Shulchan Oruch Hilchos Chanuka mentions the custom to eat dairy foods during Chanukah, based on a great miracle that occurred and is retold in the Midrash. A Greek general, Holofernes, and his troops laid siege on a large Jewish city called Bethulia and when food and water were nearly depleted many residents demanded that they surrender to the enemy. The leaders of the city requested five days to attempt to fight and daven for salvation.

Yehudis, a young widow who resided in the city, and a daughter of Yochanan Kohen Gadol, used her beauty and wit to befriend the general and gain access to the enemy camp. One evening she was invited to a feast with the general and agreed to join him only if she could bring her own kosher food. She prepared hard cheese and strong aged wine. The salty cheese caused the general to feel very thirsty and tired, so Yehudis offered him plenty of wine and the general fell into a deep sleep. Yehudis seized the opportunity and with the general’s own sword she cut off his head. She wrapped the severed head in a cloth and left, telling the other soldiers that the general was sleeping and should not be disturbed. After arriving home, Yehudis showed the general’s head to the leaders of the city and encouraged them to attack the enemy. When the enemy soldiers saw them attack and went to alert their general they realized he was dead and fled in fear, and the Yidden were saved.

In honor of Yehudis’s cunning victory courtesy of the cheese, let’s take a look at an integral part of the cheese making process. While today the vast majority of commercial kosher cheeses are made with microbial (synthetic) rennet, yet there are a few die-hard cheesemakers who still produce the traditional way.

The process of cheese making is fascinating and one can plainly see the wonders in Hashem’s creations. The stomach lining of calves produces an enzyme that causes their mother’s milk to coagulate and turn into cheese, which digests more slowly and provides a longer period of nourishment than liquid milk. As the calves mature and begin to wean off their mother’s milk, this enzyme is diminished and has limited effect.

In earlier generations cheese was produced by mixing rennet (the lining of the calf’s stomach) into milk and the enzymes would coagulate the milk and turn it into hard cheese. The obvious question is how can one make kosher cheese? Would this not be violation of mixing milk and meat?1

Milk and meat are mentioned as forbidden in the Torah three times.2 Once is for the prohibition of cooking, once for eating and once for receiving benefit3. Adding rennet into milk to make cheese is not considered “derech bishul” (the usual way of cooking) so it is not prohibited according to the Torah.

According to the Shulchan Oruch4, the stomach lining of a kosher, properly shechted calf can be used as rennet for kosher cheese making once it has been dried to the point that it is like wood and has absolutely no moisture or taste, because it comes from a kosher source. It is also written that one may not use the stomach lining of a non-kosher animal or one that has not been properly shechted and processed. Since the source is not kosher, the resulting rennet is not permissible from the start. And, since the non-kosher item is what causes the cheese to coagulate, even though the amount added is minute, it is considered a Davar Ha’Mamid (a crucial part of the process) which cannot be nullified (botul b’shishim).5

Today animal-based enzymes are used only to produce special cheeses. The process is long and complex and we assign a dedicated mashgiach at the slaughterhouse to mark the stomachs that are deemed Glatt Kosher. The approved stomachs are then cleaned from all forbidden fats, salted properly and chemically processed so the stomach is rendered inedible. During the process the enzymes are extracted and used along with other processing agents to make hard cheese.

The rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, made possible by Yehudis’s victory, still has a spiritual relevance today. Our shuls and Batei Medrashos, where we daven and learn Torah, are considered Mikdashei Me’at (small temples). The Gemara teaches that our davening has taken the place of korbanos and one who studies the laws of korbonos is considered as one who actually brought that korbon. In addition, every Jewish home must be a place worthy of the Shechinah, as the pasuk says: “Make for me a Mikdash and I will dwell among them”. The pasuk does not say “dwell in it”, it says “dwell in them”, indicating that every one of us can be a receptacle for the Shechinah.

Specifically, this year, the year of Shmitta when we are commanded to pause and refrain from working the ground, is an opportunity for rededication and taking the opportunity to become closer to Hashem by learning Torah and doing more mitzvos.

At the OK, we had the merit to see a living example of spiritual dedication from Rabbi Don Yoel Levy OB”M. The wisdom and kedushah of Torah was his guiding light, and he dedicated his time to learning both early in the morning and late at night. He stood at the forefront of upholding the highest standards of kashrus with mesiras nefesh, traveling to facilities throughout the globe and enduring long and difficult trips. The OK Executive Vaad HaKashrus and the Rabbinic Coordinators are proud to continue his legacy and uphold the rigorous standards that Rabbi Levy pioneered.

May we merit the fulfillment of the prophecy of והקיצו ורננו שכני עפר with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash HaShlishi very soon.

1 For an in-depth discussion of Gevinas Yisroel, please see Kosher Spirit Chanukah 5781.
2 Shemos 23:19; Shemos 34:26; Devarim 14:21.
3 Yoreh Deah 87:1.
4 Yoreh Deah 87:11
5 The Anshei Keneses HaGedolah placed a gezeira on non-Jewish cheese because the source of the rennet (kosher or non-kosher) is unknown.