Tnuva – A Deeper Look at the Nation’s Largest Dairy

Tnuva Mehadrin Milk

Tnuva Mehadrin Milk

I receive many many questions regarding issues pertaining to dairy products, chalav yisrael, mehadrin Vs non-mehadrin and so forth. This article intends to give an overview while addressing the practical application of buying Tnuva products. The halachic concept of chalav yisrael and related matters is the subject of an in-depth halachic article that I hope will appear soon, written by one of the rabbonim who agreed to respond to Kosher Kuestions for JKN, in this case, a seasoned kashrut expert. Stay tuned. For now, you will have to settle for me.

Please understand this is a consumer awareness piece, not a halachic discourse and therefore, the reference to halacha and sources is extremely superficial and limited.

Tnuva products are under the supervision of Rabbi Ze’ev Weitman Shlita, the rav of Tnuva, a world-renowned expert in kashrut, particularly dairy products.

Baruch Hashem, we are seeing an influx of many new immigrants from N. America, but some, perhaps many, are not able to navigate the Hebrew as well as they do English, as well as tourists from around the world, many unable to truly understand the kosher labels, signs and warnings. Others are simply naïve, believing everything in Israel is kosher, chalav yisrael, or perhaps mehadrin. If only it were so.

Kosher Milk

Milk obtained from a kosher animal is kosher while milk from a non-kosher (tamei) animal is not permitted since something taken from the non-kosher animal maintains the same status.

There is a nationwide system in place to ensure the milk being sent to Tnuva is only from kosher animals and in compliance with kashrut standards. These standards however may vary, as we shall see. In addition to kashrut concerns pertaining to the animal, there are also concerns including milk obtained on Shabbat contrary to halacha, chalav nachrim, the souring process, enzymes, and the ingredients added into the various dairy products that line store shelves.

Chalav Nachrim
An animal milked by a non-Jew without Jewish supervision at the time of milking is not permitted for halacha instructs us to fear the milk may be from a tamei animal. Of this there is no dispute, based on a Mishna (Avoda Zara). Today however the rabbis are not in total agreement, and there are opinions regarding chalav yisrael, that is to say many rabbis feel the fear of milk being mixed with tamei milk no longer exists. Others maintain the ruling applies and the milking by a non-Jew without supervision is prohibited. Some rabbis feel the state authority and its rules act as a ‘mashgiach’ to ensure the milk is derived from a kosher source and that no tamei milk was introduced. (This is an extremely brief overview and the matter is considerably more complex than presented since I am trying to provide a glimpse into the many issues, not teach halacha).

The point here is that Tnuva only uses chalav yisrael in its products. The same holds true for milk powder. There is a difference however regarding regular Tnuva and mehadrin regarding milk proteins obtained from outside of Israel. In the case of the regular Tnuva hechsher, there are tens of items containing these non-chalav yisrael proteins and those who are stringent regarding chalav yisrael are advised to seek the mehadrin product line only.

Rav Weitman does however cover this on the ingredients on each product and a consumer capable of navigating the Hebrew may make the distinction. If the words “chelbonei chalav” do not appear, one does not have to fear that the non-chalav yisrael protein is present. If the label only says “avkhat chalav” (milk powder) or “rechivei” chalav (milk components), then the product is chalav yisrael. This however does not address other issues that differentiate between regular and mehadrin line products.

Some of the items on the Tnuva roster containing the non-chalav yisrael proteins include non-mehadrin Yoplait, Toasti cheeses, Emek Bis line and Shelly Classic.

Milk obtained in violation of the Shabbat is not permitted. Proper Shabbat-adherence milking may be accomplished by a non-Jew or a milking machine operating in compliance to halacha.

Some authorities have ruled that if milked in violation of Shabbat, the milk is permitted immediately after Shabbat to all except those who milked the animal. Others have prohibited this milk to everyone forever if the violation was done by a dairy intentionally, ignoring the laws of Shabbat. There is also a problem with benefiting from the milk obtaining in violation of Shabbat. Due to the varying opinions, milk from shabbos is only used in non-mehadrin Tnuva items. The Eida Chareidit for example does not deal with non-Shomer Shabbat farms to avoid such matters.

To ensure the high standard of Tnuva mehadrin, there is a system in place guaranteeing total separation between regular and mehadrin milk. That means milk obtained on Shabbat is separated from milk obtained on a weekday. There is no reliance on leniencies such as a prohibited amount is ‘bitul’ by the majority or the motzei Shabbat waiting period and other rabbinical leniencies for those wishing to rely on them.

Tnuva is also striving to raise the standard so that Shabbat milk being obtained for products is milk that is not the result of violating the Shabbat. Much progress is being made in this area. A number of non-shomer Shabbat farms are now milking animals on Shabbat and chagim in compliance with halacha.

Veterinary Care
This area is extremely complicated, and well beyond my abilities to describe all the intricacies, which quite honestly are not relevant for this forum. In short, there are procedures including but not limited to a C-section, surgery and relieving gas that may render a cow traif. If such procedures are required, care must be taken and rabbinical experts must be able to make the final determination. Rav Weitman reports the number of cows that are even in this category in Israel is extremely low, for reasons I will not mention, about 1/6000.

Souring Process – Enzymes
These two processes are very problematic as anyone in the industry will attest. The old adage “what can be wrong with cottage cheese/milk/sour cream” or any other product is no longer applicable because nothing we eat is pure, that is to say there are enzymes, stabilizers, colors, flavorings, proteins, and souring agents to name just some of the concerns for a mashgiach, who must know the source of all these products. Some are petroleum based, some lab grown, some from plants and some from animals. It goes without saying that Tnuva ensures all the ingredients are indeed kosher.

In the mehadrin products, nothing derived from non-chalav yisrael milk will be added. In the past, mehadrin contained souring agents that were derived from regular non-chalav yisrael milk were used in some areas, only after passing three stages if you will. The non-chalav yisrael enzyme was introduced into chalav yisrael, then turned into a souring agent, and only then used in mehadrin products. This process however was not deemed suitable as a first option because the Beit Yosef ruling (Yoreh Deah 115) states this is only acceptable when left with no other alternative.

The first Tnuva rabbi, Rabbi Yechezkel Daum arranged to have this agent produced abroad, on a chalav yisrael base, thereby raising the level significantly and setting the bar for Tnuva. The regular kashrut however still uses ingredients derived from non-chalav yisrael, even today.

Some authorities also permit using such an item when introduced into yogurt or cheese since even souring agents derived from non-chalav yisrael are not considered chalav nachrim. Whatever the case, and the halachic intricacies here too are far too complicated, this leniency is not used for mehadrin products.

There are other issues, including the bio line which introduces wanted bacteria, and here to there are of course kashrut issues and differences regarding regular and mehadrin.

The transformation from milk to cheese (ma’amid) is accomplished by using an enzyme, primarily rennet, obtained from the stomach of an animal. This is very problematic for the dairy industry, particularly with hard cheeses. Most of the world’s enzymes are obtained from animals that were not killed by ritual slaughter, rendering the enzymes non-kosher too.

Tnuva used microbiological ‘rennet’ and avoids the issue. The enzyme is ‘built’ on the basis of mehadrin bacteria in a controlled laboratory setting. There are also special runs to accommodate kosher for Passover products when applicable. This issue has resolved one of the most complicated and worrisome components of the dairy industry. The enzymes are developed and supervised in cooperation with the Eida Chareidit, which works hand-in-hand with Tnuva in a number of areas as is mentioned by HaGaon HaRav Yitzchak Weiss zt”l in his sefer Minchas Yitzchak.

NOTE: Rennet obtained from animals not killed in accordance to ritual slaughter is still used in many countries, found in even more commonly in the higher quality hard cheeses. Once again, “what can be wrong with cheese” no longer works or more correctly, never did.

I will stop here, realizing that by now, readers have a better appreciation for Tnuva’s standard, some of the complexities regarding kosher milk and milk products, as well as the differences in the standards of regular Tnuva kosher and the mehadrin line. I will also add there are different Tnuva mehadrin lines, including Tnuva Rav Weitman mehadrin, Tnuva/Eida Chareidit mehadrin and Tnuva/Belz mehadrin. (One may not find all of these depending where one lives in Israel).

Anyway, each kashrut agency has its own list of demands but we now understand all milk is not the same, and the “mehadrin” stamp means more than just a few additional kosher seals. It ensures the milk is not the byproduct of chilul Shabbat, that all components are chalav yisrael and that whenever there is an option, the stricter route is taken, preferring not to rely on leniencies, which in some countries and for some kashrut agencies, have become the norm.

Once again, we are our own mashgiach and have the last word as to what we introduce into our bodies. We should seek to expand our knowledge to permit making an educated decision, perhaps in consultation without our rabbinical authority.

I stress again the halachic issues were barely raised here, just enough to give readers an idea of just how complex the kashrut industry is, even for what may appear to be simple, milk and soft cheeses. There is no need to inundate me with emails pointing out all the intricacies that were “missed” since they were not forgotten, but omitted intentionally since they would only serve to make this article too complicate and possibly deter readers and thereby missing the point. Many of you are far more knowledgeable in kashrut areas than I, and the input is appreciated, but this website is intended to broaden the knowledge base of readres and to provide an electronic handbook guide to the complexities of the Israeli kashrut scene, nothing more. If this is accomplished, we have done something major folks!

Shuk Kashrut Walk Through Tour
In response to the increasing flow of email with questions about kashrut signs, the shuk and many other day-to-day issues, I have decided to give a kashrut tour of Machane Yehuda shuk in the coming weeks. This will be a simple visit to the shuk and we will pass the stores and I will point out the signs, bogus and legit, the pitfalls and the signs that we think mean kosher but in actuality, mean nothing.

In an effort to avoid the heavy shopping days, it will be held on a Monday or Tuesday. Sunday is not good since many stores are closed. If you are interested, please drop me a line so I can see if there is anyone who wishes to attend. My preference is about 9-10:00am. What say you?

Yechiel Spira

5% cheese - Rav Whitman & Belz hechsher

5% cheese - Rav Weitman Mehadrin & Belz hechsher

Tnuva Cottage - Rav Whitman & Belz Hechsher

Tnuva Cottage - Rav Weitman Mehadrin & Belz Hechsher

Tnuva Cottage - Eida Chareidit Hechsher

Tnuva Cottage - Eida Chareidit Hechsher

Tnuva Gush Chalav hard cheese - Rav Whitman Mehadrin & Belz

Tnuva Gush Chalav hard cheese - Rav Weitman Mehadrin & Belz

Tnuva Chermon 16% cheese - Eida Chareidit Hechsher

Tnuva Chermon 16% cheese - Eida Chareidit Hechsher

Tnuva 3% mehadrin milk - Rav Whitman & Belz

Tnuva 3% mehadrin milk - Rav Weitman & Chatam Sofer Bnei Brak

Tnuva non-mehadrin milk

Tnuva non-mehadrin milk

Tnuva non-mehadrin Yoplait yogurts

Tnuva non-mehadrin Yoplait yogurts

Tnuva sour cream - Rav Whitman mehadrin & Belz

Tnuva sour cream - Rav Weitman mehadrin & Belz

Tnuva sour cream - Eida Chareidit Hechsher

Tnuva sour cream - Eida Chareidit Hechsher

Tnuva 16% Bulgarian cheese - Rav Whitman mehadrin & Belz

Tnuva 16% Bulgarian cheese - Rav Weitman mehadrin & Belz

Tnuva Bulgarian cheese - Rav Whitman mehadrin & Belz

Tnuva Bulgarian cheese - Rav Weitman mehadrin & Belz


  • Eliyahu
    July 28, 2009 - 09:09 | Permalink

    I must point out that there is LOTS of commercial cheesemaking done without animal rennet. Quoting from Wikipedia’s article on rennet:

    “GMO-Microbial rennet (see below) is used more often in industrial cheesemaking in North America today because it is less expensive than animal rennet, whereas cheese from Europe is more likely to be made from animal rennet due to tradition.”

    Also, rennet is primarily used in hard cheeses, while soft cheeses, including cottage cheese, cream cheese, farmer (pot) cheese, ricotta, and the like, are never made with rennet, anyway, and some cheeses like mozarella may or may not be. This also means that the majority of cheeses used in baking are not suspect of having been made by rennet, either.

    Of course there are many issues surrounding the kashrut of cheeses, but just as the article notes, “nothing we eat is pure, that is to say there are enzymes, stabilizers, etc…” The assumption from fifty or even twenty years ago that rennet is treif is largely untrue – it’s just good business sense NOT to use animal rennet, because chemical rennet is cheaper, purer, and more readily available. Modern dairies that use animal rennet are more and more doing so out of perverse insistence on traditional recipes, since it is not economically sensible.

    Nonetheless, despite my cavil about rennet, I appreciate your taking the time to write such an informative and helpful article. Thank you.

  • July 28, 2009 - 13:55 | Permalink

    Just for your own protection with the kashrut tour- take a body guard with you and try not to reveal the exact time of the tour.

  • PM
    July 28, 2009 - 14:32 | Permalink

    An excellent article. A couple of points to add:
    A consumer must be VERY careful to check all Tenuva products carefully as there can be mehadrin and non-mehadrin products that are nearly identical. I have seen in a specific store in Beitar non-mehadrin 1% milk, the only difference in the packaging was the mehadrin said chalav tenuva in green letters and the non-mehadrin in black. I spoke to the store manager and she acknowledged that she must have checked off the wrong product when she placed that weeks order.
    Hard cheese has an additional issue that according to many Poskim the rennet must be physically added to the milk by a Jew. I heard from one of the heads of the OU that in the USA the price difference between Kosher and non-Kosher cheese is bigger then the gap for meat. So NO ONE should think cheese needs a lower level of supervision, a milchig establishment has an EVEN BIGGER temptation to cheat than a fleishig one.
    I am not familiar with Tenuva’s non-mehadrin policy, but some hechsherim in EY were relying on a mechalel Shabbos supervising a non-Jewish worker milking the cows for chalav Yisroel. Many Poskim hold that this would still be chalav akum and one must be aware. While they may call their milk CY, it it not necessarily true according to all Poskim. Again, I don’t know if this is relevant to Tenuva.

  • Chaim
    July 28, 2009 - 18:03 | Permalink

    Re non-mehadrin liquid milk, Tnuva prints the day of the week that the milk was filled (it’s right next to the expiry date, a letter from alef to vav). If the day of the filling is from Wednesday and on, you can be sure that it contains no milk that was milked on Shabbat, even if it’s not technically under mehadrin supervision.

  • Chaim
    July 28, 2009 - 21:40 | Permalink

    I neglected to mention in my previous comment that Tnuva has an extraordinary website dedicated just to the kashrut of its products (Hebrew only). They have detailed product listings as well as general information and full-fledged halachic essays.


  • AR
    July 28, 2009 - 22:10 | Permalink

    Wonderful article! Keep up the good work!

  • Comments are closed.