Sunday, June 21, 2009

Minhag to bring knives to Bar Mitzvah?

There was an article in YNet English site dated 13th June 2009 entitled "Haredi man holds son's bar mitzvah in jail". It was about a Chareidi guy sent to prison in New York who somehow managed to hold a Bar Mitzvah for his son in the prison hall and invite his own guests which YNet tells us included many Rabbis.

Here is the link to the article:,7340,L-3730585,00.html

Anyway, usually when you read an article in YNet about a religious guy you have to take it with a pinch of salt because YNet just live to bash religious Jews. The reporters writing these articles are all secular and completely ignorant of any Torah. Consequently the articles can sometimes be a huge source of amusement as they show their complete lack of understanding of Judaism and end up looking idiots. However, this article is bizarre even by their standards.

If anybody can tell me what the reporter was thinking when he wrote this, please let me know. I'd be fascinated. "Not only was the party itself a violation of prison rules, since prisoners are not allowed to hold private gatherings within the confines of the jail, but it turns out that many of the guests brought knives into the prison in order to enjoy the bar mitzvah feast, a gross violation of prison safety regulations."

A minhag to bring knives to a Bar Mitzvah? Possible explanations:

1. To cut the cake?
2. To have a second Bris Mila?
3. There is something that I've just thought of now. Maybe the prison doesn't allow knives in the dining hall just in case the prison inmates use them to start a fight. Maybe the guests were told to bring their own knives in order to eat their seuda? (I find this highly unlikely as I've never met a New Yorker who uses a knife when he eats LOL).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gevinas Yisrael

These are the notes from a shiur I gave on Shavuos (2:30 in the morning) on teh subject of Gevinas Yisrael - Kosher Cheeese

In Chutz LaAretz how many of you were somech on:

1. Chalav Yisrael? (Some of you)
2. Pas Yisrael? (Most of you)
3. Gevinas Yisrael? (Actually all of you should have answered YES!)

Why minhag of Gevina on Shavuous?

1. Keilim all treif

Received Torah on Shabbos and then realised that all their keilim were treif. All they had to eat was their cheese.

2. Mount Sinai is not cheese.

Thillim 58:16-17 “The mountain of Hashem is a choice (chosen) mountain, the mountain of majestic peaks [Har Gavnunim]?”.

The answer is no, it is not, it is a humble modest mountain.
Gevina is a remez as to why Hashem chose Har Sinai and not other bigger mountains and why Hashem chose Am Yisrael and not greater, more powerful nations.

3. Honey and Milk

Shir Ha Shirim (4:11) “Torah is sweet and drops from your tongue like honey and milk”.

Perush: Torah should be as sweet as honey and as fresh as milk.

4. Babies Milk

Just as a baby relies on milk alone to survive so we rely on Torah. Just as a baby never gets fed up with the taste and moreover, every time it drinks its as if its fresh for the first time, this is the same as Hashem’s gift of Torah to us.

5. Moshe Rebeinu.

Midrash tells us that Moshe Rebeinu was placed in the teiva on Shavuos. When the Mitzrim removed him from the teiva they tried to nurse him but he would only nurse from a Jewish woman. In other words he was shomrei Chalav Yisrael (LOL)!

Which leads me nicely into the subject of the shiur – Chalav and Gevinas Yisrael.

Please note: I am not a Rav, let alone a Posek so this is just general halachik discussion. If you have any LeMa’aseh questions, please speak to your LOR. Halachic sources come from shiurim by Rav Issacher Frand, Rav Zev Leff, Rav Bernard Goldberg and Rav Zvi Liker.

Chalav Yisrael

Mishnah in Avodah Zara 35b2

Asur to drink milk that a goy milked without Jewish supervision.

Gezeira of Rabanim “Chalav Akum”:

Why? Gemara gives the reason. The goy could mix milk from non-kosher animal into bucket.

The Famous hehter of Rav Moshe Feinstein.

Milk in America is equivalent to Chalav Yisrael because it’s supervised by the government.

To what extent can you rely on this? Can you completely ignore the whole inyan of Chalav Yisrael?

Story of the school.

NO! Rav Moshe was once asked by a Torah school that was facing closure through debts whether they could start buying regular milk instead of spending extra money buying Chalav Yisrael products.
Rav Moshe said “chas veshalom”. Without the purety of Chalav Yisrael Torah learning will suffer.

Rav Zev Leff explains that this hehter can be relied upon when there is no chalav Yisrael available but where there is, one should only drink Chalav Yisrael.

I know some people who still buy Cadburys chocolate in Israel. This is NOT what Rav Moshe’s hehter was for! It’s not really a chumra at all.

Cadburys tell us that their milk chocolate is made with fresh milk and not milk powder.


The nature of a Tachanas Rabbanim is that it is limited to the specific item mentioned in the gezeira and does not include derivatives.

This has LeMaaseh implications. The gezeira of Chalav Yisrael is only for milk (including pasteurised). As soon as the milk is processed and its form is changed then the gezeira ceases to apply. Example: Butter, Cheese and even milk powder.


Rambam, brought down Halacha LeMa’aseh,
Butter is not included in Gezeira of Chalav Yisrael.
Rambam: It is impossible to produce butter from non-kosher milk!

Asur to make butter from Chalav Akum but permitted to ask goy to take his chalav Akum and make you butter!

Halacha LeMa’aseh: Where the minhag is to eat the butter. Mutar.
Where the minhag is not then asur.

Butter and popular butter products like Walkers shortbread and Danish Cookies come with an LBD or OU hechsher.

They are “chalavi” but are not Chalav Akum!

In other words, even those who are machmir in 100% chalav Yisrael, eat Danish butter and Walkers shortbread or Danish Royals.

Powdered Milk Products – Avkas Chalav Nochrei

There is a machlokes amongst the poskim regarding powdered milk products.

Chocolates, biscuits, American (Duncan) Donuts, coffee machines all contain Avkas Chalav Nochrei.

Elite produce two levels of kashrus chocolate:

“Elite” contains Avkas Chalav Nochrei that has a hechsher from the Rabanut Natzaret Elite. “Elite Megadim” contains Avkas Chalav Yisrael and has a Badatz hechsher.

Elite claim that their regular Elite is also for Shomrei Chalav Yisrael!

The famous story on Rav Arie Levine and the 35 soldiers, 7 of them who could not be identified also involved another Rav, the Rav Rashi of Yerushalayim at the time, Rav Zvi Pesach Frank.

He poskemed that powdered milk should be considered like butter and not included within the gezeira of Chalav Yisrael.
Not because its impossible to make powered non-kosher milk but because

1. It is a derivative of milk and therefore is outside the authority of the gezeira.

2. Similar to the hehter of Rav Moshe that it isn’t in the company’s interests to make anything other than 100% cow’s milk as there are government product standards. Therefore must have been produced with kosher milk.

Rav Zvi Pesach Frank argues that its permissible to those who are Shomrei Chalav Yisrael

But many others disagree!!! Hence the Elite Megadim versions as well.

Whipped Cream – Shamenet Katzefet

Regular cream (the fatty top of the milk) has the same din as milk.

Whipped cream is different.

1. It is not included in the gezeira of Chalav Yisrael as it has been processed.

Aruch HaShulchan (Rav Epstein) writes in his sefer about two businessmen from his town who meet by chance in a hotel in a far away place. Both were shomrei chalav Yisrael at home but not when they were travelling on business. The first invites the second to have breakfast with him and offers him whipped cream in his coffee. “Where did you get the wipped cream from?” “From the makolet across the road”. They went the next morning the buy some more. The shop owner had not finished yet so he took them round the back to see how he produces the cream. There was a large saucepan of boiling milk on the fire. To this he added animal brains to make more fatty cream.
Their hehter for whipped cream had turned into an isur Deorisa to eat neveila.

2. Because it is processed sometimes using animal fat, it is asur without a hechsher.

Cheese – Gevina

One would think that cheese should fall under the same category of butter. Not included within gezeira of Chalav Yisrael and therefore mutar to buy Gevinas Nochrei.


Chazal issued a separate gezeira for cheese – Gevinas Yisrael

Even though you might know fore sure that the ingredients to that cheese is 100% from kosher sources, nevertheless:

All cheeses of the goyim are Asur!

Why is there a special gezeira on Gevina?

Mishna Avoda Zara 29b2

This is a very unusual mishna. Compare this to the mishna about Chalav Yisrael. There it states the isur and the reason. Here it states the isur but refuses to divulge the reason for it.

It quotes Shir HaShirim 1:2

Tachles! Lets say you are in the supermarket and someone comes up to you and wants an explanation as to why this 100% kosher ingredients cheese is actually asur!

Possible reasons for Gevinas Yisael given in the Gemara

Asur to eat the Rennet from a neveila

Is this true though?

Mesechet Avodah Zara 34b discusses ox’s poo.

Q. Are you allowed to use ox’s poo to perform a kedushin?
A. Yes because its worth more than a peruta.

Q. Are you allowed to use the poo from an ox who has gored his neighbour?
A. Yes because even though the ox is asur behana’ar, the contents of its intestines and stomach are considered separate.

Avodah Zara brings example that it is permitted for a Cohen to eat the raw rennet from a korban that he cannot eat from.

Q. Are you allowed to use the poo from an Avodah Zara korban?
A. No! Because whole animal including the contents of the stomach is dedicated to the Avodah Zara.

Rambam in Hilchas “Ma’achalot Asurot” 9:15

Rennet from calves’ stomach is considered separate to animal – He uses the word - “PIRSHA”.

Moreover he explains that rennet is a waste product and is not considered food.

In fact it is neither chalavi or basari. It has no kashrus status.

The Rambam poskems that there is actually no kashrus issue at all with regards to rennet.

Sefek Avodah Zara?

However you could argue that the rennet may have come from a neveila of Avodah Zara and therefore it is asur from this sefek.

The Chachamim said that because of this sefek it was asur to eat the rennet of a neveila but not asur behana’ar – to make use of it.

Q. It could be possible to use it where it would be batel BeShishim just like Muryas fish dip that had yayin nesech mixed in with it?

A. This would only be possible if
1. Can’t see it.
2. Can’t smell it.
3. Cannot taste it.

This is true for the muryas but not for rennet.

You can see the effects of the rennet, it just hardened the cheese!!!!

Therefore you cannot use the cooler of batel beShishim.

Shmuel’s argument (35a3)

The goyim don’t just use the rennet found in the stomach, they also use the lining of the stomach which is treif food.

Cannot say that its battle because you can see its effects.

One could argue that the minutist amount of skin from the stomach scraping is batel.
Therefore it should be OK (Debatable).

Rabbi Yeshua ben Levi’s argument (35a2)

The cheese might contain snake venom that entered because goyim to not cover their containers.

1. If the milk contained venom then it would prevent it from turning into butter or cheese.
2. Chazal tell us that dried venom is not dangerous.

Pig’s Fat

Perhaps the goyim covered the cheese with pig’s fat to seal it while it matures.

Goyim don’t do this because it spoils the taste of the cheese.

Yayin Nesech in Cheese

This cannot be the reason. Its Batel beshishim just like the muryas.

Contains the sap of an Orlah

1ST 3 years of tree’s life it is asur to eat or get benefit from it.

However (as Rav Yishmael argues in the Gemara) the gezeira on Gevinas Akum states that the cheese is not asur behanaar and the sap of an Orlah certainly is. Therefore this cannot be the reason.

Rabbi Chanina (35a3)

Cheese has crevices / holes inside it which might contain milk. The milk might well be the non-kosher milk that did not turn into cheese because it cannot.

Note: You cannot make the same argument for butter because it is condensed down to a solid mass and contains no holes.

Argument against this

If this is the reason then we don’t need a separate gezeira for cheese. Just say that it contains pockets of chalav akum.
Therefore cheese would be allowed under the same hehter.



Rambam, Shulchan Aruch

Ther reason that it gives derech agav is that it is because they use the stomach of a neveila and therefore its treif.

If this was really the case then in places where there is a tradition to use vegetarian rennet (from flowers) then there ought to be a hehter in these places BUT THERE ISN’T!

Rabeinu Tam

The reason is the danger of the snake venom.


The reason is because of pockets of possible non-kosher milk.


To get back to our original point: When asked in the supermarket why we cannot buy cheese without a hechshir even though the packet states that it is 100% vegetarian:

No exceptions! Even though the cheese might contain 100% kosher ingredients eg, rennet made from flowers, the gezeira still stands and there is no hether!

Explanations one can give:

1. You might say that the gezeira stands today only because of the halacha brought down in Meseches Beitza 5a. That is, if Chaza”l did not clearly state the reason for a gezeira then it cannot be annulled by a future lower Beis Din even though they think that they know what the actual reason for the gezeira was and that reason no longer applies.

2. Perhaps the gezeira of Givinas Akum is similer iin nature to the gezeiros of Bishul Akum and Pas Akum. That is, Chazal wanted to avoid intermarriage. Cheese is a common social food served in many countries at every meal. (Pub in England – Ploughman’s lunch). This is actually the understanding of the Ramban and Rashba.

3. Even though during the time of the Gemara it was not possible to make cheese from non-kosher milk, somehow Chazal knew (or at least feared) that at some future date, it would be possible to do it and they were right! Rav Zvi Liker, a kashrus expert, informs me that they are making cheese from non-kosher animals in China and Tibet.

Getting a goy to make Gevinas Yisrael

There are two opinions on this matter:

1. The Rambam (12th century) , Rashba(13th century) , Rama (16th century) and Node BeYehuda (17th century) hold that Gevinas Yisrael is like Chalav Yisrael in this respect. That is, you only have to supervise the goy and make sure that he does not slip any non-kosher ingredients into the cheese.

2. The Shach (Rav Shabtai Cohen, commentary on Yoreh Daeiah, 17th century), The Vilna Gaon (17th century) and the Choschmas Adam are all of the opinion that the gezeira is like Bishul Akum. That is:

a. A Jew has to be part of the process in order to call is Gevinas Yisrael, eg, by adding the rennet himself.

b. The Shach says that at least, if not participating in the process, the milk itself should be Jewish owned.

Rav Moshe Feinstein poskims (based on Aruch Hashulchan) that the halacha is like the Rama. Nevertheless he says that we should be machmir in this issue like the Shach.

As a result of all this, Samson’s milk products in the UK such as yogurts, cottage cheese and cream cheese have a strange hechshir on them. It states on the package that the product is “Kosher Gevinas Yisrael made from Chalav Akum”.

Cottage Cheese, Yogurts and Levana

Rav Moshe’s tshuva to Rav Shwab.

Not considered cheese because it doesn’t require rennet to produce even though some manufactures might add it for product consistency.

Even though this might happen, you cannot see its effects and therefore its batel (such small amounts).

Therefore if its not considered cheese and it’s processed then it should be in same category as butter?

But is Cottage Cheese considered like butter?

No! Because that whey that you see floating on top could well be non-kosher milk that did not convert into the cheese.

Therefore, Rav Moshe says that it ought to have the same din as chalav Yisrael.

Mystery regarding Cottage:

Surely If you are somaich on Rav Moshe’s hehter then cottage cheese and Fromage Frei ought to be OK?

So why does both LBD and OU say that the gezeira of Gevinas Yisrael includes Cottage Cheese and white cheeses like Levana and these products are not kosher without a hechshir?

Three kiruv stories about lighting Shabbos candles

Story 1 - The Kiruv Kibbutz.

Simone (not her real name) was 18 from England. She grew up in a typical English secular Jewish family. Her grandmother grew up in England but she knew that her great grandmother came from Poland and had been religious. Simone had gone to “Cheder” at the local Orthodox synagogue, some five miles away but left when she was Bat Mitzvah at 12. Friday night (mamash night) her mother would light candles. Her father would say Kiddush over Palwin No.10 (sweet red wine) and they would sit down to a Friday night family meal consisting of eggs and onions / chopped liver followed by chicken soup and then chicken and potatoes.

Her parents insisted that they not go out until after the meal. Similarly, the TV remained off until after the meal. Simone considered this whole thing a farce. After all they weren’t religious and it was all a bit hypocritical. Before grandma had died she had called the family to her bedside to give them some final words and gifts. Everyone had been given something of value except Simone. Grandma gave Simone her brass candlesticks that had sat on the side board of grandma’s living room for as long as Simone could remember. These things probably belonged to her grandma’s grandma and they looked it too. Old, dirty, discoloured and battered. She couldn’t even remember her grandma using these things. They were probably last used by her grandma’s mother! What was she going to do with them? They weren’t even heavy enough to use as bookends! It appeared that Yiddishkite had not touched Simone’s heart in any way.

Simone was a member of Young Judea, A leftwing leaning secular Zionist youth organisation. She decided that after her A-levels (similer to bagrut) she was going to take a year off and join a group from her youth movement going to Israel. This Shnat Sherut scheme consisted of learning secular Jewish studies in Jerusalem and living on a kibbutz up in the Northern Galil. When her group arrived at the kibbutz her first impressions were one of confusion.

It was her first time in Israel. Even though she was secular she expected Israelis to be at least as Jewish as her. However one of the first things she noticed was that there were no mezuzot on any of the doors. She worked in the chicken huts. It was dirty work but fun. All the meals were served in the Cheder Ochel which meant plenty of time to socialise with the locals. Simone mentioned the lack of anything Jewish to her madricha. Their madricha (a kibbutznik assigned to her group) told them that in actual fact, every Friday night the kibbutz had a festive meal. Well that was something at least.

Her group took showers and got dressed for a typical English Friday night meal. When they entered the cheder ochel they were aware that they were being stared at. The kibbutznikim were still in their jeans and T-shirts. Simone felt as if she was being looked at as if she’d just got off the bus from Meah Shaarim! She felt embarrassed but at the same time felt this overwhelming feeling of Jewishness come over her. She instinctively looked around for the Shabbos candles. There were none. Not really understanding what she was doing herself, she went into the kitchen and found two candles. She melted the bottoms onto a metal ashtray and placed them on the table assigned to her group. She lit the candles and covered her eyes whilst the whole kibbutz looked on in astonishment. (In actual fact it was way past the end of halachik lighting time but we can leave that to the side for the moment).

Everyone went silent and Simone’s bracha echoed around the hall. Michael, a cute boy in her group smiled at her. He left the table and came back with a carton of "Prigat" grape juice. He covered his head with a paper napkin, poured out some juice into a drinking glass and recited the only part of Kiddush that he knew off by heart, that being the bracha over wine. Simone had never felt so Jewish before, sitting here in this secular kibbutz. A few weeks went by and her madricha told her that she would have to work in the chicken huts over Shabbat. She was shocked and angry. She refused outright. In England she would not have cared but all of a sudden, here is Israel, on this secular kibbutz, Shabbos was important to her. She had no idea why.

She left the kibbutz just before she was thrown out and found herself at the Kotel searching for answers. An American woman approached her. Her name was Sarah and she wondered if she was looking for a place to stay, where she could experience a Jewish environment in the Old city. Sarah directed Simone to a girl’s kiruv seminary.

Six months later, “Shoshana” came back to England. Before she had even put her bags in her room Shoshana placed her grandma’s candlesticks next to her mother’s on the mantelpiece. Simone’s mother looked on in amazement. Her daughter had become a “Frumie”. She couldn’t believe it! Shoshana looked at her grandma’s candlesticks and noticed something quite incredible. There was still wax melted into the top. Wax from a candle lit by her great grandmother perhaps? Friday afternoon, she took her candle and melted the bottom into her great grandmother’s wax. She prepared to light her grandmother’s candlesticks for the first time. She whispered, “grandma grandma, I’ve joined your mother’s wax to mine”.

She lit those candles whilst her family looked on in astonishment, silence and awe.

Story 2 – Lighting candles for Aba and Ima.

(Based on a story I believe I read in Yated Neeman about 14 years ago)
The story begins with two young secular Israelis, living in a religiously mixed neigbourhood in Yerushalayim, sending their little girl to the nearest gan around the corner to them. It just happens to be a Torani (religious) gan.

Shula was 5 years old and loved her gan. Her ganenet told the group stories about Shabbat. They roll played lighting candles and having a Shabbat seudah. She looked forward to her turn when she could be "Ima shel Shabbat" and play lighting Shabbos candles. Back home, Shula nagged her mother to light Shabbat candles but her mother refused outright. “We are not religious” she explained to her daughter. "We don't do these things"!

Weeks went by and Shula continued to nag her mother until eventually her mother had had enough and screamed at her daughter to never mention this again. Enough already! They were not religious and she did not “do” Shabbat candles. Shula was not put off. She had an idea. "If my mother won’t light then I’ll light for her!"

Friday afternoon Shula emptied out her moneybox and walked to the "makolet" (the local store) around the corner. “Two candles” she asked the "Ba'al mekolet". It was 1995 and Rabin had just been assassinated. The secular kids had started lighting yurtzite candles in the streets. It was the “in thing” at the time. The Ba’al Mekolet assumed that this was what Shula wanted the candles for so he gave her two little yurtzite candles that came in a metal can with the word “Zachor” (in memory) written on the side.

Shula brought these home. She arranged her doll’s table with a white tablecloth and set it for a Shabbat seuda with her play cutlery. She placed a Kiddush cup on the table and then her candles. Copying what the ganenet had showed the group, Shula lit the yurtzite candles just as her mother was entering her bedroom.

Shula said out loud what she had learnt in gan. “This candle is for my mother and this candle is for my father”.

Her mother looked on in total shock. Her daughter was lighting yurtzite candles for her parents as if to say that they were dead! Was their daughter so upset with them? She asked Shula why she was doing this and received the reply “because you won’t light Shabbat candles yourself, I’m lighting these candles for you!”

Shula and her mother went to the living room. Her mother removed some candlesticks from the cupboard and placed them on the table. Shula looked on as her mother whilst she lit those Shabbat candles for the first time in her life.

As the months went by, Shula’s parents started keeping more and more things. Shula’s father started asking questions at the local shul around the corner and very soon, Shula witnessed her father saying Kiddush....

Story 3 – Shalom Bayit (Based on a story I believe I read in Yated Neeman about 14 years ago) Dalia had been married to Eran for 2 years. Their lives were too busy for kids and after all, who wants to bring up children in a world full of problems? They lived in Raanana. Even though they were totally secular she had started going to Thursday night shiur with her friend given by a very charismatic Rebbetzen who lived in the area. They had gone just for a laugh but Dalia soon took to the Rebbetzon who was warm hearted, funny and full of wisdom.

One Friday evening, Eran was drinking a bear in front of the TV. Dalia nervously places Shabbat candles on the dinner table and lit them, waiting for her husband’s reaction. Eran looked up and saw the candles. He got up, took a cigarette from his pocket and used one of the candles to light up. Dalia burst into tears. She tried again the next week but Eran reacted in the same way. An argument broke out and curses were exchanged.

The next week, Dalia asked the Rebbetzin if she could spare her some time after the shiur. She had a serious Shalom Bayit problem. Two days later the Rebbetzin phones Eran up. She understood that he did not want anything to do with religion but for Shalom Bayit, could he please refrain from smoking whilst Dalia’s candles were burning. That’s all she asked. Eran said that that would be OK, he’d cope with that - for Shalom Bayit.

That week Dalia lit the Shabbos candles. Eran carried on watching the TV without lighting up. Weeks went by. Dalia prepared a Friday night meal for her husband. He turned off the TV and came to sit down with his wife. With the candles burning in the background, it made for a very romantic atmosphere. After the meal, Eran noticed that the candles had burnt out. He lit up and went back to the TV.

Months went by. Dalia was in the supermarket. She was about to pick up the standard No.16 candles (which burn for 1 hour and 20 minutes) when she stopped and thought for a second. A smile crossed her face as she picked up some No.8s. They would burn for twice as long.

Eran didn’t immediately notice the bigger candles that Friday night as they were having such a nice time together at the table. It was quite late when Eran got to light up. A few months later and Dalia was in the supermarket again. She decided to pick up some No.4 candles that burn for 6 hours. This time Eran noticed but said nothing. He went to bed that Friday night without smoking or turning on the TV. A promise is a promise and besides he noticed that he was beginning to look forward to their special intimate times together every Friday night.

A few more months go by. Dalia anounced that she was pregnant. Eran was overjoyed. The next week, Dalia was back in the supermarket. She was about to pick up the No.4 candles when she caught sight of some 25 hour Yurtzite candles. Dalia smiled...