If Cows Could Ask Even One Question

Passover came early for the cows among us this year, as milk-producing beasts across Israel found themselves subjected to a special diet weeks ahead of the holiday, to ensure that even long-life milk served during the course of the festival is certified as kosher by the Chief Rabbinate. Yaakov Becher, the chairman of the Israel Cattle Breeders Association, said yesterday that initial preparations began two months ago, with the removal of straw from dairies and the installation of special filters in milking systems. "Of course, all the milk always goes through clean and sanitized piping, but we are taking extra care," said the manager of the dairy at Kibbutz Kfar Blum, Yehuda Weinstein.

According to another dairy farmer, Lennie Kaplan, of Kibbutz Ma'aleh Gilboa, of Hakibbutz Hadati (the movement of Orthodox kibbutzim), the filters are just the beginning of the process. Five weeks later, the cows are subjected to a change of diet. During Pesach, "cattle belonging to Jews must not eat food that can ferment, and when cows, eat their saliva may cause fermentation in some grains," says Peretz Shorek, feeding supervisor for the breeders association. "So coming up to Pesach, we cannot feed them any of the five species of grain," he added, referring to wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt, that constitute hametz, leavened foods that can't be eaten during Passover.

Shorek says the dietary changes are carried out with great care for the animals' health. "To prevent development of any health problems, the new menu must be well balanced," he explains. "Every dairy worker in Israel receives a set of instructions designed to help prevent any harm to the cows."

Becher says that, "the Pesach menu is based mostly on legumes, corn and chickpeas taking the place of the grains we use throughout the year. The cows' stomachs are sensitive, so the change is very gradual - we serve hametz mixed with Passover food and slowly change the ratio of one to the other, up to a week before the seder."

"If my cows could talk, they'd probably ask me why the sudden change in their diet," says Kfar Blum's Weinstein. "Imagine you were forced to live on nothing but cucumbers for a month," he complains on behalf of his animals. "But there's not much to do - these are the demands of the market, and I need to sell my products."

But it's not only the cows who have to begin observing the holiday in advance - the dairy farmers too, who often take their lunches in the dairy, will not be able to eat hametz beginning tomorrow, a week before the start of Passover. "No farmer will deviate from that," says Weinstein, who explains that he learned some time ago that there are three Israelis institutions you don't mess around with: the Income Tax Authority, the army and the Rabbinate.