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The Crown of Halacha

Chalav Yisroel vs. Chalav Akum vs. Chalav Stam I

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Rav Bloomenstiel

By Rav Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel

The prohibition of chalav akum and its attending requirement of chalav Yisroel has become something of a touchy subject if not an outright neurosis for many North American kosher consumers. The angst appears to stem mostly from a misunderstanding of the halachic debate surrounding the prohibition and, in particular, Rav Moshe Feinstein’s ztz”l famous teshuvos on the topic. Another problem is that “keeping chalav Yisroel” and “not keeping chalav Yisroel” have taken on numerous unwarranted and erroneous connotations to the point that the observance of this halacha has become something of a litmus test of one’s religiosity. In truth, chalav Yisroel/chalav akum is nothing of the sort. To confuse the issue even further, there are about six or seven different configurations by which one could observe chalav Yisroel. Some of these configurations contradict each other and even appear to harbor internal contradictions. Nevertheless, those who rely upon them have a basis and cannot be considered to be behaving in error.

In this shiur we are going to examine the issues surrounding the observance of this mitzvah, the differing standards that exist, and the ramifications of the varying halachic opinions on the modern situation.

The source for the prohibition of non-Jewish milk, chalav akum, is in the Mishna, tractate Avoda Zara 35b:

These are the items of idol worshipers that are prohibited, yet their prohibition is not a prohibition against benefit: Milk milked by an idolater without the oversight of a Jew, their bread, and their oil.

The Gemora explains that our concern is that the non-Jew may have mixed in non-kosher milk. Transporting, pouring, and jostling about fresh milk can have the effect of churning it, making it lumpy and buttery. Apparently, one could keep his milk-pail liquid with the addition of a minute amount of non-kosher milk.

Having just established the prohibition and that it is nullified by the oversight of a Jew, the Mishna appears to duplicate itself only a few pages later in the Gemora (ibid. 39b), stating:

These are permitted for consumption: Milk milked by an idolater whilst overseen by a Jew…

The obvious question is: Why does this Mishna bother to tell us this? Is not this fact evident from the prior Mishna? There must be something implied here that we could not have figured out previously. The Gemora in its analysis concludes the chiddush is that the Jew supervising the milking does not need to be watching the entire time; rather he could do random “spot checks.” Nevertheless, his visits need to be sufficiently frequent and random such that the non-Jew will experience a realistic fear of getting caught. That fear, or mirsus, is enough to for us to assume that he would not mix anything non-kosher into the milk.

The Gemora, however, contains an ambiguity. The recurring model situation referenced by the Gemora is that of a Jew who sits alongside a non-Jew’s herd. The Gemora states that he doesn’t need to constantly supervise the milk, rather it is sufficient that he just pop-in and out. However, it is unclear from the Gemora whether or not we are speaking of a herd of all kosher animals, or of a mixed herd with kosher and non-kosher animals. If we are talking about a mixed herd, then surely we must be concerned about non-kosher milk being mixed in. However, why should we worry if the non-Jew’s herd consists of all kosher animals? In that case, perhaps the likelihood of mixed milks is so low that we don’t have to worry about tamei milk being added to kosher milk?

The Mordechai

The Mordechai 826, addresses this ambiguity, ruling that the gezeira against chalav akum applies even in a case where there are no non-kosher animals in the herd. Even then, a Jew must observe the milking in order for the milk to be kosher.

The questions which naturally follows is: What is the Mordechai’s rationale? Why require supervision and mirsus even when there are no non-kosher animals about? There are two answers in the halachic literature which have become the pillars upon which rests the prohibition of chalav akum and the requirement of chalav Yisroel.

The Pri Chodosh

The first answer is that of the Pri Chodosh. According to his understanding, the Mordechai holds that a Jew must be present in such a situation to ensure that the non-Jew doesn’t bring non-kosher milk from elsewhere. However, in a locale where non-kosher animals are not found at all, or where tamei milk is expensive, then even the Mordechai would agree that you do not need to have a Jew present for the milking. We find that, according to the Pri Chodosh, the requirement of Jewish supervision is dependent upon the probability of having non-kosher milk mixed in.

The Chasam Sofer

The second answer is that of the Chasam Sofer. His Shu”t YD 107 explains that the Mordechai requires Jewish supervision even when there are no tamei animals in the herd and even where there is no chance of there being tamei milk mixed into the kosher milk. According to the Chasam Sofer, the Mordechai interprets chalav Yisroel/chalav akum as a davar she-bi-minyan. A davar shebi-minyan is a decree passed by an official halachic court, such as the Sanhedrin. The halacha is that such a decree applies even when the exact reason for the decree is no longer applicable. A davar shebi-minyan can only be annulled by a beis din of comparable authority and/or wisdom to the beis din that originated the decree.

The Chasam Sofer’s explanation of the Mordechai is generally consistent with many other prohibitions on non-Jewish produced foods and, as such, is accepted by the majority of the acharonim (including the Aruch ha-Shulchan, the Chochmos Adam, the Mateh Yehonasan, and even Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l) as the primary answer to the difficulty in the Mordechai.

The question that began this discussion, whether chalav akum applies in a herd of only kosher animals, is analogous to industrial dairy production in the United States. Our dairies don’t have tamei animals in them and tamei milk isn’t produced or generally consumed in this country. Therefore, it appears that the Pri Chodosh would pasken that there is no requirement to observe chalav Yisroel in the US because the halacha doesn’t even apply. The Chasam Sofer, however, would say that one is nevertheless required to keep chalav Yisroel and that non-chalav Yisroel milk is not kosher.

Since the majority of the poskim hold the halacha is like the Chasam Sofer, then we must conclude that chalav Yisroel is in force in the US and every Jew is required to “keep chalav Yisroel.”

Now – at this point you are probably wondering as to how the famous teshuvos of Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l fit into all this.  Before discussing Rav Moshe, we have to understand that Rav Moshe’s teshuvos are not dealing with the question of “Must one keep chalav yisroel?”  Instead, Rav Moshe is addressing “How does one keep chalav yisroel?”  Understanding that distinction is vital to getting to the heart of the Rav’s teshuvos

Click here to continue to Part II


Series Navigation<< Rabbeinu Tam & Fast DaysChalav Yisroel vs. Chalav Akum vs. Chalav Stam II >>
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