Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kosher Milk 101

B"H


The Making of Chalav Yisroel


For many centuries, there was absolutely no question that the milk in a Jewish home was chalav Yisrael.

Milk is a staple of the American diet. While the relative health merits of milk are the subject of hot debate today, most households keep a generous supply on hand.

Milk coming from a kosher animal is inherently kosher. Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 115:1) rules that a Jew may consume only chalav Yisrael milk — milk produced with a Torah-observant Jewish person present. Lacking proper supervision, we do not know whether the milk comes from a kosher or a not kosher animal. (The Jew has to be at the production but need not actually participate.)

For centuries, there was no question that the milk in a Jewish home was chalav Yisrael. Farms made kosher and not kosher milk, and Jews would either trek to the farms to supervise milking or they had their own cows.

In the U.S., most farms do not produce milk from non-kosher animals. Moreover, the United States Department of Agriculture prohibits such production for commercial sale, and a farm that violates the law is subject to severe penalties. The question therefore arises: Whereas the purpose of having a Jew oversee milk production is to assure that the milk will be kosher, and the law accomplishes the same purpose, are we permitted to consume chalav stam, unsupervised milk?

This question is the subject of vigorous scholarly debate. In a famous responsum, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, maintains that one may rely upon the fear induced by government regulation. While Rabbi Feinstein adds that one preferably would restrict himself to chalav Yisrael products, his lenient opinion is relied upon by many Jews in the United States. Other respected authorities disagree, holding that chalav Yisrael is a rabbinic injunction that cannot be abrogated simply for circumstantial reasons. Still other authorities assert that chalav stam can have an undesirable spiritual effect. Documented stories abound about the lengths to which men and women have gone to drink only chalav Yisrael milk.

There are further layers of disagreement concerning the extent of the prohibition — whether it is limited to milk or extends to all products made with milk, and whether it applies to milk powder as well. (We will discuss these and other issues in the June issue of The Jewish Homemaker.)

Even those who permit chalav stam restrict this leniency to countries where the law forbids the commercial sale of milk from non-kosher animals. Where this is not true, one must use only chalav Yisrael products. Those who travel to countries that do not afford this legal protection should refrain from drinking local milk. Additionally, even in the U.S., one cannot go to a farm and purchase any milk; the law pertains only to commercially produced milk.

The OK Laboratories has long recognized that both groups are represented among mainstream kosher consumers. Therefore, we accommodate those who consume chalav stam by certifying such products as OKDairy. And we have the highest regard for the thousands of Jews who are scrupulous about chalav Yisrael. In fact, all the Rabbinic Coordinators at the OK personally use only chalav Yisrael. We strive, wherever possible, to certify dairy products as chalav Yisrael, and in the most stringent manner. OK-certified chalav Yisrael items are designated as such on the label.

How do we insure that chalav Yisrael products are made with uncompromising fidelity to the law? It all begins on the farm. Here are some issues that arise in chalav Yisrael production:

1. The chalav Yisrael audience is large, and when we are asked by a dairy company to supervise a production, up to fifty farms may be needed to yield sufficient quantities of milk. Several mashgichim may be required, and they have to devise a precise schedule so that they can be present at the beginning of each milking, as required by the halachah.

2. Milk does not go straight from the cow to the bottle. Neither is it immediately made into cheese or some other dairy product. Rather, it is transported from the farm to a dairy for processing. The milk is stored on the farm in refrigerated tanks; when enough milk is collected, a tank truck transports it to the dairy.

According to Jewish law, if a non-kosher product is stored in a vessel for more than twenty-four hours, the vessel absorbs the non-kosher taste. Unless we kosherize the vessel, we cannot subsequently store kosher product in it for over twenty-four hours, or the kosher product will absorb the non-kosher taste and itself become not kosher. We term this process “kavush.” Those people who consume only chalav Yisrael treat chalav stam as not kosher, and would be unable to use this stored milk.

The OK has developed a unique solution to the kavush problem. Before twenty-four hours have passed, we pump the milk into a different tank, so that it does not become kavush.

3. The tank trucks used in transportation must be thoroughly cleaned and kosherized. Before leaving a farm with their chalav Yisrael cargo, they must be sealed by the mashgiach to prevent tampering. When they are opened at the dairy, a mashgiach is present.

4. We document the precise amount of chalav Yisrael milk that was made. If too much milk is later found, we know tampering has occurred.

5. A kashrus concern can arise even with kosher animals. There is a medical operation performed on cows that punctures the fourth stomach wall, or abomasum, rendering the animals and their milk not kosher. Mashgichim have to ascertain that these cows are separated from the general population during milking. (This is a concern for chalav stam as well; how we address it there is beyond the scope of the present article.) Before our most recent production of chalav Yisrael, we had Rabbi Dovid Steigman, an OK Rabbinic Coordinator who is also an expert shochet, inspect the animals to insure that no operations had been performed on them.

The OK has created a comprehensive set of instructions for our dairy mashgichim to follow so that all pertinent issues are addressed. Among these guidelines, the mashgiach must visit the farm prior to milking so that we can explain our requirements. The mashgiach must be present at the beginning of the milking to insure that no residual non-kosher milk is left in the milking receptacle. If milking begins prior to the mashgiach’s arrival, the milk is rejected. If the mashgiach is certain that proper procedures will be followed, he does not have to remain for the entire milking, but will return periodically (yotzei v’nichnas).

All milk stored in tanks must be sealed by the mashgiach when he leaves the farm. The mashgiach must be present after milking to supervise the loading and sealing of the tanks. The mashgiach must visit each farm on his route at the beginning, middle, and end of the milking; ideally no more than twenty minutes will elapse between visits.

Recently we discovered that the milking for a popular chalav Yisrael product was being done with insufficient Jewish oversight. The mashgiach visited only once every eight hours; additionally, he was unable to go into one of the farms at night. We have been forced to discontinue use of this product in OK-certified establishments.

Finally, the mashgiach receiving the tank truck at the dairy must reject the shipment if the truck arrives without a seal. Transport trucks must always either be sealed or be physically accompanied by the mashgiach.

Our farm mashgichim complete a detailed Supervision Report for each chalav Yisrael production. This report is forwarded to our central office, so that we maintain a permanent record of all OK-supervised chalav Yisrael productions. Consumers can enjoy OK chalav Yisrael products with the assurance that these have been made under the strictest guidelines.

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