Chalav Yisrael: Is it Required?
In order to protect the inadvertent consumption of non-kosher milk, the
Rabbis enacted a strict ordinance: The milking of every [kosher] animal must
be supervised by a Jew in order for the milk to be kosher. The
Rabbis’ fear was not that one might mistakenly drink non-kosher milk, since
horse or camel’s milk look altogether different from cow’s milk, but
rather that a non-Jew might mix a small, undetectable amount of non-kosher
milk into the cow’s milk, rendering it non-kosher for the unsuspecting
kosher consumer. While the Rabbis realized that such an occurrence is
unlikely, they were still concerned about it even as a remote
possibility. Thus, they prohibited drinking all unsupervised milk.
The prohibition against unsupervised milk, known as chalav akum, is a
rabbinic prohibition like any other. Thus:
- It is prohibited to drink chalav akum even when no other milk is
available or when supervised milk is very expensive.
- A utensil in which chalav akum was cooked is prohibited to use unless it
undergoes a koshering process.
- A utensil in which cold chalav akum is stored for twenty-four hours is
prohibited to use unless it undergoes a koshering process.
- Chalav akum is nullified, bateil, if it is inadvertently mixed into a
permitted food or liquid whose volume is sixty times greater than it.
Question: Is chalav akum ever permitted?
Discussion: Several hundred years ago, the Peri Chadash ruled that it is
permitted to drink unsupervised milk if there are no non-kosher
milk-producing animals in the entire vicinity. His argument was that since
there is no reasonable possibility that a non-Jew could mix non-kosher milk
into the kosher milk, supervision is no longer required. Several other
poskim also agreed with this ruling.
But almost all of the poskim who followed the Peri Chadash disagreed with
his view. They all reached the conclusion that the ordinance against
drinking unsupervised milk is the type of a decree which can be classified
as a “permanent ordinance,” which, once enacted, can never be abrogated.
There are two schools of thought as to why this ordinance remains in force
even when there is no non-kosher milk to be had:
- Some explain that since the rabbinic decree was issued originally
only because of a remote possibility – since non-kosher milk was hardly ever
mixed with kosher milk – the fact that no such milk is available in the
vicinity is of no consequence. Milk can be certified as completely kosher
only if it is supervised.
- The Chasam Sofer explains that the ban on unsupervised milk was
pronounced regardless of the availability of non-kosher milk. Even if it
could be ascertained beyond all doubt that there was no possible access to
non-kosher milk, it is still prohibited to drink unsupervised milk. Only
milk which comes from animals whose milking was supervised by a Jew is
exempt from this ban.
Whether for the first or the second reason, it is agreed by almost all
of the poskim that the Peri Chadash’s leniency cannot be relied upon.
Some poskim add that even if the halachah were to be decided according to
the Peri Chadash it would be of no consequence, since it has already been
accepted by all Jews as binding custom – which has the force of a vow – not
to drink unsupervised milk even if there are no non-kosher milk- producing
animals in the entire vicinity. One must, therefore, be stringent in this
In more recent times, another argument for leniency was advanced by several
poskim. They argued that since government authorities in the United
States and other developed countries closely monitor the dairy industry and
strictly enforce the law against mixing other milk with cow’s milk,
government regulation should be tantamount to supervision . According
to this argument, the fear of being caught by government inspectors who are
empowered to levy substantial fines serves as a sufficient deterrent and may
be considered as if a Jew is “supervising” the milking. Based on this
argument, several poskim allowed drinking “company milk” (chalav stam ),
i.e., milk produced by large companies, without supervision.
But many others oppose this position as well:
- Based on the aforementioned view of the Chasam Sofer, who maintains
that the rabbinic ordinance against unsupervised milk applies even when
there is no possible access to non-kosher milk, there is no room for
leniency just because of government regulation. Nothing short of actual
supervision by a Jew renders milk kosher .
- Some poskim argue that government regulation does not totally and
unequivocally preclude the possibility of non-kosher milk getting mixed into
cow’s milk. This is because dairymen can, if they wish, cheat or bribe the
government inspectors. Some may choose to risk getting caught and paying a
minimal fine rather than conform to the law. While it is highly improbable
that this would happen, it has already been ruled upon by all authorities,
in opposition to the Peri Chadash, that the rabbinic ordinance applies even
concerning remote possibilities .
What is the practical halachah? Years ago, when supervised milk was hardly
available [or was of inferior quality] and it was truly a hardship to obtain
chalav Yisrael, almost everyone relied on the leniency. Many people continue
to rely on this lenient opinion even nowadays when supervised milk is
readily available. Indeed, many leading kashrus organizations in the
United States confer kosher certification on dairy products (and milk) that
contain no non-kosher additives or ingredients, but which are produced from
unsupervised “company milk.”
Many other people, however, no longer rely on this leniency, since
conditions have radically changed and chalav Yisrael is so readily
available. It is important to note that while Rav M. Feinstein agreed in
principle with the lenient ruling and permitted drinking “company milk”
according to the basic halachah, he himself would not rely on the leniency
and advised scrupulous individuals, ba’alei nefesh, and bnei Torah to
refrain from drinking unsupervised milk. He recommended that schools strain
their budgets in order to purchase chalav Yisrael. The following letter
gives us an idea of how he felt on this issue (free translation):
“Regarding the milk of government-regulated dairies in our countries, there
are definitely grounds for permissibility to say that they are not included
in Chazal’s prohibition, as we see that many are lenient in this due to
dochak (extending circumstances) in many places. However, in a place that
chalav Yisrael is obtainable, even though it requires a bit more effort or
is a bit more expensive, it is not proper to be lenient in this. One should
purchase chalav Yisrael.”
In recent years, a question has arisen concerning the kashrus of some
milk-producing cows due to surgical procedures performed on their stomachs
for various reasons. According to the available information, many chalav
Yisrael companies are now using only cows which do not undergo this procedure.
1. “Supervised” means either watching the actual milking or standing guard
outside the milking area to make sure that no other milk is brought in from
the outside; Y.D. 115:1.
2. Even a minor over the age of nine may supervise; Aruch ha-Shulchan
115:8. [Nowadays, when the chance of mixing non-kosher milk into cow’s milk
is remote, even a non-believing Jew may be trusted with the supervision
since only non-Jews were included in the original decree; Igros Moshe, Y.D.
3. Cow’s milk is pure white, while non-kosher milk is greenish; Avodah
Zarah 35b. Some hold that they taste different as well (Rav Akiva Eiger on
Shach, Y.D. 118:8), while others hold that they taste the same (Beis Meir,
4. As explained by Chochmas Adam 67:1.
5. Powdered milk, too, was included in this ordinance; Chazon Ish, Y.D.
41:4; Teshuvos Rav Yonasan Shteif 159. See, however, Har Tzvi, Y.D. 103-104
who is lenient, and his ruling is followed by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate
which certifies unsupervised powdered milk as chalav Yisrael (Daf
ha-Kashrus, December 1997).
6. Darchei Teshuvah 115:
7. Rama, Y.D. 115:1.
8. Taz, Y.D. 115:7.
9. Shach, Y.D. 115:17; Chochmas Adam 67:5.
10. See Teshuvos Radvaz 4:74 and Peri Toar 115:2.
11. See Pischei Teshuvah 115:3, Aruch ha-Shulchan 115:5 and Darchei
12. Beis Meir, 1; Chochmas Adam 67:1; Avnei Nezer 103; Igros Moshe, Y.D. 1:49.
13. Teshuvos Chasam Sofer, Y.D. 107, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah 115:3.
14. Some additional arguments against this leniency are: 1) There are
hardly any locales, especially in rural areas, where such animals do not
exist; Beis Meir, Y.D. 115:2) Chazal did not always divulge all of their
reasons for any particular edict; sometimes even when the obvious reason
does not apply there are other, concealed, reasons which may apply; Aruch
15. The view of the Chazon Ish 41:4 is somewhat unclear on this.
16. Chochmas Adam 67:1; Chasam Sofer, Y.D. 107; Birkei Yosef, Y.D. 115;
Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:46.
17. Chazon Ish 41:4; Kisvei Rav Y.E. Henkin 2:57; Igros Moshe, Y.D. 1:47,
18. As mentioned earlier, “supervision” also includes standing guard
outside the milking area so that no non-kosher milk is being brought in from
19. This became known colloquially as chalav stam (“plain milk”), which
refers to its status as being neither expressly prohibited chalav akum nor
expressly permitted chalav Yisrael. Note that only large milk companies are
included in this leniency; there is no leniency for milk that comes from
small farms, etc.
20. Zekan Aharon 2:44; Minchas Elazer 4:25; Har Tzvi 103; Minchas Yitzchak
10:31-15; Kinyan Torah 1:38, quoting Rav Y.Y. Kanievsky.
21. Chelkas Yaakov 2:37-38.
22. Even today there are situations where chalav Yisrael is not available,
e.g., for business travelers or hospital patients. Under extending
circumstances they may rely on the lenient opinion; Rav Y. Kamenetsky (Emes
l’Yaakov, Y.D. 115:1).
23. Igros Moshe, Y.D. 2:35.
24. Dated 5716 and printed in Pischei Halachah (Kashruth), pg. 107. For
unspecified reasons, this responsum was not published in Igros Moshe.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org