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November 21, 2014 / 28 Heshvan, 5775
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The Case for Kosher Lab-Grown Meat

Your lab-grown steak will taste the same, maybe better, require no shechita, and be 100% kosher.

Your lab-grown steak will taste the same, maybe better, require no shechita, and be 100% kosher.
Photo Credit: Chen Leopold/Flash 90

According to a recent report, real progress is being made to generate lab grown meat that tastes as good as the real thing without all the cruelty, ghastly side effects, expense and waste of the present worldwide meat industry.

Dr Mark Post, whose lab at the University of Maastricht is experimenting with literally growing meat in Petri dishes, has told the Guardian: “We could be seeing a future where huge quantities of high-quality meat are gown in vats, incorporating not only muscle fibers but layers of real fat and even synthetic bone. In 25 years real meat will come in a packet labeled, ‘An animal has suffered in the production of this product’ and it will carry a big eco tax. I think in 50-60 years it may be forbidden to grow meat from livestock.”

Post is cited in a Grist article as stating something which should be of interest to us Kashrut observers:

“An animal does need to be killed to kick off the in-vitro process, but in theory, a single specimen could provide the seed material for hundreds of tons of meat.”

So, providing that the original specimen was kosher, isn’t this something we Orthodox Jews should welcome?

No one can say it is not acceptable. After all the Gemara tells us that R. Hanina and R. Oshaia spent every Shabbat evening studying the Book of Creation and as a result they were able to create a third-grown calf (comments: or a three year old, or a fat one) and ate it (Sanhedrin 65b).

So, if you could conjure up a living being from a Kabbalistic source book, then why not from a lab? Not only that, but given the halacha, shechita itself would not be necessary, because, purely following the letter of the law, if you kill a cow properly and then out comes a calf, you don’t need any further shechita to make it kosher.

Yet you can bet there will be opposition. Whenever anything threatens the Kosher Meat trade the Rabbis and Dayanim who live by it automatically cry “foul” because they will lose a major source of income. That also explains why those few rabbis who became vegetarians, like the Kamenitzer Maggid, or supported vegetarianism in principle, like Rav Kook, were excoriated and virtually written out of Haredi history.

But the point can be made that, since the Gemara says that the best way to celebrate Shabbatot and Chagim is with meat and wine, it would, it seems, be an offense against tradition to be a teetotal vegetarian – even if no one could point to an actually halacha against either.

Unlike my brother David, I am not a complete vegetarian, but I welcome the possibility of scrapping the meat trade. Indeed, I hope that when Elijah comes to earth he will tell us that in the Third Temple there will only be vegetarian offerings. I find the current situation unacceptable. We spend more money raising one beef animal than would feed an Indian village for a month. Most processes are offensive: the ghastly way most animals bred for slaughter are treated, the awful sights and smells hidden from consumers, the amounts of chemicals fed into animals reared for human consumption, not to mention the dangers of our modern diets. I am not opposed to eating protein but I’d be delighted if there were some way of doing it without subjecting animals to human cruelty.

Mind you, this is not an attack on Shechita. I have seen virtually all officially sanctioned methods of slaughter and I am utterly convinced that of all of them, Shechita, when carried out correctly, is the least painful and disturbing. But as Temple Grandin has shown emphatically, so much of the awfulness of slaughter has to do with the lead up, the corralling, the forcing of animals towards the fate they can smell and hear, not to mention so much cruelty involved in the rearing, the transportation and the preparatory processes of meat production. If only we could have the tasty protein without all that.

Let us assume that all the unemployed Shochatim could be trained to work in other areas of the kosher trade. Why do I still envisage opposition? One reason is simply the reluctance to countenance anything new or to allow science or modern values to challenge ancient traditions. A new concept of religious correctness is that ‘Masorah,’ the way we have always done things, trumps innovation. But there is in fact another issue and it is the tension that exists between the letter of halacha and the spirit.

This is not of course a halachic responsum, but it is conceptual analysis of why in our tradition there is an imperative to consider the careful treatment of animals and why this new development could be very significant and certainly should be welcomed.

The Torah commands us to sacrifice and the cohanim to eat meat. But it is also full of laws concerning animals: not killing a cow and its calf on the same day, not taking a fledgling or egg in front of the mother, not ploughing an ox with an ass together, not muzzling an ox while it threshes.

The rabbis are divided in their rationalizations. Some of course refuse to accept the idea of explanations altogether and emphasize only the significance of an act of obedience to a higher power. Some do indeed say it shows Divine mercy to creatures as a sign of greater mercy towards humans, and others do actually argue that the purpose of showing mercy to animals is to imitate Divine qualities of caring. Neither do I need to rehearse the laws of cruelty to animals, Tzaar Baaley Chayim and the Noachide Laws of “Eiver Min HaChay,” not taking a limb from a living animal. And yet too often one hears these ideas dismissed as figments of non-Jewish moral relativism. “The Nazis were kind to animals” or “Englishmen prefer dogs and horses to humans.”

There is indeed a massive challenge to reconcile caring for animals with the meat trade. And this where Meta Halacha plays an important part. Humans do indeed come first. But that does not mean we should not be concerned with animal welfare. Yet somewhere along the march of history we have lost the thread. Just look at how the custom of Shlogging Kapporas causes such cruelty and no one seems to care.

Take these two narratives about Rebbi Yehudah Hanassi in Bava Metzia 85a
Why did he suffer in life? A calf was being taken to the slaughter. It broke away, hid his head under Rabbi’s skirts, and began to howl. “Go,” he said “because you were created for this.”’ Then they said (on High) “Since he has no pity, let us make him suffer.”’

And why did his suffering end? One day Rabbi’s maidservant was sweeping the house; [seeing] some young weasels lying there, she was about to kill them. He said to her “Let them be, for it is written “ He extends his mercy to all of his creation.” Then they said “‘Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him.”

You could not have a more explicit expression of the significance of the issue. And if this new method can in fact (and it still has some ways to go) change the way we get our meat, then all I can say Yishar Co’ach and Tavoh aleyhem beracha.

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


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24 Responses to “The Case for Kosher Lab-Grown Meat”

  1. Stephen Leavitt says:

    I can imagine this process is going to require a lot of Kashrut supervision and certification. I don't envision any Kashrut organization suffering if this is ever introduced.

  2. Yori Yanover says:

    Only the first cow. the rest is gravy (so to speak).

  3. Elli Fischer says:

    I disagree. The synthetic beef will all have the same genetic material. Random testing of large batches will be sufficient to ensure that the meat "descends" from the original specimen. Presumably there will be government regulation in that regard, meaning there will be little need for active supervision.

  4. Elli Fischer says:

    Why is there even a need for shechita on the original specimen? Would all of the meet that "descends" from the original cells be considered identical to it, or would the process of "bittul" come into play? If bittul is applied, one can envision that even lab-grown pork will be acceptable.

  5. Ari Fuld says:

    Hillel Fuld should be invited to taste test.

  6. Elli Fischer says:

    Some initial halakhic reflections from when the technology first emerged: http://adderabbi.blogspot.co.il/2005/07/ou-and-stem-cell-research.html.

  7. Yori Yanover says:

    My understanding is that the original tissue comes from a kosher slaughtered cow. If that's the case, then lab-grown pork would be prohibited.

  8. Elli Fischer says:

    Why does the original tissue need to come from a kosher cow? The original tissue very quickly becomes a negligible amount of the total tissue. Why wouldn't the normal process of bittul apply?

  9. Yori Yanover says:

    Isn't bittul inherently b'de'aved?

  10. Elli Fischer says:

    Once it's already been done, it's fine, as long as it was not done for the express purpose of eradicating something prohibited. In the present case, the companies producing the meat are not doing so for a kosher market, but for the general market. Once they've figured out a way to mass produce, the original tissue will have long since been batel, and the bittul will have taken place in a way that is considered halakhically inadvertent.

  11. Interesting, it's just a shame that the trend these days is towards humra, I will be surprised if it is seriously considered as a viable option.

  12. Yori Yanover says:

    But bitul is used for tavshil. Is lab grown meat tavshil? I don't think so. It's a calf born of a shechted cow, which means it doesn't require shechita, but it might require salting for secondary blood.

  13. Elli Fischer says:

    Bittul be-60 is not a function of tavshil, but a function of "lach" . If a drop of milk falls into a cold pot of chicken soup, it's batel even if they're not cooked together. When it comes to dry goods, the threshold for bittul is even lower.

  14. Liad Bar-el says:

    Not to chicken out on this subject but we need to find out what the beef is be it in religion, health, financial and other concerns and start talking turkey. To be able to grow meat would also grow any kind of tumors associated with it and the tests for Kashrut might need other methods for “inspection”. Would this be considered as “organic meat” and will it stop growing after you eat it? Seems to me the cost would be prohibitive but what do I know? It seems also that this technology could be used to regenerate human tissue on burn victims and make a “face over” for actors, James Bond and MOSAD agents. Of course this would require a new area of education for medical doctors. Maybe there will be a beauty pageant of Miss Lab Universe for all those who are great grandmothers and above the age of 80.:-)

  15. Avi Woolf says:

    Wait, some Rabbi will either declare it treif . There are too many business interests at stake here.

  16. Stephen Leavitt says:

    It's that DNA testing that they're going to be charging for. Not to mention supervision in the laboratory/factory to make sure the samples are being grown and packaged separately (to avoid having to test each piece of meat).

    Maybe they'll require certification/supervision on the chemicals the meat is grown in. And of course on the vats to make sure pork wasn't grown there beforehand.

    No Rabbi will go out of business because of this.

  17. Elli Fischer says:

    Gov't bodies will presumably do a lot of the testing. Besides, all of the elements you list already exist in kosher certified plants, and are not difficult or expensive. You're removing an entire layer of personnel, i.e., shochtim and bodkim, without the need for supervision beyond what goes on in today's plants. This will not increase revenues for kashrut agencies.

  18. We need to get back to nature. Genetically mutated, chemically treated, pesticide covered food effects our bodies, our genes(DNA), are we therefore not the Jew who our mothers gave birth to? What about our children? It is already proven that many of the chemicals that we consume, either through food or pharmacy products effect our genes, hormones and our life span. Just because someone can put a seal of KOSHER on something doesn't mean there isn't a greater effect on us. Shouldn't KOSHER also mean it does not change our lineage?

  19. No one raised the question that I've been wondering since I first found out about "shmeat" – will it be considered fleishig and can we eat it with cheese?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Allison, it's an interesting question and will probably come down to how we (in some ways unfortunately) deal with shabbos in the modern age. i.e. "we restrict, because otherwise we'd be getting rid of it".

  21. Elli Fischer says:

    It obviously won't be organic. The question is whether it will be superior to current factory farming processes.

  22. Elli Fischer says:

    It should not be considered fleishig.

  23. That is amazingly good news.Man shall NOT live by BREAD alone but by every Word that Proceeded out of The mouth of G-d.

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