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The Crown of Halacha

Gevinas Yisroel vs. Gevinas Akum: The Making of Kosher Cheese II

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Rav Bloomenstiel

By Rav Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel

The Rishonim

For our purposes, the most pertinent rishonim are the Rambam and Rabbeinu Tam. The Rambam (Ma’akhalos Asuros 3:13), similarly the Rif and the Geonim, hold that the ikkar concern is R’ Shmuel’s explanation – perhaps they used an ossur ma’amid (prohibited coagulant) to solidify the cheese. R’ Tam (Tosafos A.Z. 35a, d.h. Chada) holds that the issur of gilui – uncovered liquids – is the ikkar.  Furthermore, he maintains that since gilui is not a concern anymore, then neither is gevinas akum. Though R’ Tam acknowledges that many hold by ossur ma’amid, he argues that this concern is only relevant in locales where rennet is the main way of making cheese. In areas where the common method is to use a kosher ma’amid, there is no concern for gevinas akum. He brings a precedent from the Chakhme Narvonne[9] who exempted cheese solidified with a flower-derived ma’amid from gevinas akum.

The Rambam[10], however takes issue with this heter of the Chakhme Narvonne, writing:

Cheeses that non-Jews obviously solidified with herbs or fruit juices (i.e. fig syrup) some of the Geonim prohibit because it is already decreed that all non-Jewish cheese is prohibited regardless of whether they are solidified with a permitted or prohibited substance. This is because there are those who solidify them using issur.

The phrase “some of the geonim…” may lead one to think that this Rambam accords with R’ Tam. The Maggid Mishna[11] and Rabenu Yosef Karo, in both his Kesef Mishna[12] and Bet Yosef[13], demonstrate that the Rambam paskens like the “some geonim.” Therefore, even in places where all cheeses are made with non-animal rennet, gevinas akum still applies.

The Maggid Mishna’s explanation of this Rambam touches on the real reason for gevinas akum’s relevance in the United States: that gevinas akum is a davar shebe-minyan. Beitza 5a introduces the axiom of davar she-b’minyan tsarikh minyan aher le-hatiro. This means that rabbinic legislation can only be annulled by a court of equal or (in some cases) superior wisdom and eminence to the court that originated the ruling.[14] This is true even when the reason for the legislation no longer applies. Considering this view, the Rambam theorizes that even if the reason for gevinas akum was like R’ Tam, the decree would still be in force nowadays – even though there is no longer a concern for gilui! By other liquids, the law of gilui was not a formal gezeira, but rather a rabbinic chumra on account of sakana. This is why we do not have to worry about gilui in our times.   Gevinas akum, however, was a formal decree of the court and thus a davar shebe-minyan that remains binding today.

Be-kohl sof sof, it appears that the observance of gevinas akum, absent the concern of ossur ma’amid, is about being mekabel the authority of chazal. Without proper deference to their decrees, our ability to observe the Torah crumbles.[15] Though the Maggid Mishna writes that davar shebe-minyan is the correct answer in our situation, he suggests another possible answer from the Ramban and Rashba. These rishonim posit that the decree is part of a larger body of issurim limiting Jewish interaction with non-Jews, e.g. bishul akum and pas akum. According to this explanation, gevinas Yisrael is in full force today even without having to come onto davar shebe-minyan.

 The Halakhah – Does gevinas akum apply in places where all cheese is produced from kosher rennin?

The Shulchan Arukh[16] rules like the Rambam and would require any kehillos still relying on the heter of the Chakhme Narvonne to abandon such practice. The Rama also rules like the Rambam, warning Jews not to be poretz geder in this matter. However, he extends a kula to those kehillos with a mesora like the Chakhme Narvonne and allows them to continue to eat non-Jewish cheese that was solidified with vegetable rennet.

Most of the acharonim disagree with this heter of the Rama. In particular, the Chokhmas Adam[17] and Arukh ha-Shulchan[18] chastise those who would rely on the Chakhme Narvonne. Considering that the majority of the acharonim side with the Mechaber and the fact that there are no known kehillos today that side with the Chakhme Narvonne, we may conclude that there is no heter to allow one to eat the cheese of gentiles even if it is solidified with vegetable rennet. From the Igros Moshe, Y.D. 1:50, here are ha-Gaon Rav Moshe Feinstein’s words on this topic:      

Erev Rosh Chodesh Tamuz, 5718

[June 18th, 1958]

 To my friend, ha-Rav R’ Dov Gansky, Shlit”a:

If a Jew should give vegetable rennet to a non-Jew in order to make cheese, we would not rely on this arrangement unless the Jew is there to ensure that the exact [vegetable] rennet is used. Without this condition, even if the non-Jew is trustworthy, the Shulchan Arukh, Y.D. 115:2 paskens like the Rambam that the cheese is prohibited even when [non-Jewish] cheese is fermented with vegetable matter. The Rambam is specifically addressing the use of flowers to make cheese as brought in Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 35a. According to the Geyonei Narvonne, the cheese produced in areas where such is the custom would be permitted. However, the Rambam paskens that the cheese is still prohibited and, likewise, is the conclusion of the Mechaber.

There is no heter except when the Jew witnesses the cheese making. This is like the Rama and is unlike the ruling of the Shach, who even prohibits cheese made by a non-Jew in front of a Jew. See the Pischei Teshuvah 115:6 who cites many Acharonim that agree with the Rama. If the dairy cows are the property of a Jew (even by way of rental), or if the Jew buys all of the cheese so that he owns it at the time of production, then even the Shach would permit in this case (see Shach 115:20).[19]

Yet, according to all, Jewish supervision is a must even in those places where cheese is fermented with flowers. This is all-the-more true in our country since the majority of cheese production uses animal rennet [lit. kaiva], we do not know which [unsupervised] cheeses are made with vegetable and which are made with animal extracts, and we do not rely on [the word of] a non-Jew[20].

 Making Gevinas Yisrael

Rav Moshe’s teshuvah is an excellent segue into the next topic: How do we ensure that cheese is gevinas Yisrael and not gevinas akum? The simple answer is that a Jew must be present when the cheese is made. However, to what degree the Jew must be involved in the cheese-making is an unresolved question.

First, let us ask: “Is the issur of gevinas akum more like that of pas akum or chalav akum?” The answer determines the degree of participation the Jew must have in the cheese making to render the cheese gevinas Yisrael. According the Rama[21], gevinas akum is closer to chalav Yisrael[22] and, like chalav Yisrael, the Jew only has to watch the non-Jew add the rennet to the milk in order to make the cheese kosher. The Noda bi-Yehudah[23] holds like the Rama as does the Mateh Yehonasan[24] in his refutation of the Shach. According to the Shach[25] gevinas akum is analogous to pas akum. Therefore, to render the cheese kosher the Jew must actively participate in the cheese making process by adding the rennet himself.  However, the Shach concedes that supervision alone works as long as the milk is Jewish owned. The Pischei Teshuvah[26] takes this a step further and matirs even if only the rennet is Jewish owned. The Vilna Gaon[27] and also the Chokhmas Adam[28] agree with the Shach.

The Arukh ha-Shulchan[29] proposes a compromise position that regards the Rama as the ikkar yet encourages us to be strict like the Shach. Rav Moshe Feinstein[30] agrees with the Arukh Ha-shulchan.  As a result, most kashrus agencies today strive to fulfill the opinion of the Shach. Therefore, the mashgiach himself adds the rennet to the cheese. When applicable, they also attempt to satisfy the Rama. Since most modern factories use a feeder system to introduce the rennet into the cheese, the mashgiach will activate the feeder (satisfying the opinion of the Shach) and linger in the control room until after the feed is completed (like the Rama).

Soft Cheeses

We know that gevinas Yisrael was originally ordained only for the concern of neveilah rennin. What about soft cheeses that do not require rennin for their production? Does gevinas Yisrael apply to soft cheeses?

The Igros Moshe[31] is inclined to rule that the prohibition of gevinas akum does not apply to soft cheeses even though rennet is occasionally added in small amounts. Since acidification is the primary factor in making soft cheeses and the rennet is non-essential, zeh-ve-zeh gorem allows the milk to mevatel the rennin. Therefore, because there could never be a suspicion of non-kosher ma’amid by soft cheeses, there is no gevinas akum either. In the United States most people (and most kashrus agencies) rely on R’ Moshe lechatchilah. While not requiring gevinas akum for soft cheeses, these products still need a reliable hekhsher. In addition, for those who hold chalav Yisrael, their soft cheeses must also be hekhshered as such[32].  

A simple reading of the Rishonim and Acharonim supports the Igros Moshe. After all, they appear to only discuss gevinas akum in the context of hard, rennet-set cheeses. This leads me to wonder if our acid-set soft cheeses are considered cheese at all according to the gemora. As far as I am aware, the Talmud distinguishes only between hard cheeses and softer dairy foods such as kutach, yogurt, butter, etc. Perhaps our soft cheeses would be in one of these categories? This uncertainty creates a question on yogurt: is it more like cheese or like butter and milk? The Pri Chadash[33] is lenient, considering yogurt as milk-like. The Teshuvot ha-Radvaz, however, views yogurt as cheese and, therefore, subject to gevinat akum.

Several other poskim, in particular the Arukh Ha-shulchan[34] and the Chokhmas Adam[35], hold that gevinah peshutah – acid set cheeses – are still subject to gevinas akum. The gezera does not distinguish between cheeses and, therefore, any kind of cheese must be gevinas Yisrael.[36] A point I have not yet seen raised by the poskim is the shitta of Rav Chisda. As written above, his concern is that cheese may have been made with assur vinegar. Though the Gemara rejects this premise, the fact that an Amora proposed it is troubling. Vinegar is not a common ma’amid for hard cheeses. Rather, it is a popular acidulant for producing soft cheese. Assuming that the Amoraim applied gevinas Akum to soft cheeses, then perhaps Rav Chisda is not arguing on his chaverim. Perhaps he agrees with the premise of Rav Shmuel (ossur ma’amid), and is attempting to explain why soft cheeses are also ossur. Another support for the Arukh ha-Shulchan and Chokhmas Adam is the position of the Ramban and Rashba that gevinas akum is a social precaution. Assuming the latter consider soft cheeses actual cheese, they would apply Gevinas akum.


Gevinas Yisrael/Gevinas Akum

  • Applies today to all hard (rennet set) cheeses. This is true even in places where all cheese is made with a heter ma’amid, and even when we know for a fact that heter ma’amid was used. This is because the gezera is a davar shebe-minyan. 
  • Incidentally, in continental Europe most cheeses are still made with neveila rennet; therefore, the gezera applies due to assur ma’amid.
  • Whether or not soft cheeses must be gevinas Yisrael is unresolved. The majority of American Jewry is lenient like Rav Moshe. This means that cream cheese, though it may have a hekhsher, may not be gevinas Yisrael. According to the Chokhmas Adam and Arukh Ha-Shulchan, these cheeses are not kosher. This is a question for everyone regardless of whether or not you keep chalav Yisrael (again, they are two separate dinim). Ask your Rav.
  • According to some, gevinas Yisrael is intended to limit our interaction with non-Jews. For this reason, the decree applies regardless of the ma’amid


  • Kosher cheese (gevinas Yisrael) in the United States may or may not be made with chalav Yisrael. Cheese made with chalav Yisrael milk will say so on the label. Cheese that is not made with chalav Yisrael will simply have a hekhsher. 
  •  Most reliable hekhsherim are careful about gevinas akum regardless of whether or not they are careful about chalav Yisrael (there is a heter from Rav Moshe to be lenient by chalav stam, but not by gevinas akum). Unfortunately, there are a few small hekhsherim that merely certify the ingredients that go into the cheese and do not supervise or participate in the cheese-making. Cheese bearing their hekhsher is not kosher.
  •  Most kashrus agencies require that the mashgiach himself add the rennet to the milk and remain present for the majority of the cheese-making. While researching for this article, I came across an interesting hanhaga in cheese production. Many hashgocha agencies require that a Jew add the rennet himself (like the Shach) for hard cheeses, yet only require supervision for soft cheeses (like the Rama). This is a synthesis of the machlokes Shach vs. Rama by supervision and Arukh Ha-Shulkhan/Chochmas Adam Rav Moshe by soft cheeses.


[9] The sages of Province, Southern France.

[10] M.A. 3:14.

[11] To our Rambam, M.A. 3:13

[12] Ibid.

[13] Yoreh Deah 115

[14] Rashi, ibid. d.h Mana; Tos. Sanhedrin 59b d.h. Le-khol; Tosafos Yom Tov, Ma’aser Sheni 5:2.

[15] Toying with the authority of prior courts (the Sanhedrin, specifically) is a serious matter (Rabenu Yonah, Sha’ary Teshuvah 3:8). One who disregards a Rabbinic decree is called a sinner (see Shabbos 40a; Eruvin 21b; Yevamos 20b; Niddah 12a; Choshen Mishpot 34:3, and many other places) and is deserving of death (see Berakhot 4b; Eruvin 21b; Sotah 4b and Tos. there, d.h. Ne’ekar, and may other places). To him the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 1:4; Sanhedrin 11:4; Avodah Zarah 2:7) applies the posuk “he who breaches a fence will be bitten by a snake” (Koheles 10:8). The Rama, Y.D. 115:2, hints to this posuk when warning us to heed the decree of gevinas akum.

[16] Y.D. 115:2

[17] 53:38 and 67:7

[18] Y.D. 115:16-17

[19] This paragraph will be explained below.

[20] Rav Moshe was writing in 1958 when most US produced cheese was still made with nevelah rennet. Though this is not the situation today, it is clear from Rav Moshe’s words that gevinas akum still applies.

[21] Y.D. 115:2

[22] See Darke Moshe on Tur 115.

[23] O.C. 2:37

[24] Y.D. 115:2

[25] Ibid. 115:20

[26] Ibid. 115:6

[27] Biur ha-Gr”a, Y.D. 115:15.

[28] 67:7

[29] Y.D. 115:19.

[30] Igros Moshe, Y.D. 3:16.

[31] Y.D. 2:48. This opinion was shared by Rav Henkin, z”l.

[32] Remember that the gezeros of chalav Yisrael and gevinas Yisrael are two unrelated halakhos. For example, those who hold chalav Yisrael will only eat hard cheeses that are both made from chalav Yisrael and that are gevinas Yisrael. People who rely on Rav Moshe’s heter for chalav stam will still require that their hard cheeses are gevinas Yisrael, yet are not particular that the milk be chalav Yisrael.

[33] Y.D. 115:21

[34] Y.D. 115:16

[35] 53:38.

[36] Since gevinas akum applies to hard cheeses even without a concern for nevelah ma’amid, then it should likewise apply to any cheeses that don’t have a concern for nevelah ma’amid. This includes soft cheeses.

Series Navigation<< Gevinas Yisroel vs. Gevinas Akum: The Making of Kosher Cheese IDefining Kinyan Kiddushin – Part I >>
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