Chalav Yisrael: Part III by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Two weeks ago we presented the reasoning and sources behind the lenient view among Poskim regarding Chalav Yisrael.  Last week, we presented the reasoning and sources for the strict view among Poskim on this issue.  This week we shall complete our discussion of this topic with a review of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s policy regarding Chalav Yisrael milk and the debate regarding cheese, whey, and powdered milk derived from non-Chalav Yisrael milk. 

The Policy of the Chief Rabbinate of Medinat Yisrael

The outgoing Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, writes in the current issue of Techumin (23:463) that the policy of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is that even for its regular Kashrut standards it does not rely on Rav Moshe Feinstein’s leniency.  He explains that even Rav Moshe only permitted government supervised milk in case of need and that in Israel there is no need as Israel, Baruch Hashem, is a land flowing with Chalav Yisrael milk and there is no pressing need to import government- supervised milk that is produced by non-Jews or products containing milk that is produced by non-Jews.

We should add that the Chief Rabbinate’s policy supports the dairy industry of Medinat Yisrael, thereby facilitating the fulfillment of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.  The availability of more jobs in Eretz Yisrael allows more Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael and brings more tax revenue to the Israeli government to function in its job to facilitate Jews living securely in our beloved Eretz Yisrael.  Those who advocate the purchase of Chalav Yisrael milk in this country argue, similarly, that this practice economically supports our fellow Jews.  The Torah advocates purchasing a product from Jews if possible (see Rashi on Vayikra 25:14). 

Rav Bakshi Doron adds that a major motivation behind the stringent ruling of the Chatam Sofer was to socially distance us from non-Jews.  He argues that Chazal enacted the prohibition of Chalav Akum not only because of Kashrut concerns, but also to protect us from assimilation.  He cites the Aruch Hashulchan who writes in the context of his discussion of Chalav Yisrael that Chazal have covert as well as overt reasons for their enactments.  The covert reason for Chalav Yisrael, Rav Bakshi Doron argues, is to prevent assimilation.  Indeed, observing the strict position requires one to live in an area blessed with a heavy concentration of observant Jews where there is significant consumer demand for Chalav Yisrael products. 

Rav Bakshi Doron adds that another reason to adopt the strict approach today is extreme complexity of contemporary food production.  He is concerned that non-Kosher ingredients are added to the milk that government supervisors do not find objectionable.  According to this approach, unsupervised milk would be forbidden today even according to the most lenient approach of the Pri Chadash!  However, I do not recall hearing such an assessment made by the American rabbinate, although I recall hearing concerns expressed about the Kashrut of vitamins that are introduced into today’s milk. 

I have been bothered by the following problem.  The Halacha (see Pesachim 50a) requires a traveler to follow both the stringencies of the place he left and the place he arrived.  Accordingly, I regularly advise my Talmidim when they travel to Israel to avoid products that contain gelatin, even if they are certified Kosher by the Israeli rabbinate, since the custom in this country is to be strict regarding this matter.  Conversely, it would seem that visitors to the United States from Israel should adopt the stringent standard regarding Chalav Yisrael since their practice at home is to be strict about this matter. 

However, it does not seem that Israeli travelers to America are stringent about this.  A very serious Talmid Chacham (who is a Rebbe at a prominent Yeshivat Hesder) explained to me that many Jews in Israel rely on Rav Moshe’s approach to Chalav Yisrael when they consume certain American dairy products that bear a reliable American Hashgacha, which are imported into Israel.  Therefore, one may argue that it is not the practice of Israeli Jews to be strict about Chalav Yisrael, even though the Israeli rabbinate is strict about this matter. 

Powdered Milk – Rav Zvi Pesach Frank vs. the Chazon Ish

Rav Zvi Pesach Frank ruled in the summer of 1944 that it is permissible to drink powdered milk that was imported to Eretz Yisrael from the United States at that very difficult time (Rav Zvi Pesach, though, does not write that his ruling applies only in case of great need).  Rav Zvi Pesach compares powdered milk to unsupervised butter produced by non-Jews, called Chemat Akum. 

In order to comprehend this analogy we must first briefly explore the issue of Chemat Akum.    The Gemara does not discuss this issue, rather, it’s the Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 3:15) who cites the Geonim that argued about this issue with no consensus having been reached about this issue.  This issue was not resolved by the time of Rav Yosef Karo, as the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 115:3) notes that different communities maintain different practices regarding this issue.  In Israel today, Rav Zev Whitman records (Binitiv Hechalav p.41) that the policy of the Chief Rabbinate is to be lenient regarding Chemat Akum regarding standard Kashrut certifications and to be strict regarding Mehadrin certifications. 

We must clarify that the lenient approach does not imply that one may eat butter that is not certified Kosher by a reliable Kashrut agency.  Rather, it implies that the level of supervision necessary for butter is lower than the level required for milk according to the Chatam Sofer’s stringent view.  The Kashrut agency must verify and monitor the product to insure that all of its ingredients are Kosher.  However, it is not required, if they follow the lenient view, to supervise the entire butter production.  Rather, occasional inspections suffice.  The Chochmat Adam (67:9) notes that common practice is to be lenient about this issue and Rav Mordechai Willig (1981 SOY Guide to Kashrut p.75) writes that “the custom today is to be lenient and to permit butter produced by a Gentile.”  This why it is common in our communities to use butter from the large non-Jewish companies that has a proper Hechsher and why we do not use only butter produced by small Jewish companies as we do by wine and cheese.

The Rambam explains the reasoning behind the two opinions regarding butter.  The lenient view argues that Chazal never banned consuming the butter of non-Jews and that we are certain that the butter comes from a Kosher animal because the milk of a non-Kosher animal cannot be made into butter.  The stringent view is concerned that leftover bits of non-Kosher milk that may have been in the milk from which the butter was made, remain in the butter.  For an enlightening analysis of the two views see the Biur HaGra to Yoreh Deah 115:17. 

Rav Zvi Pesach Frank argues that powdered milk is permissible according to the opinions that permit Chemat Akum.  Rav Zvi Pesach reasons that we may conclude from the lenient opinion regarding butter that Chazal did not impose their decree on all milk products, but rather only on milk.  Once the form of the milk has changed, the decree no longer applies. 

The Chazon Ish (Y.D. 41:4) vehemently disagrees with Rav Zvi Pesach.  He argues that powdered milk is not at all analogous to butter, as the basis for leniency regarding butter is the fact butter cannot be produced from milk of a non-Kosher animal.  Powdered milk, on the other hand, can be produced from non-Kosher milk as well.  Hence, the Chazon Ish concludes that there is no distinction between fresh milk and powdered milk in regards to the Halacha of Chalav Yisrael. 

Rav Zvi Sobolofsky notes that this dispute is characteristic of many other Halachic disputes that have emerged in the modern age regarding the status of items that have been dried to a powder.  Examples include the dispute regarding the use of reconstituted grape juice for Kiddush (see Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:4) and the Bracha on Pringles, which are made from dried potatoes.  The essential issue is whether we view the dried food that was reconstituted as a new entity or the same entity that it was previously.

The dispute regarding the Kashrut of powdered milk has never been resolved.  Rav Bakshi Doron (Techumin 23:464-465) records that the Chief Rabbanut historically relied upon Rav Zvi Pesach’s leniency because of the shortage of Chalav Yisrael powdered milk in Israel until recent years.  Currently the Rabbanut relies on Rav Zvi Pesach’s leniency for its standard Kashrut certifications but not for its Mehadrin certifications.  Their policy is to require any product that relies on Rav Zvi Pesach’s leniency to include a disclaimer on the package that states that it contains powdered milk from milk produced by a non-Jew.  Rav Bakshi Doron explains that the Rabbanut seeks thereby to discourage reliance on Rav Zvi Pesach’s leniency and to eventually discontinue relying on it entirely since powdered milk from Chalav Yisrael sources are readily available in Israel today. 

Rav Bakshi Doron also notes that the Kashrut status of milk proteins such as casein and whey that are transformed into powder from milk produced by a non-Jew, hinges on this dispute between the Chazon Ish and Rav Frank.  Hence, for Mehadrin certifications the Chief Rabbinate insists that milk proteins be produced from Chalav Yisrael milk.

In America, I have heard that some people adopt a compromise opinion regarding Chalav Yisrael - they insist on Chalav Yisrael for actual milk but rely on Rav Zvi Pesach’s leniency

regarding powdered milk.  The appeal of this compromise is that business people can take non-Chalav Yisrael powdered milk with them on their travels to places where Chalav Yisrael is not available and that some popular milk chocolates and ice creams are made from powdered milk. 

Another compromise that some Kashrut organizations adopt in America is to permit the use of non Chalav Yisrael milk in the production of cheese, even though they would not certify a product that contains non-Chalav Yisrael milk (as noted by Rav Yaakov Borow, Binitiv Hechalav p.47; Rav Borow currently works in the Kashrut department of Tenuva and worked as a rabbinic coordinator for the Orthodox Union before his Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael).  This approach assumes that since in this case there are other relevant lenient factors, one may rely on Rav Moshe’s lenient ruling.  The leniency is the Rama’s ruling (Y.D. 115:2) that cheese that was made with Chalav Akum is acceptable Bidieved (after the fact) since cheese cannot be produced from milk from a non-Kosher animal.  The leniency of Rav Moshe is a consideration that these Kashrut agencies utilize to Lichatchilah (initially) permit the production of cheese from non- Chalav Yisrael milk in contemporary circumstances, even though they would not rely on Rav Moshe’s leniency alone.  Indeed, Rav Moshe (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe 3:16) rules that even Baalei Nefesh need not be strict in this case.  Rav David Zvi Hoffman’s lenient approach outlined in Teshuvot Melameid Lihoil 2:36 also serves as a basis for this approach. 


In the past three issues we have outlined the variety of approaches that Poskim take regarding Chalav Yisrael in the modern context.  Each opinion has a strong basis both in traditional sources and contemporary authorities.  Accordingly, it is entirely inappropriate to dismiss any of these legitimate approaches as either “too frum” or “too modern.”  “Eilu Vieilu Divrei Elokim Chaim,” “these and these are the words of the Living God.” 

The Gevinat Akum Prohibition: Part I by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Chalav Yisrael Part ll: – The Strict View by Rabbi Chaim Jachter