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Chalav Yisrael Today

by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

Originaly published by Daf Hakashrus. Reprinted with permission of the Author.

Which is these statements is correct?

The Halacha about chalav Yisrael milk doesn’t apply in America, since the government makes sure that all milk is kosher.”

Government inspections are not done reliably, and one therefore needs to only drink chalav Yisrael.”

Answer: Neither is correct. The Halacha of chalav Yisrael applies in all places and times, but this Halacha might be fulfilled by having government inspectors rather than rabbis doing the supervision. And government inspections are indeed very thorough, but according to some poskim, these inspections are not what the Halacha requires.

The Basics

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 35b) states that milk from non-Jews is only kosher when a Jew supervises the milking. This is a rabbinical decree that safeguards otherwise kosher milk from the admixture of milk from non-kosher animal species. This Halacha – that in order to be kosher, milk requires on-site Jewish supervision, is undisputed and is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 115:1).

Although the P’ri Chadash, a great 17th century posek, ruled that this Halacha of chalav Yisrael only pertains when there is room for concern that non-kosher milk is present (P’ri To’ar 115:2), most poskim rule otherwise, adopting the position of the Chasam Sofer (Teshuvos Chasam Sofer – Yoreh Deah 107) that the prohibition of chalav akum – gentile milk – applies regardless of circumstances; it is a davar she-b’minyan, a Halacha that must always be fulfilled.

Government Supervision of Milk

Reb Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe – Yoreh Deah I: 47-49) ruled like the Chasam Sofer, and Reb Moshe held that government supervision of dairy processors fulfills the halachic requirements for milk supervision. Even though the Halacha requires Jewish supervisors for milking, the Talmudic axiom of Anan Sahadei, which means that one can “virtually” witness an event without physically witnessing it, comes into play here, explained Reb Moshe. It is a known fact that the government supervises all commercial dairy processors, and it is also true that the supervision provided by the government is adequate, for violation of dairy regulations will assuredly destroy a company’s business reputation; this knowledge on the part of every Jew is the equivalent of every halachic witnessing the milking. The fact that we all know that the milk is supervised properly without concern makes it as if we are witnesses to it all, explained Reb Moshe – this “virtual” halachic witnessing of milking by all Jews makes the milk Jewish-supervised, as Halacha requires. This is the position of Reb Moshe.

Other poskim disagree and maintain that Halacha requires physical, on-site Jewish supervisors. Even if knowledge is tantamount to virtual witnessing, Chazal (the Sages of the Talmud) required physical presence of mashgichim for milking, and government supervisors do not fulfill this inviolable halachic requirement. This is the position of those who require chalav Yisrael milk.

How is chalav Yisrael milk supervised?

There are two types of chalav Yisrael farms. One is a farm that is in full-time dedicated chalav Yisrael service. Such a farm has a team of mashgichim who live on the farm or very adjacent to it, and they supervise every single milking year-round. The second type of farm is normally not in full-time chalav Yisrael service, but it provides chalav Yisrael milk on a per-need basis. When there is an order for chalav Yisrael milk, the kahsrus agency will send mashgichim to supervise milking until the necessary volume of milk has been produced.

Halacha (Yoreh Deah 115:1) requires that the mashgiach be at the milking from the start, in order that he can first inspect all milking and holding equipment and verify that it contains no residual chalav akum/non-supervised milk. The mashgiach need not be watch every second of the milking, once it commences; he has to be there on a yoztei v’nichnas (in-and-out) basis (Yoreh Deah ibid. – Shach s. 4). Practically, since dairy farms are so remote from Jewish communities and from most everything else, once a mashgiach is at the farm, he can’t really go anywhere else, and he is basically stationed there for the duration of the milking.

Milk Collection and Shipment

After each chalav Yisrael milking session is completed, with all of the milk being collected in holding tanks on the farm, the mashgiach will affix a special seal (usually bearing his signature and/or the symbol of the kosher agency) to the holding tank, so that the chalav Yisrael integrity of the contents is assured. Then, once the chalav Yisrael company is ready to use the milk (typically as soon as the holding tank is full), the mashgiach will remove his seal from the tank, and the milk will be loaded into a tanker truck that will transport the milk to a processing plant. Before the tanker truck receives the milk, the mashgiach will inspect it to assure that it is fully clean and has no leftover milk from elsewhere remaining in its holds. The mashgiach will then affix seals to the tanker truck’s holds, exactly like the seal that was used for the farm’s holding tank.


Before the tanker truck arrives at the dairy processing plant, a mashgiach at the plant will supervise kashering of the plant (as virtually all plants that manufacture chalav Yisrael products are in year-round chalav stam/non-chalav Yisrael service, and kashering is therefore needed for chalav Yisrael production). After the plant has been kashered, the tanker truck bearing the chalav Yisrael milk from the farm will arrive, at which point the dairy plant mashgiach will ascend the tanker, inspect its kosher seals, to make sure that they are intact and are legitimate, and will allow the chalav Yisael milk to be unloaded. The milk will be pasteurized, homogenized, and either bottled, or used for chalav Yisrael butter, ice cream or cheese, as the case may be.


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