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  • Rabbi Tzvi Rosen

הנה לא ינום ולא ישן , שומר חלב ישראל

Cholov Yisroel

Available on Star K Website

The chaliva mashgiach neither slumbers nor sleeps. There is so much more that must meet the keen eye of a contemporary cholov yisroel mashgiach.

When I grew up in Washington, D.C., cholov yisroel was a totally unknown term, an unknown entity, and certainly an unknown milk bottle in the refrigerator. But times have changed. Today, cholov yisroel is a burgeoning industry, ranging from ice cream novelties to energy bars. However, some things never change. Whether you are milking the family cow in Sarnick or overseeing a major milking of a herd of 25,000 cows on a mega farm on the west coast, halacha is uncompromising.

Implementing the halacha is far more challenging and far more daunting for a mashgiach who oversees a major dairy farm operation. It requires understanding milking procedures, computer systems, inventory control, dedication, a lot of stamina and, above all, yiras Shamayim. In order to understand the responsibilities of a contemporary chaliva mashgiach, let’s take a cholov yisroel refresher course.


There is a general halachic principle governing milk coming from a kosher mammal, כל‭ ‬היוצא‭ ‬מן‭ ‬הטהור‭ ‬טהור‭ ‬כל‭ ‬היוצא‭ ‬מן‭ ‬הטמא‭ ‬טמא‭.‬ Milk coming from a “pure” kosher species is kosher; milk coming from a “non-pure” non-kosher species is not. Hence, milk coming from cows, goats, and sheep is kosher, while milk coming from camels, horses, and pigs is not. The principle is clear: A mashgiach certainly knows how to discern between a cow and a horse. However, what requirements did our chachomim implement to ensure that the carton of milk in your refrigerator is 100% kosher and unadulterated cow’s milk?

Since it was a known practice amongst farmers years ago to mix non-kosher milk with kosher milk, chazal forbade the use of unsupervised milk. Even in a situation where adulteration was slim to far-fetched, the gezeira of our chachomim had to be upheld.

How does halacha define supervised milk? What safeguards, or in contemporary terms, what kosher quality controls, were instituted? The cholov yisroel criteria is two-fold: 1) the cleanliness of the keilim and 2) the presence of the mashgiach at the onset of the milking‭ (‬התחלת‭ ‬החליבה‭). ‬In the olden days, prior to the milking, a mashgiach had to make sure the keili (milk pail) was perfectly clean and he had to witness the beginning of the milking. In the event that many cows were being milked at the same time, the mashgiach had to make intermittent inspections throughout the milking session. At the completion of the milking, to ensure the integrity of the milk, the collection pail was sealed.

Even if there weren’t any non-kosher animals on the farm, this standard could not be compromised. The milk that has been supervised following these protocols is called “cholov yisroel”.

On a modern dairy farm, the milk pail has been replaced with pumps, lines, hoses, and chillers leading into large holding tanks. Furthermore, the logistics of maintaining cholov yisroel on large dairy operations with thousands of cattle requires meticulous oversight and record keeping. In many cases, the bottling facility and the milking parlor are designated to the same location. The milk is then transported from the milking parlor to a bottling facility. It is the mashgiach’s duty to ensure that the transporting tanker is clean and has been properly sealed with the mashgiach’s personal chasima (seal) during transport to the bottling facility, where another mashgiach receives the cholov yisroel milk tanker for further processing.

When a dairy tanker arrives at the bottling facility, the mashgiach must be present for the offloading. Milk is offloaded to a holding tank dedicated to cholov yisroel. Obviously, the kosher cleanliness has to be approved by the mashgiach, and the port of the holding tank must be sealed with the mashgiach’s kosher seals.

In rare instances, the fluid milk production and the bottling facility are in the same location. Those dairies are known as producer packagers. There are only a few producer packagers in the U.S.; Pride of the Farm cholov yisroel is fortunate to be produced in such a facility. Furthermore, Pride of the Farm’s producer packager exclusively produces and bottles cholov yisroel. Most bottling facilities are not exclusive to cholov yisroel. In a common bottling facility, a mashgiach will have to be trained to follow lines, track tanks, kasher equipment, and institute a system whereby the cholov yisroel products will be properly segregated.

Bottle B’rov

Prior to bottling, the raw milk has to travel through a complex network of pasteurization, separation, and homogenization. The raw milk is separated into skim milk and fresh cream, which are stored in dedicated holding tanks. Fluid milk is bottled in a sequence: Skim milk, 1%, 2%, and whole. The appropriate percentage of cream is added back into the milk to create the various varieties of fluid milk. The remaining cream is used to make heavy cream, ice cream, or whipping cream, and can also be churned into butter. In addition, a dairy plant can produce chocolate and flavored milks, buttermilk, liquid yogurt shakes, yogurt, and sour cream, as well as juices and other drinks.

Therefore, a contemporary cholov yisroel mashgiach has to be a heads-up supervisor as well as a skilled quality control manager. In a labyrinth of pipes and holding tanks, a mashgiach must have a clear picture of the kosher lay of the land. The mashgiach must also be skilled in ingredient recognition of stabilizers, emulsifiers, flavors, and cultures. Not only do these ingredients have to be kosher, they also have to be cholov yisroel or cholov yisroel-compatible. There is much more to bottled milk than meets the eye.

Programmed for Success

A typical bottling facility is not a 9-to-5 operation; bottling conceivably takes place at all hours of the day. What safeguards have been implemented to ensure that a mashgiach is present at the beginning of the cholov yisroel bottling? Years ago, my dear chaver, Rabbi Mordechai Ungar, hit on a great idea. Milk used to be sold in paper containers. The ‘Sell By’ date was manually stamped on the gable at the top of the carton. Rabbi Ungar’s suggestion for kosher quality control was the addition of Hebrew characters into the ‘Sell By’ block of letters and numbers. The Hebrew characters represented the Hebrew date that corresponded to the ‘Sell By’ date. These characters were in the possession of the mashgiach, who placed simanim next to the “Sell By” date. This ingenious siman assured that the bottling was supervised by the mashgiach and has stood the test of time.

Today, stamping gables have been replaced by inkjetted plastic bottles. The stamper has been replaced by a sophisticated computer program. The Hebrew characters have been replaced by a Hebrew program that was specially written for this labeling system. The mashgiach is the only person who has access to the program. Unquestionably, computer skills are a ‘must’ for the contemporary chaliva mashgiach.

What safeguards have been implemented to ensure that a mashgiach is present at the beginning of the bottling?

Tracking the Mashgiach

We live in an age of transparency, accountability, and instant messaging. It has been a longstanding minhag for the mashgiach to call the rabbonim prior to התחלת‭ ‬החליבה – the start of the milking. However, yesterday’s calls from the ‘breakroom’ telephone have given way to cell phone pictures, texting, and timeclock apps with GPS, so there is real-time accountability and verification that the mashgiach is present at all times.

Indeed, times have changed from milking the family cow in Sarnick. Undoubtedly, today’s chaliva mashgiach is the ultimate pride of the farm.

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