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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
Q. My family doesn’t limit themselves to chalav Yisroel. Is there any reason I should start doing that?
A. The Mishnah says that Chazal decreed that milk should only be consumed if a Jew watched it being milked from the cow (or some other kosher animal), and all agree to this. However, when we probe into the reason for the prohibition, it turns out that there are two justifications to possibly be lenient in certain circumstances.
The reason Chazal insisted on a Jew watching the milking was to ensure that milk from non-kosher animals was not added into the kosher milk. Pri Chadash says that this takanah only applies in situations where there would be some incentive for the non-Jew to do this and a realistic possibility that he could. But if non-kosher milk costs more than cow’s milk, or there are no non-kosher animals on the farm that can provide milk, Chazal would never have insisted that the Jew watch the milking. Chazon Ish accepts this opinion, and, therefore, rules that in certain countries one can drink milk which was not “chalav Yisroel”. The United States is a good example of this, because there is no simple way for a farmer to obtain non-kosher milk (and milking machines are not even suited for animals other than cows), and if he did it would be much more expensive than cow’s milk.
Rav Moshe Feinstein gave a separate reason to be lenient, even according to Chasam Sofer who disagrees with Pri Chadash. When Chazal said a Jew must “watch”, they were insisting on a given level of proof, and in other parts of halacha we find that there is a stronger level of proof known as “anan sahadi”. That means that something is so clear that it is as if all of us are witnesses to the issue under discussion. Rav Moshe says that the American government oversight on the milk industry coupled with the fear a producer would lose his business if he mixed anything into the milk supply, are enough to create an anan sahadi that the bottle is filled with cow’s milk, and one can, therefore, drink it even if a Jew didn’t watch the milking.
While both are legitimate positions – and are followed by many fine Jews who are careful about mitzvah observance – they are, nonetheless, novel interpretations on a halacha which is quite clear about what it takes to permit milk: a Jew watching the milking. [There are also some Poskim who disagree with these positions.] Therefore, for example, Rav Moshe, himself, writes multiple times that people should preferably choose traditional chalav Yisroel rather than rely on his line of reasoning. That is the most basic reason a person would choose to drink only chalav Yisroel, even if their family custom was not to do so.
There are also some secondary advantages of choosing chalav Yisroel.  There are certain surgeries done to cows which potentially cause the cow to become a teraifah (i.e., not kosher). The Mashgiach for chalav Yisroel will make sure those cows are not used for milking, but that is not done for non-chalav Yisroel milk. [Why that is permitted for non-chalav Yisroel is beyond the scope of this discussion.]  There is some ambiguity about which countries the leniencies noted above apply in, and some hashgachos have taken lenient positions that others do not agree with. Consumers purchasing chalav Yisroel do not have to worry about this issue.  Those who produce chalav Yisroel tend to take a strict stand about certain halachic issues – such as temperature required for kashering, and the level of oversight needed for gevinas Yisroel – which others might not be careful about.
This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, September 1, 2023.