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Most of us at one point or another drink milk. In Israel we marvel about milk in bags, and those of us who read the labels know that the great majority of milk is not fortified with Vitamin D. We know all Israeli milk is “chalav yisrael” and we also know that there is regular and mehadrin milk. One of the strangest statements I heard when I was younger was “we don’t drink milk on Sunday.” What?? Is milk somehow not kosher on Sundays?
Some time later I moved to a religious kibbutz and worked in the refet (dairy). One day they tell me with pride that they are one of the few kibbutzim who are allowed to ship their milk on Sunday to Tnuva Jerusalem, the all-mehadrin dairy. Again with the Sunday! Now, however, I can find out what it really means directly from the source.
Milk in Israel generally comes from kibbutzim/moshavim which are owned by Jews (It used to be that only Jews milked the cows, but times have changed and there are many foreign workers who are not Jewish). These refetot are caught between the dilemna of working on Shabbat by using electronic milking machines (or even by the actual act of milking) and that of tzaar baalei chaim- the mandate to relieve the suffering of animals, even on Shabbat.
So how does a Jewish farm solve this dilemna? Considering the fact that we are Jews, there are many different opinions as to what to do. The obvious but most strict is to milk the cows but throw out the milk so as not to obtain pleasure or financial gain from the milk. There would therefore be no milk on Sunday in that scenario. Since we drink milk on Sunday, that is obviously not the prevalent solution.
In order to prevent great financial loss, the refetot spill or “contaminate” only a certain percentage of the milk and they store the rest. Refetot are required to have a refrigerated tank that can hold 48 hours worth of milk so it doesn’t have to be transported on Shabbat.
The greatest innovation regarding milking on Shabbat is the milk transporting system. With the exception of very small farms, in all milking parlors the machines to transport milk are run electronically. Additionally there are computers that read the cow’s leg tag, compute her milk production, and can give warnings if there might be an infection in the teat. There are even robotic milking sheds that employ no humans at all. All of this technology is shut off on Shabbat and the milk is transported by pneumatic or vacuum systems.
Back to one of my original questions- what is the difference between regular milk and mehadrin milk? It isn’t that the cow only eats mehadrin foods. According to Tnuva, their mehadrin dairy products are only made with milk that was milked on a weekday or was halachically milked on Shabbat.
Now that we have solved those problems, we are faced with an even bigger dilemna starting in a few weeks. Rosh Hashanah this year is on Thursday/Friday and immediately after that will be Shabbat. As mentioned before, dairies are required to have at a minimum 48 hours cold storage of the milk, but now we have to deal with 72 hours!
Fortunately, the Israeli Milk Board and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel have come up with solutions and helpful advice. The IMB is allowing storage of milk in “thermos” tanks for up to 24 hours, and recommends that every farmer deliver their milk right before the start of the holiday to have an empty tank. The Rabbinate will allow transport of milk by non-Jews on Friday only if and only if the dairy does not have sufficient storage for the entire holiday. That milk will be used for regular and not mehadrin milk. Of course that leads me to ask who is working in the factory to accept the milk on Friday? I am guessing there is a staff of non-Jews.
So there you have it. For those of you who eat/drink mehadrin, I hope you have a better understanding of why you chose to drink mehadrin milk. For those of you who do not, I think it is fascinating to see how Israel can be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world but at the same time be firmly grounded to tradition. A religious Jew in chu”l takes advantage of so many businesses and services on Shabbat because they are run by non-Jews- electricity, security and food being some. With the creation of a Jewish State everything has to be re-thought, which is a good, even a great thing for Judiasm. The chance for a religion to grow and develop with the modernization of the world can only come about when presented with challenges such as these in our relatively new Jewish State.
Next aliyah tip- why you can’t (or shouldn’t) buy fresh chicken on Sunday…and it has nothing to do with kashrut!