The Great Cholov Yisroel Misunderstanding

Rabbi Shlomo Cohen

Few people really understand the issue of Cholov Yisroel. Shidduchim have broken up over the issue. Those who keep it look down on those who don’t. Those who don’t, assume that they are totally in the right and only fanatics worry about it. To understand what is really involved requires a study of the applicable Halachos.

The Mishna (Avoda Zora 35b) tells us that if a non-Jew milks a cow without a Jew watching, that milk is forbidden to drink although we are not prohibited in receiving other benefits from it.

The Gemora (ibid.) has only a short discussion revolving around the reason for the prohibition. We are concerned that the non-Jew will add milk from a non-kosher animal into the cow milk.

Milk from a non-kosher animal (B’heima T’mei’ah) is prohibited D’Orysa. The mixture may then be prohibited D’orysa if there weren’t 60 times more kosher than non-kosher milk. The non-Jew does not have credibility to say what percent of the mixture is kosher and non-kosher. Furthermore, Bitul B’Shishim (negating in 60 times the amount) operates only as a B’dieved. Had the non-kosher milk been added purposefully it is not negated. The Gemora and Tosfos also discuss whether cheese is included in the same prohibition since only milk from kosher animals will curdle and form cheese. A later Rabbinic decree forbade cheeses made by a non-Jew for an entirely different reason.

The Rambam (Hilchos Ma’acholos Asuros Perek 3 Halacha 13) tells us that any milk owned by a non-Jew or in the non-Jew’s domain is prohibited since he may add milk from a non-kosher animal.

The Tur (Yora Deah Simen 115 Sif 1) reiterates the prohibition and its reason. He then adds that the prohibition applies whether the non-Jew is milking for himself or for the Jew. He mentions one leniency regarding the Jew’s observing the milking. If the non-Jew is doing the milking in the Jew’s barn and the Jew is sitting outside, even if he cannot directly observe the milking, the milk is kosher. The Tur’s reason will turn out to be instrumental centuries later. He reasons that the non-Jew will be afraid to tamper with the milk since the Jew need only stand up and turn around to be able to observe him.

The Shulchan Aruch (ibid.) basically repeats the Tur’s Halacha with only slight changes in wording. The Shach (sif katan 4) writes that the Jew need only be coming and going through the milking area. The Ramah adds that a Jew should, L’chatchila, be present from the beginning of the milking and should check the vessel used for milking. The Ramah then continues with several other applicable instances with one lenient and one strict ruling. His leniency is that, under certain conditions, if the non-Jew had begun the milking before the arrival of the Jew, had the Jew observed the rest of the milking, “Now, in our times, that non-kosher milk is not found” the milk is Kosher. Had the Jew not arrived until the milking was completed, the milk is forbidden even if no non-kosher milk is found on the premises. The Shach (sif katan 13) brings the various sources for the Ramah’s decision. The Taz (sif katan 4) is strict and prohibits the milk if a Jew was not present at the beginning of the milking even if there are no non-kosher animals in the area. The Ramah’s stringency is that vessels in which non-kosher milk had been cooked are rendered not kosher as with any prohibited food cooked in a vessel. Be’er Heiteiv adds that milk remaining in a vessel for 24 hours also makes the vessel not kosher. Gilyon Maharsha writes that one should purchase milk only from someone reliable in Kashrus matters.

The Aruch HaShulchan (Yora Deah Simen 115) synopsizes all the above and adds several interesting points. In Sif 5 he remarks that, according to all the Rabbonim he’s quoted, even in a place where there is no possibility of non-kosher milk being added had it been milked by a non-Jew it is forbidden. He further mentions that there is one opinion (an Achron whom he does not identify) that permits the milk in a situation where there is no possibility of non-kosher milk being added. He continues with a scathing denunciation of those Talmidei Chachomim who permit this practice and concludes, “since, the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch and all the great Achronim have decided to prohibit this milk, who dares have the effrontery and satisfy his heart’s desires. A careful person will distance himself from this.”  There is an interesting historical footnote at the end of Sif 6 where the Aruch HaShulchan mentions that he was privately told that in America there are many people drinking pig’s milk since it is plentiful. For the record, pig’s milk was never commercially sold in America. It is economically not practical to milk pigs on a large scale. Most likely, the person reporting to the Aruch HaShulchan was saying that Jews in America were drinking Cholov Akum which is akin to drinking pig’s milk.

Throughout Jewish history, Kashrus has been of paramount importance. Never before would any Jew consider drinking milk that had not been watched. The situation today calls for a reevaluation of the situation created by the manner in which Yiddishkeit was transplanted to this country.

Before proceeding, let us define three terms:

i-             Cholov Yisroel is milk that had the proper supervision during milking.

ii-           Cholov Akum is milk that had no supervision at all.

iii-         Cholov Stam is a new term coined to describe the milk under governmental guidelines and supervision upon which today’s leniencies are based.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Zt”l has many responsa on Cholov Yisroel. Most are printed in Igros Moshe. The last was reprinted in Daf HaKashrus, a newsletter for Mashgichim, published by the Kashrus Division of the OU.

Before studying Rav Moshe’s Tshuvos, it is crucial to understand where he was coming from. Note the dates of the Tshuvos; early 1950’s. At that time, Cholov Yisroel was available only in Williamsburg. It was expensive, there was a very limited product line and the quality left a great deal to be desired. This situation left millions of Jews across the country with no recourse other than to use what was available to them. Rav Moshe saw his task as that of being “lomeid zchus” on all these Jews. It is not possible that the holy nation of Israel could all be so wrong. Thus, he determined that they, indeed, had a way of drinking milk which was not prohibited. It was less that he found no problem with the milk than that he found no problem with the Jews who were drinking it. Even so, he was well aware of the Aruch HaShulchan quoted above and the situation in Europe and so he tempered his leniency to a marked degree.

In 5710 (1949) Rav Moshe answered a question regarding milk bought from a non-Shomer Shabbos Jew (Igros Moshe Yora Deah I Simen 46). At the end of this Tshuva he mentions the reason on which he will base his leniency. Since we learned that, the milk of a non-Jew is kosher even if the Jew were sitting outside since the non-Jew will be afraid to tamper with the milk, in America the farmers are afraid of the government inspectors. This, he maintains, amounts to the same thing, hence, the milk is Kosher. He grants neither the farmer nor the inspector any credibility. It is only the fear of the fines and loss of income which prevents the farmer from adding anything to the milk.

The next Tshuva (ibid. Simen 47) was written in 5714 (1954). In it, Rav Moshe speaks directly to the issue of relying on gentile dairy companies in America. After citing his reasons for the leniency, he continues, “…and this (reasoning) is according to all Poskim…therefor, if one wishes to rely (on them) and be lenient, he has a great reason and is permitted. Like those who are lenient, many of whom are Shomrei Torah as well as many Rabbonim, and G-d forbid that we say they are doing anything not in accordance with Halacha. However, it is proper that a Ba’al Nefesh be strict….I, myself, am strict on myself, but those who wish to be lenient are acting within the law and we should not think they are disregarding prohibitions.”  Note that even that far back, when Cholov Yisroel was virtually unobtainable, he held that one should preferably be strict. 

Rav Moshe zt”l follows this Tshuva with two others written in the same year, 5714 (1954). ‘In the first (Simen 48) he outlines several other reasons we may rely on the leniency including the fines to the farmers, the secrecy required and the possibility of their losing their licenses. He still ends with the disclaimer, “…however, certainly, a ba’al Nefesh should be strict…” In Simen 49, Rav Moshe continues with even more reasons for permitting milk from non-Jewish companies. Nonetheless, after all the reasons are given, he reiterates his disclaimer that a Ba’al Nefesh be strict. Again, this was at a time when Cholov Yisroel was not easy to find.

In Igros Moshe Yora Deah volume II (Simen 31), in 5720 (1960), Rav Moshe was asked about using a pasteurizer for Cholov Yisroel milk that had previously been used to pasteurize non-Cholov Yisroel milk. After discussing the issues, he decides that the pasteurizer must be flushed twice with boiling water with a cold water wash in between. He concludes that, although he previously Poskened that the milk from non-Jewish companies was not “Treif”, it is still preferable to be strict. Therefore, those who wish to be strict would, of necessity, have to Kasher the pasteurizer. He deals with the same question (ibid. Simen 34) in 5723 (1963). Here he advises buying a new pasteurizer, although he repeats that if a new one is not feasible, the old one may be Kashered. In 5720 (ibid. Simen 47) Rav Moshe discusses using milk from a non-Shomer Shabbos farmer or company. He permits this if several stringent conditions are met. Again, in 5720, (ibid. Simen 48) he deals with the question, this time in regard to the manufacture of cottage cheese. He concludes his Tshuva with the idea that one may rely on his lenient position regarding milk from a non-Jewish company, however, “I don’t see any reason that you (the person who had asked the question) need to decide that it is prohibited… but to publicize that it is permitted is certainly not worthwhile.”

In 5730 (1970) (ibid. Simen 35) Rav Moshe speaks to the issue of Yeshivos serving non-Cholov Yisroel milk to the students. He strongly recommends that the Yeshivos spend the extra money, knowing the financial straits of most Yeshivos were strained, in the interest of proper Chinuch. This is in order that the children should grow up knowing that a Ben Torah should be strict even when there is only the merest suspicion of a prohibition involved. However, in distant cities, where Cholov Yisroel companies are not found and it is difficult to obtain there is no reason for individuals to be strict.

In a Tshuva dated 5735 (1975) (ibid. Vol.III Simen 16) dealing with cheeses, Rav Moshe repeats his Heter regarding milk and strengthens his comment saying that, “even a Ba’al Nefesh cannot add two Chumros B’alma together, not even in an Issur D’orysa.”

In Daf HaKashrus, a newsletter for Mashgichim printed by the OU, an additional Tshuva sent in 1968 to Rabbi Ochs of Toronto was reprinted. Rabbi Ochs apparently asked Rav Moshe if people, who had been buying Cholov Yisroel, may discontinue as the price had gone up. Rav Moshe replied that they may not do so even though there were reasons to be lenient. He said that it was very worthwhile to strengthen the hands of those involved to buy only Cholov Yisroel and to increase Frum people to words of Torah through which we will see a Geula Shleima.

I believe it is clear that Rav Moshe never meant that Orthodox Jews should be drinking Cholov Stam as a matter of course. Clearly, in places where Cholov Yisroel is readily available, where the product line is well-developed and the quality and price are reasonable, there is simply no real Heter to use non-Cholov Yisroel milk or milk products. The same people who think nothing of spending a large sum for an Esrog, don’t stint on lots of fancy silver Atoros, bechers, etc., who don’t think twice about buying a twenty dollar bottle of wine but complain that a bottle of milk costs a few cents more have no excuse.

There are several interesting ramifications that arise.  One who is Makpid on only using Cholov Yisroel, and maintains that Non-Cholov Yisroel is not Kosher, is probably prohibited from using pots in which non-Cholov Yisroel has been cooked, as well as some other utensils. (Lubavitchers act in accordance with this view)

Should a person prefer yoghurt, for example, that is not Cholov Yisroel over that of the Cholov Yisroel companies feeling that the qualities are simply not the same, that person may choose to rely on Rav Moshe’s leniency for that one product.

Similarly, if one is out-of-town, where Cholov Yisroel is not available, one can rely on the leniency. This also affects many salesmen, travelers, vacationers as well as those visiting out-of-town friends and relatives. Buying coffee and milk at a highway rest stop would be okay. Obviously, if you can abide black coffee or bring along a non-dairy creamer it would be preferable but not necessary. There would be a leniency allowing one to take the children to Carvel, Baskin Robbins, Haagen Daaz when out of town. Parents are often overly strict on children when there is no real reason to be. This is particularly true of Chumros (See Igros Moshe Yora Deah Vol.III Simen 16 in regards to children eating non-Cholov Yisroel cheese). There is often no reason to be strict on children and a Rav should be consulted.

However, there should be an understanding that a Ba’al Nefesh, one who is careful in other Mitzvos, should make every effort to keep Cholov Yisroel when at all practical even when this entails giving something up. In today’s world we are barely ever Moser Nefesh for Torah, certainly not to the extent our grandparents and all prior generations were. Our loss.


As with each of my articles, I ran this one by several people. Reactions fell into three categories.

  • Those who now keep Cholov Yisroel but did not sometime in the past for various reasons.
  • Those who are very Makpid on Cholov Yisroel.
  • Those who are presently not Makpid. 

Those in the first group thought the article was well done and balanced. Those who are very Makpid thought I was a little too lenient. Those in the third group felt I was much too strict.

The fact is, I dwelt mostly on the leniency of Rav Moshe. True, the classical commentators were mostly strict, however, most people today believe that the situation has changed sufficiently so that we may consider the Halacha to have changed. Nothing could be further from the truth on a number of counts.

We have a clear indication from Poskim in many areas that even when the reason for a Gezeira no longer applies, the Gezeira, nonetheless, remains in force.

We may safely assume, here as well as elsewhere, that Chazal did not tell us all their reasons for promulgating a particular Gezeira. Therefor, when the stated reason no longer applies there are other unstated reasons that would serve to keep the Gezeira in force.

From a Chinuch point of view, How can we expect our youth to be aware of various Halachos when many of us treat these Halachos as if they don’t exist? Furthermore, since Rav Moshe’s leniency applies only to the United States and Canada, people traveling abroad must be made aware of the fact that they may not rely on any leniency at all without doing their homework to ascertain what the policies are in that country. Most people brought up drinking non-Cholov Yisroel probably go abroad and do not give this problem a passing thought or even recognize that it is a problem.

An additional factor arises with Israelis who come to the US. Since all milk and milk products in Israel are Cholov Yisroel, for them to use non-Cholov Yisroel products involves several other areas of Halacha as well. First, Minhag Avosam, the custom in their families may not lightly be dropped. Secondly, when one goes from a place where there is a Chumra to a place that is more lenient, he must keep the Chumra. Thirdly, the use of Cholov Yisroel over time may take on the force of a vow, requiring Hatoras Nedorim even if he is now in a place where Cholov Yisroel is not available. It would be a highly questionable act for any Rav to be Matir Neder for this person in a place where Cholov Yisroel is readily available.

The paper also did not quote other contemporary Poskim on this issue. Clearly, there are many who do not agree with Rav Moshe’s P’sak at all! There are many Rishonim and Achronim who maintain that the strictures apply even when there are no Beheimos T’mayos in the area, thus, apparently negating the reason for the prohibition. That there are also those who are lenient does not generally mean that we are free to follow the leniencies too readily. Were a person to search for, and follow, every leniency he would no longer be recognizably orthodox. Nor is it up to the individual to make these choices. Asay Lecha Rav! Even then, certain issues are not decided by the average Rav but by the Gedolei HaDor. I think it is safe to say that every Gadol HaDor keeps Cholov Yisroel. Ma’aseh Rav is a highly accurate method of determining the proper Derech.

To sum up:

-The most preferable manner to conduct oneself in accordance with Halacha is to use only Cholov Yisroel.

-In a place where Cholov Yisroel is readily available this option should definitely be chosen. Every effort should be made to grow in our Yiddishkeit. Giving our business to a fellow Jew rather than a non-Jew is always preferable.

-Those who live in a place where Cholov Yisroel is not readily available may opt, as a Chumra, to go to great lengths to get it. However, normative Halacha does not usually require extraordinary effort to keep a Halacha. Therefore, those who cannot easily get Cholov Yisroel may use Cholov Stam with no qualms at all.

-Those who use Cholov Stam even in places where Cholov Yisroel is available clearly have “broad shoulders” on which they may rely. Nonetheless, they must recognize that, even the Rav on whom they rely has made it clear that this is a tremendous leniency and he maintains that it is preferable to be strict as he was himself.

-Travelers and vacationers need to make a choice and should ask a She’eila of their Rav. It generally requires very little extra effort to make some accommodations to avoid the prohibition or, at most, a small sacrifice for the sake of Torah.

-There are certain other leniencies that apply to young children. Again, a She’eila should be asked to ascertain the proper Derech in child-rearing.



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