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Israeli Milk and the Pious Man of Shabbat 150b

A TABC graduate asked for clarification regarding drinking milk in Israel. The following is my response:

A Two-Tiered Kashrut System

Israeli kashrut functions on a two-tiered system: basic kashrut (kashrut regila) and mehadrin (higher standards). The head of kashrut at the Israeli giant dairy firm Tenuva, Rav Zev Whitman, reports (B’ntiv Hechalav 3:69) that milk produced in violation of Shabbat is not accepted for mehadrin kashrut but is acceptable for kashrut regila.

The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 318:1) permits an item produced by a Jew in violation of Shabbat once Shabbat has ended. The person who violated Shabbat, however, is forever forbidden to use the thing. Thus, baseline halacha permits the milk after the end of the Shabbat.

The Mehadrin standard, though, considers the view of the Teshuvot Ktav Sofer (50), who asserts that the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling applies only if the Shabbat violation is a one-time occurrence. However, if it is a regular event, the item produced in violation of Shabbat is forbidden forever for all Jews. Thus, if a Jewish dairy producer routinely violates Shabbat, the milk is prohibited even to the consumers, according to the Ktav Sofer.

However, Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Teshuvot Har Zvi O.C. 180) questions the Ktav Sofer’s view, noting that rabbis living in the post-Talmudic era do not enjoy the right to issue new edicts. Moreover, consumers do not benefit from the chilul Shabbat involved in the milking process since there are many options to have cows milked on Shabbat without chilul Shabbat.

On the other hand, it is a chilul Hashem for observant Jews to use a product routinely created in violation of Shabbat. It seems as if observant Jews are indifferent to a Jew’s violation of Shabbat. Rav Whitman believes that disqualifying milk produced in violation of Shabbat for mehadrin kashrut adequately addresses this concern. The Mehadrin disqualification serves as a sufficient protest of the chilul Shabbat.

Rav Whitman notes that even those who question one of the options used today to avoid chilul Shabbat in dairy farms (such as grama or robotics) should be able to enjoy milk produced using such a method. This is because the dairy farmers are acting correctly, since they are following the ruling of their posek, and we allow an item if the person performing the action on Shabbat had reputable authorities upon whom to rely (see Mishna Berura 318:2 and Yalkut Yosef O.C. 318:58).

The Pious Man of Shabbat 150b

Although baseline halacha accepts drinking milk (after Shabbat) produced in violation of Shabbat, the story recounted by the Gemara in Shabbat 150b supports those who adopt a stricter view:

There was an incident with a pious man in which a breach was made in the fence around his field, and when he saw it, he decided to fence it in. And then he remembered that it was Shabbat. And that pious man refrained from fixing the fence forever because he had thought about fixing it on Shabbat. And a miracle was done for him, and a caper bush grew in the breach, thereby closing it up. And from it and its produce he then received his livelihood and the livelihood of the members of his household (William Davidson translation of the Talmud).

Strictly speaking, the halacha does not impose sanctions for absent-mindedly making business decisions on Shabbat. However, this Talmudic passage teaches that Hashem loves when we “go the extra mile” to fortify shemirat Shabbat. Thus, Hashem embraces the pious man’s reinforcing the prohibition of business planning on Shabbat.

Those who refuse to patronize milk producers who violate Shabbat follow in the footsteps of the pious man. They piously utilize economic pressure to encourage shemirat Shabbat, just as the hero of our story. Hashem rewards these holy Jews who “go the extra mile” to promote shemirat Shabbat.

Patronizing Shomer Shabbat Businesses

Rav Dr. Eli DiPoce of Ramat Beit Shemesh reports that many in the Israeli chareidi community do not patronize businesses that operate on Shabbat. Our story teaches that Hashem rewards those who adopt this policy. It also serves as the basis for those in the Israeli chareidi community who do not use Israel’s electricity grid on Shabbat.

Conclusion

While baseline halacha permits drinking Israeli milk produced in violation of Shabbat, it is meritorious to follow the stricter standard and avoid doing so. Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh: we Jews are responsible for each other, and we should boost businesses that respect our holy Shabbat.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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