Milking on Shabbat

Texts and beliefs By Rabbi David Golinkin 24th Jul 2014

Responsum:In the 1950s, two of the major halakhic authorities in Israel, Rabbi Yishayahu Karelitz (Hazon Ish) and Rabbi Shaul Israeli (Amud Hayemini) dealt with this question, and reached the conclusion that the use of an automatic milking machine was allowed on Shabbat, and that if done in the proper fashion, the milk could be used and sold as any other milk. Therefore the responsum which follows does not break new ground, but comes to teach the kibbutz members the reasons for this ruling.

Milking on Shabbat is not allowed (Shabbat 95a and 144b). However, several ways were found to circumvent the prohibition because of the injunction against causing suffering to animals (Exodus 23:5; Bava Metzia 32b; Maimonides, Laws of Murder 13:8).

Already at the time of the Ge’onim permission was given to ask a non-Jew on Friday to milk the animals on Shabbat (Sha’aray Teshuva no. 221). This and similar solutions which rely on non-Jews were accepted until the twentieth century.

When the Halutzim began to raise cattle and sheep in the Land of Israel in the twentieth century, they needed a dispensation to milk on Shabbat, not only in order to avoid causing suffering to animals, but also because of the commandment to settle the Land of Israel and because of the large loss of income. They could not rely on non-Jews, both for security reasons, and because the British forbade Arabs from entering Jewish agricultural settlements, in order not to transmit hoof-and-mouth disease. Different solutions were proposed by different halakhic authorities, but none of them were very practical for large farms with hundred of animals, until the invention of the automatic milking machine in the 1940s.

In conclusion, there is a general agreement that it is permissible to use an automatic milking machine on Shabbat. Despite the fact that this was decided more than forty years ago, there are still disagreements concerning the details of using these machines. Therefore, we recommend a visit to religious kibbutzim which raise cattle and sheep in order to learn from them how they use the automatic milking machines on Shabbat.

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