This week we shall conclude our review of the prohibition to eat cheese that was produced by a non-Jew. We shall discuss whether Jewish participation is required in the cheese making process and whether soft cheeses and whey are included in this prohibition.
Jewish Supervision or Participation – Rama vs. the Shach
There are two unresolved debates regarding the production of kosher cheese. The Rama (Y.D. 115:2) rules (and notes that this is the common custom) that it is sufficient for a Jew to monitor the cheese making process to render the cheese kosher. According to the Rama, the prohibition of Gevinat Akum parallels the prohibition of Chalav Akum as supervision suffices to permit the product. The Shach (Y.D. 115:20) requires either Jewish ownership of the cheese or active participation of a Jew in the cheese making. According to the Shach, Gevinat Akum parallels the rules of Pat Akum (bread baked by a non-Jew) in that Jewish participation is required to render the product permissible.
The Shach offers an interesting proof to his ruling from the language of the Mishnahyot that present the prohibitions of Gevinat Akum and Chalav Akum. The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 35b) that presents the prohibition of Chalav Akum states that the milk is prohibited if a Jew does not watch the milking. On the other hand, the Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 29b) that presents the prohibition of Gevinat Akum simply states that Gevinat Akum is prohibited and makes no distinction as to whether a Jew watches the cheese making process or not. The Shach, accordingly, concludes that Jewish ownership or active participation is required to permit us to eat the cheese. See, though, the comments of Rav Yonatan Eibushetz (Mateh Yonatan Y.D. 115:2) who seeks to refute this proof of the Shach. The Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 115:19), in turn, cites the Rambam in his commentary to the Mishnah (that appears on Avodah Zarah 29b) who writes explicitly in accordance with the view of the Rama.
This dispute has never been resolved. Among eighteenth-century authorities, the Noda Biyehuda (2:Orach Chaim 37) rules in accordance with the Rama and notes that this is the accepted practice, whereas the Vilna Gaon (Biur HaGra Y.D. 115:15) rules in accordance with the Shach. Among the nineteenth-century authorities, the Chochmat Adam (67:7) rules in accordance with the Shach and the Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 115:19) essentially rules in accordance with the Rama, although he writes that it is proper to accommodate the strict ruling of the Shach. In the twentieth century, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:16) adopt the same approach as the Aruch Hashulchan. Rav Zushe Blech (in his essay that we cited last week) notes that it seems that the generally accepted practice is to follow the Shach.
This dispute has a major impact regarding the level of supervision required for the cheese making process. According to the Rama occasional inspections suffice, because the Gemara (Chullin 4a) states that “Yotzei Vinichnas Kiomeid Al Gabav Dami”, spot checks are the equivalent of constantly supervising a procedure. However, according to the Shach, a Mashgiach must be available on location to participate in the cheese making process. This explains why it is impractical for a large general company to have its cheeses certified kosher. This is why kosher cheeses are made by companies that produce cheese specifically for the observant Jewish community.
Soft Cheeses – Chochmat Adam, Aruch Hashulchan, and Rav Moshe Feinstein
Another major debate rages concerning whether soft cheeses (such as cottage cheese and cream cheese) are included in the prohibition of Gevinat Akum. Logically, it would seem that since the concern according to the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch is that the non-Jews used the stomach lining of a Niveila (an animal that was not slaughtered properly) to curdle the cheese, that the prohibition would only apply to cheeses that are produced by the enzyme from the stomach lining. Soft cheeses, though, are not made primarily with the use of enzymes. Before the modern age, cottage cheese was made by passively allowing the milk to ferment and separate into curds and whey. Hence, it would seem that the enactment should not apply to soft cheese since it is not a rennet-based process.
In the modern age, though, a small amount of rennet is added to improve the process of making soft cheeses. Nonetheless, because of the principle of Zeh Vizeh Goreim it would seem reasonable that we may overlook the fact that some rennet is added to enhance the production. As we explained last week, if both a forbidden and permitted substance are involved together in the creation of a food product, we may ignore the contribution of the non-kosher item if the kosher item could have accomplished the task even without the aid of the non-kosher item. To illustrate the different roles of rennet in the production of soft and hard cheeses, Rav Blech notes that soft cheese uses no more than 2 milliliters of rennet per 1000 pounds of milk whereas hard cheese generally requires between fifty and ninety milliliters of rennet.
Indeed, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:48) is inclined to rule that the prohibition of Gevinat Akum does not apply to soft cheeses. He notes that the principle of Zeh Vizeh Gorem appears to be operative in the production of cottage cheese. In fact, Rav Blech cites that Rav Tuvia Goldstein (a prominent Posek from Brooklyn) rules that one may even Lichatchilah (initially) rely on this approach. He rules that soft cheeses are equivalent to butter (that we discussed in last week’s issue) regarding which most observant Jews follow the lenient approach among the Poskim.
Nonetheless, both the Chochmat Adam (53:38) and the Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 115:16) rule that the prohibition applies even to cheeses where no rennet is used to produce the cheese. This approach is in harmony with the ruling of the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch that the enactment applies even when the reason does not apply. We should note that Rav Moshe does not rule unequivocally that soft cheeses are not included in the prohibition of Gevinat Akum. Rather, he writes to Rav Shimon Schwab, of blessed memory, that there is no need for a Rav to make a public pronouncement to adopt the strict view regarding this matter.
Rav Blech and Rav Borow (in his article that we cited last week) demonstrate that this dispute has been debated by numerous authorities of previous generations. The Radvaz (Teshuvot 6:2291) rules that yogurt (which is made without rennet) is included in the Gevinat Akum prohibition. The Pri Chadash (Y.D. 115:21), though, adopts the lenient view. Rav Blech, though, questions Rav Moshe’s approach based on Frank V. Kosikowski’s “Cheese and Fermented Milk Foods” (p. 111) that states that the rennet enzymes that are added in the production of soft cheeses provides for a sweeter cheese. Rav Borow, though, notes that he consulted with the food engineers at Tenuva who stated that the rennet added to soft cheeses does not play a primary role in creating the cheese. Rather, the small amount of added rennet allows industrial scale production of soft cheeses to proceed more efficiently.
Rav Juravel suggests a fascinating possible proof to Rav Moshe’s approach. He notes that the enzyme from date tree sap creates hard cheese. He suggests that perhaps the reason why the Rambam in his description of the Gevinat Akum prohibition presents the example of date tree sap to illustrate that only hard cheeses are included in the Gezeirah (enactment) prohibiting Gevinat Akum.
This dispute has never fully been resolved. Rav Borow told me that some Kashrut organizations adopt a compromise about this matter. In regard to hard cheeses, they follow the Shach and require the Mashgiach to actively participate in the cheese making process. In regard to soft cheeses, they follow the Rama’s ruling that supervision suffices (and that even Yotzei V’nichnas supervision suffices).
This explains the availability of cottage cheese and cream cheese from large companies with a Kashrut certification from an accepted Kashrut agency. Other Kashrut agencies, though, are stricter and require the active participation of a Mashgiach even for the production of soft cheeses. Rav Borow, though, writes that all agree that even soft cheese require a reliable Kashrut certification to insure that all ingredients are kosher.
In the cheese making process, the milk separates into curds and whey. The question is whether the whey (which is essentially a byproduct of the cheese making process) is included in the prohibition of Gevinat Akum. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:17) rules that it is not included in the prohibition, whereas Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron (Techumin 23:466) believes that it should be included in the prohibition. Rav Moshe argues that the whey should be viewed as distinct from cheese as butter is viewed distinctly from milk according to the lenient opinions regarding Chemat Akum. Rav Shmuel Wosner (Teshuvot Sheivet Halevi 4:87) adopts a middle approach and rules that the prohibition applies to whey only when the whey is heated together with the curd at a temperature higher than Yad Soledet Bo (hot to the touch). Yad Soledet Bo is the Halachic defintion of heat in the context of Kashrut and Shabbat and Poskim assert varying opinions regarding the parallel in degrees Fahrenheit– the opinions range from 110–120 degrees (see Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:91:8, Rav Shimon Eider’s Halachos of Shabbos p.243, and Rav Mordechai Willig, Beit Yitzchak 21:pp.178-179). Since Beliah (absorption from food) occurs at Yad Soledet Bo, Rav Wosner reasons that the whey absorbed from the Gevinat Akum and is rendered as forbidden.
Rav Blech reports that the policy of the Orthodox Union is to follow the approach of Rav Wosner using Rav Aharon Kotler’s standard (as reported by Rav Shimon Eider and Rav Moshe Heinemann, as cited by Rav Blech) for Yad Soledet Bo, which is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Although many would not ordinarily rely on Rav Kotler’s ruling in a context where it serves as a leniency, in this context it is justified because the custom has been in the United States (as mentioned in Rav Moshe’s Teshuva) and Israel (see Binetiv Hechalav p.42) to entirely follow Rav Moshe’s ruling. Accordingly, the OU’s policy represents an upgrade from the previously accepted practice.
Unlike the area of Chalav Yisrael, there is near uniformity regarding the prohibition of Gevinat Akum. However, there are a few pockets of debate there still persist and about these we say Eilu Vieilu Divrei Elokim Chaim. Most likely there will be further areas of disagreement as modern food technology changes at breakneck speed and Poskim continue to successfully apply our ancient and venerated Halacha to contemporary challenges.