Chalav Nochri – Between Kashrut and Hiddur

Chalav Nochri – Between Kashrut and Hiddur

Chalav Nochri is forbidden from a Rabbinical prohibition out of concern that non-kosher milk was mixed in it; the question is, how concerned must we be * According to the lenient opinions, as long as there is no reasonable fear that non-kosher milk was mixed in, one can rely on large food companies not to mix in the milk of a non-kosher animal * According to strict opinions, even the milk of companies under close supervision is nevertheless considered chalav nochri and forbidden * There is a dispute whether the prohibition also applies to powdered milk * Halachically, chalav nochri of a supervised company is kosher, but in places where chalav Yisrael is common, such as in Israel, it is appropriate to be strict

Towards sundown of Monday evening, the 16th of Tevet, my beloved and dear cousin Tzur Hartuv suddenly died. All his family and loved ones were shocked, tearful, grieving, and pained. May it be His will that through the building of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, his wife and widow, his parents and brothers be comforted, and merit to raise sons and daughters, grandchildren and granddaughters, to Torah and mitzvoth.

Tzuri, as he was affectionately called, was the first to encourage me to write the laws of kashrut in the framework of ‘Peninei Halakha’, and to clarify the differences between kosher and mehadrin. As usual, he explained the need for this with compelling and heartening reasons. May the words of Torah in this column be for an elevation of his soul, and the fulfillment of his desire.

Chalav Nochri

Our Sages forbade Jews to consume milk that a non-Jew had milked, lest the non-Jew had mixed chalav tamei (milk produced from a non-kosher animal) with the chalav tahor (milk produced from a kosher animal) (Avoda Zara 35b). This, despite the fact that the chances of this happening are very low since the vast majority of milk that people drink, is chalav tahor. In addition, there is a difference between chalav tamei and chalav tahor, namely, the color of chalav tahor is white, while the color of chalav tamei is yellow, and therefore, if the milk is white and does not taste differently, even if the non-Jew mixed it with chalav tamei, from the Torah it is batel b’rov (nullified by majority) by the chalav tahor. Despite all this, our Sages were very strict and forbade the milk of a non-Jew, lest he mixed with it chalav tamei. Apparently, our Sages were stricter about this prohibition – as they were about additional foods of non-Jews – than on other food prohibitions, because of the general goal to distance Jews from foods of non-Jews as a barrier against assimilation.

However, when a Jew is careful that the non-Jew has not mixed chalav tahor with chalav tamei, the milk is kosher. If it is known for certain that the non-Jew has no non-kosher animals, it is sufficient for a Jew to observe that the non-Jew has not brought milk from another place during the process of milking. But if the non-Jew has a non-kosher animal, the Jew must supervise that he milks from a kosher animal. There is no need for him to see all of the milkings, rather, it is enough that the non-Jew knows that the Jew is supervising him not to milk a non-kosher animal and mix its’ milk with chalav tahor, and that he can easily be seen, for instance, if the non-Jew stands up he will see him milking, or that at any moment the Jew can come in and see what he is doing (Avoda Zara 39b; S. A., Y. D., 115: 1).

When there is No Fear of Chalav Tamei

The poskim disagree on the question of the scope of the prohibition. According to the first approach, only when there is a reasonable fear that the non-Jew will mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, is the milk that a non-Jew milked forbidden. But in a place where no non-kosher animals are raised, or if the milk of a non-kosher animal is more expensive, there is no fear that the non-Jew will mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, and it is permissible for a Jew living in such a place to consume milk milked by a non-Jew (Tashbatz, Rashbash, Pri Chadash, R. Chaim ben Atar). This was the minhag (custom) in most of the communities in North Africa and Yemen.

According to the second approach, even where there is no reasonable fear that the non-Jew will mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, as long as there is some concern, even the most distant, it is forbidden for a Jew to consume milk that was milked by a non-Jew. In practice, since occasionally non-kosher animals were brought from place to place, and at times the non-Jews thought they would benefit by mixing chalav tahor with chalav tamei either to preserve it for a long time or to improve its taste, the poskim prohibited all milk milked by a non-Jew. An exception is milk that was milked in a closed place where it was impossible to bring in chalav tamei, in which case the poskim approved of its kashrut despite being milked without the supervision of a Jew. This was the minhag of many communities in the vicinity of Eretz Yisrael and in Ashkenaz (Chida, Beit Meir, Chochmat Adam).

According to the third approach, even when there is no fear that the non-Jew will mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, the milk milked by a non-Jew is forbidden. The reason for this is that on the basis of fear the non-Jew might mix chalav tamei with chalav tahor, our Sages decreed a complete ban on any milk milked by a non-Jew without the supervision of a Jew, even if there is absolutely no fear. Some poskim instructed along these lines in practice (Chatam Sofer, Chelkat Yaakov).

Milk of Reliable Companies

Many poskim believe that since there is no fear, even remotely, that large companies marketing milk and milk products will include chalav tamei in their milk, in the opinion of most halachic authorities, even if the milk was milked by non-Jews without Jewish supervision, the prohibition of chalav goyim (milk milked by a non-Jew) does not apply to their milk, for this is the opinion of the first two approaches we learned, which the majority of Jews followed.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D., 47-49) added that according to the strict approach, in countries that are regulated by law, it is possible to act leniently in regards to dairy products of companies that declare the milk and dairy products they market are produced from the milk of kosher animals. The reason being that if they deceive, they are liable to be fined; and no less severe – consumer confidence in their products may be affected, and they may lose many customers. Thus, the general supervision in these countries is considered similar to the supervision of a Jew supervising that chalav tahor is not mixed with chalav tamei, and consequently, according to all approaches, their milk is permitted. Therefore, in view of the difficulty in obtaining chalav Yisrael outside of Israel, Rabbi Feinstein permitted relying on the credibility of the supervised companies, and this is the policy of the largest kashrut organization in the United States, the OU.

Those who are Stringent Concerning Dairy Companies

On the other hand, there are those who are stringent for two main reasons: 1) perhaps government supervision is not strict enough, and even if it is, lest people learn from this to act leniently even in places that are not properly supervised. 2) They accept the approach that holds that the prohibition of milk milked by a non-Jew is a complete prohibition (third approach), and therefore, even if there is no fear that chalav tamei will be mixed in, the milk is forbidden because it is milked by a non-Jew. According to this view, government supervision is not considered to be the supervision of a Jew permitted by our Sages (Chelkat Yaakov Y. D. 34; Mishnah Halachot 4: 103). Before explaining the practical halakha, I will continue to the question of avkat chalav (powdered milk).

Powdered Milk

Another controversy arose over avkat chalav, i.e., milk that had its fluids evaporated by heat until there remains only powder. Powdered milk is used to flavor products such as chocolate, when the concentrated taste of milk and its ingredients is desired, without the extra volume of the liquid. It is also possible to preserve powdered milk for a long time, and when necessary, to add water and obtain a drink similar to regular milk, with almost all its nutritional components. Regarding the prohibition of meat and milk, powdered milk has the same halakha as regular milk, but regarding the prohibition of chalav goyim, the poskim disagree.

The majority of poskim are lenient, since the gezera (decree) was on milk, and not on a new product made from it. And just as the poskim had to make an additional decree on cheese, without which cheese would have been permitted, similarly, without a special decree on powdered milk – as long as it is known to have been made from the milk of a kosher animal, it is permitted to be eaten.

Some poskim are strict because in their opinion the gezera of milk also applies to powdered milk since powdered milk is the milk itself without its fluids. The reason our Sages had to make a special gezera on cheese is that cheese can only be made from the milk of a kosher animal that is capable of curdling, and therefore it was necessary to decree a special gezera on cheese made by non-Jews for other reasons. However, powdered milk can also be made from chalav tamei, and thus the gezera of milk also applies to it.

The Practical Halakha for Dairy Products

In the principle disagreement over milk and powdered milk produced by large and regulated companies, the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion, because this is the opinion of the majority of the poskim of the Rishonim and Achronim and their reasoning is convincing; additionally, the general rule is that in disputes in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinances), halakha follows the lenient opinion. As for powdered milk, there is more room for the lenient position, since some of the poskim who are machmir (strict) in regards to chalav nochri, are lenient when it comes to avkat chalav. However, the Jewish nation is virtuous, and as long as the strict opinion does not involve high costs, the custom is to be meticulous in regards to the opinions of all the poskim, as is the custom of all Rabbinates in Israel concerning chalav nochri. But in chutz l’aretz (outside of Israel), when it is difficult to obtain chalav Yisrael, the principle halakha goes according to the lenient opinion.

Additional Questions about the Kashrut of Milk

The issue of the kashrut of milk and dairy products is more complex since there are two more problems: 1) safek treifot, i.e., the possibility that in the wake of surgeries cows undergo, it may render them treif. 2) The combining of additional powders produced from milk. I will explain in further detail:

Today, it is customary to perform various operations on animals, such as the cesarean section of an animal having difficulty giving birth, or the puncturing of the abdomen to remove dangerous gases. Although following these operations cows live longer than 12 months, some poskim say such operations render them treif, and consequently, their milk is forbidden to consume. In practice, in every cowshed that is not supervised by halachic supervision, chances are there are cows considered treif according to the stringent poskim, and the amount of kosher milk is not sixty times as high, and thus, the milk and powdered milk produced from such cowsheds are forbidden in their opinion.

The second problem is that there are other powders made from milk, such as casein that contains milk proteins, and lactose-containing sugars from milk and some poskim believe that when they are made from residual liquids of cheese, the prohibition of gevinat goyim (cheese produced by non-Jews) applies to them.

In practice, concerning both of these questions, the principle halakha goes according to the lenient opinion. In regards to the fear that cows are treifot – in the opinion of many poskim, such surgeries do not render the cows treif – the fact is, they live for more than twelve months. And even if we relate to this question as a safek (doubtful), since from the Torah the milk of treif animals is batel b’rov ragil (nullified by a regular majority), halakha goes according to the lenient opinion even if there are not sixty times as much. Also, in regards to powdered milk produced from the residual milk of cheese, it is doubtful whether the prohibition of gevinat goyim applies to them, and in a safek Divrei Chachamim, halakha goes according to the lenient opinion.

Halakha Summary

It is possible to grant kashrut certification to milk and dairy products that have been milked by non-Jews for large and regulated companies, and this is the practice of various kosher organizations, including the OU.

Those who wish to be strict are meticulous on all four issues mentioned, and this is the definition of mehadrin kosher dairy products.

In the regular kashrut of the Rabbinates in Israel, it is customary to be meticulous on an intermediate level – they are strict in regards to milk milked by non-Jews, and follow the principle halakha in regards to powdered milk of non-Jews, as well as the two other issues.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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