Kosher Milk and Honey

A comment in advance of the elections: In the heat of ideological debates, let’s not forget the values we all share – even if we disagree about the political way of fulfilling them * Milk with standard kashrut is halachically kosher, but milk with mehadrin kashrut takes into consideration all the poskim’s differing approaches in all disputes * Even if the date stamped on milk shows that it was produced on Shabbat, it does not mean the milking was performed in a prohibited way, and according to strict adherence of the law, it is permitted * Even though bees are impure, the honey they produce is kosher for eating * There is a controversy over the kashrut of royal jelly, but for medical purposes one can be lenient as with honey

Towards the Elections: Disagreements and Fraternity

Already twenty years ago, I accepted upon myself not to express an opinion concerning choices of parties and personalities in elections in our community of Har Bracha, our Regional Council, or in national elections. Needless to say, I wrote about the important ideas and even encouraged people to choose parties that support the values of Torah, the People, and the Land, but I decided not to speak or write about partisan ways of realizing the different values. Although involvement in these matters is very important, seeing as no one political party holds the entire truth,  and as a rabbi, I thought it best to refrain from voicing my opinion. As a result, I am not going to discuss current issues normally related, directly or indirectly, to the upcoming elections.

Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize a general value sometimes marred during an election period when disagreements are highlighted, differences and contradictions are sharpened, and the basic brotherhood that should dwell among all Jews – especially between partners in values – is damaged. True, in elections, choices must be made, and therefore it is only natural that the debate is intense. But at the same time, our common values must be remembered, thus preventing the debate from turning into hostility, which is liable to cause lasting scars between friends and family members unjustifiably, for, in truth, the various parties have good intentions. In general, it can be said that it is obligatory to fight for the right of every person to express his position in its full truth, however, it is forbidden to conduct a struggle with the purpose of silencing the opinion of others.

Having talked about guarding one’s tongue, I will now deal with milk and honey meant to be under our tongues, and in which our country, Israel, is praised – a land flowing with milk and honey.

Kosher and Mehadrin Milk

Q: What are the differences between milk and dairy products that have kosher mehadrin certification, and those that have regular kashrut? Should one try to buy mehadrin?

A: The poskim disagree on a number of issues, in which kashrut mehadrin takes into consideration the opinion of poskim who are machmir (rule strictly), and regular kashrut rely on the opinion of poskim who are less strict. Firstly, because the opinion of the majority of poskim is to be maykel (rule leniently), and secondly, because these disagreements have the status of Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical status), and the general rule is that in disagreements in Divrei Chachamim, halakha goes according to the lenient opinion. I will briefly mention the main points of dispute: 1) when milk is milked by non-Jews and it is clear that no milk of non-kosher animals was mixed in – in the opinion of the strict poskim, the prohibition of chalav goyim (milk milked by a non-Jew) still applies to it, and the lenient poskim are of the opinion that since it is clear to us that the milk is tahor (pure), it is not prohibited. 2) Occasionally in a herd of cows, there are some that underwent surgery that according to some poskim renders them treif (not kosher), and therefore, their milk is also prohibited. The lenient poskim are not concerned about this since according to the majority of poskim, such surgeries do not render the cows’ treif. And even if they do, it does not constitute a Torah prohibition, since their milk is batel b’rov (nullified in the majority), and generally the treif cows are batel b’shishim (less than 1/60th), so that even from Divrei Chachamim there is no prohibition. 3) In solid dairy products gelatin, whose kashrut is disputed, is occasionally mixed in, but since it is so minimal to the point where it is impossible to taste and is used only as a solidifier, the dispute is in Divrei Chachamim. 4) In mehadrin milk, the manufacturers are meticulous to make sure the milk is not milked on Shabbat.

In practice, although it is clear halachically that regular certified kosher milk is kosher, and l’chatchila (a level of performance that satisfies an obligation in an ideal manner) is permitted to be consumed, there is a hiddur (enhancement) in mehadrin products, so as to fulfill one’s obligation according to the opinion of all the poskim in all the disputed issues.

I will now elaborate on the question of milking cows on Shabbat.

Milking on Shabbat

Milking is prohibited on Shabbat from the Torah, because in milking, the milk is separated from the body of the cow, and this action is called Mefarek (extracting), which is a tolada (a secondary category of melakha on Shabbat) of Dash (removing one thing from another). Just as it is forbidden to separate grain kernels from their stalks, it is forbidden to separate milk from the body of a cow (Shabbat 95a). But in order to prevent the cows from suffering, for not milking them causes them great suffering, it is permissible to ask a non-Jew to milk them. And even though our Sages forbade asking a non-Jew to do work for us on Shabbat – because of tza’ar ba’alei chayim (causing animals unnecessary suffering), our Sages permitted it. This milk is muktzeh (the prohibition on moving any item that has no purpose on Shabbat) throughout that Shabbat, but after Shabbat, one is permitted to drink or sell it (S. A., O. C. 305:20). Today, dairy farms are more sophisticated, and milking is done by pumping machines operated before Erev Shabbat, and on Shabbat, they are meticulous to make sure the milking process and operation of the machine is carried out by a non-Jew, or by a Jew through means of grama (a melakha performed indirectly) which is permitted in order to prevent the cows from suffering, and after Shabbat, the milk is permitted to be drank or sold, since it was milked permissibly (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 20:2).

But if the milk was milked by a Jew by way of chilul Shabbat (the desecration of Shabbat), the milk is forbidden from Divrei Chachamim for the person who milked the cow and anyone else who the cow was milked for, to prevent their gaining pleasure from something done by way of chilul Shabbat. Since the milk is intended to be marketed to the general public, it is therefore forbidden for the entire public. In practice, however, since the milk milked by way of chilul Shabbat is mixed with milk that was milked on days other than Shabbat, as regards to all the milk sold in stores, there is a safek (doubt) whether it was milked in a prohibited way. And since the prohibition against gaining pleasure from something done by way of chilul Shabbat is from Divrei Chachamim, in a situation of safek there is no prohibition, and it is permissible to give kashrut to milk and dairy products that might be mixed with milk milked by way of chilul Shabbat. Nevertheless, it is preferable to purchase milk that was milked by dairy farms that are careful to observe Shabbat, both because it is kosher without doubt, and also because it is appropriate to encourage Shabbat observance, and not to assist chilul Shabbat (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 26: 7).

Milk milked on Shabbat – Is it Permitted?

Q: Milk producers mark on the milk containers when it was milked. Accordingly, when milk has regular kashrut, is one required to check that it was not milked on Shabbat? Ostensibly, if it is marked as having been milked on Shabbat, and it does not have mehadrin kashrut, it clearly was milked by means of chilul Shabbat?

A: There is no need to check, since even if it is clear that it was milked on Shabbat, there is a reasonable chance that it was milked by a non-Jew, since many of the workers in dairy farms are non-Jews; thus, there is a safek whether it was milked by way of chilul Shabbat, and consequently the milk is permitted. The reason why these dairy farms are not given mehadrin kashrut is that they are unable to guarantee never to milk their cows by means of chilul Shabbat. In practice, mehadrin kashrut is granted mainly to dairy farms owned by religious or traditional dairy farmers who undertake not to milk on Shabbat in a halachically forbidden way, and in order to back this up, cameras are installed to verify that the rules are kept.

Kashrut of Bee’s Honey

Honey is kosher for eating, as we are told in Tanakh about Samson and Yehonatan who ate honey. But there’s a question: After all, honey is made by bees, and bees are forbidden to eat because they are a sheretz ha-of (a winged swarming creature); if so, how can food made from an impure species be kosher for eating? After all, we have the rule: ‘Ha’yotzeh min ha’tameh – tameh’ (anything that comes out of the impure – is impure) and therefore, for example, the milk of a non-kosher animal is forbidden to eat. So why is honey from bees kosher? Two explanations were given for this in the Talmud (Bechorot 7b). According to one opinion (Tanna Kama) honey is different from milk, because milk is created in the body of the animal, and if it is impure, even the milk that is produced from it is impure. But honey is not created in the body of the bees, but rather they collect nectar from flowers and plants and store it in their bodies, and afterwards emit it in the hive, and there in the honeycomb the liquid evaporates, and honey is formed. Another opinion (R. Ya’akov) is that there is a Scriptural exception from the verse dealing with sheretz ha’of, that the honey that comes from bees is kosher.

Indeed, sometimes there are dead bees mixed in with the honey, so the beekeepers must filter the honey, but after filtering, the honey is kosher. Even if there were dead bees in the honey for an extended period of time, there is no concern that they affected its taste, because even if it did, it is ta’am pagum (unfit for consumption), and the rule is that something that gives ta’am lifgam is not prohibited (S.A., Y.D., 81: 8).

The Kashrut of Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a semi-liquid substance that tastes slightly bitter, and by eating a large amount of it, a regular larva develops into being queen bee. Without the royal jelly, that larvae would become a regular bee. The queen bee is unique in that the next generation comes from it: it can lay up to two thousand eggs a day, it weighs twice as much as the other bees, and its life expectancy is forty times longer. Since royal jelly is capable of causing such great changes in a bee, some healers believe it contains important medical properties.

As for the kashrut of royal jelly, the poskim disagree. Some say it is forbidden to eat because of the rule “anything that comes out of the impure, is impure”, and since bees are forbidden to be eaten, even the royal jelly they secrete from glands in their head is forbidden to eat. The halakha pertaining to it is not similar to that of honey, because honey is a nectar that bees collect from flowers and plants and attach to the crop that lies between their mouths and stomach, and then secrete into the hive, where the nectar dries a little and becomes honey. Since it is processed nectar, the honey is kosher for eating. But royal jelly is created from the body of the bee, and therefore it is forbidden to eat. And even if we say there is a Scriptural exception from the verse that honey of bees is kosher, the Torah’s intention is to permit only the honey known for its flavor, but not other substances secreted from bees.

Other poskim say that the halakha of royal jelly is similar to that of honey, because everything bees produce from their bodies is based on nectar and various plant species they collect, and the honey itself is made into its form by the addition of enzymes secreted from glands in the body of the bee. Thus, just like honey is kosher, so are the other substances that come out of the body of a bee, which is mainly based on what they collect. And even if we say that the basis of permitting honey is from the Scriptural exception from the verse, just as we learned that honey is kosher, we can also learn that all substances secreted from bees are kosher (Rabbi Unterman, Tzitz Eliezer 11: 59; 12: 54).

The Practical Halakha

Although l’chatchila it is proper to take into account the stringent opinions of the poskim, for medical purposes one may eat royal jelly because it is normally mixed with honey in amounts forty times greater than the royal jelly, and since its taste is not discerned, its prohibition is null and is permitted to be eaten. And if it is made in the form of flavorless capsules, they are permitted to be consumed. This is the halakha as well for propolis and bee pollen. And those who act leniently and eats them as is, without the mixture of honey or in the form of capsules, should not be rebuked because they have a halachic opinion to rely on.

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