Cholov Yisrael– Kosher Kuestions

By Rabbi Peretz Moncharsh

milkQuestion: Can you explain the concept of cholov yisrael (Jewish milk) regarding milk and cheese products today, including butter. I am also interested in understanding if cholov yisrael is necessary today – in light of the decision released many years ago by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who I understand was a leading halachic authority in his generation.

Rabbi P. Moncharsh

Rabbi P. Moncharsh

Min HaTorah only milk that comes from a Kosher animal is itself Kosher. Therefore the animal from which the milk is derived must be from a Kosher species such as a cow or goat, or even a deer etc. Additionally the animal must not be a traifa. Since this is impossible to determine while the animal is alive, we rely on the majority of animals which are assumed to be healthy. In recent years this premise has been challenged based on the percent of traifos discovered in older milk cows, but this is outside the scope of this article.

By the times of the Mishna, see Avoda Zara 35b, Chazal were concerned that non-Jews may adulterate milk they sell with milk from non-Kosher species of animals which would be forbidden miD’Oraisa (Torah dictate), and they forbade consumption of dairy products that were milked by a non-Jew without Jewish supervision. This milk is termed Cholov Akum and is assur miD’Rabannan (Rabbinical dictate).

If this milk comes in contact with utensils while hot it renders them forbidden, just like any other non-Kosher food.

Since the logic behind the gezaira (decree) was based solely out of concern for possibility of consuming non-Kosher milk and not out of concern for assimilation and intermarriage, as we find with bishul and pas, there is a dispute among the early Achronim whether the issur applies in a location where no non-Kosher animals are found, or any other situation where no risk of contamination is present.

The Pri Chadash and Radvaz rule that since there is no need to be concerned about dilution of the milk, direct Jewish supervision is unnecessary. However the Chochmas Adam and Chasam Sofer sharply disagree and rule that since Chazal created a gezaira to forbid Cholov Akum unless it was directly supervised by a Jew, it is a blanket prohibition applying even when the logic behind the takana may not be relevant. They rule that even under these circumstances the milking must have constant Jewish oversight.

There are different minhagim regarding butter made from Cholov Akum, which cannot be churned when containing milk from a non-Kosher species and is analogous to a situation where the concern that sparked the original gezaira does not apply. Those who are lenient consider it less problematic than the previous issue, because it is questionable if butter was ever included in the original enactment against milk and milk products since it is not mentioned in the Gemarra. Some Poskim also consider milk powder to be in the same category as butter, since it too cannot be made from non-Kosher milk. Shulchan Aruch YD 115:3 rules that one may follow a minhag to permit butter, but without a specific minhag to be lenient it should not be used without supervision. However, it is questionable if is these lenient opinions are relevant today, when modern advances in food science have enabled manufacturers to develop new methods and enzymes that could allow butter and powdered milk to be made from sources that were previously impossible.

Also, many varieties of butter have liquid milk added to them after the churning stage to give them a richer, milky flavor. There is no assurance that this milk could not come from some different species of animal. Additionally the exemption for butter only applies if the milk was intended from the start to be used only for butter and the issur of Cholov Akum was never relevant to this milk. However, if the cow was milked for drinking or unspecified purposes, that milk is immediately forbidden and does not lose its Cholov Akum status to become Kosher when it is churned into butter.

Based on the opinion of the Pri Chadash, mentioned above, HaRav Moshe Feinstein zatzal famously ruled in a number of teshuvos that any milk produced in a country that has laws forbidding adulteration of milk and has a framework for supervision of farms with significant consequences for those who violate the law, is considered to be permitted as if it were supervised by a Jew.

Since the entire purpose of Jewish supervision is to insure that the milk contains nothing but milk from a Kosher animal, the government’s supervisors can serve the same purpose. However many Poskim disagree with Reb Moshe because they question whether the halacha is in accordance with the Pri Chadash, and they require direct Jewish supervision even when no significant risk is present.

Additionally, some Poskim question whether the government supervision is rigorous enough to truly insure the purity and Kashrus of the milk. Reb Moshe himself writes in a number of places that a “ba’al nefesh” should be machmir and that he himself is careful only to drink true Cholov Yisroel. However the implication of his written words and the oral testimony of his family members is that he considered it a worthy chumra and not a halachic obligation. Each person should consult his personal Rav regarding how to conduct one’s self.

Cheese is significantly more problematic than milk, because for cheese all Poskim agree that Chazal enacted a strict, absolute requirement for direct Jewish supervision since rennet from the stomach of a nevaila, an animal that was not slaughtered according to halacha, was typically used to congeal the milk into its solid state of cheese.

Even when it is known with certainty that no problematic ingredients are present, it is universally accepted that a Jew must be present. In addition to watching the process, the Shach and other Achronim require a Jew to actively and physically participate in adding the enzymes to the milk. Most mehadrin hechsherim follow this opinion. This stringency only applies regarding the actual processing of the cheese, the halacha for the milk base is identical for cheese as it is for liquid milk, and one who relies on Reb Moshe’s heter for Cholov Stam may use cheese derived from Cholov Stam, provided the cheese-making process was directly under Jewish inspection. (Cheese must have a kashrut certification).


Rabbi Peretz Moncharsh, learned in the Yeshivos of Philadelphia, Brisk- R Dovid, Mir and Kollel La’asukei Shmaytsa.  He currently lives in Beitar and is a Moreh Horaah on both the Ashkenazi and Sefardi Batei Horaah as well as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Shaarei Horaah. Rabbi Moncharsh received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, R’ Yaakov Tufik (the Sefaradi Rav of Beitar) and the Rabbanut. He did shimush by R’ Tufik and by R’ Yitzchok Kaufman.


  • Alizah Hochstead
    September 9, 2009 - 07:37 | Permalink

    While the article was very informative explaining many issues, I believe it did not mention one problem that has occurred in the processing of butter to day. To increase the richness of butter “mei cholov” a bi product of making cheeses which can be either “gevina akum” are often added. Pure butter is rarely pure butter anymore. In addition there is the problem that most of the “avkat cholov” used here in Israel is “nochri” and imported which can cause question as to what kind of supervision it had.

  • Jaap Sanders
    September 9, 2009 - 09:42 | Permalink

    Esteemed rav Moncharsh,
    Please let me add 2 points to the milk discussion.
    1. There is a very old psak in Holland, that Dutch chalav akum is OK. Many people in Holland, including rabbanim, hold by this psak.
    2. In your latest message you claim: “…milk powder … cannot be made from non-Kosher milk.” Camel farmers in the Negev told me differently. Camel milk can be turned into powder, and they intend to export it in large quantities to African countries where milk is scarce, and to market it in Western countries for those people who are allergic to cow milk.

    O yes, do add Holland to the list of countries where your fascinating and disturbing emails are being read.
    Shana tova,

    With kind regards,
    Jaap Sanders
    Amsterdam, Holland

  • Dovi
    September 9, 2009 - 15:50 | Permalink

    According to Rav Moshe and others, the reason for the gezera is that non kosher milk might be mixed into the kosher milk. How is this different to standard kashrus? Why is the gezera needed if its just a standard kashrus issue?

  • Moshe Becker
    September 9, 2009 - 19:20 | Permalink

    Thank you for the article. I am under the impression that R’ Moshe Feinstein did NOT rule like the Pri Chadash and held that in fact the gzeira was made by chazal with a ‘lo plug’. I understood that the reason for R’ Moshe’s heter is that the government supervision actually meets chazal requirement that the milking be supervised. I don’t have the teshuvos in front of me to check, but I’m quite certain that his logic is not based on the Pri Chadash.

    Jaap Sanders:
    Yes, the reason for the custom in Holland would be because the aforementioned Pri Chadash was the leading posek in Holland at the time he made his ruling. His decision was based on the fact that in Holland there was very little milk available from non-kosher animals altogether.

  • yechiel-admin
    September 9, 2009 - 19:50 | Permalink

    To Whom It May Concern:

    In your recent article about Cholov Yisrael etc. it was written;-

    “This stringency only applies regarding the actual processing of the cheese,
    the halacha for the milk base is identical for cheese as it is for
    liquid milk, and one who relies on Reb Moshe’s heter for Cholov Stam
    may use cheese derived from Cholov Stam, provided the cheese-making
    process was directly under Jewish inspection.”

    I think the implication here is that only people who rely on the heter of Chalav Akum can rely on cheese which is kasher Mishaas Asiyah. However, I believe at least in theory there could be those who are machmir about Chalav Yisroel but who would eat cheeses which are Givun Yisroel but only kasher M’shaas Asiya. This is based on the idea (similar to butter) that only tahor milk will coagulate into cheese.

    Incidentally, an expert in dairy issues has done some research into this area and has been to India/Mongolia and found that in certain areas non kosher mares milk is collected and can in some cases coagulate. Therefore in reality it wouldn’t be wise to assume that only pure tahor milk coagulates.

    Best regards


  • September 10, 2009 - 15:50 | Permalink

    How can you take the position that the Cholov Treif is beyond the scope of the article.

    First of all it’s not only by older cows. Second, the percentages of procedured cows are 4-6% or higher, therefore there is no Shishim.

    Don’t get into an irrelevant discussion Re: Reb Moshe, Chazon Ish or others….

    It’s plain CHOLOV TREIF.

    Yudel Shain

    Rav Eliyashev, shlita agrees with this, I spoke to him last Elul about the issue

  • Moshe Becker
    September 11, 2009 - 13:27 | Permalink

    Are rude comments appropriate on this site?

  • yechiel-admin
    September 12, 2009 - 21:00 | Permalink

    Posting for Harvey
    In addition to the milk from kosher animals mentioned, buffalo is also kosher and I believe so is giraffe if it gives milk and if you can find a way to get it.

  • Milhouse
    September 16, 2009 - 12:22 | Permalink

    “Based on the opinion of the Pri Chadash, mentioned above, HaRav Moshe Feinstein zatzal famously ruled…”

    This is completely wrong, and shows that you have not studied the teshuvos inside. R Moshe explicitly rejects the lenient opinion of the Radbaz and Pri Chodosh, and rules like the Chasam Sofer. If someone buys milk from a goyishe farm, without having seen the milking, R Moshe says there is no heter for that milk, and he does not understand how one can refer to “those who are careful” as if there can be someone who is not.

    He then goes on over the course of several teshuvos to expound a chain of reasoning which leads to the conclusion that commercial milk produced by large companies has the din of cholov yisroel, not of cholov akum.

    Therefore your continuation: “however many Poskim disagree with Reb Moshe because they question whether the halacha is in accordance with the Pri Chadash” is fatally flawed. Since R Moshe’s opinion is not in any way based on the Pri Chodosh, the fact that the halacha is indeed (according to R Moshe) not like him doesn’t matter. Those who disagree with R Moshe must do so on his own terms, not by associating his opinion with that of the Pri Chodosh.

    As for cheese, you are not quite correct when you write: “the halacha for the milk base is identical for cheese as it is for liquid milk, and one who relies on Reb Moshe’s heter for Cholov Stam may use cheese derived from Cholov Stam”. In fact the halacha is not identical, it is more lenient; even one who does not rely on R Moshe for liquid milk may have grounds to rely on him when that milk has been made into cheese. And R Moshe himself, who urged people to be machmir with milk even if it costs extra, said that with cheese one need only be machmir if it’s exactly the same price and no extra bother. This is because, in addition to all the other arguments, one can add Rabbenu Tam’s opinion that cheese made with cholov akum is permitted lechatchila.

  • Milhouse
    September 16, 2009 - 12:47 | Permalink

    Dovi, where there is a real concern that more than 1/60 of the milk supply is treif, there is indeed no need for Chazal’s gezera. In such a situation the milk is forbidden because it is a sofek de’oraisa. R Moshe explains that the gezera must only apply when there is no such concern. We know that if a farmer has a dairy farm with hundreds of cows, almost all the milk he sells is cow milk; even if he is also milking his mares and adding that to his tanks, it is surely botel beshishim. And that is when Chazal came along and said no, you may not drink this milk, we forbid it midrabbonon just as we forbid chicken with milk.

    Then R Moshe goes on to explain that since there is no sofek de’oraisa and we are dealing only with a gezeras Chazal, its application is strictly defined by the parameters Chazal set; if we satisfy their requirements then the milk is permitted, even if it’s not really any safer than unsupervised milk. And he goes on to demonstrate that the gezera only applies to the last goy in the chain of custody. If we have supervised the milk while it was in his possession, we don’t need to worry about the goy who sold it to him, or about any of the goyim who may have owned it before that.

    Remember that R Moshe holds that there is no heter to buy milk from a goyishe farmer. Now suppose you’re standing in a country store, and a farmer comes in with an open bucket of milk, which he sells to the storekeeper. The storekeeper pours it into bottles, and puts them in the ice chest for sale. It seems that according to R Moshe this milk is cholov yisroel, because you just supervised it. It was under your eyes from the moment the storekeeper bought it until he sold it to you. What the farmer did before he came in doesn’t matter; Chazal never said anything about that. (Provided, once again, that there is no sofek de’oraysa; if the farmer is not a dairyman at all, but has a few cows and a few horses, then you have no way to know what he milked!)

  • Dovi
    September 16, 2009 - 20:59 | Permalink

    Milhouse, Thanks for explaining it.

    What about a jug of milk in a hotel or restaurant, and you didn’t watch them pour the milk from the sealed commercial milk bottle to the jug?

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