Milk and dairy products are increasingly available with cholov Yisroel certification. This article will explain what cholov Yisroel means and how facilities operate in order to produce cholov Yisroel. Let’s take a look.
In order to prevent the mixture of milk from non-kosher animals into kosher milk (i.e. cow milk or milk from other kosher species), Chazal prohibited us to consume “milk which was milked by a gentile without a Jew supervising” (Gemara Avodah Zarah 35b; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 115:1). Even if a gentile farmer has no non-kosher species of animals present when he milks his cows, his milk is nevertheless prohibited by this gezeirah (rabbinic prohibition) unless there is Jewish supervision to assure that milk from non-kosher animals was not mixed in (Shulchan Aruch ibid.).
Chazal enacted the ban on unsupervised milk even when standard milk is normally kosher. On a D’oraita (Biblical) level, if the majority of milk available in a given market is derived from kosher animals, one would be permitted to purchase that milk without further concern, based on the principle of “rov” (one can rely that a product has the status of the majority). Notwithstanding the principal of Rov, unsupervised milk was subject to the aforementioned rabbinic prohibition. Thus, unless it can be fully verified that milk is from kosher species, it is prohibited without Jewish supervision. (Chachmat Adam 67:1) Like all prohibited foods, unsupervised milk renders keilim (food vessels) non-kosher when cooked in them, etc. (Shach YD 115 s.k. 17).
Today, we commonly refer to milk under Jewish supervision as “cholov Yisroel” (“Jewish milk”), whereas milk lacking Jewish supervision is called “cholov Akum” (“gentile milk”) or “cholov stam” (“regular milk”). More on this in the text box.
Basic Cholov Yisroel Requirements
Halacha stipulates that if a milk farm is Jewish-owned, there is no need for special supervision, even if a gentile does the milking, so long as there are no non-kosher animals on site and there is no gentile house interceding between the milking area and the Jewish residence (or office, in modern times). (Shulchan Aruch, Rama ibid.)
When a farm that has non-kosher species provides milk for Jewish consumption, there needs to be an on-site mashgiach who is able to watch the milking at all times (although he can be yotzei v’nichnas, sporadically entering and leaving, and is not required to actually watch the milking throughout). A farm that has only kosher animals needs a mashgiach outside its entrance to prevent non-kosher milk or animals from entering. Here also, the mashgiach need not be there at all times; yotzei v’nichnas supervision suffices. In all cases, the mashgiach must be present before the milking commences in order to check the milking equipment to ascertain that it has been cleansed of any residual unsupervised milk. (Remo ibid. and Shach s.k. 8) Additionally, nearly all Poskim require the mashgiach to be present to observe the beginning of the actual milking, even if there are no non-kosher animals at the farm. (Remo ibid., Shach ibid. s.k. 5-6, Taz ibid. s.k. 4, Chachmat Adam 67:1, Aruch HaShulchan 115:7)
The Shach (ibid.) explains that our reliance on yotzei v’nichnas supervision is based on the halachic principle of mirtat, which means that the farmer is afraid to adulterate kosher milk with non-kosher milk out of fear of being caught in the act by the mashgiach. Thus, spontaneous in-and-out supervision suffices.
How is Cholov Yisroel Supervision Conducted?
In earlier years (as well as in present far-flung locales with few Jews), a Jew would go to a non-Jewish farm, inspect the milking pails for cleanliness (or bring his own pails), supervise the milking of one or two cows, and then transport the milk back home. In modern America and many parts of Western Europe, where large Jewish populations rely on having a constant supply of cholov Yisroel available, and farms often have hundreds or many thousands of cows, things are very different.
There are two formats for contemporary cholov Yisroel farming: Farms which are exclusively cholov Yisroel, and those which do special cholov Yisroel productions only upon request.
Exclusively cholov Yisroel farms have full-time mashgichim who literally live at the farms. (The lives of these mashgichim are very difficult, as they are isolated from regular Jewish communities.) In order to assure that mashgichim are present or available for every single milking session, which are often ‘round-the-clock, each of these facilities has a team of two or more mashgichim, so that there is always someone on call. During milking, the mashgichim are free to move about the farm and leave for short breaks, but they are typically stationed in or at the entrance to the “milking parlor” – the room where the milking occurs. Some kashrus agencies insist that their mashgichim insert cards into punch-clocks at the milking parlor every so often in order to guarantee that they will be present at the parlor on a very frequent basis during milking.
Non-cholov Yisroel farms which schedule special cholov Yisroel productions dedicate specific days for cholov Yisroel production with a kashrus agency, upon which a mashgiach will arrive at the farm for a specified period, first inspecting the facility to assure cleanliness of equipment from unsupervised milk, and then remaining present or popping in and out throughout the day while the milking occurs.
In general, Poskim have ruled that yotzei v’nichnas supervision requires the mashgiach be present at the beginning of the milking, come in unannounced at least once in the middle, and come back at the conclusion of the milking. This applies to each milking session, typically lasting eight hours or so. Some kashrus agencies may require more frequent visitation. Farms which are exclusively cholov Yisroel may have more constant mashgiach presence due to the need to have full-time, year-round hashgacha, although – in theory – the mashgichim need not be on-site the entire time.
Modern and advanced technology has afforded cholov Yisroel supervision some innovative benefits. Rather than having mashgichim on-site, many farms outside of the US utilize full-time video screening, in which video cameras are installed in the milking parlors from all angles so that someone at the office of the kashrus agency involved can see exactly what is happening at any given instant. Poskim widely concur that this is an acceptable method of supervision.
Some milk farms in Europe are referred to as “robotic farms”. In these facilities, each cow has a computer-chip tag attached to it, which identifies the cow. When the cow goes to its feeding trough, the tag is read by a computer, and electronic, mobile suction cups programmed to fit to the specific cow’s udders automatically rise to attach themselves to the cow and extract milk. This process is fully-robotic; the only human involvement is to collect milk from the tank where it flows upon milking and to do routine maintenance once or twice per day. This system milks cows for twelve hours straight, unlike the typical eight-hour milking at manual farms. Some have suggested that far less kashrus supervision is needed at robotic farms, as the computerized system will not milk anything other than the cow specified in its data, thus assuring that non-kosher animals are kept out. However, one prominent Posek has argued that the closed-system features of robotic farms do not address the possibility of adulteration of milk elsewhere in the facilities. Nonetheless, the potential technological benefits of robotic farming for cholov Yisroel supervision warrant further investigation.
Additional Hashgacha Requirements
Aside from being present at milking, cholov Yisroel mashgichim perform many tasks which are necessary to assure the kosher integrity of the milk. In farms that are not exclusively cholov Yisroel, mashgichim must first inspect the equipment, which involves removing the seals that secure the milk tank and visually checking that there is no unsupervised milk present from before the cholov Yisroel production.
When the milking is over, the mashgichim must lock and seal the milk tank with special hashgacha locks and/or seals. Once the milk is ready to be transported to a dairy for further processing, the mashgichim (even at exclusively cholov Yisroel farms) need to verify that the truck used is kosher (i.e. that its holding areas are clean and have been kashered, if the truck is also used for unsupervised milk or other non-kosher materials). They then need to seal all of the truck’s openings where milk is pumped in, so that the truck cannot later load up more milk from unknown sources after it has left the farm, and they must subsequently inform the mashgichim at the dairy to where the milk is shipped of the exact seal numbers and other identifying markings, so that the mashgichim at the receiving dairy can be sure that the truck’s loading areas have not been opened since it departed from the farm.
It is imperative that the mashgichim at the farm and dairy maintain logs to record all seals used and received. All quantities of milk shipped and received must also be logged and cross-checked by the mashgichim as a further safeguard.
Milk cows need to be milked every day. How do mashgichim supervise milking on Shabbos? How can seals be affixed and recorded?
In cases of special cholov Yisroel productions at normally-unsupervised farms, mashgichim typically schedule productions for weekdays. Full-time cholov Yisroel farms pose problems, though, as the cows need to be milked under supervision every day – including Shabbos – when the mashgichim cannot seal trucks, record seal numbers, etc. In these cases, the mashgichim are present to supervise Shabbos milking, and they issue seals to the gentile workers before Shabbos, recording the seal numbers and identifiers in advance. Then, on Motzei Shabbos, the farm mashgichim contact the mashgichim at the dairy to inform them of the seal numbers and identifiers. Furthermore, it is necessary to make sure that the milk and trucks are gentile-owned or to take other steps to prevent chillul Shabbos (such as Jewish-owned trucks transporting milk on Shabbos) by the cholov Yisroel company.
At the Dairy Plant: How is the Milk Handled and Processed After it Leaves the Farms?
The vast majority of dairy processing facilities (milk bottling plants, butter, ice cream and cheese factories, etc.) which manufacture cholov Yisroel products are not dedicated to cholov Yisroel production most of the time. As with many farms, these facilities schedule special cholov Yisroel productions with kashrus agencies, in which mashgichim come to the plant before a cholov Yisroel campaign, kasher the equipment from unsupervised milk (or otherwise non-kosher) use, and supervise the cholov Yisroel production as necessary, checking cholov Yisroel truck seal numbers and all other necessary data to assure that the milk received is truly cholov Yisroel.
Cholov Yisroel products are commonly more costly than products made with unsupervised milk. When one thinks of the effort and expense in cholov Yisroel production, he can begin to understand all of what went into the seemingly simple product he often so mindlessly purchases and enjoys.