The custom of eating dairy on Shavuos has a long history; certainly, we should review the topic of…
Does Chalav Yisrael Apply Today?
Shirley mentions to her friend: “I do not understand why some people keep chalav Yisrael today. Do they really think that someone is adding pig’s milk?”
Muttie inquires: “My friend quoted his rav that it is more important to keep chalav Yisrael today than it ever was before. How could this be?”
Chazal (Bechoros 6b) derive from this week’s parsha a rule that whatever comes from a non-kosher species, such as eggs or milk, is also non-kosher. Thus, milk of mares, camels, llamas, donkeys or sows are all non-kosher. Still, people find chalav Yisrael a perplexing subject matter. We have all heard various authorities quoted that today use of chalav Yisrael is only a chumrah, whereas others rule that consuming non-chalav Yisrael foods is a serious infraction of halacha. The mission of this article is to provide appreciation of the issues involved. So, let us start from the beginning of the topic by understanding the origins of this proscription and then explaining the different approaches why it does or does not apply today.
Before we even begin our halachic discussion, we need some biological and food production information. The definition of a mammal is an animal that nurses its young with mother’s milk. (The Modern Hebrew word for mammal is yoneik, literally, that which nurses, meaning that the young suckles mother’s milk.) Hashem, who provides for all His creatures, custom-developed a formula that provides the ideal nourishment for the young of each mammalian species. This supplies the perfect “food pyramid” balanced diet with all the proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that a young growing foal, cub, kitten, puppy, kid, lamb, infant or calf need to thrive and mature until they are ready for an adult diet, which in many species is when they are ready to earn their own living.
There are thousands of species of mammals, yet each species’ milk is somewhat unique. The young of kosher animals require a certain protein, called casein, in higher proportions than do the young of non-kosher animals, and therefore Hashem made kosher milk with a higher proportion of casein. Non-kosher milk, of course, also contains significant amount of protein necessary for a young growing mammal, but most of this protein is categorized as “whey protein.” (When I use the term “non-kosher milk” in this article, I will be referring to milk from non-kosher species.) Kosher milk also contains whey protein, but in much smaller proportion to the casein.
The Origins of Chalav Yisrael
The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 35b, 39b) proscribes consuming milk that a gentile milked, unless a Jew supervised the milking, a prohibition called chalav akum. The Gemara notes that we are not concerned that the gentile is misrepresenting non-kosher milk as kosher — milk from non-kosher species looks different from kosher milk, and this would be easily identified. Rather, the prohibition is because the milk may have been adulterated with milk of a non-kosher species. The Gemara subsequently discusses how closely must the Jew supervise the milking; it concludes that, when the gentile has both kosher and non-kosher animals that could be milked, the Jew may be sitting in a place where he cannot observe the milking, provided that, should he stand up, he could. Since the Jew can stand up at any moment, we may assume that the gentile would not risk milking his non-kosher animal and losing the Jew’s business. Therefore, this milk still qualifies as kosher chalav Yisrael, milk supervised by a Jew.
On the other hand, should the gentile have only kosher species in his herd, the Gemara implies that less supervision is necessary, but it does not define exactly how much. The milking still requires the attendance of a Jew, but halachic authorities dispute the reason and purpose of the Jew’s presence. This dispute is what underlies the controversy alluded to above.
The most lenient approach
The most lenient approach is that of the Pri Chadash (Yoreh Deah 115:15), who contends that there are concerns about chalav akum only when non-kosher milk is less expensive than kosher, or when non-kosher milk is obtainable but difficult to sell. However, when kosher milk is less expensive than non-kosher, halacha has no concern that non-kosher product may contaminate kosher milk. The Pri Chadash reports that, at the time that he wrote his commentary, he was living in Amsterdam, and the vast majority of the Torah community there accepted this interpretation and drank milk sold by gentiles. He adds that he himself relied on this approach and drank the milk. The Pri Chadash explains that halacha does not require that a Jew observe the milking, nor is there any requirement to verify that non-kosher milk was not added. The Mishnah and Gemara require a Jew to supervise the milking only when it is financially advantageous for the non-Jew to adulterate milk.
Chasam Sofer’s approach
On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #107) opposed any lenience to use milk from gentiles. He maintained that Chazal required that a Jew actually supervise the milking, and that this sanction remains binding, even should its rationale no longer apply, until a more authoritative body retracts it (see Beitzah 5a). Since this has never happened, consuming unsupervised gentile milk remains prohibited. The Chasam Sofer requires that a Jew observe (or be able to observe) the milking, even when no incentive exists to adulterate the product.
Risk of snake bite
Chazal (Bava Basra 110a; Avodah Zarah 27b) invoke the verse uporeitz geder yishachenu nachash (Koheles 10:8) to mean thatsomeone violating a rabbinic injunction deserves to be bitten by a snake, indicating the importance of observing rabbinic prohibitions. The Chasam Sofer writes that someone who ignores the rabbinic prohibition of chalav akum and drinks milk, relying that the gentile would not add non-kosher milk, should be categorized as a poreitz geder deservant of the punishment of yishachenu nachash.
Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer contends that even should kosher milk be cheaper than non-kosher, since the Jewish people rejected the ruling of the Pri Chadash, unsupervised dairy products are prohibited because of the laws of nedarim, vows. Since Jews do not consume chalav akum even in places where non-kosher species are not milked, it is considered that they accepted a vow to prohibit unsupervised milk. As a result, the Chasam Sofer rules that it is prohibited min HaTorah, with the full stringency of a vow, to consume unsupervised milk.
A middle road
An approach between these two positions, that of Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 41:4), who contend that in a place where non-kosher milk commands a higher price than kosher milk, it is still prohibited to use non-supervised milk. However, Rav Moshe understands that the takanah did not require specifically that a Jew attend the milking, but that one must be completely certain that the milk has no admixture of non-kosher. When it is certain that the kosher milk is unadulterated, halacha considers the milk to be “supervised” (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:47).
How can one be certain? The Mishnah recommended the most obvious way: have a Jew nearby who may enter at any moment. Of course, we realize that even this method is not foolproof, but it is as thorough as halacha requires.
Is there another way that one can be certain? Someone runs laboratory tests on some unsupervised milk and concludes, with absolute certainty, that it is 100% sheep’s milk. Yet, no Jew supervised the milking. Is the milk kosher?
According to Rav Moshe’s analysis, this milk is certainly kosher since we can ascertain its source.
In his earliest published teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe explained that, when the government fines those caught adulterating cow’s milk, the fear of this consequence is sufficient proof that the milk is kosher. In later teshuvos, he is very clear that other reasons why we can assume that the milk is kosher are sufficient proof, including that normal commercial practice is that standard milk is bovine milk (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:48, 49). One should note that the Chazon Ish agrees with Rav Moshe’s approach. We should also note that this heter applies only where the absolute assumption is that the milk is from kosher species, but not anywhere where camel’s milk, mare’s milk or milk from other non-kosher species is commonly sold or available.
Rav Moshe concludes that, even where one can rely that the standardly available milk is kosher, and there is therefore no prohibition of chalav akum, a chinuch institution should use only chalav Yisrael products, even when all the children come from homes that do not use chalav Yisrael exclusively. He notes that this is an aspect of chinuch – to teach the importance of following a stricter standard than halacha necessarily requires.
There is another reason why some poskim require use of chalav Yisrael today. This is because of the common occurrence in the contemporary world of a veterinary problem affecting dairy cows called displaced abomasums, which is often treated in a way that may render this cow’s milk non-kosher. I will discuss this topic a different time.
At this point, we can answer Shirley’s question: “I do not understand why some people keep chalav Yisrael today. Do they really think that someone is adding pig’s milk?”
Indeed, even in the time of the Gemara, it was probably unheard of for anyone to add pig’s milk or, for that matter, for anyone to use pig’s milk, since sows are almost impossible to milk. Although most non-kosher species do not allow themselves to be milked (have you ever tried to milk a cat?), camels, llamas, alpacas, donkeys, and mares can all be milked and produce a palatable product. Contemporarily, there is extensive research at Ben Gurion University about use of antibodies found in camel’s milk for treatment of autoimmune diseases. I have been asked about using this milk, which is clearly non-kosher, but is permitted in case of a life-threatening ailment.
To answer Shirley’s question succinctly: Although we can assume that the milk on your supermarket shelf is unadulterated cow’s milk, the Chasam Sofer still rules that Chazal prohibited consuming this milk. In his opinion, this prohibition is in full effect today, even when the reason for the takanah no longer applies. Furthermore, he suggests that the prohibition to use this milk might even be min haTorah . Other rabbonim have voiced other concerns about the kashrus of unsupervised dairy cows.
Stricter than Ever?
At this point, let us examine Muttie’s question: “My friend quoted his rav that it is more important to keep chalav Yisrael today than it ever was before. How could this be?”
One obvious reason for this rav’s position is that he holds like the Chasam Sofer that using non-chalav Yisrael incurs a Torah prohibition of violating vows. Furthermore, he may feel that since being lenient on this issue is so rampant, one must demonstrate the importance of this mitzvah. He also may be concerned about the displaced abomasums problem, and holds that this prohibits the milk min haTorah.
Notwithstanding that the Chazon Ish writes several reasons why unsupervised milk is permitted, he never allowed its use. Rav Moshe similarly advocates being strict, and himself did not rely on the heter. It is also well known that Rav Eliezer Silver traveled across North America by train and took his own chalav Yisrael milk with him as he went. (I have no idea why it did not spoil en route.) In conclusion, I suggest clarifying with your rav whether you should rely on using non-chalav Yisrael milk.