Milking Cows on Shabbat Part III by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


              In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of Medinat Yisrael we have been exploring a Halachic issue that has confronted religious Zionists for the past hundred years: milking cows on Shabbat. We have seen that both Rav Kook and the Chazon Ish ruled that hiring a non-Jew to milk the cow on Shabbat is the best solution to the problem. These great authorities also felt that the second option was for the milk to go to waste ((&-" -!*"&$). We have seen disccused a variation where the milk flow will go to waste at first and later the milk will flow into storage containers. A later development was to effect this change from milking to waste to milking to storage through the means of a #9/! switch (#9/! refers to indirect action which is permitted) on Shabbat in case of significant loss.  This week we will conclude our discussion with a look at a solution developed at the Religious Zionist Kibbutz Sdei Eliyahu.

The Kibbuts Sdei Eliyahu Solution

              In the eleventh volume of Techumin, the Rav of Kibbutz Sdei Eliyahu, Rav Shlomo Rosenfeld, presents a new old solution to the problem of how cows should be milked on Shabbat.  The proposal is actually an implementation of a solution presented decades ago by the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 38:4). The Chazon Ish writes:

"it appears to me that one may connect the pipe [from the milking machine] to the udders when the electricity is not functioning and later the electricity will turn on automatically and milk the cows."

 This approach is based on the "Sof Chama Lavo" case from Sanhedrin 77a that we discussed last week.  We will review this important Gemara.  Someone tied up another at night and the next day the burning sun kills the tied up victim.  The Gemara considers this to be a case of Grama, indirect punishment for which a Beit Din does not impose the death penalty, but is punished by the heavenly court of Hashem.  This act is considered as Grama because the death agent was not present at the time the villian tied up the victim and left the victim exposed to the outdoor elements.

              Similarly, in the Chazon Ish's ruling, the electricity is analogous to the sun.  The electrical current is not active at the time that one attaches the milk machine pipes to the cow's udders.  Since Grama is permitted in case of great monetary loss, the Chazon Ish permitted milking cows in this fashion.

Problems with the Chazon Ish's Ruling and Its Solution

              As late as 1986, Rav Shmuel Dovid wrote(Techumin 7:158) that the Chazon Ish's ruling was impractical.  This was because the pipes of the milk machines do not remain attached to the cow's udders when the milk machine is not operating since no vacuum is created.

              However, five years later, Rav Rosenfeld writes that the members of Kibbutz Sdei Eliyahu discovered a method to create the vacuum effect that will keep the pipes attached to the cow's udders without electric power.  This method is discussed in halachic and engineering detail in the essay.  Moreover, the essay notes that leading Poskim such as Rav Shaul Yisraeli Z"tl and Rav Yehoshua Newuirth approved of this method of milking cows on Shabbat.  Rav Uri Dasberg reports a few years later(1995) in Techumin Volume 15, pages 394 and 400, that this approach was adopted in many dairies. Moreover, dairy farmers report that this method has the advantage of having fewer technical difficulties in implementation.  In addition, the milk that goes to waste with other methods is not wasted when milking by Grama.

              Rav Rosenfeld writes that he believes that even the Chazon Ish would agree that milking cows by Grama is the preferred method milking cows on Shabbat.  He prefers hiring a non- Jew to milking -!*"&$ because the latter case is rabbinically prohibited according to some Rishonim.  However, the Rema (Orach Chaim 334:22) permits Grama in case of financial loss without any reservations.

Problems with the Kibbutz Sdei Eliyahu Solution

              In Rav Dasberg's article a problem that has arisen with this method is described.  It seems that a certain percentage of cows leaked some milk into the pipes attached to them even before the electric current flow started.  The halachic question is whether this flow of milk is considered a $"9 :!*1& /*;,&*0, which is permitted in accordance with the view of the Tanna, Rav Shimon (unlike Rav Yehuda who believed that Davar Sheino Mitkaven to be forbidden).

              Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is cited (see Techumin 15:393) as ruling that the action of attaching the pipe to the udders is forbidden because it might cause some milk to be released.  This action is not considered a Davar Sheino Mitkaven since one essentially wants to milk the cow.  Even though for Shabbat purposes he desires the milk flow to start only after the timer turns the electricity on, this is irrelevant as far as Hilchot Shabbat are concerned.  One's intention is gauged only by one's mundane concerns which in this case is the milk flow (see Tosafot Pesachim 2bb s.v. 3-% and Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 91:9).         

Lenient Rulings of Rav Avraham Dov Auerbach and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein

              Nevertheless, two of today's great Halachic authorities Rav Avarham Dov Aurbach (the rav of Tiberias who is Rav Shlomo Zalman's son) and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion) rule leniently and consider the milk leakage problem to be a permitted Davar Sheino Mitkaven.  There views are presented in Techumin 15:394- 410.  Rav Avraham Averbach reasons as follows:  There are three requirements for an action to be defined as a Davar Sheino Mitkaven.  1) That he doesn't intend for the forbidden act to occur.  2) That the forbidden act will not occur inevitably- Pesik Reishei.  3) That the action be composed of two distinct components so that it should be considered that he is engaging in one act and that coincidentally a separate act results.

              Rav A.D. Averbach reasons that if the majority of cases the secondary result doesn't occur, then it can be considered as two distinct actions.  Thus, since drops of milk do not emerge from the cow in most cases that one puts the pipe on the animals udder, then placement of the pipe and the causing a few drops of milk to drip from the udder can be viewed as two distinct acts.  Since the farmer doesn't intend for the drops of milk to come out and the milkage isn't inevitable then the action is defined as a permitted action under the category of Davar Sheino Mitkaven.  Rav Lichenstein is quoted as agreeing with this approach.  He suggests that it is possible that as long as in a significant minority (/*3&) %/7&* - approximately 20%) of the cases the drops of milk don't emerge, the act still may be regarded as a Davar Sheino Mitkaven.

              Rav Zev Whitman (the Rav of the Israeli dairy       firm Tnuva) suggests (Techumin 15:409) that there is a compromise approach that is acceptable for all opinions to this question- that the machinery be set up that these  drops of milk go -!*"&$ (to waste) which is permitted according to most opinions.  Rav Whitman presents a technical description of how to set up the milking machine so that these drops of milk should go to waste.


              We have seen a fascinating review of solutions the problem of how to manage the problem of how to milk cows on Shabbat.  It should be reemphasized that this is not merely an issue of economic concern but also the welfare of the animals is of concern, since many cows would not survie if they were not milked on Shabbat.  We have seen how emerging technology can serve as an aid to halacha and not a nuisance.  It also demonstrates that the halacha is not confined to the halls of the Beit Midrash but can be applied effectively everywhere.  Those who asserted that one must abandon halacha in order to build Medinat Yisrael have been proven mistaken.  We look forward to the day when all of Medinat Yisrael will be run in accordance with Halacha.

              It should be noted that the very recently published eighteenth volume of Techumin disccuses the complexities of how dairy farms cope with a three day Yom Tov, which occured this past Rosh Hashana and led to great controversy.

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Milking Cows on Shabbat - Part II by Rabbi Chaim Jachter