The Mishnah in the second perek of Avodah Zara, discusses an interesting question that was raised by Rebbi Yishmael to Rebbi Yehoshua: “Why is it that cheese from a non-Jew is forbidden?” The answer given is that for cheese to solidify, one needs to let it stand in the stomach of an animal. This point needs some clarification.
It is common knowledge that the source of the dietary laws in the Torah are learnt from the verse, which is repeated three times: “thou shall not cook a kid in its mother milk”. This verse teaches that mixtures of milk and meat are forbidden whether it is to eat, cook or gain any benefit from. However, there is one condition. In order to be classified as a mixture for Torah purposed, they must be cooked and not pickled or constitute any other form of mixing.
This question of cheese has been raised by many Rabbis. The problem seems to have been that there were some Jews who were accustomed to eat cheese made by a non-Jew which had been in the stomach of a kosher animal. Therefore was there ever a reason for allowing cheese or not? The Tosafos explains that the reason for cheeses to be permitted is that there is either certainly 60 times more milk than the absorbed rennet or minimally it is a doubt if there is less than 60 times more milk, since this is only a Rabbinical prohibition, one can rely on the rule of safek d’rabbanan le’kulah. The Ri MiGash cited in the Rambam, explains that there is always 60 and that the only potential prohibition would be that of “ma’amid”(catalyst). The problem of a catalyst would be that the rennet is drawn into the milk, however one basic principle of ma’amid is that the catalyst can only move an issur and not create an issur. Rabbi Akiva Eiger and others disagreed on either one or both premises and rejected the heter to use the cheese.
In conclusion, some Rabbis believed that the cheese that was made using the rennet from an animal would not violate any prohibitions either Torah or Rabbinic. Nowadays, when we are blessed and are able to purchase cheese made by Jews, it would seem good advice to purchase them.
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