Supervised Milk vs Government Regulated Milk

Firstly a disclaimer: In our house you will only find Milk that was formally supervised, that is, in Melbourne the Milk from Tempo supervised by the Hungarian Charedi community. This is commonly known as Chalav Yisrael. The same is true of cheese we buy and eat.

It is common among the “frum world” to call standard milk that one buys from a supermarket (assuming it’s kosher of course, because sometimes they now have strange health additives) as “Chalav Akum“. Now, there is nobody who permits Chalav Akum. It is forbidden according to Shulchan Aruch without any question.

But, it grates on me, that people call the milk one buys in, say, Australia or the USA as Chalav Akum. It is NOT Chalav Akum. This milk falls into its own category. R’ Moshe Feinstein called it “Chalav HaCompanies” and permitted it expressly in many of his Responsa. He never changed his mind, however, he said that in Yeshivas that could afford  Jewish supervision of milk, or for someone who considers themselves  a “Baal Nefesh” (which is difficult to translate, but let’s just say it’s someone who is wary of any/most lenient opinions across the gamut of Judaism—perhaps this is the level of “Tzadik” described in the Sefer HaTanya?) they should take on the stringency of Jewish supervision.

Rabbi Dr Tendler, R’ Moshe’s son-in-law, testifies there was standard milk in R’ Moshe’s house. If R’ Moshe was strict, he extended it only to himself. The Rav agreed with R’ Moshe.

The term Baal Nefesh wasn’t defined by Reb Moshe, of course. It appears earlier in many Seforim. Sometimes they use Medakdekim, but I don’t know if that’s exactly the same thing. Perhaps it is.  I haven’t merited seeing a definition. There are people who I consider to be a Baal Nefesh, but I think the real Baal Nefesh would never call themselves that 🙂

HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank זצ’’ל, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and Dayan of the Eda Charedis

Now, what grates on me is the issue of powdered milk. Why so? There are some (e.g. the Har Tzvi, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank) who contend that the decree to need milk to be supervised never applied to milk powder. If one looks carefully on Hashgacha in Israel one often sees that they make mention that the milk (usually from overseas) is from milk powder, because they know that some agree with Rav Frank.

What some Charedim do, however, is mislead. They mention that powdered milk is the same as milk, and quote the Chazon Ish. Yes, the Chazon Ish was the première Posek of Bnei Brak and his word is most important in the Torah world. As such, Charedim will not accept the powdered milk permission of Rav Frank, (even though he was no lightweight in anyone’s eyes and a staunch opponent of Hungarian Charedim). I don’t have a problem with anyone following the Chazon Ish, of course. Why should I? He was the Posek of B’nei Brak and his influence extended beyond.

So what is this blog post about? Well it’s about what they do not tell you about the Chazon Ish.

Everyone assumes that the permission to use Government regulation for Milk was initiated as a “lenient” opinion by R’ Moshe Feinstein זצ’’ל. (R’ Moshe was disgustingly ridiculed by Satmar, as is well-known, and one of their ilk wrote a repulsive book called Ma׳aneh L’igros, which might have been taken seriously if the author had even a modicum of Derech Eretz. The book was thrown in the gutter because of its disgraceful lack of respect to R’ Moshe and withdrawn from print.

The FACT however is that no less a figure than the Chazon Ish himself, before R’ Moshe, allowed Government regulation of Milk and he, yes, the same Chazon Ish expressly permitted it to satisfy the rules of Chalav Yisrael!

Some biased ones will tell to sell you all sorts of tall tales about this. The facts are that the Chazon Ish mentioned his decision/psak to Rav Wosner ז’ל on two occasions, and published it openly in his Seforim, and his Psak was also affirmed by the Steipler Gaon (the Chazon Ish’s brother-in-law). Some will do everything to make one think that the Chazon Ish didn’t mean it; that it was not L’Maaseh (for practical effect); it was just a Sevorah (theory) etc. However, those that say this are just plain revisionists for their own populist purposes. I thank RDS for an excellent article on this topic. If “the Baalei Nefesh” want to forbid it, fine. To claim that this was also the view of the Chazon Ish, though, is just pure fiction.

So, in future, if you are one of those who drinks Government regulated milk, you really should mention that it was permitted by the Chazon Ish. Saying it was permitted by R’ Moshe Feinstein can make it sound like a “lenient opinion” but if you say it was the Chazon Ish, then you are telling the truth and standing on the shoulders of a Charedi giant. Of course, R’ Moshe was a giant, but not for Charedim in Israel who considered his opinions too permissive.

I recently discussed this with the OU, and they affirmed that they agreed 100% with my sentiments.

One more disclaimer: the milk really needs to be from a civilised government where corruption and alternative milk substitution is not rife. If you are travelling, you need to be very careful because in some countries, there really is no issue of respect/fear of Government regulation if it exists at all. If it doesn’t exist, there is no permission to use the Milk according to anyone, unless they don’t have Treyf animals in that country! As a tangential example, we all know many Hindus are strict vegetarians or even vegans. Yet, for years, McDonalds in India sold their advertised pure veggie food, using animal oil from cows which many Hindus consider a sacred animal! The outcry in India was enormous. I was there at the time. (Personally, I only ate what was in my suitcase)

Someone got angry with products that have a Halal symbol

I was sent this for comment (I’ve deleted most of the bits which aren’t relevant and may be legally problematic)

A Halal certification stamp?!?! Seriously???…  It’s bad enough that sometimes I am eating an Australian owned product and I see the Halal symbol, and believe me I try very hard to avoid this ….


Most people would be concerned about the price of Kosher and Chalav Yisrael goods. Those for whom it is an issue (the price differential), with respect to the latter they may choose to rely on the Chazon Ish, R’ Moshe Feinstein, and the Pri Chadash and more to drink today’s Chalav Stam in a civilised country. An answer to prices is often competition.

On the issue of Halal, I have to say it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’d like to think that if it increases sales in any way, then this will be reflected in a reduction in price for those who cannot rely (for whatever reason) on those who think there is nothing wrong with Chalav Stam in Australia and elsewhere. They certainly have who to rely on. Those with a Kabbalistic bent have other considerations.

Shiurim for a K’Zayis

At Shule on Friday night, I read most of the pamphlet put out by Rav Moshe Donenbaum, a Talmid Chacham of note. At the back of the pamphlet there are a series of charts which are meant to simplify the determination of how much Matzah one should consume: related to the size of a Zayis—olive. Expectedly, and it is his right, Rav Donenbaum focusses on the Shiur of the Chazon Ish (the largest) and notes that this is the “best, or most mehudar”. That may well be the case, we aren’t in a position to argue with the great Chazon Ish, let alone any of the other well-known shiurim of R’ Chaim Naeh or the Igros Moshe etc

What does strike me about these pamphlets though is that they seem to completely ignore newer insights into what a Zayis is, based on evidence. There are some incredibly compelling arguments of late which suggest that a Zayis was a lot smaller than what Ashkenazi Poskim (who likely never saw an olive) surmised.

As R’ Bar Chaim put it

Rashi almost certainly never saw an olive. The same goes for other medieval authorities in Ashk’naz (Germany-Northern France). This little-known but indisputable fact should matter to you. It has everything to do with the following question: Is Halakhic Judaism rational and rooted in reality, or is it a hypothetical construct unconducive to engaging the real world?

It is a simple matter to ascertain, or describe to another, the volume of an average olive, a ‘k’zayit’…provided you have olives. But what if you have never seen an olive? How would you understand the concept? How would you describe it to someone unfamiliar with olives?

This was the reality in Ashk’naz in the Middle Ages, and there is no mystery as to why. The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean basin, from Israel in the East to Spain in the west; it does not naturally grow elsewhere. In Roman times, due to the trade routes which crisscrossed the Empire, olives may have made their way to Germany and beyond. The collapse of Rome, however, led to a breakdown of law and order, and therefore trade.

Medieval Ashk’nazim were unfamiliar with olives, a fact confirmed by R. Eliezer b. Yoel’s (d. circa 1225) discussion of the minimal amount required for a b’rakha aharona: “Wherever a k’zayith is required, one needs a sizeable amount of food, because we are unfamiliar with the size of an olive…” (Ra’avya, B’rakhoth 107).

Some Ashk’nazi authorities concluded that an olive was half the volume of an egg, while others demonstrated, based on Talmudic sources, that it must be less than one third of an egg. How much less they could not say. The truth, of course, is different, as was clearly perceived by one 14th century authority who actually made it to Eretz Yisrael. Responding to the proposition that a person could swallow three k’zaytim at once (which is quite impossible if one assumes a k’zayit to be half of an egg in volume) he wrote: “As for me, the matter is plain, for I saw olives in Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim, and even six were not equal to an egg.” S’pharadi authorities, on the other hand, had no such difficulties. One wrote that an olive is “much less” than a quarter of an egg (Rashba), while another mentions in passing that a dried fig is equal to “several olives” (Rittba). The last three statements, made by sages who saw olives, are entirely accurate.

In present day Halakhic practice, predicated on opinions rooted in the aforementioned lack of knowledge and experience, a k’zayit is often said to be 30 cc, while others say 60 cc. These figures bear no relation to the real world olives of Eretz Yisrael which average 3-5 cc. It is claimed by some that once upon a time olives were much larger. This claim is false. Olives and olive trees have not changed, as evidenced by the fact that there are over 70 olive trees in Israel ranging between 1,700-2000 years old, and 7 are approximately 3000 years old. These trees continue to produce fruit identical to the olives of younger trees. Halakhic responsa from the G’onic period echo these facts, stating plainly that olives do not change. Some would have you believe that there are two kinds of olives: real olives and ‘Halakhic’ olives. In their view, Halakha need not reflect reality; it exists in an alternate reality of its own. This is a tragedy because it paints Judaism as divorced from reality and irrelevant to a rational person. This is a lie because Torah was intended by Hashem as our handbook for operating in the real world.

An even better analysis, is provided by the unnecessarily derided R’ Natan Slifkin in his excellent article here. I recommend you read it.

Now, I’m aware of the hierarchy of Poskim, and I am aware that one has to have “Breite Pleytzes” but when we are dealing with facts on the ground, we need to re-examine things according the clear scientific knowledge unearthed in our time. This isn’t evolution and a challenge to Ma’aseh B’reishis. It is simply about the humble olive. Was it bigger and did it shrink of late?

Is this any different from the Gemaros in Horayos quoted in Shmiras HaGuf VeHanefesh and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, which list foods that are claimed to make one forget things, as well as foods which harm other parts of one’s body. If not for the Ari Zal, we wouldn’t even be permitted to eat Chopped Liver! What are the Tannoim telling is in these Gemoras? Are they telling us that this is Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai and avoiding these foods is immutable? No! Perhaps they are actually doing us a great service by informing us what the best medical knowledge of that time was, and it’s our duty to ignore the parts which are discredited and follow the best medical practice of our time? This is certainly R’ Schachter’s strong view. Do we follow the Rambam’s medicine? Decidedly not. If it contradicts evidence-based current medical advice, it might even be forbidden to do so!

So, in our age of the somewhat cryogenic halachic process, where disagreement might be seen tosignal that someone doesn’t have Emunas Chachomim, I wouldn’t expect the types of publications put out by certain institutions to even bother to examine and respond to the cogent arguments suggesting that an olive is an olive is an olive and they simply haven’t changed, given the archeological evidence. We owe it to the pursuit of Emes, though, to be part of our world and also interact with Poskim who are brave enough to put their views on paper for open scrutiny. By all means, disagree, but bring proofs. Simply putting up only a  traditional view derived from sefekos and chumros on the matter without even spilling one ounce of ink on refuting the powerful contrary views, frustrates me. Some would even call it a style of indoctrination which creates a new Mesorah based on Safek cum Chumrah.

On the contrary, perhaps those who follow the approach to sizing an olive based on what we can see, are the ones who follow the original Mesorah, while the others are working in a vaccum of Safek and being Machmir accordingly, given it is D’Orayso?

PS. I was baffled to find a quote attributed to R’ Elyashiv that we don’t need to check the inside of our pockets using a candle during bedikas chametz. Is there a Hava Amina that Chazal would want us to potentially cause fires in our houses, or am I missing something?

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