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Mar 14 2011

Infant Formula Shortage among Hasidic Jews

By at 12:44 pm

Hasidic families in the United States are about to reach a crisis of sorts. Many Orthodox Jews, including Hasidim, will only use certain dairy products, including a type of infant formula that’s only available as an import from Israel — and now it’s no longer available.

Let me explain. There’s a certain kosher stringency, called chlolov yisroel, that many Orthodox families abide by. Only two types of formula, Materna and Similac, manufacture acceptable versions. Similac is ridiculously expensive — look, here’s a 32-oz. package for $42.99 — and so Materna, which is shipped here from Israel, is a relative bargain at $10 or so a case.

Or it was until this week.

In Crown Heights and Flatbush, Brooklyn, all the supermarkets are sold out of dairy formula. Calls to other Orthodox supermarkets, including Empire Kosher and Kollel Mart, indicated the same: All supplies of Materna are gone, and nobody has any idea when — or if — they’ll be permitted into the country again. And, though we have yet to hear confirmation that the USDA has specifically banned Materna milk from entering the country, they have confirmed that Israeli dairy imports are under scrutiny because of cases of Foot & Mouth Disease.

Supplies of soy-based formula are still available, although they’re going quickly (and, health-wise, the American Academy of Pediatrics also says that soy formula is less desirable than dairy — although we all know that human breast milk is ideal).

“I only use cholov yisroel formula,” said Friedel Levin, a Crown Heights mother and community leader. “It’s the best choice for my baby’s soul.”

It’s a scary prospect. I never thought baby formula was important to have around until we needed it. I mean, breasts are kind of an all-purpose Swiss Army knife of childcare, right? (At least, it always seemed so from my male point of view — a simultaneous food source, comfort source, and instant crying-suppressant.) But, in the New York area alone, there are thousands of Hasidic families with infant children, and a lot of them rely on formula.

We’ll keep you updated.

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22 Responses to Infant Formula Shortage among Hasidic Jews

  1. Dina says:

    I wonder if part of the reason so many charedi women are using formula is if they breastfeed there might be a chance that they are required to breastfeed in public and this could be seriously un-tsnius (in their circles)….
    I live up the block from Boro park and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any women nursing on a park bench or in a pizza place, but I do see women out with babies.

    Yes, I guess they could pump a bottle before they go out with the baby but that would be kindof a drag to do it for that reason(in my opinion).

  2. Evan says:

    My Jewish partner and I adopted…and got breast milk from: (where you can also ask for milk from Jewish moms if you like).

  3. Cyndi, yes, but they are not as good for the baby.

  4. Casey says:

    The sky is falling….the sky is falling…the sky is falling…

    Oh wait…it’s an acorn.

    Breastfeed. Problem solved.

  5. Rochel says:

    Please don’t be quick to judge. Some babies are allergic to soy. I nursed 5 children, and my milk supply dried up with my 6th because of medicine I was taking (my doctor had not informed me that it could interfere with lactation). I agonized, but he did fine with milk-based formula. Soy he would not have been able to use. So please understand that these women are not using formula to “go the easy route.” We’re talking about women who have on average about 7 or 8 kids!!! They are quite devoted to their children’s wellbeing!

  6. Mika says:

    Donor milk is always an option for women who cannot fully breastfeed. I am sure there are plenty of willing Jewish donors.

  7. Jonathan says:

    The link to selling similac appears to be for six bottles at the 42.99 price. That’s not much more than standard ready to feed Similac. Powder is cheaper but I’m pretty sure there’s a chalav yisroel version.

  8. Beth says:

    I posted this elsewhere, but perhaps mothers should be more encouraged to breastfeed. Especially given this:

    Not making enough milk/not making milk at all is an extremely rare occurrence. Milk supply, however, can be unnaturally low by poor advice regarding breastfeeding. And, sometimes, it can be hard to recover from that kind of situation.

  9. Nancy says:

    Maybe another possibility is vegan formula or making your own formula.

  10. Emalehmedusa says:

    This is a failure of the rabbis and their followers. You think your greatgrandmother’s generation in Europe had “cholov yisroel” certified milk? Enfamil won’t kill your kid’s soul. It’s not even treyf!

    • Mottel says:

      Cholov Yisroel was the norm among most Jewish communities – especially those in Eastern Europe – for most of our history. “Cholov Stam” is a modern innovation that would not have been even possible before modern standards of food supervision.

      In short – yes our great-grandmothers did keep cholov yisroel.

  11. JL says:

    The article clearly says that Similac is also acceptable. There is plenty of Similac around, so use that before you give your baby soybean formula. (Which again, stated in the article is NOT recommended unless there is a dairy allergy)

  12. Chana says:


    Some women don’t have enough milk or any milk for their babies, I’m not one of them but I know several in that position, they would breastfeed if they had the milk, and yes, they did seek support from breastfeeding professionals.

  13. Cyndi they are, but are even poorer nutritionally than cow’s milk formula.

  14. Karen says:

    Breastfeeding my first 5 babies was a distinct joy, but at 39, I found myself with a hungry newborn who gave up on eating, 5 days after birth. During his hospitalization for “failure to thrive,” it was concluded that my low milk supply had discouraged him. I worked on increasing my supply with nutrition and pumping. I consulted with my midwife and 2 lactation consultants. I exposed my nipples to more scrutiny than a modest woman would like to admit, and still my little one wouldn’t eat. Tearfully I conceded to the need for formula, and I was so grateful for it when my son began to thrive again. I hope this formula crisis will be resolved soon- it can be a miracle for those who need it.

  15. Sara says:

    Some mothers do try hard to breastfeed and simply cannot adequately nourish their infant through their breast milk alone. No amount of support will help some women, they simply don’t produce enough milk.

    I think going on anecdotal evidence there is a higher percentage of haredi mothers who do breastfeed than there is in the general population of any western nation.

  16. Carla says:

    Yes, yes, breast milk is great when possible. But for those mothers who can’t or have chosen not to nurse their babies – what are the options? If a milk-based formula is healthier than soy-based, would a Rabbi allow them to purchase a different brand of dairy formula, even if it’s not cholov Israel, for health reasons?

  17. Liz says:

    What could be better than milk from the babies Jewish mother? Stop with the formula and do what we were meant to do, breast feed!

    • Nancy says:

      You’ve got a narrow worldview there, don’t you, Liz? Basically, your statement amounts to a belief that babies should starve to death, rather than be given formula. Pull your keppie out of your tuchus, please.

  18. Many of the babies affected by the Remedia disaster were families who chose soy formula for kashrut reasons. (it turned out to be missing Vitamin B1).

  19. Cyndi says:

    What about the soy based, pareve formulas? They don’t contain dairy so are they usable? Thanks.

  20. Tiffany says:

    I think this just goes to show how important breastfeeding support is. You don’t need to deal with a formula shortage if women (and families) are given the resources, education, and support to make their own milk.


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