Cholov Yisroel and Non-Cow Milks
From the moment any mammal is born one of the first things to pass its lips is milk1. Throughout most people’s lives their day will start with milk consumption, in one form or another. For most people (unless lactose sensitive or vegan) milk is a dietary staple.
As Jewish people, we are bound by the laws of kashrus. With regards to dairy, one of the primary kashrus concerns is the origin of the milk. The rule is that whatever comes from a kosher animal is kosher, and whatever doesn’t come from a kosher animal is not2. Therefore kosher milk must originate from a kosher mammal (e.g. cows, goats and sheep).
Practically, kosher animals are more conducive for milk and dairy products compared to non-kosher animals (e.g. pigs, camels and horses). Non-kosher animals are harder to milk and produce far less than kosher animals. The milk itself doesn’t separate from the cream as well as kosher milk, and it is extremely difficult to produce cheese and butter from it.
Nevertheless, to ensure the authenticity of kosher milk our Sages instituted that the milking needs supervision by a religious Jew, referred to as Cholov Yisroel. Milk from a kosher animal without Jewish supervision will be rendered non-kosher, referred to as Cholov Akum. Cholov Akum is a rabbinical prohibition and, therefore, is not as severe a prohibition as milk from a non-kosher animal, which is a Biblical prohibition3.
Their concern wasn’t that the milk could be substituted for a non-kosher version, since kosher and non-kosher milk are distinctively different. Rather their concern was that non-kosher milk could potentially be unidentifiably mixed in with the kosher milk, especially if it wasn’t specifically produced for the Jewish market. In ancient times where there wasn’t mass production, there was a high risk of cross-contamination from different milks, since the same farm had different types of animals.
The supervision for Cholov Yisroel doesn’t require the Jew to be present at all times per se. Rather, the Jew only needs to be present at the beginning to inspect the equipment that it is clean; otherwise, during the milking, the Jew needs to inspect at any time (known as yotzei v’nichnas). This is on condition that there are only kosher animals present, the non-Jew is aware of kosher requirements, and that the non-Jew is expecting the Jew to show up at any time4. The frequency of yotzei v’nichnas itself depends on the requirements of the kosher certifying agency. Certifications with higher standards insist on a yotzei v’nichnas frequency of at least once per hour, at random times within each hour.4
Is Cholov Yisroel Always Required?
There are differences in opinions as to the extent of the requirement of Cholov Yisroel. There are opinions that Cholov Yisroel is only required if there is a concern for non-kosher milk. However if there aren’t any non-kosher animals in the area then Cholov Yisroel is not required, and kosher milk can be consumed without Jewish supervision5.
Other opinions disagree and hold that Cholov Yisroel is always required. Although Cholov Yisroel was created due to specific concerns, the law was established that it would be required regardless of the validity of any concerns. Only a Beis Din of equal or greater stature (quality and quantity) than the one that established the law, has the power to reverse it6.
The latter opinions were accepted as Halacha by most authorities, requiring Cholov Yisroel regardless if the concerns are still applicable.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s Leniency
In 1954 Rabbi Moshe Feinstein penned a famous letter ruling that milk produced in US companies can also be permitted7. This leniency is even in accordance with the above opinions that always require Cholov Yisroel.
He bases this leniency on the principle of Anan Sahadei (lit. we are the witnesses), that absolute knowledge of something is equivalent to seeing it, which is a principle used throughout Jewish law. An example he brings is when a bride and groom are in the Yichud room the witnesses remain outside. Even though they aren’t present in the room, they are valid witnesses. Another example he brings is if a convert immersed in the mikvah and the witnesses were outside, the immersion would be valid based on the same principle (although not all opinions hold of this).
Similarly, in our case, the principle of Anan Sahadei can be applied. There is no incentive for a mainstream milk company in the US to mix kosher and non-kosher milk, as they would be in violation of federal law and thus risking their business. Additionally, milk from non-kosher animals is very scarce in comparison to milk from kosher animals so it wouldn’t make sense for companies to go so far to obtain it. The above knowledge is enough to permit milk from mainstream large US companies based on the principle of Anan Sahadei. This leniency only applies to commercial farms that are subject to FDA laws, or other governments that have similar laws that are properly enforced. In addition, the leniency only applies to milk, as other dairy products (including butter8) require kosher certification due to the addition of other ingredients.
According to the FDA only cow milk can be legally defined as “milk”. Although legally other types of milk can be produced and sold commercially including non-kosher milk (e.g. camel), the name of the mammal must proceed the word “milk” on the label. This law applies to any milk that isn’t cow milk both kosher and non-kosher, including goat, sheep, water buffalo and camel. This also applies to milk products as well, not just bottled milk.
There are many federal laws pertaining to milk farms and milk processing facilities. These laws include milk from all types of animals. The FDA requires semiannual inspections to milk farms, and up to quarter annual inspections in milk processing facilities. On top of that each state can add their own laws and inspection requirements. Though these inspections are preformed diligently by the FDA and state auditors they differ from inspections performed by a kosher agency, as those would be kosher specific and unannounced9.
Many communities throughout the world rely on Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s leniency referring to it as Cholov Stam, although there are numerous opinions that disagree10. The ~ and other kosher agencies certify milk productions based on this leniency to cater to those who are not makpid on Cholov Yisroel. These products will be labeled as OKD/OK Dairy. Please note that most dairy certified products are Cholov Stam. The OK certifies Cholov Yisroel productions as well and it will be clearly stated on the label. The Cholov Yisroel consumer must be diligent in purchasing products only when Cholov Yisoel is printed on the label.
The Case for Cholov Yisroel
Apart from the fact that there are many halachic authorities that disagree with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s leniency, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein himself writes at the end of the letter that one should be strict to obtain Cholov Yisroel, and that he himself is strict. In another letter he answers a school that wanted to use regular milk (Cholov Stam) to feed their students that they should only feed them Cholov Yisroel. In another letter he writes that the leniency should only be used in extreme circumstances where Cholov Yisroel is difficult to obtain11.
The Chasam Sofer, as well as others, write that there are additional hidden reasons for the observance of Cholov Yisroel, and therefore one should be strict12. Numerous stories have been recorded about people and children who suffered from a variety of issues and were told by holy Tzadikim to be careful to only consume Cholov Yisroel. The first Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote that Cholov Akum interfered with faith in G-d13, which is why the Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged Yidden to keep Cholov Yisroel.
Food gives us life and sustenance. Just as one is careful that the food and drink one consumes should not cause physical harm to oneself, the same caution should be shown towards spiritual harm. To end with the words of Maimonides at the end of laws of forbidden foods, “all that are careful with these things bring extra sanctity and purity to their soul”.
- After birth the mother produces colostrum and only afterwards will produce milk. Colostrum is not considered milk according to the FDA.
- בכורות ה:
- עבודה זרה לה:
- שלחן ערוך יו”ד סי’ קטו סע’ א
- שו”ת רדב”ז חלק ד סי’ עה (אלף קמז), שו”ת תשב”ץ חלק ד (חוט המשולש) טור א סי’ לב, פרי חדש יו”ד סי’ קטו ס”ק ו
- שו”ת מהר”י ברונא סי’ עח, שו”ת חתם סופר יו”ד סי’ קז, כסף משנה הלכות מאכלות אסורות פרק ג הלכה טו, ערוך השלחן יו”ד סי’ קטו סע’ ה
- אגרות משה יו”ד חלק א סי’ מז
- See Kosher Spirit article “Is Butter Kosher”
- See Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 section 131 and FDA Pasteurized Milk Ordinance
- משנה הלכות חלק ד סי’ קג, שו”ת באר משה חלק ד סי’ נב, חלקת יעקב יו”ד סי’ לד (דפוס ישן חלק ב סי’ לז)
- אגרות משה יו”ד חלק ב סי’ לה, יו”ד חלק ד סי’ ה
- דרשות חתם סופר עמ’ פא, שו”ת דברי יציב או”ח סי’ כז
- ספר המאמרים אידיש ה’תש”א-תש”ה עמ’ 57