“There is no purpose in drinking cholov yisroel today, as the government inspects the dairies and makes sure that all the milk is kosher.” “Isn’t all milk with a hechsher considered cholov yisroel?”
The topic of cholov yisroel is fraught with confusion and misunderstanding.
Let’s try to clarify and demystify things.
The halacha Chazal decreed that milk is only permitted when the actual milking was supervised by an on-site Yisroel, serving as the mashgiach. (Avodah Zarah 35b, Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 115:1) This gezeirah is due to the concern that milk from non-kosher animal species may be mixed into the otherwise kosher milk. In modern times, many people and communities follow the ruling of R. Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe YD 1:47-49) that since the government inspects dairies and makes sure that milk from non-kosher species is not present in the milk supply, our knowledge of this fact is the halachic equivalent of a mashgiach witnessing it (based on the halachic axiom of anan sahadei – that firm knowledge of something is equal to witnessing it). According to R. Moshe, all milk in countries with adequate dairy regulations benefits from “virtual supervision”, as Klal Yisroel’s knowledge that the milk is under tight government control which keeps out milk from non-kosher species is halachically equal to us witnessing the milking and handling of the milk; all domestic commercial milk therefore satisfies the halachic requirement that a Yisroel supervise it. Such milk is commonly referred to as cholov stam.
However, not all poskim concur with R. Moshe’s approach. Some poskim rule that the presence of a live, on-site Yisroel as the mashgiach is indispensable, and that milk which lacks this supervision is non-kosher (cholov akum). My recent article in Mesorah, oukosher.org/content/uploads/2012/12/Mesorah_27.pdf, presents differing opinions among Rishonim about the kashrus of milk that is supervised in the absence of a live, on-site mashgiach. Those opinions in the article that rule strictly assumedly would not permit cholov stam.
Regular OU-D milk is cholov stam, as it is not supervised in accordance with cholov yisroel regulations. Standard OU-certified milk processing plants are visited by OU supervisors on a spot-check basis to assure that all ingredients (such as vitamins, flavors and any incoming bulk liquids) are kosher and that the equipment is kosher.
How is cholov yisroel supervision conducted?
In order to understand what cholov yisroel supervision entails, we need to first briefly discuss cholov yisroel farms. There are two types of cholov yisroel farms, each with its own protocol:
Part-time cholov yisroel farms:
These are farms that do not normally have onsite supervision for cholov yisroel; their regular milk is cholov stam. However, every so often, a cholov yisroel production is scheduled. This involves a team of mashgichim coming to the farm for a special production of cholov yisroel over the course of a day to many weeks straight. The mashgichim kasher all equipment that had
hot contact with cholov stam, as well as all milk holding tanks and silos that held cholov stam for 24 hours or more straight (the axiom of kovush), and the mashgichim remain at the farm for the duration of the cholov yisroel production.
Full-time cholov yisroel farms:
These farms are cholov yisroel year-round. Mashgichim live at these farms, or within a few blocks of them, as supervision is needed 24/7/365, with a mashgiach present for every single milking throughout the year. Any hot-use equipment and milk holding tanks and silos on these farms was kashered prior to starting cholov yisroel service, and the equipment retains cholov yisroel status thereafter.
It must be noted that cholov yisroel mashgichim, as well as almost all other mashgichim who work at facilities that require 24/7/365 kosher supervision, live with unimaginable mesiras nefesh. Most cholov yisroel farms and hashgocho temidis food plants are located in extremely far-flung areas, remote from Jewish communities and often from “civilization” in general. These mashgichim sacrifice the most basic of needs and comforts, as they live and work in isolation in order to provide their brethren with superior kosher food l’mehadrin.
What exactly do cholov yisroel mashgichim supervise?
The short answer is that the mashgichim supervise every milking session in order to verify that only cows are used (or goat or sheep, in the case of goat and sheep farms). The mashgichim also assure that no unsupervised milk is brought in and incorporated into the farm’s cholov yisroel milk. Although this may sound straightforward, there are many critical details, all of which are addressed in the primary halachic sources.
Halacha requires the mashgiach to be present for techilas ha-chalivah, the commencement of the milking session, in order to examine the milking equipment and assure that it contains no residue of other milk. The mashgiach must then be pres-ent at least on a yotzei v’nichnas (spot-checking) basis during each milking session. (Remo in Yoreh Deah ibid., Shach s.k. 4) The mashgiach also has to be present for the completion of each milking session (sof ha-chalivah), in order to affix his spe –
cial kashrus seals to the holding tank or silo where all of the milk just collected is stored, thereby assuring that no unsupervised milk is incorporated into the cholov yisroel.
Rav Chaim Yisroel Belsky told me that Rav Shimon Schwab established the cholov yisroel supervision at farms that provided milk for cheeses under the hashgocho of K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ – “Breuer’s”) as follows: a) The mashgiach would be present at techilas ha-chalivah; b) the mashgiach would make at least one unannounced visit in the middle of each chalivah; c) the mashgiach would be present for sof ha-chalivah. This fulfills the halachic mandate for cholov yisroel supervision without question.
The truth is that since cholov yisroel farms are almost always located so remotely far from Jewish communities and from other places of interest, once the mashgiach is at the farm, it is not really possible to go elsewhere, even if the farm is a part-time cholov yisroel facility and the mashgiach does not live there year-round. Thus, the mashgiach is normally present anyway for the entire chalivah. Furthermore, it is clear as day to anyone who visits a commercial dairy farm that the only animals on-site are cows (or sheep/goat), and the Halacha is that if a farm has no non-kosher animals, the mashgiach need not witness the actual milking, as even if he is stationed outside of the milking parlor (the room where milking occurs) and verifies that no non-kosher animals enter, the milk is kosher/cholov yisroel. (Avodah Zarah 39b, Shulchan Aruch ibid.) Nonetheless, common protocol of the kashrus agencies which certify cholov yisroel is for the mashgiach to physically be present in the milking parlor for chalivah.