When Is Chalav Akum Allowed?
‘When Milked By A Gentile…’
(Avodah Zarah 39b)
The Gemara explains that Chazal forbade milk milked by a gentile without supervision (chalav akum) since they feared that the gentile might have mixed in milk from a non-kosher animal.
Is Chalav Akum Always Forbidden?
Clarification must be made as to whether Chazal’s decree pertains to all milk milked by a gentile or only when there’s reason to suspect he might have mixed in non-kosher milk. This question is relevant when considering milk milked by a gentile whose herd only contains kosher animals. Rishonim and poskim (see Radbaz 4:1147 and Responsa Chasam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah 107) differ on this question.
According to the Chasam Sofer, Chazal imposed their decree even if there isn’t a single non-kosher animal in the region. The Chazon Ish, however, asserts that milk from an area with no non-kosher animals is regarded as having been milked in a Jew’s presence as it is obvious that no milk from a non-kosher animal was mixed in (see Chazon Ish, Y.D. 41:4). The Chasam Sofer resided in Europe, where non-kosher animals, are common while the Chazon Ish lived in Eretz Yisrael, where non-kosher animals are rare.
Chalav Akum Milk Powder During Wartime
According to the lenient opinion, there is no prohibition to consume chalav akum as long as there is no suspicion that non-kosher milk was mixed in. Nowadays, the government controls milk marketing and imposes heavy fines on anyone mixing cow’s milk with non-cow’s milk. Anyone defying its regulations risks fines and the loss of his marketing and health licenses. In light of the above, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:47) ruled that Chazal’s decree does not apply to milk in America (although he said he personally did not drink regular milk and said a conscientious person should behave strictly [see the article by Rabbi Y. Efrati in Binesiv HeChalav]).
In a related vein, the Steipler Gaon attested that his brother-in-law, the Chazon Ish, permitted milk powder made from chalav akum during wartime, when milk was scarce, but only for weak yeshiva students (Karyana D’igarta II, letter 123).
In practice, the Orthodox communities of Europe and Eretz Yisrael behave strictly while some in the United States tend to be lenient, relying on Rabbi Feinstein. The OU, Kof K, and other major kashrus agencies that supervise the production of milk in the U.S. and Canada rely on this leniency and refer to government-regulated milk as chalav stam.
In Eretz Yisrael, most farms are owned by Jews, but the milking is done by foreign gentile workers. The workers are not afraid of government fines since these fines are imposed on owners, not workers. Nonetheless, if the milking is performed on the Jew’s premises, gentiles are reluctant to mix in non-kosher milk since they are afraid that the Jew, who is G-d-fearing and scrupulous, might catch them in the act.
How Much Fear?
Unfortunately, though, not all farmers in Eretz Yisrael are tzaddikim. Many do not fear Hashem in the manner that they should, although they do fear the government. Is their milk – if milked by a non-Jew – okay to drink?
According to Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, the milk may be drunk if a mashgiach visits the site from time to time without prior notice. He does not have to be present during the whole milking process. Fear of the mashgiach, plus all the other fears involved, are sufficient.
Another reason why we need not fear that non-kosher milk was mixed in is the higher cost nowadays of non-kosher milk. A person, therefore, has no monetary incentive to mix in non-kosher milk. In fact, he has a monetary incentive not to (Binesiv HaChalav, p. 40).
Contemporary poskim assert that if Jews are the ones doing the milking, there should be supervision once a month, and if gentiles are the ones doing the milking, there should be supervision five times a month (ibid., p. 105).