Why Did Israel's Chief Rabbis Ban Häagen Dazs?
Israel's Chief Rabbinate has banned Häagen Dazs ice cream, claiming the product is not kosher, even though the product sold today is the same as the product sold one year ago or two years ago when the Rabbinate approved it as kosher. Here's the story behind the story.
Rabbinate's new enemy: Häagen-Dazs
Senior Chief Rabbinate officials claim ice cream based on unsupervised liquid milk, therefore not kosher. Company marketing Häagen-Dazs in Israel: Product adheres to strict OU kashrut supervision
Ari Galahar • Ynet
Senior Chief Rabbinate officials have sent a letter to local rabbis, claiming that Häagen-Dazs ice cream is not kosher and therefore must not be marketed in Israel.
Following an inquiry by Ynet's local portal Mynet, the Shufersal supermarket chain announced that it would pull the ice cream from its shelves.
"The ice cream, which is sold in other stores as well, is based on pagan liquid milk (milk produced without Jewish supervision)," the letter explained, "and so it is sold in serious violations of kashrut procedures."
The letter added, "We will also the permit providers not to allow the sale of this product in supervised places. As long as the chain's management insists on selling them, the kashrut certificate may be revoked by law."
Rafi Yochai of the Rabbinate's kashrut division told Mynet that the two leading supermarket chains were violating procedures.
"Their stores have a kosher certificate, so every person observing kashrut is inclined to believe that all of the products sold in the store are kosher, when in fact that is not true because of the ice cream.
"We have already warned them three times on this matter, and this is the last time. As of the next time, we will start collecting fines of NIS 2,000 ($521) for each ice cream caught in their stores."
General Mills Israel, which markets Häagen-Dazs ice cream in the Jewish state, said in response that "the ice cream adheres to the strict and global OU kashrut supervision and is consumed by the religious and secular public in Israel and abroad.
"The Chief Rabbinate's announcement is nothing new. The super-premium ice cream is produced with liquid milk, which allows exceptional quality in product's texture and final taste."
That was Ynet's report.
Now, here's mine.
I asked the CEO of OU Ksher Rabbi Menachem Genack where Israel's Häagen Dazs is made and where the milk used in it comes from.
He told me the product is made in France. No changes were made in its processing over the past year.
Ben and Jerry's and many other ice creams use powdered milk to create the ice cream base. Häagen Dazs uses regular liquid milk.
There are two heterim, leniencies, commonly used today which allow the consumption of milk whose milking was not done under kosher supervision, and two older and much less accepted heterim for it that are used in tandem with one of the first two heterim to permit a form of unsupervised milk:
1. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (the leading American haredi rabbi from about 1960 until his death in 1986) and many, many other rabbis including Aharon Kotler held that because governments like the US require that all milk sold as cow's milk be actual cow's milk, and because the government spot checks dairies, and because non-kosher animals are not found in dairies or in the milking areas of farms, all commercially produced milk produced in the US (and Canada, Great Britain, Australia, etc.) has the status of halav yisrael, Jewish supervised milk. This milk is commonly referred to as halav stam or halav companies to distinguish it from halav yisrael milk produced with actual Jewish supervision.
2. Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem in the mid-1900s, was also on the Eidah Charedis beit din for 60 years and was for a time its head) and fewer rabbis – many, many fewer rabbis – than is the case with Rabbi Feinstein's heter, held that powdered milk made from milk that was not milked under Jewish supervision could be used, because the rabbinic prohibition against consuming otherwise kosher milk that was milked by a non-Jew without Jewish oversight does not apply to powdered milk because powdered milk did not exist almost 2000 years ago when this rabbinic prohibition was added. (Yes, children, King David, Moses, the Prophets and your ancestors all probably consumed unsupervised milk products. And the Maccabees and Hillel probably did, as well. But I digress.) Additionally, Rabbi Frank said, heter #3 (found immediately below) also could apply to powdered milk, making powdered milk kosher. But he also held that heter #3 did not make liquid milk kosher – even though heter #3 was proposed long before powdered milk existed.
3. Rabbi Hezekiah da Silva (1659, Italy – 1698, Jerusalem), known after his work the Pri Hadash, argued that one only needs to be concerned about non-supervised but otherwise kosher milk when the milk from non-kosher animals like horses or pigs is less expensive than the milk from kosher animals like cows, goats and sheep, or when milk from non-kosher animals is commonly milked and sold, but is difficult to sell because customers much prefer cow’s milk or goat milk or other milk from kosher species. When milk from kosher animals is less expensive than milk from non-kosher animals, he argues that we do not need to be concerned that non-Jews would add the more expensive milk from non-kosher animals into milk from kosher animals. In other words, if mare’s milk sells for $5 per 1/2 gallon, we don’t have to worry that the cow’s milk we buy for $2 per 1/2 gallon is adulterated with mare’s milk. (But if the cow’s milk sold for $5 per 1/2 gallon and mare’s milk sold for $2 per 1/2 gallon, we would have to worry that the unsupervised cow’s milk we want to buy is adulterated with non-kosher mare’s milk – and that would make halav yisrael, supervised kosher milk, mandatory. But this is not the case in the US or in any Western country - or in Israel.)
4. Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach Duran (Spain, 1300s), known as the Tashbetz after the title of one of his books. The Tashbetz held that in places where there are no camels, no supervision of milk is necessary. Camel milk is the only commonly consumed non-kosher milk in the world, and it is consumed almost exclusively in Arab countries. Camels are the only non-kosher animals which can be "easily" milked. Pigs are almost impossible to milk. Mares are easier but not as easy as camels (and certainly not as easy as cows). In other words, in places where non-kosher animals are not usually milked, and where such animals are not usuallly found, no kosher supervision of milking was necessary – unless the non-kosher animal in question is a camel, in which case, supervision of all milking would be necessary to make sure camel's milk is not added into the cow's (or goat's or sheep's) milk.
Israel's Chief Rabbinate follows heter #2.
Häagen Dazs is produced following heter #1.
Somehow the Chief Rabbinate did not know this. It relied on the OU and other Diaspora kosher supervisions, thinking the milk used was either actual liquid halav yisrael milk or that the milk used was in powdered form – until it recently discovered that Häagen Dazs uses liquid milk not powdered milk, and that it is produced relying on heter #1.
Or perhaps the Chief Rabbinate did know it but allowed Häagen Dazs to be sold anyway. Then, after years passed, someone unaware of the original exception to the Rabbinate's general rule forbidding products made with liquid unsupervised cow's milk discovered how Häagen Dazs is made and made a stink.
Or perhaps this is mostly political, involving a fight between importers or brand owners or between rabbis.
What we do know is that the Häagen Dazs sold in Israel today is produced the same way in the same place as the Häagen Dazs sold in Israel last year or the year before.
The really odd thing is that milk from non-kosher animals is much lower in fat than milk from kosher animals, and any ice cream made with it would not be premium and certainly could not be sold as the super premium high in fat Häagen Dazs.
In other words, camels are not commerically raised or milked in France (at least on the type of scale necessary to impact this situation). Pigs are not commerically milked. And the milk from camels, pigs and mares all make terribly bad ice cream. On top of that, France has labeling laws that prohibit adulterating food, and dairies are supervised for compliance, cleanliness and health issues. And the cost of mare's milk or camel's milk is higher than cow's milk.
Rabbi Frank's heter has the least halakhic support. Ample reasons exist to rely on Rabbi Feinstein, the Pri Hadash and the Tashbetz – not the least of which is that it is very possible that Rabbi Frank would have allowed unsupervised liquid milk to used in ice cream (which was not commercially available in Israel on any wide scale when he was alive) because non-kosher milk makes horrible ice cream that has no commercial value, which means there is no financial incentive to adulterate the ice cream with milk from non-kosher animals in the first place. And any adulteration would ruin the ice cream and would be easily noticed by consumers.
That means there are three very good reasons to rule that Häagen Dazs is kosher and one extremely weak reason to rule that it is not.
So why did Israel's haredi-controlled chief rabbinate opt to keep following that one extremely weak reason?
I don't know.
Perhaps one day, we'll find out.