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I vaguely recall that Talmud Avodah Zarah mentions a prohibition of eating gevinat akum - cheese manufactured by an idol worshipper (as I understand this definition.)

If there already was a prohibition against chalav akum (milk handled by an idol worshipper), why was there an additional need for gevinat akum. Cheese is made from milk.

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    Chalav Akums means milk handled by an idol worshipper? Not milk milked by an idol worshipper? – Double AA Feb 26 '19 at 15:06
  • See all this sefaria.org/sheets/10037?lang=bi – Dr. Shmuel Feb 26 '19 at 15:44
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    IMSMC, milk could be from a nonkosher animal; whereas the Talmud assumes that cheese can only (physically) be made from milk of a kosher animal, so it would not have fallen under the rubric of the ban on chalav akum. – Loewian Feb 26 '19 at 15:54
  • See Aruch Shulchan on this. If I remember correctly he gives 5/6 reasons why it might be prohibited, which may answer the question. – רבות מחשבות Feb 26 '19 at 20:39
  • Are those the reasons mentioned in the Gemara @רבות – Dr. Shmuel Feb 26 '19 at 20:51
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Rambam Hilchos Machalos Asuros 3:12-13

חלב בהמה טמאה, אינו נקפה ועומד כחלב הטהורה; ואם נתערב חלב טהורה בחלב טמאה--כשתעמיד אותו--יעמוד חלב הטהורה, וייצא חלב הטמאה עם הקוס של גבינה. ומפני זה ייתן הדין שכל חלב הנמצא ביד גוי אסור, שמא עירב בו חלב בהמה טמאה; וגבינת הגויים מותרת, שאין חלב בהמה טמאה מתגבן. אבל בימי חכמי משנה גזרו על גבינת הגויים, ואסרוה מפני שמעמידין אותה בעור הקיבה של שחיטתן שהיא נבילה

The milk of a non-kosher animal will not congeal and solidify as the milk of a kosher animal does. If the milk of a non-kosher animal is mixed together with the milk of a kosher animal, when the mixture is [set aside for cheese to be made], the kosher milk will solidify and the non-kosher milk will be expelled together with the whey of the cheese.

Accordingly, logic would dictate that any milk found in the possession of a gentile is forbidden, lest the gentile have mixed the milk of a non-kosher animal with it. And the cheese of the gentiles should be permitted, for the milk of a non-kosher animal will not form cheese. Nevertheless, during the age of the Sages of the Mishnah, they issued a decree against gentile cheese and forbade it, lest they use the skin of the stomach of an animal they slaughtered - which is forbidden as a nevelah - to cause it to solidify.

Translation from Chabad.org. See also footnote 29 there.

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    Having hands on experience making cheese helps to understand what is being discussed here. To get soft cheese, like farmers cheese or ricotta does not require the use of rennet. Any acidic liquid (like vinegar or lemon juice for example) will cause the raw milk to form curds (מתגבן) and to separate from the whey. Harder cheeses, like mozzarella and aged cheeses like parmesan require the addition of rennet (another hardening agent) which can be either made from cow stomachs (which must be from a properly slaughtered, kosher animal to be permissible) or vegetarian sources. – Yaacov Deane Feb 26 '19 at 16:39
  • What you describe as "the milk of a non-kosher animal will not form cheese" is actually that it will not form curds and separate from the whey. This is because the protein structure is different. It doesn't denature the same. – Yaacov Deane Feb 26 '19 at 16:42
  • metro.co.uk/2016/11/24/… – Double AA Feb 26 '19 at 20:11
  • Quoting the article: donkey’s milk doesn’t have enough casein (which is what makes milk thicken into curd) to make cheese the traditional way. – Yishai Feb 27 '19 at 2:55
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Shakh to Yoreh Deah 115:20 quotes a number of opinions (notably Mordechai and Maharam MiRottenburg) which forbid gevinat akum even where a Jew watched the whole process from the start of the milking.

So in such a case the milk would be considered chalav yisrael, but nevertheless the fact that a non-Jew was the one to make cheese from it means that the cheese is forbidden under the separate rubric of gevinat akum.

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Tosafos Avodah Zarah 39b, translation by Daf Yomi Advancement Forum

ואע״ג דקא חשיב חלב הוצרך לחשוב גבינה

Despite the fact that milk was mentioned, cheese also had to be mentioned. (Aren't they forbidden for the same reason? Why would both have to be mentioned?)

לפי שאין טעם איסורן שוה שחלב אסור משום עירוב חלב טמא אבל טעם גבינה הוא משום גילוי כדפרי' לעיל (דף לה.)

This is because the reason for their prohibition is not the same. Milk is forbidden because we suspect that unkosher milk will be mixed in to the kosher milk, while cheese is only forbidden because it is left out uncovered, as we explained earlier (35a, Tosfos DH "Chada").

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  • Talmud lists earlier many other opinions for its prohibition – Dr. Shmuel Feb 26 '19 at 15:46
  • I’m not sure that this fully answers the question. Why is there a need for a separate prohibition (for whatever reason) if it’s already forbidden because it’s made from chalav akum? What’s the nafka minah of the additional prohibition on the cheese? – Joel K Feb 26 '19 at 16:18
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Milk and cheese are appearenlty two issues. (translations from Sefaria).

In Mishna AZ 2.6. there is a mention of Milk of Akum.

אלו דברים של גוים אסורין ואין איסורן איסור הנאה, חלב שחלבו גוי ואין ישראל רואהו, והפת, והשמן שלהן. רבי ובית דינו התירו בשמן. ‏

Milk not watched is prohibited only for consumption.

The Chashash is a doubt perhaps milk of non kasher species is mixed.

But for cheese, AZ 2.4-5

המורייס וגבינת בית אונייקי של גויים--אסורין, ואיסורן איסור הניה, דברי רבי מאיר; וחכמים אומרין, אין איסורן איסור הניה.

The fish-brine and Bithynian cheese of non-Jews are prohibited and it is prohibited to derive any benefit from them, according to Rabbi Meir. The Sages say: Their prohibition is not against deriving benefit from them.

ב,ה אמר רבי יהודה, שאל רבי ישמעאל את רבי יהושוע כשהיו מהלכין בדרך, מפני מה אסרו את גבינת הגויים. אמר לו, מפני שמעמידין אותה בקיבת נבילה. אמר לו, והלוא קיבת העולה חמורה מקיבת הנבילה, ואמרו כל כוהן שדעתו יפה שורפה חיה; ולא הודו לו, אלא אמרו לא נהנין ולא מועלין. אמר לו, מפני שמעמידין אותה בקיבת עבודה זרה. אמר לו, אם כן, למה לא אסרוה בהניה. והשיאו לדבר אחר; אמר לו, ישמעאל אחי, היאך אתה קורא "כי טובים דודיך מיין" (שיר השירים א,ב [the proof is from the next words (Rashi) על כן עלמות אהבוך]), או כי טובים דודייך מיין. אמר לו, כי טובים דודייך מיין. אמר לו, אין הדבר כן, שהרי חברו מלמד עליו, "לריח שמניך טובים" (שיר השירים א,ג).‏

Rabbi Yehuda says: Rabbi Ishmael asked Rabbi Yehoshua [a question] as they were walking along the road. He said to him, "What is the cause for the prohibition against the cheese of non-Jews?" He said to him, "Because they curdle it inside the stomach of carrion." He said to him, "But is not [the law regarding] the stomach of a burnt offering more stringent than the stomach of carrion?! And they [the Sages] said: [It was proposed that] a priest with a good disposition may burn [a burnt offering after sucking out the fat from its stomach] while it it still raw [and has not yet been burnt with the offering, which would forbid one form deriving any benefit from it]. And they [the sages] did not agree with him [who proposed this opinion], but they said: One may not derive benefit [from the fats of the stomach], nor is one [who does so] liable for meilah [deriving prohibited benefit from from a sanctified object]." [Implying that one should therefore not be liable for the less stringent case of a stomach of carrion.] He [Rabbi Yehoshua] retracted, and [instead] said, "Because they curdle it in the stomachs of calves that were used for idolatry." And he [Rabbi Ishmael] said, "If so, why is there no prohibition to benefit from it?" He [Rabbi Yehoshua] redirected him to another topic. He said to him, "Ishmael, my brother, how do you read (Shir HaShirim 1): 'For dodechah [Heb. masc: "your love"] is better than wine,' or 'For dodayich [Heb. fem: "your love") is better than wine'? He said to him:, "'For dodayich is better than wine.'" He said to him, "The matter is not so. For its fellow [the following verse] teaches about it: 'For the fragrance of shemaneikha [Heb. masc: "your oils"] is good.'"

Bartenura says

שם כפר, שרוב עגלים הנמצאים שם קרבים לעבודה זרה. ר' מאיר חייש למיעוטא וסבר דאע"ג דרוב עגלים הוו מיעוטא כנגד שאר בהמות, חיישינן למיעוטא, וכל הגבינות הנמצאות שם אמרינן דלמא בקיבת עגלי ע"ז העמידן. וחכמים לא חיישי למיעוטא. ואין הלכה כר' מאיר בכל הני תלתא בבי: ‏

In Mishna 4. There was a place in which a part of livestock, a minority were dedicated to Idolatry. There was a Chashash according to Rabbi Meir (who thinks that the din is safek rennet of idolatry despite the minority of idolatry). But for there is only an Isur to eat them.

What is the prohibition?

In Mishna 5, From the conclusion of the Gemara, explained in Rambam and Bartenura comments: The problem is "rennet from nevela", gastric tissue from a non ritually sacrified animal. This rennet is a part of the body. But the rennet mentioned by Rabbi Yehoshua isn't. This gastric content, it's not part of the body as excrement isn't. This explanation for the Chashash is not elucidated by the story reported in Mishna. Why? Gemara and Mefarshim explain. There was an official law decree for cheese from non Jews. To make the decret stronger, Rabbi Yishmael keep the secret about the true reason of the decret until its broadcast. After the broadcast of the decret, the reason was revealed. The Chashash is because of rennet made by gastric tissue, a part of the body of nevela. What is the principle of this prohibition, the rennet doesn't give taste in cheese? The explanation is for next questions.

We see from the sources that there was a separate problem for cheese, the rennet. For Halacha. Some poskim allow milk from goym noweday, because the production is from kasher animals only. So, if a Jew make cheese with this milk they certainly allow it. But to buy from goym cheese is prohibited because of the decret.

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(adapted from a wonderful yeshiva.co article titled "The Why’s and Whey’s of Gevinas Akum")


The gemara in Avodah Zarah 34b - 35b gives 7 (!) possible reasons as to why Chazal prohibited gevinas akum:

  • 1) R' Yehoshua- Gentiles make the cheese hard by using the stomach of a calf slaughtered in a non-kosher way.

  • 2) R' Yehoshua- In the cheese-making process, the gentiles use the stomach of a calf that was offered for avodah zarah.

  • 3) R' Yehoshua ben Levi- The milk used to make the cheese may have been left in a place that snakes could poison it with their venom.

  • 4) R' Chanina- The milk used for the cheese may have been combined with milk of a non-kosher species.

  • 5) R' Ada bar Ahavah- Gentiles smooth the surface of the cheese with pig fat.

  • 6) R' Chisda- The cheese is curdled with vinegar that came from their wine, which is prohibited to derive benefit from.

  • 7) R' Nachman bar Yitzchak- The juice of an orlah fruit may have been used to make the cheese.

The Rishonim "whey" in (pun intended! 😆):

Most Rishonim contend (see: Semag,(Negative Commandment 132) that the prohibition [of gevinas akum] has a halachik status of a davar she’beminyon, a rabbinic injunction that remains binding even when the reason the takanah was introduced no longer applies, until and unless a larger and more authoritative body declares the original injunction invalid. Since a more authoritative beis din never rescinded the prohibition on gentile cheese, the prohibition remains, even when none of the reasons may apply

(see also: Rambam, Ma'achalos Asuros 3:14; Rashba, Toras Habayis page 90b; ; Tur, Yoreh Deah 115).

How do we pasken:

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 115:2) rules according to the majority opinion that gevinas akum is forbidden. The Rema (ibid) view is a little more lenient, as he permits the use of gevinas akum in a place where one can ascertain that there was a long-established custom to permit it.

Therefore, in today's times:

No one in today’s world would be permitted to use gevinas akum, with the possible exception of an Italian community that can prove a tradition dating back at least eight hundred years.

Well worth checking out the article in its entirety.

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