Judaism offers ways to make every area of life kadosh/קדוש, holy. We do this by creating sanctifications/distinctions for eating (kosher vs treif), days of the week (Shabbat vs other days), and other areas. However, over the milennia, practices on this subject have increased in stringency, especially in the last 300 years. In the last generation, some leaders within Orthodoxy and Conservative/Masorti Judaism have taken a new look at assumptions about what it means to be “strictly kosher”. Many things observant Jews assume to be binding and traditional, are really not quite so.
Many observant Jews use only Cholov Yisroel (Hebrew: חלב ישראל) milk and dairy products. These are products that have been under constant rabbinical supervision from milking to bottling, to make sure that it is not adulterated with the milk of a non-kosher animal.
Today this is not a practical concern in the USA or most western countries; As such, most Modern Orthodox rabbis, and all Conservative rabbis, have ruled that FDA supervision is sufficient to be considered automatically kosher.
Is there such a thing as “Cholov Yisrael” cheese? (that is, cheese where a Jew watched over the whole production process to ensure that a gentile did not substitute a non-kosher animals milk into the ingredients)
Considering that the Talmud tells us that only milk of a kosher animal curdles , and that it is echoed by the Rambam (Maachalot Asurot 3:12) and Tosfos, we are on safe ground when we note that this is just another way that some kashrut agencies attempt to get more money for an item that need not be “Cholov Yisroel”.
Isn’t rennet an issue? Irvin Branwein writes:
A respectable and acknowledged body of Jewish legal opinion permits all hard cheeses made with rennet. Rabbenu Tam (b. 1100) grandson of Rashi, halakhic authority and leading luminary of the Franco-German, tosafist tradition, has written: “We have never found a proper reason to forbid the cheese of the gentiles and moreover, the Sages of Narbonne have permitted them.” [Talmud, Avodah Zarah, 35a, s.v. Hadda Qa-tanna]
More recently, orthodox, religious authorities have cited the Arukh Hashulhan in their lenient decisions on cheeses made with rennet. [Rabbis Hankin and Graubart, in HaPardes, Iyyar, 5722, page 9, and E’iduth L’Israel, pp.173-176, responsa, Havallim Bane’immim, Y.D. 23]
– Changing the Halakha, Irvin Branwein, Judaism, Issue No. 200, Volume 50, Number 4, Fall 2001