In a time where we know with enough certainty (when compared with other kashrut principles) that cow’s milk sold in most countries where we live is indeed cow’s milk, how do we know whether the laws about chalav Yisrael still have a purpose? I'd like to know the arguments on both sides: those who say it is now not contextually relevant, or those who say it is still a binding law, at least until overturned by a Sanhedrin.

If it's only an added stringency, I don't know if I would keep it (I'm just in the conversion process) since it causes such complications in the community. Then again, if it was intended to matter and remain necessary across circumstances, I see very much why Talmudic agreements/decisions like this must be followed. Or even just because of the way cultural customs in the Jewish community do carry attributes of real value to following generations, and it's hard to separate them.

I am curious about how much the original intention vs. the literal detail should be known and followed when it comes to this particular law.


8 Answers 8


Short answer, for a newcomer to Orthodox Judaism: if you go to synagogue affiliated with the Orthodox Union or Young Israel, mainstream American mass-produced milk will almost always be seen as kosher, and old-fashioned, Jew-watched-the-milking chalav yisrael will be seen as a stringency. If your community is Hassidic, including Lubavitch, chalav yisrael is the norm.

But let's back up and clarify terms, as I think some are missing the point of this question.

Let's take a product like apple juice. The Talmud never talks about the laws of kosher apple juice, so today kosher certifiers will go into an apple juice factory, figure out what are the odds that the equipment or ingredients have anything non-kosher in them, and certify accordingly. Easy enough. If you bought uncertified apple juice but were somehow able to send it to a lab and absolutely verify it's 100% apple juice, it's kosher! (A hundred years ago in Lithuania, the Aruch HaShulchan actually had this question as there were concerns their olive oil was adulterated. The local pharmacists were able to determine that while it was not 100% olive oil, it was 100% plant material. Which was good enough, kosher-wise.)

The problem here is that the Talmud indicates there was a formal rabbinic ban issued on "milk bought from a non-Jew, unless a Jew was more-or-less present during the milking." 500 years ago if you bought mystery milk from a non-Jewish farmer it was automatically non-kosher. Even if you then were able to manually churn it into butter (pig milk doesn't manually churn), i.e. chemically verify its identity, it doesn't work because of the rabbinic ban. If there was a formal rabbinic ban, we can look for loopholes built within it, but we don't have the rabbinic firepower to actually overturn the ban.

Those who are strict today will insist all milk is covered by this rabbinic ban. (Just as kosher cheese must be made by Jews, even though we're certain this cheese has vegetarian rennet.)

Rabbi Feinstein and others, however, work around this by clarifying the nature of the ban. The ban was not "a Jew must have his eyeballs on the milk at all time", as the kosher supervisor is allowed to step in and out of the barn every so often. Rather, the law was "a Jew must ascertain at the time of milking that it's all kosher." And we ascertain it today via economics and regulation. (Or to take it a step further -- the ban was "don't buy mystery milk from a non-Jew", or better yet, "don't trust a non-Jew with mystery milk." Today's commercially-produced milk in most first-world countries is not "mystery milk", and therefore was not covered by the ban.)

Really halacha only recognizes two categories of milk: "chalav akum", "non-Jewish milk", which was prohibited by rabbinic ban; and "chalav yisrael", "milk that a Jew oversaw." Rabbi Feinstein argues that "chalav yisrael" is defined as "milk that a Jew ascertained", therefore commercial milk is "chalav yisrael." Those to the right argue no, it's "chalav akum." Today we speak of "chalav ha-companies", or "chalav stam", which means: "milk whose status is viewed as chalav yisrael by some, and chalav akum by others."

Those who are lenient could still find room for stringency (as Rabbi Feinstein recommended for elementary-level yeshivas in New York City) as the Talmud mentions that if a piece of meat required a judgment call from a learned scholar about its kashrut, some pious people wouldn't eat it. It's not about "oh what if it's not really kosher?" It's "I don't want to delve into nitty-gritty loopholes to justify my actions."


It is not quite correct for everyone to be quoting Rav Moshe, as though the permissibility of drinking USFDA milk originated with his responsa on the subject. Rather, most American Jews were drinking what he called chalav hacompanies well before RMF arrived in the US. They had rabbanim who had already ruled it was permissible, such as R' Dov Revel, R' Yisrael Avraham Abba Krieger, (among other greats of early 20th century American Judaism whom time has forgotten because the post-War immigrants never met them) R' Breuer, R' Moshe Soloveitchik and his son R' JB Soloveitchik. In the early days of Lakewoodthey served regular milk and Breakstone cottage cheese. Yes, that stopped when CY became more readily available, but obviously the yeshiva wouldn't have served it had R' Aharon Kotler believed CY was mandatory. (They could have sent someone to a nearby farm -- Lakewood was near farmland back then.)

Then there were those who didn't permit USFDA inspected milk. Those who immigrated in that same post-war wave were therefore confused which to do. RMF sided with those who permit, giving the version of the justification he found valid. But the leniency doesn't entirely rest on his shoulders.

Also, it's clear Rav Moshe's language shifted as chalav Yisrael (CY) became more available, in the earliest responsum treating CY as a stringency above the baseline (Irgros Moshe YD 1:47-49), the middle more equivocal (2:31,35) and the latest (4:5) more like not insisting on CY being a leniency. However, Rebbetzin Feinstein did not observe chalav yisrael, and it is well known in their community that Rav Dovid Feinstein to this day drinks what his father zt"l labeled "chalav ha-companies" (company milk, USFDA approved). So I wouldn't read that much into the change in language, if it didn't impact what he told his own family! In practice, he treated CY as a personal stringency, even to his last day.

The basic conceptual division is in how we understand CY:

According to the Peri Chadash (Yoreh Deah 115:6, based on the Radbaz), the risk of consuming milk adulterated with non-kosher milk is like any other kashrus risk. The rabbis identified it, and told you to avoid the risk by drinking CY. But if you could take care of the kashrus risk some other way, that would be just as good. And so milk subject to government agency rules, like the USFDA, would be kosher.

The Chasam Sofer (responsa, Yoreh Deah 107) rejects the Peri Chadash's position, believing that CY is a distinct rabbinic legislation.

Rav Moshe's position is conceptually based on the Chasam Sofer, but ends up closer to the Peri Chadash in implementation. He writes that there is indeed a rabbinic law requiring a Jewish observer, but "observation" boils down to knowledge. And Rav Moshe brings other examples where the law uses the term "sight" but knowing in other ways is sufficient. Therefore, as long as one knows for sure (or sure enough) that the milk isn't adulterated, the rabbinic law of Chalav Yisrael is being obeyed.

In the Arukh haShulchan's analysis (YD 115:1-17) we have both issues:

1- Eliminating the risk of drinking milk that is adulterated with something that isn't kosher.

2- A piece of rabbinic legislation that requires some kind of Jewish observation during milking. The legislation may have been motivated by #1, it is still legislation that would require a greater Sanhedrin to overturn (115:16). And we don't have what it takes to make any Sanhedrin. (And besides, the AhS adds, for every reason given for an enactment, there are numerous unstated reasons.)

If the farmer doesn't own any non-kosher animals, and adulterating with non-kosher milk would make the milk more expensive instead of less; or the farm is focused on butter production and adulterating would also make no sense -- we took care of #1, but the Arukh haShulchan (and those who obligate CY in general) would still require Jewish observation. (115:9-10)

However, in such a case where the risk of non-kosher is ignorable, this observation could be minimal. He could come in during the milking of the last cow of the run and all would still be kosher. This is not the random spot check inspection (yotzei venichnas) of kashrus, but meeting a separate requirement.

And the Arukh haShulchan considers utensils used for cooking non-CY milk to also be non-kosher. (115:11) But he is lenient on butter (115:20 onward), noting that the gemara only mentions milk and cheese, not milk products in general. He therefore would presumably permit the vast majority of manufactured products as well, as it is far more common to use milk powder than actual milk.

Note that the AhS is known for representing accepted practice in Lithuania. However, the Polish government didn't offer consumer protection of the sort the USFDA (or parallel contemporary government entities) provides. The specific question Rav Moshe Feinstein discussed was purely theoretical. Still, I am not sure there is room for Rav Moshe's leniency in the Arukh haShulchan's formulation, despite the fact that both are understandings of the Chasam Sofer's position, and both have similar background in terms of accepted practice and custom.

I just want to provide a balanced presentation, rather than looking at one side to the exclusion of the other.

  • Do any of those earlier Rabbis have written responsa on the matter?
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 14:33
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    No, which is why the job was left to Rav Moshe to document their argument. But there is testimony. E.g. I spoke to students of R' Aharon Kotler's Lakewood, which is how I even got the brand of cottage cheese. Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 17:00
  • I'll just note that from 115:4-5 it seems that the AhS was not necessarily "representing accepted practice in Lithuania", but rallying against it.
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 17:42
  • Actually, I think he was rallying against norms that were emerging that didn't pass the "peer review" to qualify as minhag yet. To quote from se'if 5: "מיהו עכ"פ האיסור הוא בכל אופן ודלא כאחד מגדולי האחרונים שהאריך בזה להקל לשתות חלב שלהם במקום שאין שם דבר טמא או שהוא רחוק המציאות שיחלובו את הטמא או שחלב טמא ביוקר והביא ראיה מאיזה גדולים שהקילו בכה"ג ומסיבה זו יש הרבה מתפרצים באיסור זה בדורנו בעוה"ר" Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 18:09
  • @DoubleAA: The local horror story he repeats in se'if 6 involves mixing in brains, not a classical chalav stam issue, and then he writes about America: "וביחוד שמעתי שבאמעריקא יש רבים מהאומות ששותים חלב חזיר מפני שמצויים שם הרבה". (Also likely an unfounded rumor being retold as a warning, as I don't think pig milk was a big thing in the US 100 years ago, when he was writing.) Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 18:10

This exact question--whether the prohibition exists independently of the concern about non-kosher milk--is the subject of a famous dispute between the Peri Chadash (Yoreh Deah 115:6) and the Chatam Sofer (Teshuvot, Yoreh Deah 107). The Peri Chadash, basing himself on an earlier teshuvah of Radvaz (4:75), argues that the Sanhedrin never prohibited unsupervised milk; rather, the prohibition is entirely based on a concern for non-kosher milk. If there are no non-kosher animals in the location, all milk would be permitted. Chatam Sofer argues and maintains (based on his understanding of Rashi in Avodah Zarah 35a) that there is a rabbinic prohibition independent of the concern for admixture of forbidden milk. The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 41:4) rejected Chatam Sofer's understanding of Rashi and maintains that the Peri Chadash is correct.


R. Moshe Feinstein and others held that it was an added stringency, which I believe is the generally accepted position. Normally a rabbinic prohibition still applies even when the reason doesn't, but there are many reasons here to be lenient. You can see a long discussion of the different views by R. Jachter:


How can anyone quote R' Moshe without looking at all of his Teshuvos (Igros Moshe YD 1:47-49, 2:31, 35, YD4:5) - and placing them into context?! He wrote a few Teshuvos a few years after each other, where he very clearly demonstrated that as Chalav Yisrael became more prevalent, the 'hetter for Chalav Stam' became less relevant, and more for extenuating circumstances! http://doseofhalacha.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/supervised-milk-chalav-stam.html

... R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 1:47-49, 2:31, 35, YD4:5) wrote that so long as the milk production is regulated by government standards, it is considered supervised. Such milk is referred to as chalav stam. Initially R’ Moshe wrote that while a baal nefesh should refrain from chalav stam, one mustn’t criticize others who drink it. In his later Teshuvos, (perhaps as chalav yisroel became more prevalent in the US), he wrote that one should only rely on this hetter under extenuating circumstances.

While many in the US follow R’ Moshe’s (earlier) psak, in the UK (and Eretz Yisroel), most follow R’ Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak 1:138, 2:21) who didn’t rely on thishetter. Certainly, in a country where the dairy farms aren’t strictly regulated, one would not be allowed chalav stam...

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    So what's the answer to the question: binding or stringency?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 20:07
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    I didn't say "mere". I said stringency. It sounds from your answer like RMF agrees it's still a stringency, just he was more encouraging of people's adopting it.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 21:35
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    That sounds like a stringency to me. If I was in the middle of nowhere would he let me eat a chicken/cheese sandwich?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 21:40
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    @tzvi ,do you know what Rav Moshe held,do you know anyone lwho asked him ,or what his family holds
    – sam
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 22:08
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    @Zvi I'm only using the semantic scheme used by the OP and I am encouraging you to do the same. Introducing new terms with different meanings is very much counterproductive. Precision with your words is very important.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 22:17

I was going to write a long answer, but this article really sums it up well. The bottom line is that there are different opinions about the acceptability of such milk, no matter how certain you are that it is pure unadulterated cows milk.

Going further from the article, in today's day we can know just as certainly that Cheese is made with Microbial Rennet, which is not the same Kosher problem as traditional Rennet. Yet no one seriously accepts the notion that therefore the Rabbinic requirement that a Jew supervise (and preferably - or perhaps exclusively - add) the rennet is therefore not operative. I'm sure some would find a distinction there, but really it seems to be more about necessity.

The heter it seems came about because of urbanization - people's removal from the farm made it very difficult and expensive to supervise the milk, unlike the "old days" where you went to the farm to pick up milk anyway, so you if it was a non-Jewish farmer, you went earlier, at the start of the milking, made sure the bucket was empty, had him fill your order while you were around, and moved on. Obviously it wasn't always so simple, but as long as that was the norm, it was easier to live with exceptions where things were more difficult.

Additionally, on Rav Moshe Feinstein's opinion a lot of people miss the fact that he tells a Ba'al Nefesh (literally "an owner of the soul" - which the best understanding of it that I know is someone who puts spiritual matters ahead of physical matters) to not only eat cholov yisroel, but to Kasher from that "Company milk" (which is what he called the milk under discussion).

If something is a stringency, the halacha is that you don't have to Kasher from it. So clearly he regarding keeping Cholov Yisroel as more than a mere stringency. EDIT: This may not be correct, as Rav Reisman reports here that Reb Moshe told him personally he didn't need to be concerned about serving Dairy Equipment. However, the Teshuva of Reb Moshe that he quotes and the understanding that he (Rav Reisman) gives for Reb Moshe's reasoning doesn't hold up, and if I found the Teshuva he was quoting, it doesn't say that there either. So if Reb Moshe told him this, it may be because he held it doesn't need to be kashered. It may also be that the circumstances there were exceptional.

Of the great Rabbis of Rav Moshe Feinstein's time, only Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik is quoted - and see that article for more details - as actually personally relying on a leniency and consuming such milk.

Once you decide about Cholov Yisroel, there are further questions though. What about when it is exceptionally difficult (e.g. when traveling)? What about things like butter (the Ramo specifically permits butter to not be Cholov Yisroel - but others are strict)? This is why the most important thing to do is decide on a community you want to join, and a Rabbi that you can rely on for questions and guidance.

  • "It sounds there like he's talking about having to kasher a ben yomo kli. That's not a good proof that it isn't just a stringency." You could either show that he wasn't talking about a ben yomo kli, or show that one need not avoid ben yomo keilim for stringencies.
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 18:50
  • @DoubleAA, he is talking about the concept of Kashering, as is obvious by reading the paragraph, and the context. You are claiming the differentiation that he would only say to Kasher if it was Ben Yomo, but not otherwise. You have to justify that distinction.
    – Yishai
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 19:26
  • His whole teshuva, as you mentioned, is about kashering a ben yomo chalav akum pot. Then he says that the same would apply to chalav stam for those who are machmir. Where do you see anything about eino ben yomo? It is not anything new to be machmir on ben yomo blios. Taam k'ikar is deoraita. Why would you think that something which is only a chumra would allow one to be meikil on vadai ben yomo keilim anyway?
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 19:41
  • To help you see my point above, consider sourcing your line "If something is a stringency, the halacha is that you don't have to Kasher from it", particularly in regards to Vadai Ben Yomo Keilim (Benei Yoman?), which is the crux of your argument.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:59

It's not an added stringency.

R. Moshe Feinstein would himself never drink Cholov Akum. He advised the same to everyone.

R. Tauber told in his shiur on Mesilat Yesharim, that once by mistake someone gave R. Moshe tea with Cholov Akum. As R. Moshe was making his first sip someone told him, that it's not Cholov Yisroel. On the spot R. Moshe spat the thing out.

There is a good book by Rav Gross with endorsement of R. Moshe Feinstein and others on the topic - http://www.israel613.com/books/KOSHER_MILK1-E.pdf

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    "He advised the same to everyone"? That's not what I heard. Do you have a source for that? Also, his endorsement of Rav Gross' book explicitly does not apply to halachic rulings. He never reviewed the book itself. Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 13:33
  • here what other people heard: vosizneias.com/38090/2009/09/09/… would a decent person advice something, what he never would do?
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 14:12
  • Rav Gross doesn't bring his rulings in this book - it's mainly compilation of rulings by other poskim.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 14:18
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    @Daniel Yes. Many rabbis do that all the time. Unless you think rabbis aren't decent people.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:53
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    I know from a nephew of theirs that Rebbetzin Feinstein drank chalav hacompanies, and it is known in his community that Rav Dovid still does! Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 17:06

Binding. Gemara Avodah Zarah 35b; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 115:1 Non chalav yisroel milk isn't kosher. An individual cannot override what chazzal institutes as halacha even with a convincing argument. A comparison which comes to mind would be blowing shofar on Shabbos if a community had an eruv or a shofar which permanently stays in the shul and never leaves.

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    I think you misunderstood the question. Everyone agrees the Talmud is binding. The question is does the binding prohibition apply to say, regular US milk, or is that not included in the binding prohibition? At least, that's what I think the OP is asking. You're answering something else.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:48
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 15:18

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