Rav Moshe zt”l’s Heter of Cholov Stam Revisited

Halacha states that milk which is produced without hashgacha (r’iyah of a Yisroel) is non-kosher; such milk is termed “cholov akum”. This rule is a gezeirah, lest milk from non-kosher animals be mixed into what otherwise could be assumed to be kosher milk. Milk is only permissible when a Yisroel watches the milking, verifying that milk from non-kosher animal species is not incorporated. (Yoreh Deah 115:1, from Maseches Avodah Zarah daf 35b)

In his famous teshuva about regular (not specially-supervised) milk – what we call “cholov stam”, Reb Moshe Feinstein zt“l rules that such milk is permissible, as governmental inspection of dairies serves as verification that milk from non-kosher animals is not present; since governmental inspection establishes the absence of milk from non-kosher animals as a known fact, the rule of Annan Sahadei – that we are all virtual witnesses to the fact – pertains, and it is as if there is actual visual supervision (by Klal Yisroel) of the milk in domestic dairies. (Igros Moshe YD 1:47)

In teshuva 49 (ibid.), Reb Moshe addresses the question of farms. Although there is governmental inspection of dairy plants, where milk is pasteurized and bottled, much of the milk comes from farms, which Reb Moshe describes as often lacking supervision. If so, how could the rule of Annan Sahadei apply to permit milk? Is there not a lapse in supervision, such that the milk was lacking any governmental supervision from the time it was farmed until it arrived at the dairy plant?

Reb Moshe replied to the person who posed this question that Chazal were gozair on milk only at the point of its transfer to a Yisroel (“bo l’yad Yisroel”). Therefore, only milk which comes to the Jewish consumer from dairy processors can be prohibited as cholov akum; milk which is at farms and travels to dairy plants is not yet subject to the gezeirah. Once this milk is at the dairy plants, it is subject to governmental inspection and becomes the halachic equivalent of cholov Yisroel, as Annan Sahadei applies at that point and tells us to treat the milk as supervised by Yisroelim.

An obvious problem arises in modern times, as governmental inspections of dairies – at least today – does not include tests to determine the animal species from which the milk came. (See section of FDA Milk Plant Inspection Form on page.) Government inspectors test milk for bacteria count and the presence of antibiotics, but they do not verify by tests or otherwise which species of animal produced the milk. Such determination can be made by testing fat or casein ratios of milk samples, but the government does not do this. Whereas in former times (and still today at a handful of dairy plants), it was common for dairies to have on-site farms, and government inspectors would thereby physically see the animals present, such is no longer the case. In light of the current situation, that government inspectors do not in any way test milk to determine the source animals, nor do the inspectors see the milking animals, their inspections would appear to be of no use to create a situation of Annan Sahadei! If so, on what do we base our heter of cholov stam in contemporary times?

Rabbi Eli Gersten, based on diyukim in Igros Moshe (ibid. teshuva 49 and YD 3:17), understood and convincingly demonstrated that Reb Moshe held that since Chazal were gozair only upon the final point of possession of milk prior to its transfer to a Yisroel, the lack of meaningful verification at dairy plants is immaterial; so long as government inspectors visit the dairies and see that nothing is being added to the milk (and see no non-kosher species on-site!), the milk is permitted.

I arranged a conference call with Rav Belsky and Reb Zev Osdoba, RFR at Ahava Dairies, who has worked very extensively with state and federal inspectors over the course of many years, and who provided me with reams of documentation on the details of government inspection programs and requirements. Reb Zev revealed the following information (which I later corroborated independently by reviewing state and federal government websites and speaking with dairy companies):

  • Currently, the government inspects all milk farms 2-6 times per year.
  • Governmental (state) farm inspection protocol specifically includes a provision that only cows are in the farms’ milking parlors and/or cowyard. This provision (formulated in terms of swine) is part of the standard farm inspection form. (See sections of Dairy Farm Inspection Forms below.)
  • Government inspectors track the intake and output of all milk at dairies. Thus, the source farms are identified by the inspectors, and they must correlate with farms approved by the government.

Reb Zev also related that state farm inspectors told him that they have never encountered horses, pigs or other livestock (besides cows) on dairy farms, and that were they to do so, they would immediately report it as part of their responsibilities.

In light of this current state of affairs, such that the farms are indeed uniformly inspected for non-kosher animals, and the dairy plants’ inspectors work with the farm inspectors’ data, Rav Belsky ruled that the heter of cholov stam applies for those who wish to rely on it, albeit based principally on farm inspections rather than on dairy inspections. The correlation of data between the farm and dairy inspections extends the farm inspections’ efficacy to the dairies, from which point the milk is “bo l’yad Yisroel” and retains its permissibility.

It should be noted that the above, newly-formulated position on cholov stam is actually the total reverse of Reb Moshe’s heter: Reb Moshe was mattir cholov stam based on dairy plants being inspected by the government, and government inspection of farms was a non-issue due to the concept of “bo l’yad Yisroel”. Now, in contradistinction, government inspection of farms plays the central role, and dairy plant inspection is no longer central for the heter. It is also important to note that the new position does not rely on “bo l’yad Yisroel” and may appeal to those who were not comfortable using this rationale in this case.

As evidenced by the above p’sak and research, the OU continues to pave the way in kashrus technical data and to service those in Klal Yisroel who wish to rely on Rav Moshe’s heter concerning cholov stam.

OU Kosher Staff