Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 26 May 2012 / 4 Sivan 5772

Hard Cheese Complexities

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

With Shavuos[1] rapidly approaching, it has become almost customary to pontificate on the topic of the halachic prohibition of mixing meat and milk and the mandated waiting period between them. Commonly addressed is the issue of hard cheese, the one dairy item that requires a similar six hour wait after consumption. This article attempts to focus on this key issue, and hopes to clear up any confusion on the topic.

This prohibition, although not mentioned in the Gemara, nevertheless dates back to the days of one of the greatest Rishonim, the Maharam M’Rottenberg[2]. It seems that a while after he ate a piece of hard cheese he reported that he still felt the residue of the cheese in his mouth. He concluded that hard cheese shares similar properties with meat, and therefore maintained that is proper to wait a corresponding amount of time after eating such cheese before partaking of a meat meal, as one normally would between meat and dairy. Although some authorities felt that the Maharam only mandated this for himself as a personal stringency[3], nevertheless, most decisors understood that the Maharam was introducing a new halacha, meant for all of Klal Yisrael[4]. In fact, this is how the Rema[5] rules, (and followed by virtually all later authorities[6]) that it is appropriate[7] to wait a commensurate amount of time after eating hard cheese as one would wait after eating meat[8].

Defining Hard Cheese

So, what exactly constitutes “hard cheese”, and thus necessitates a waiting period? As with many other halachic issues, this is debated by the authorities. The accepted conclusion is that if one’s cheese fits into one or more of the following categories, then it would be considered “hard cheese” and thus requires a full waiting period:

  1. That it is aged six months[9] (Parmesan would usually fit this category).
  2. It is “holey”[10] as a result of production (As in “Holey Swiss Cheese”).
  3. It is an extremely fatty and greasy cheese[11] (Making the taste linger much longer).
  4. It is very strong and sharp[12] (Limburger would be a good example of this).

Any cheese that does not meet at least one of these requirements, to all intents and purposes, is considered soft cheese and would only entail rinsing and cleaning of the mouth and hands[13] [14].

American and Yellow Cheese

The standard everyday cheeses used for grilled cheese, cheese toasts and pizza etc., [American, Yerushalayim, Mozzerella, Achuza, Gush Chalav etc.] would not seem to fit any of the above criteria and would not require a waiting period. And, in fact, the majority of contemporary authorities, including Rav Aharon Kotler, the Chazon Ish, and Rav Moshe Feinstein[15], rule that they are not considered halachic hard cheese. Rav Aharon related that most people do not know what real hard cheese is - a cheese that needs a “rib-eisen” (sharp grater) to cut off pieces. This would exclude our common cheeses, which can easily be pulled apart with our bare hands[16].

But if it’s so simple, why are there people who claim that one must wait after eating any sort of semi-hard cheese? Some even take this a step further and assert that it is Minhag Eretz Yisrael to wait a full six hours after eating pizza!

Minhag Eretz Yisrael?

The answer is based on a few enigmatic statements and responsae by several contemporary Gedolei Eretz Yisrael - Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlit”a and Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner shlit”a .

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is quoted as ruling that one must wait the “full count” after eating the Israeli “Yellow Cheese” (Yerushalayim, Achuza, Gush Chalav, etc.). Rav Elyashiv and Rav Wosner both wrote responsae asserting similarly, that although not fitting the “hard cheese” criteria established by earlier authorities, nevertheless, one should still wait after these cheeses. Following their lead, several other authorities rule stringently as well[17]. Consequently, many people, especially in Eretz Yisrael, maintain that one should wait after eating these cheeses.

However, if one would properly and thoroughly analyze the actual responsae of these Gedolim, he might conclude rather differently.

Finding out Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s authentic opinion is easier said than done. His opinion is quoted in no less than six separate sefarim (!) each relating conflicting and contradictory accounts of what his ruling was[18]. The varied accounts include a lenient ruling on this topic, namely that these “yellow cheeses” are not considered hard cheese at all. It would therefore seem incongruous to be stringent on account of his reportedly machmir opinion.

Rav Wosner wrote his responsum over forty-five years ago[19], and he writes that he personally is stringent, as (at the time) it was impossible to tell how long the cheeses were aged, since there was no manufacturer’s dating code printed on it. Since it was possible that the “yellow cheese” sold was aged for six months, he was machmir. However, nowadays, with the actual manufacturing date printed on every package, one can easily see if this cheese was aged for six months or not. In fact, more recent accounts of Rav Wosner’s opinion are that one does not have to wait after eating these “yellow cheeses”[20].

As for Rav Elyashiv’s responsum, he definitely does rule that one must wait after eating such cheese[21]. But his reasoning has puzzled many. Rav Elyashiv writes that one must be stringent, for the taste of these “yellow cheeses” are charif v’chazak - “sharp and strong”, terms which many would only associate with such strong cheeses as Limburger, Gold Cheddar, and Roquefort. Several later authorities, including Dayan Y.Y. Fischer zt”l of the Bada”tz Eida Charedis, have been perplexed by Rav Elyashiv’s words, since “yellow cheese” as we know it is neither sharp nor strong tasting[22].

Additionally, the Ben Ish Chai, over a hundred years ago, related that Minhag Yerushalayim is to be lenient with such “hard cheeses”[23]. Moreover, as mentioned previously, the great Chazon Ish, final arbiter for much of Eretz Yisrael[24], ruled that nowadays, unless a cheese is aged for a full year, it is not considered “hard cheese”, and our “yellow cheeses” most definitely do not meet that criterion. In conclusion, the claim that the prevailing custom in Eretz Yisrael is to wait after “yellow cheese” seems unsubstantiated[25].

A Cheesy Hetter

Pizza and other melted cheese favorites actually have an additional consideration to be lenient, even if actual hard cheese is used. The Yad Yehuda[26] rules that if hard cheese is melted, then it no longer retains the status of hard cheese and one is not required to wait after eating it. Although not unanimously accepted (as the cheese’s taste remains unchanged even in its melted form)[27], nevertheless, several later authorities follow this ruling as well[28]. They assert that one may definitely rely on this leniency regarding pizza since it is made with melted Mozzarella or “yellow cheese”.

There is strong basis for the generally accepted custom of not waiting six hours after grilled cheese and pizza. Yet, these days, when it’s popular to use all types of exotic ingredients in gourmet cooking, it may be worthwhile to check your cheese packaging very carefully!

This article was adapted from an original Hebrew version, published in Kovetz Ohr Yisrael (vol. 62, Nissan 5771). To obtain a copy of that full version, with its extensive sources and footnotes, please contact the author at:

[1]Aside for its many names in Biblibal and Rabbinic literature, Shavuos is also known throughout Israelas the “Holiday of Cheese”. See previous article “The Halachic Challenges of the Cheesecake”.

[2]Shu”t Maharam M’Rottenberg (615), also cited by the Mordechai (Chullin 627) and the Hagahos Ashiri (glosses to the Rosh to Chullin 105). On a historical side note, the Maharam M’Rottenberg, was niftar in captivity after being unjustly imprisoned, in order to force the resident Jews to pay an exorbitant ransom to fill the Emperor's depleted coffers. The Maharam refused to allow himself to be ransomed, fearing that it would set a dangerous precedent of rulers holding rabbis captive and forcing the unfortunate Jews to pay the price. Indeed, a short while after his passing, the Emperor attempted to do the same for the Maharam’s prized pupil, the Rosh, who only narrowly avoided capture, escaping to Spain.

[3]The Maharshal (Chullin, Ch.8, 6) was extremely adamant about this, maintaining that no one else has to wait due to the Maharam’s personal account.

[4]Issur V’Hetter (40, 8 s.v. vay), Beis Yosef (O.C. 173 s.v. v’yesh machmirim), Darchei Moshe (Y”D 89, 2), Shach (Y”D 89, 17).

[5]Rema Y”D 89, end 2.

[6]Including ad loc. Shach (15), Taz (4), Pri Chadash (16), Levush (2), Pri Megadim (M.Z. 4; S.D 15 & 16), Machatzis HaShekel (15),Chochmas Adam (40, 13), Yad Yehuda (Piha”k 26), Chida (Shiyurei Bracha 13), Atzei HaOlah (BB”C 3, 16), Chaguras Shmuel (18), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (46, 11), Zivchei Tzedek (27), Aruch Hashulchan (11), Mishna Berura (494, Shaar Hatzion 15), and Kaf Hachaim (46 - 47).

[7]However, the Rema himself qualifies that this halacha is intrinsically a chumra, and “one may not yell at anyone who does not follow it”. There are several halchic dispensations due to this. See for example, Maadanei Hashulchan (Y”D 89, Matamei Hashulchan 11).

[8] Since the whole waiting period after hard cheese is based on the waiting period after meat, one may not wait less time after eating meat than he would after eating hard cheese - Shach (Y”D 89, 17).

[9]Issur V’Hetter, Shach, Pri Chadash, Pri Megadim, Machatzis Hashekel, Chaguras Shmuel (ibid.), Ben Ish Chai (Year 2, Parshas Shlach 15). See Shu”t Shulchan Halevi (vol. 1,Ch. 25s.v. u’beair).

[10]Issur V’Hetter, Taz, Pri Megadim, Atzei HaOlah, Zivchei Tzedek, Kaf Hachaim (ibid.), Chasam Sofer (Gloss to the Taz).

[11]Aruch Hashulchan (ibid.).

[12]Taz, Pri Megadim, Chaguras Shmuel, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (ibid.), However, see Chasam Sofer, Atzei HaOlah, and Yad Yehuda (ibid.).

[13]For more on this topic see earlier article “The Halachic Power of a Diyuk”. There are also those who follow the standard understanding of the Zohar (Parshas Mishpatim pg. 125, 1) and wait one hour after eating any dairy product. Others customarily wait a half-hour, even though there is no known source for this. There are different rationales offered to explain this. Perhaps this issue will be addressed in a future article.

[14]There are those who are also strict with making Birchas HaMazon between a dairy and a meat meal. This is a tremendous dispute among halachic authorities, whether Birchas HaMazon is required after eating dairy before eating meat. Perhaps this issue will be addressed in a future article.

[15]These Gedolim include Rav Aharon Kotler (cited in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch - Pfeiffer, on BB”C, vol. 1, Kuntress HaBiurim pg. 138), the Chazon Ish (Maaseh Ish vol. 5, pg. 22), Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited in Shu”t Mishneh Halachos vol. 16, 9), the Ba’er Moshe (Pischei Halacha on Hilchos Kashrus pg. 108), Rav Y.Y. Fischer (Shu”t Even Yisrael vol. 9, 68), Rav Moshe Halberstam (cited in Shu”t Shav V’Rafa vol. 2, 26), Rav Chaim P. Scheinberg (cited in Shu”t Shav V’Rafa vol. 2, 26), Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Nezer Chaim, Devarim Nochachim 124), the Rivevos Efraim (cited in sefer Yigal Yaakov footnote 247), Rav Yisrael HaLevi Belsky (Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi vol. 1, Ch. 22, 1), and Rav Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher al HaTorah, Shmos 61, 2).

[16]See Megillas Sefer (on BB”C 89, 5 s.v. uvagvinos) who proves this from Gemara Shabbos 121b.

[17]Including the Maadanei Hashulchan (89, 30; Shu”t Maadanei Melachim 89 & 90), the Mishneh Halachos (Shu”t vol. 16, 9) and the Avnei Yashpei (Shu”t vol. 6, 112, 2), all of whom say that they follow the psak and rationales of these Gedolim to rule stringently with “yellow cheese”. The Minchas Yitzchok was also quoted as saying “yesh makom l’hachmir” (cited in Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 2, 388).

[18]Sefer HaKashrus (Ch. 10, 50, footnote 126) quotes Rav Shlomo Zalman as being stringent as the high fat percentages used in modern day “yellow cheese” causes the taste to linger much longer, similar to real hard cheese. Yet, Me’ohr HaShabbos (vol. 3, Teshuvos - 38, 1) cites a different (erroneous - see footnote 25) reason entirely why Rav Shlomo Zalman was machmir, as nowadays, with modern day chemicals etc., cheese can be aged 6 months in a relatively short time, and therefore the common “yellow cheese” is considered as if it was already aged 6 months.Yet, two other reliable sources,Rav Aharon Pfeiffer’s Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (on BB”C, vol. 1, Kuntress HaBiurim pg. 138), and in Kovetz Moriah (Teves 5756, Piskei Halachos shel HaGRS”Z) both report that Rav Shlomo Zalman maintained that “yellow cheese” is not considered hard cheese, and no waiting period is required. However, they relate that he personally was indeed stringent. The Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2 Ch.12, 13, footnote 50) tries to synthesize all these accounts and opines that Rav Shlomo Zalman originally only mandated waiting after real hard cheeses. But, in his later years, after “it became difficult to tell the differences between cheeses”, he became more stringent and ruled as well for others. The only problem with this is that in Shu”t Shav V’Rafa (vol. 2, 26), Rav Shmuel Auerbach shlit”a is quoted as saying that his father, Rav Shlomo Zalman, held that there is absolutely no reason to be stringent with ‘yellow cheeses” at all.

[19]Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (vol. 2, 35).

[20]See Shu”t Mishneh Halachos (ibid. s.v. uvadavar) who although ruling to be machmir like Rav Elyashiv and the Shevet HaLevi’s psak, nevertheless concludes that if there are manufacturing dates printed on the cheese packaging, one may rely on them. See also Kovetz M’Bais Levi (vol. 6, 5755- from Rav Wosner’s Beis Medrash) who concludes that one does not need to wait after “yellow cheese”. This is also corroborated (in Shu”t Shav V’Rafa ibid.) by Rav S. Berman shlit”a, who said that Rav Wosner told him explicitly that one does not have to wait after such cheeses.

[21]Kovetz Teshuvos (vol. 1, 58, 2).

[22]Shu”t Even Yisrael (vol. 9, 68, 2), Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi (vol. 1, Ch. 22, 1), Shu”t Shav V’Rafa (ibid., quoting Rav Y. Wiener).

[23]Ben Ish Chai (Year 2, Parshas Shlach 15).

[24]The Chazon Ish’s nephew (and Rav Elyashiv’s son-in-law) Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a (see footnote 15) rules this way as well. See Shu”t Maadanei Melachim 87 & 88 for a possible explanation. For more on the deference shown for the words of the great Chazon Ish, see recent article: “Buffalo Burgers and the Zebu Contoversy”.

[25]In the words of Rav Yaakov Blau shlit”a of the Bada”tz Eida Charedis (to this author), “to wait after yellow cheese is a chumra bli ta’am”! One of the recent sevaros that some claim to be machmir is that nowadays, with modern day chemicals etc., cheese can be “aged as if 6 months” in a relatively short time, and therefore the common “yellow cheese” is considered as if it was already aged 6 months, and consequently is hard cheese. The only problem with this beautiful logic is that it is not true! A while back, this author visited Tnuva’s main cheese-making factory in Israel with three renowned kashrus and halachic experts (mv”r Rabbi Yonason Wiener and Rabbi Mordechai Kuber, and av”m Rabbi Manish Spitz) and the Tnuva factory cheese specialists explained that this rationale does not hold water, and no additional chemicals or enzymes are used to “speed up” the cheese process, which is pretty much the same as it always was - sitting and ageing in a “bacteria culture bath” for a period of time. This is echoed by renowned kashrus expert Rav Yisrael Belsky shlit”a, who is also the chief Posek for the OU (Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi ibid. Appendix s.v. gam) who uses very sharp terms to disprove the claims of the machmirim based on this erroneous rationale. The Tnuva expert also informed us that the “yellow cheese” average processing time is only 18 days! This was later confirmed by Rav Yaakov Blau shlit”a, who heads the Bada”tz Eida Chareidis Hashgacha, who added that standard “yellow cheese” is not aged for more than 25 days, nowhere near the six month mark. So even if the standard “yellow cheese” continues to age in the fridge and store shelf, it still has a long way to go to reach six months. This is why Rav Blau called waiting after its consumption a “chumra bli ta’am”.

[26]Yad Yehuda (89 Piha”k 26). However, there is some contemporary debate as to his exact intent. See Rabbi Doniel Neustadt’s Daily Halacha Discussion (pg. 238, 22), Rabbi Binyomin Forst’s The Laws of Kashrus (Ch. 8, 2, 96), and Kovetz Ohr Yisrael vol. 6, pg. 89, s.v. ulam).

[27]Including the Ben Ish Chai (ibid.), Rav Elyashiv (ibid.), Badei Hashulchan (pg. 63, Biurim s.v. v’chein), Avnei Yashpei (ibid.), and the Maadanei Melachim (Shu”t 91). They all write that there is no difference between melted or solid hard cheese concerning the waiting period.

[28]Including the Atzei HaOlah (BB”C 3, 17, Chukei Chaim 16), Rav Ezriel Auerbach (son of Rav Shlomo Zalman and son-in-law of Rav Elyashiv, cited in Kashrus in the Kitchen Q & A - Teshuvospg. 216), Rav Yisrael HaLevi Belsky (Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi ibid. s.v. zos), and in Kovetz Pri Temarim (vol. 5, pg. 128, 82).

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Disclaimer: These are just a few basic guidelines and overview of the Halacha discussed in this article. This is by no means a complete comprehensive authoritative guide, but rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issue. One should not compare similar cases in order to rules in any real case, but should refer his questions to a competent Halachic authority.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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