispute concerning the definition of gevinas Yisrael; or, in other terms, what removes a cheese from the categoric prohibition of gevinas akum. To describe the dispute very succinctly, we could say that the Rama contends that supervision makes the cheese kosher, whereas the Shach insists that a Jew must be involved significantly in the processing of the cheese.

A Mashgiach resolves the problem.

The Rama contends that a Jew observing the production of cheese makes the cheese gevinas Yisrael, which is, by definition, not subject to the prohibition of gevinas akum. In his opinion, this is true even when the milk and curding agents are all owned by a gentile and even when gentiles performed all the steps in the cheese production.

The Shach takes tremendous issue with this approach of the Rama, contending that if a gentile owns the milk, the acid, and the enzyme, and he places the acid or enzyme into the milk, the resultant cheese is prohibited as gevinas akum, even if an observant Jew supervised the entire production! The Shach rallies support for his position from the wording of the Mishnah, which, when describing the prohibition against chalav akum, prohibits milk “milked by a gentile without a Jew watching,” whereas when discussing gevinas akum, the Mishnah simply prohibits “the cheese of gentiles,” omitting the proviso that a supervising Jew is sufficient to remove the prohibition. According to the Shach, the only whey (or did I mean “way”) to avoid gevinas akum is to have a Jew place the curding agent into the milk, or to have the Jew own the milk or the cheese. In these instances, the cheese is now considered “Jewish” cheese, because it was either owned or manufactured by a Jew.

The Shabbos Problem

Those who followed the Shach’s approach requiring the Jew either to make the cheese or to own it, occasionally ran into the following practical problem. In order to make the cheese kosher, they needed to arrange for a Jew to add the enzyme or acid to the milk. This could easily be done if the price was right. If the gentile ordinarily used non-kosher rennet, the Jew would supply his own kosher rennet. However, what was one to do when the gentile decided that the best day to set the cheese was on Shabbos? It is a desecration of Shabbos to add rennet into milk on Shabbos – and, according to the Shach, a Jew must put in the rennet to avoid a problem of gevinas akum!

This entire problem does not exist according to the Rama, since the Jew can simply oversee the work that the non-Jew is performing. The Jew himself is performing no melacha, and the non-Jew does not have to keep Shabbos. Furthermore, no violation of amira le’nachri, having a gentile perform melacha for a Jew, is involved, since the gentile is working on Shabbos as his own decision and for his own purposes.

The Pri Chodosh, who sides with the Shach’s position regarding the dispute concerning what makes a cheese “Jewish,” discusses the problem of what to do when the gentile wants to make the kosher cheese on Shabbos. He concludes the following:

If the Jew orders a certain quantity of cheese, the cheese is considered gevinas Yisrael. Since this cheese is being made specifically for the Jew, the Jew is considered the owner as soon as the cheese is manufactured, thus eliminating the prohibition of gevinas akum. This is true even if the Jew did not participate in the manufacture.

The Pri Chodosh also discusses another case: What is the law if the cheese is manufactured as a partnership between the Jew and the gentile? In this situation, must the Jew add the rennet to the milk to avoid a concern of gevinas akum? The Pri Chodosh rules that lechatchilah the Jew should add the rennet to consider this cheese kosher, but be’dei’evid, if he did not do so, the cheese is permitted, since the Jew is a partial owner.

However, the question is: Why does the Pri Chodosh permit this only be’dei’evid? Logically, this cheese should not be included under the prohibition of gevinas akum, since there is partial Jewish ownership.

It seems that the Pri Chodosh is somewhat concerned because part of the cheese is being made for the gentile – and that quantity of the cheese might be considered gevinas akum – whereas where the Jew is purchasing outright a certain quantity of cheese, whatever is made for the Jew is considered gevinas Yisrael and therefore is permitted.

Another Approach

The Noda BiYehudah (II Orach Chayim #37) discusses a similar case, where a Jew is “renting the schvag” of a non-Jew for the purpose of producing cheese. I do not know the meaning of the word schvag, and in many inquiries about the subject I have found no one else who knows either, but from the context in which the Noda BiYehudah uses the term, it seems that this was a Slavic word for a cheese factory. The case is that the Jew is paying the gentile to use his own facility to produce cheese for the Jew. Again, the Noda BiYehudah is faced by the same problem that the Pri Chodosh discussed: What should one do on Shabbos?

The Noda BiYehudah sides with the Rama: as long as the Jew supervises the process, the cheese is kosher, mentioning that this is the accepted practice, and that several earlier luminaries ruled this way.

In addition, the Noda BiYehudah demonstrates that the dispute between the Rama and the Shach originates as a machlokes Rishonim in which most authorities rule like the Rama, whereas the Maharam of Rottenberg held, like the Shach, that gevinas akum applies unless the Jew is the owner or the manufacturer.

The Noda BiYehudah adds the following point. He contends that when the Jew intends to purchase the cheese and also supplies the rennet, the Jew is already considered the owner of the cheese. Under these circumstances, there is no problem of gevinas akum, even according to the Maharam and the Shach. The Noda BiYehudah concludes that, under these circumstances, a gentile may himself actually produce the cheese without it becoming prohibited. Whereas the Pri Chodosh (115:15) permitted consuming cheese produced this way only be’dei’evid, that is, if it has been produced already, the Noda BiYehudah rules that lechatchilah one may produce kosher cheese this way.

Owning just the rennet

Based on the explanation of the Noda BiYehudah, some contemporary rabbonim have suggested that it is sufficient for the Jew to own the rennet. Others take issue with this approach, contending that this is sufficient only when the cheese is being produced specifically for Jewish consumption, whereas in the modern world, the cheese is usually produced for general consumption, and the non-Jewish company intends to market the cheese. According to the Orthodox Union Kashruth Division, Rav Yisrael Belsky rules that the Noda BiYehudah permitted only a situation when the Jews rented the cheese-plant and planned on purchasing the finished cheeses. The Noda BiYehudah contended that owning the rennet suffices to give the Jew a partial ownership in the cheese when it is a first step towards taking full possession. However, when the Jew now has no intention of ever owning the cheese, this approach is insufficient to create gevinas Yisrael.

Other rabbonim ruled that if the Jew owns the milk and the rennet, then the cheese produced is gevinas Yisrael according to all opinions. Subsequent to its production, the gentile then purchases the cheese back from the Jew, so that he markets it as his own cheese. However, I know of responsible, knowledgeable rabbonim who permitted cheese based on this heter, usually adding other requirements. For example, in one instance the rav made a kinyan on the factory and all its vessels, so that he would own the cheese as it was made. Another suggestion was that the rav remain a partial owner of the cheese as it was made, and that he sell his share in the finished cheese, after its manufacture was complete, back to the company in exchange for his “hechsher fee.”

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding the prohibition of gevinas akum, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from various different sins. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfill all the halachos that the Torah commands us.

The Great Cottage Cheese Controversy

Before Yom Tov, I sent out a basic article on the concept of kosher cheese. This week I am sending out a sequel to that article.

Question #1:

The whey it was.

Rav Schwartz* tells me that his Rosh Yeshiva, a world-renowned European-born gadol, held that one may eat cottage cheese that is not chalav Yisrael, even though one should otherwise always be careful to keep chalav Yisrael. He also held that there is no gevinas akum problem. What is the rationale for this?

Question #2:

Is this the whey to go?

If gevinas Yisrael requires either that a Jew supervise the entire production, or that he own the milk or cheese, how can hechsherim certify cottage cheese produced by a non-Jewish company without a mashgiach temidi?

Question #3:

No whey!

My friend Yaakov* often travels in places where there are no kosher products available, and he has amassed a list of items that he can eat and drink wherever he finds himself. He told me that someone once told him that when traveling he may eat cottage cheese without any hechsher. What is the rationale for this psak?

In other articles, I explained the basic halachic issues involved in the rabbinic prohibitions called chalav akum and gevinas akum. Chazal prohibited consuming milk that was not supervised by a Jew out of concern that it could have been adulterated with milk from a non-kosher species, a prohibition called chalav akum. (Henceforth, I will use the term “non-kosher milk” in this article to mean milk from non-kosher species, and “kosher milk” to mean milk from a kosher animal.) In an earlier article, I explained the dispute among halachic authorities whether this prohibition exists when there is strong basis to assume that no adulteration took place, milk that is colloquially often called “chalav stam,” and that Rav Moshe Feinstein referred to as “chalav companies.”

There is also a prohibition called gevinas akum, cheese from gentiles. According to some authorities (Rama, Yoreh Deah 115:2) this is obviated by having a Jew supervise the cheese making and, according to others (Shach ad loc.), only when a Jew adds the enzyme or acid that curds or “sets” the cheese, or alternatively, when a Jew owns the milk or the cheese. “Curdling” or “curding” means that some of the solid particles naturally suspended in the milk, predominantly the casein (cheese protein), precipitate out of the milk and clump together.

When a Jew does not supervise the cheese making and does not own or participate in the manufacture of the cheese, it is prohibited as gevinas akum.

Also remember from our previous article that many authorities contend that if the cheese is kosher, we are not concerned that it was made from unsupervised milk because of a principle chalav tamei eino omeid – non-kosher milk does not curd into cheese. This law applies not only to the cheese produced, but also to the whey byproduct of kosher cheese production (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 79).

This is the whey we make our cheese

How is cottage cheese made? When cheese is made, the part of the milk that remains liquid and does not become cheese is the “whey,” whereas the part that solidifies is called “curd.” In earlier days, a forerunner of cottage cheese was made simply by allowing milk to curd naturally, which created a product called “curds and whey” (remember Little Miss Muffet?). Contemporary commercial cottage cheese is produced by adding an enzyme (also called rennet) to warm skim milk, allowing it to curd into its separate components, the curd and the whey. The curd is then removed from the whey and rinsed thoroughly to remove every trace of whey; after which a “cheese dressing” consisting of milk, some salt (unless it is sodium-free unsalted cottage cheese) and other minor ingredients (such as a preservative, and a stabilizer so that the cream and skim in the dressing does not separate) is added to the curd. If the cottage cheese is seasoned with fruit, chives or other garnish, these ingredients are also added to the dressing. The percentage of fat in the cottage cheese is determined by whether the milk in the dressing is made from pure skim milk, which means no fat, or has cream added.

There are three potential kashrus issues that can be involved.

  1. Is commercially produced cottage cheese prohibited because of gevinas akum if a Jew did not add the rennet and/or supervise the entire production?
  2. Must it be made from chalav Yisrael milk?
  3. Are the rennet and all other ingredients kosher? Although rennet is used in minuscule quantities, and a food containing less than one part in sixty of a non-kosher ingredient is usually kosher bedei’evid, after the fact, non-kosher rennet still poses a serious kashrus problem since this is what causes the cheese to form. This gives the rennet a halachic status called davar hamaamid, an ingredient that creates a physical change in the processed food, which is not nullified even in small percentages.

When there is a will, there is whey — a gevinas akum review

Is cottage cheese prohibited because of gevinas akum?

In a previous article, I noted that the Gemara mentions seven different potential concerns why Chazal instituted the prohibition of gevinas akum:

  1. The enzyme used to curd the cheese may be from the stomach of a calf slaughtered not according to halacha.
  2. The enzyme may be from the stomach of a calf that had been offered for idol worship (Avodah Zarah 29b).
  3. The milk used for the cheese may have been left in a place where snakes could poison it.

4.   The milk may have been adulterated with milk of a non-kosher species. Although milk from non-kosher species contains very little casein and thus cannot be made into cheese, some fluid that could contain non-kosher milk may remain in the cheese.

5. The surface of the cheese may be coated with lard.

6. Non-kosher vinegar may have been used to set the cheese.

7. Sap of an orlah fruit may have been used to set the cheese (Avodah Zarah 35).

As I mentioned in the previous article, the Rishonim dispute which of the above reasons we follow and what are the resultant halachic conclusions. For example, a minority opinion, referred to as the chachmei Narvona, permitted eating gentile cheese in places where they used vegetable rennet. However, the Shulchan Aruch rules like the majority opinion and prohibits this “vegetable rennet” cheese.

This is the whey we make our butter

Before analyzing whether cottage cheese is prohibited because of gevinas akum, we should research an old controversy concerning whether butter produced and owned by non-Jews is permitted for the kosher palate.

Let us first understand how butter is made:

Milk consists of many components: water, cream, proteins, natural sugars (lactose), and various other nutrients. Butter is made by first separating the cream from the rest of the milk, which happens on its own if the milk is not homogenized, and then churning the cream, which causes its fat globules to combine and solidify. The liquid left behind is called buttermilk (not to be confused with cultured buttermilk, a different product sold in the dairy case of your local supermarket, called by an almost identical name to confuse the innocent).

Is butter included in the prohibitions of gevinas akum or chalav akum?

A thousand years ago, Jewish communities grappled with the following question: “May one purchase butter from a gentile?” After all, both cheese and milk of a gentile are prohibited. Why should butter be any different?

Indeed many authorities and communities held this way. However, there were also authorities and communities who permitted chem’as akum – “gentile butter” (Rambam, Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 3:15). According to the Vilna Gaon (Yoreh Deah 115:17), these authorities conclude that gevinas akum is prohibited because of concern of the use of non-kosher rennets, a reason that does not apply to butter. After all, although butter is a processed dairy product, it does not use rennet to separate the butter from the buttermilk.

Those who prohibit butter as gevinas akum rule in accordance with the other reasons mentioned above to prohibit gevinas akum that do apply to butter. For example, if gevinas akum was prohibited because of concern that some milk residue may be left (reason #4 above), this reason applies equally to butter, because some milk residue does remain in the butter even after the buttermilk is removed.

But why is butter not prohibited because of chalav akum?

Those who permit gentile butter contend that just as non-kosher milk does not make cheese, it also does not make butter. Although the processes of making cheese and butter are completely dissimilar, and different components of milk are used for each, it is still true that it is difficult to make butter from non-kosher milk because of its low cream content. (See Shu’t Melamed LeHo’eil, Yoreh Deah #34, who provides a chart for the amount of dairy fat and casein found in the milk of various common farm animals, both kosher and non-kosher.) Thus, there were early authorities who permitted purchasing butter from gentiles, contending that it was exempt from both the prohibitions of gevinas akum and of chalav akum. The common practice was to follow the lenient approach.

Beware of “whey cream”!

Please note: In the contemporary world, butter should not be used without a reliable kosher certification. This is because of a host of potential kashrus concerns in today’s butter manufacture, the most common of which is the use of “whey cream,” the cream salvaged from cheese production, which is often prohibited because of gevinas akum absorption. Also note that a hechsher on butter does not mean that it is made from chalav Yisrael milk unless this is specified.

A wheyward flock?

In a landmark teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the kashrus issues involved in the consumption of cottage cheese (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:48). It is important to understand the details and context of the responsum. In 1960, Rav Shimon Schwab, the late Rav of Khal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights, was aware that people were using cottage cheese without any hechsher whatsoever. He asked Rav Moshe a shaylah whether one should publicly announce that cottage cheese that has no hechsher is not kosher.

In answering the question, Rav Moshe discusses all three issues that we raised above:

(1) Is cottage cheese prohibited because of gevinas akum?

(2) Is cottage cheese prohibited because of chalav akum?

(3) Do we need to be concerned that the rennet used may not be kosher?

Rav Moshe first analyzes whether cottage cheese is prohibited as gevinas akum, and presents a line of reasoning that might permit it. He notes that although accepted halacha rules unlike the chachmei Narvona and that gevinas akum applies even when the cheese is set with kosher enzymes, it is possible that the prohibition does not apply to varieties of cheese that can be produced without any rennet at all. If one leaves the milk at the proper temperature, it will naturally curd to create the cheese part of cottage cheese. This would draw a distinction between cottage cheese (and similar products such as farmer’s cheese, cream cheese, and baker’s cheese) and so-called “hard cheeses” that require rennet to produce them.

Rav Moshe concludes that although one should not rely on this analysis to permit cottage cheese, one is also not required to rebuke those who consume this product.

But maybe the rennet isn’t kosher?

Subsequently, Rav Moshe discusses that the cheese should be prohibited because the rennet used may not be kosher. Although rennet is used in very small quantities, it should not be nullified in the finished product because it qualifies as a davar hamaamid. Rav Moshe notes, however, that since cottage cheese can be made without any supplementary enzyme, the rennet is added only to speed up the process. A davar hamaamid is the exclusive cause of the forming of the product; however, when natural means or a kosher enzyme is assisted by non-kosher rennet, the rennet can become bateil in the finished product. Therefore, even if the gentile company used non-kosher rennet, the resultant cheese is not prohibited.

Rav Moshe also discusses whether one may eat cottage cheese that is not made from chalav Yisrael, which he permits based on his analysis that chalav companies (his own term) is permitted. I refer the reader to my previous article on the topic of chalav akum for a further analysis of this dispute.

I would like at this point to quote the conclusion of Rav Moshe’s teshuvah:

As a final decision, I do not say that this is permitted, but I also do not rebuke those who are lenient since there is a reason to permit it and the prohibition is rabbinic… as a result, I see no requirement… to prohibit those who are not asking, and even moreso since there is the possibility that they will not listen… which allows for the additional reason that it is better to violate negligently than intentionally. However, one certainly should not publicize that there is a basis to be lenient.”

Thus, Rav Moshe concludes that his reasoning excluding cottage cheese from the prohibition of gevinas akum is not clearcut and should not be relied upon. This allows us to make an interesting comparison between Rav Moshe’s psak and that of the other gadol I referred to in our original question:

Rav Schwartz tells me that his Rosh Yeshiva, a world-renowned European-born gadol, held that one may eat cottage cheese that is not chalav Yisrael, even though one should otherwise always be careful to keep chalav Yisrael. He also held that there is no gevinas akum problem. What is the rationale for this?

I have two observations based on this anecdote quoting this esteemed gadol, whom I knew personally. The first is that this gadol disputed with Rav Moshe on a halachic issue. Whereas Rav Moshe contended that one should not rely lechatchilah that cottage cheese and other “soft” cheeses are not prohibited as gevinas akum, this other gadol apparently held that one may lechatchilah rely on this heter.

Is this the wrong whey?

My second observation is that I believe this gadol was unaware of a technical fact. It appears that he assumed that the liquid part of cottage cheese is the whey byproduct of the cheese manufacture, precisely what Little Miss Muffet ate. It may be that where this gadol grew up this was a commonly produced or purchased food, and indeed this food would have no problem of chalav akum. However, contemporary cottage cheese is made by adding milk to the cheese curd. Although the heter of “chalav companies” that Rav Moshe accepts applies here, this particular gadol did not rely on this heter, but held like the Chasam Sofer that one may not use milk that a Jew did not supervise. Nevertheless, this gadol permitted whey from unsupervised milk that was a byproduct of kosher cheese production because he felt that the same heter that permits cheese from non-supervised milk, should apply to the whey, its byproduct.  Note that I mentioned before that the Chasam Sofer ruled this way. (or is it “whey”?)

Perhaps this gadol had some other reason why he felt that the “dressing” added is not a chalav akum concern.

By the whey

Many years ago, a prominent rav living in a community where chalav Yisrael milk was available but just making inroads, was faced by a dilemma. People in his community were using non-chalav Yisrael, non-gevinas Yisrael cottage cheese, which Rav Moshe rules that lechatchilah one should not use, yet the market for fully chalav Yisrael/gevinas Yisrael cottage cheese did not yet exist. He arranged that a mashgiach add the rennet to non-chalav Yisrael milk to produce a batch of cheese curd from supervised kosher ingredients. The curd produced this way is gevinas Yisrael. The rav arranged that the milk added as “cheese dressing” to the gevinas Yisrael curd be chalav Yisrael, so that the resultant product was certainly kosher, gevinas Yisrael and containing chalav Yisrael, although its gevinas Yisrael was not made from chalav Yisrael.

At this point, I would like to address the second question I asked above:

“If gevinas Yisrael requires either that a Jew supervise the entire production, or that he own the milk or cheese, how can hechsherim supervise cottage cheese produced by a non-Jewish company without a mashgiach temidi?”

According to Rav Moshe’s teshuvah, the above-mentioned product should not be used lechatchilah, so how can someone provide it with a hechsher? The answer is that they feel that there was an old minhag, going back to Europe, to permit soft cheeses that were not gevinas Yisrael. Although Rav Moshe clearly was unaware of such a minhag (otherwise he certainly would have mentioned it), it seems that the other gadol I mentioned above, who was raised in Poland, was familiar with such a minhag.

We can now address the last question raised above:

Yaakov often travels in places where there are no kosher products available, and he has amassed a list of items that he can eat anywhere. Someone once told him that when traveling he may eat cottage cheese without any hechsher. What is the rationale for this psak? The answer is that the person who permitted him felt that when traveling he could rely on the minhag that “soft” cheese is not considered gevinas akum. We should realize that Rav Moshe rules that this product should not be used, and, furthermore, even those who permit this cottage cheese do so only in a place where the leniency to use “chalav companies” applies.

Conclusion

Specifically in the context of gevinas akum, the Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. We see how a vast halachic literature developed devoted to understanding the prohibitions of gevinas akum and chalav akum, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins.

*All names in this article have been changed.