A bottle of chalav yisroel milk
|Halakhic texts relating to this article:|
|Babylonian Talmud:||Avodah Zarah 35b, 39b|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Yoreh De'ah 115:1|
|* Not meant as a definitive ruling. Some observances may be rabbinical, custom or Torah-based.|
Chalav Yisroel (Hebrew: חלב ישראל), sometimes erroneously pronounced Cholov Yisrael (the word "Chalav", milk, is in the construct state here and is therefore correctly vowelized חֲלַב), is a halachic term which refers to all dairy products, including cheese and non-fat dry milk powder, which derive from milk that has been milked under the supervision of an observant Jew.
According to Jewish law (halacha), milk is kosher only if it comes from a kosher species of animal (such as cows and sheep), while milk from a non-kosher species (such as horses and camels) is forbidden.
In the past it was not uncommon for farmers to mix the milk of their various animals together, unbeknownst to their customers. Since it was conceivable to have a farm selling a mixture of Kosher and non-Kosher milk, the rabbinic authorities in talmudic times issued an injunction against the drinking of any milk whose milking was not done by, or under the supervision of, an observant Jew - such milk is alternately referred to in halachic literature as either chalav akum or chalav nochri. This prohibition was codified in the Shulchan Aruch which unequivocally forbids consumption of any milk not milked under Jewish supervision.
In the USA and other countries with similar regulations
All dairy products made in the USA or countries where people eat "chalav stam", even when bearing a Kosher symbol, are most likely to be "chalav stam". Kosher certifications in such countries usually mark "chalav yisroel" in either English or Hebrew next to their kosher symbol. In Israel, kosher certifiers don’t usually mark “chalav yisroel” since it is the standard there--in fact, kosher dairy products in Israel that are not Chalav Yisroel need to be marked as such.
There are also Kabbalistic reasons for being strict concerning chalav yisroel; these are not based on the possibility of mixing non-kosher milk but on spiritual ramifications to drinking non-chalav yisroel which leads to "timtum ha-lev" a spiritual deadening of the heart.
"A chassid once came to the Alter Rebbe lamenting the fact that his son-in-law was subject to periods when he would doubt his faith. The Alter Rebbe responded that the son-in-law had unwittingly consumed milk which was milked by a non-Jew, with no Jew in attendance. Though he was unaware of this fact, and though the prohibition against such milk is only of Rabbinic origin, this had so strong an effect upon him that it caused him to doubt his faith." - Chapter 8 of Lessons in Tanya by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi with additions and explanations by both Rabbi Yosef Wineberg and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
- OU Introduction to Chalav Yisroel on OUKosher.org
- Kashrus Kurrents, Chalav Yisroel: Does a Neshama Good by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Star-K Rabbinic Administrator