I live in rural Montana where the Cholov Yisrael milk is difficult to obtain and very expensive. So I drink regular milk. What is your view on this?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Jewish law requires that there be rabbinic supervision during the milking process to ensure that the milk comes from a kosher animal. In the United States, many people rely on the Department of Agriculture's regulations and controls as sufficiently stringent to fulfill the rabbinic requirement for supervision.
Most of the major Kashrut organizations in the United States rely on this as well. You will therefore find many kosher products in America certified with a 'D' next to the kosher symbol. Such products – unless otherwise specified on the label – are not Cholov Yisrael and are assumed kosher based on the DOA's guarantee.
There are many, however, do not rely on this, and will eat only dairy products that are designated as Cholov Yisrael (literally, "Jewish milk"). This is particularly true in large Jewish communities, where Cholov Yisrael is widely available.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote that under limited conditions, such as an institution which consumes a lot of milk and Cholov Yisrael is generally unavailable or especially expensive, American milk is acceptable, as the government supervision is adequate to prevent non-kosher ingredients from being added.
It should be added that the above only applies to milk itself, which is marketed as pure cow's milk. All other dairy products, such as cheeses and butter, may contain non-kosher ingredients and always require kosher certification. In addition, Rabbi Feinstein's ruling applies only in the United States, where government regulations are considered reliable. In other parts of the world, including Europe, Cholov Yisrael is a requirement.
There are additional esoteric reasons for being stringent regarding Cholov Yisrael, and because of this it is generally advisable to consume only Cholov Yisroel dairy foods.
I know that Judaism places many restrictions on Shabbat activities – writing, electricity, etc. But when I opened up the Bible to read about that, I couldn't find anything at all! How can that be? And where does this information originate from?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
You are correct that most of this information is not written in the Bible. But it does appear in the Talmud, the compendium of orally-transmitted Jewish law and ideas.
It is important to clarify a common misconception many people have about the role of the Oral Torah in Judaism.
The Oral Torah is not an interpretation of the Written Torah. The fact is, the Oral Torah preceded the Written Torah. When the Jewish People stood at Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago, God revealed Himself to the entire Jewish people. He then gave Moses the 613 commandments along with a detailed explanation of how the Jewish People were to fulfill them. At that point in time, the teachings were entirely oral.
It wasn't until 40 years later, just prior to Moses' death and the Jewish people's entering the Land of Israel, that the written Torah as we know it (containing various stories and sources for the mitzvahs), was given to the Jewish people.
In the written Torah, it doesn't say anywhere what work we shouldn't do on Shabbat. All it says is: "You may do work during the six weekdays, but the seventh day shall be holy for you... Do not ignite a fire in any of your dwelling-places on Shabbat day." (Exodus 35:2-3)
It says, "Don't do any work." And if you do work, the punishment is death by stoning! So what work shouldn't we do? The Bible doesn't say!
Were it not for the Oral Torah, we would be left clueless as to how to observe Shabbat. In fact, the Oral Law tells us that there are 39 categories of prohibited work on Shabbat.
If the entire Torah would have been given in writing, everyone would be able to interpret it as he desired. This would lead to division and discord among people who followed the Torah in different ways. The Oral Torah, on the other hand, requires a central authority to preserve it, thus assuring the unity of Israel.
God – in His infinite wisdom – devised the consummate system for transmitting Torah throughout the generations. It is not a written law, and it is not an oral law. It's both.
Whenever I go to a religious home for havdalah, I notice that they use whole cloves for the blessing on the spices (besamim). Is there some special significance to this, or can any spice be used?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
As far as I know, there is no special sanctity to whole cloves. The purpose of the besamim is to cheer us up from the loss of our “extra souls” (neshama yetaira) which depart at the conclusion of Shabbat (Rashbam to Talmud Pesachim 102b). Just about any naturally-occurring aromatic object may be used for this.
I suspect that cloves became customary because they retain their aroma for a long time and they were readily available in areas such as northern Europe. Today we take for granted the wide availability of an array of exotic spices which were no doubt virtually unknown to our ancestors in Europe.
There are a few rules to keep in mind in terms of what to use for besamim:
(a) It is best not to use manmade substances for the besamim, as some are of the opinion that a blessing should not be recited on them (V’Zos HaBracha 19:4).
(b) Spices which are not used to produce a good smell but are placed to remove bad odors – such as air fresheners put up in bathrooms – should not be used for besamim. According to many opinions, one does not recite a blessing on them (Shulachan Aruch 217:2 with Bi'ur Halacha). (Most such substances are manmade anyway.)
(c) It is proper to set aside spices especially for besamim (Mishnah Berurah 297:9). And it’s a good idea to keep them in a closed container so they retain their scent.
(d) Some have the custom to take hadasim (myrtle) leaves left from the lulav for the besamim. Since they were used for one mitzvah, they should be taken for another. However, one should be careful that they haven’t dried out to the extent that they no longer give off a good odor (Shulchan Aruch & Rema 297:4).
(e) The Sages instituted slightly different blessings for different types of plants – such as aromatic grasses, wood or fruit. It is best to take standard spices for havdalah to avoid this situation. Even if one does take say, cinnamon bark, he still recites the standard blessing – borei minei besamim – since the Sages wanted to avoid confusion (Mishnah Berurah 297:1).