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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
Q. I eat chalav stam, so since cheese is just made from milk, I can eat any cheese even if it has no hechsher. Right?
A. Not so fast.
Milk doesn’t become cheese all by itself, it needs something called rennet to make that happen. [There are some soft cheeses where this is not the case, but that’s for a different day’s discussion.] The traditional way to obtain rennet is from the keivah (fourth stomach) of a cow, and while that sounds like it would make the cheese not kosher – it’s milk and meat mixed together – it’s not a problem if done in a very specific way. Chazal were concerned that cheese would be made with rennet from a neveilah (animal which did not have shechitah) and, therefore, they forbade all cheese made by non-Jews. This is called Gevinas akum.
The issur of Gevinas akum is stricter than chalav akum, and, therefore, even if your practice is to eat chalav stam, you cannot eat cheese unless it is Gevinas Yisroel. So, kosher cheese can be chalav stam and Gevinas Yisroel at the same time.
What does it take to create Gevinas Yisroel? The Rema says that a Jew has to be present when the cheese is made to be sure they didn’t use rennet from a neveilah. The Shach argues that this is not good enough, and you need one of two things: either the Jew must own the milk (or cheese or rennet), or he has to participate in making the cheese by throwing the rennet into the vat of milk.
Most Poskim accept Rema, and some chalav stam cheese is made that way, with a Mashgiach present during the cheesemaking to watch which rennet they use. But some chalav stam and all chalav Yisroel cheese – at least in the United States – is made in a way that satisfies the Shach’s opinion also. Meaning, the Mashgiach is present (as per Rema) and also puts in the rennet (as per Shach).
This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, April 21, 2023.