By Yehuda Shurpin
Scientists have recently demonstrated that they can now take stem cells from a cow and build them into hamburgers that look, feel and (almost) taste like the real thing. What does Jewish law have to say? Is this considered real meat? Is it kosher?
This is a fascinating question that needs to be studied carefully by expert rabbis when the issue becomes more practical and Petri-dish burgers become an affordable option. But here are some preliminary thoughts on the subject to give you some perspective.
Meat from Heaven
What makes this question so intriguing is that this is an example of how those seemingly fantastic Aggadic tales in the Talmud are nowadays becoming a starting point for new halachik questions.
There is actually a discussion in the Talmud about whether meat that does not come from an animal is considered kosher, although the origin of the meat in this case was even more miraculous:
A story of Rabbi Shimeon ben Chalafta, who was walking on the road, when lions met him and roared at him. Thereupon he quoted from Psalms: “The young lions roar for prey and to beg their food from G‑d,”1 and two lumps of flesh descended [from heaven]. They ate one and left the other. This he brought to the study hall and propounded: Is this fit [for food] or not? The scholar answered: “Nothing unfit descends from heaven.” Rabbi Zera asked Rabbi Abbahu: “What if something in the shape of a donkey were to descend?” He replied: “You ‘howling yorod,2’ did they not answer him that no unfit thing descends from heaven?”3
Miraculous meat appears again in the Talmud, although this time it was man-made:
Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Oshaia would spend every Sabbath eve studying the “Book of Creation”4 by means of which they created a calf and ate it.5
In discussing this story, later commentators debate whether such an animal would require shechitah (kosher slaughter) in order to be eaten.
Rabbi Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz, known as the Shelah, writes that it is not considered a real animal and does not need shechitah.6
Others write that while a technical interpretation of Biblical law may not require such an animal to be slaughtered, the rabbinical prohibition of “marit ayin” (not engaging in acts that look misleadingly similar to forbidden activity) would necessitate slaughter–lest an onlooker think that ordinary meat is being consumed without shechitah.7
So far we have discussed “miracle meat” that came from heaven or was created by spiritual means. Some commentators defined this meat as miraculous because it did not come from a naturally-born animal. But do we consider any meat that does not come from a naturally-born animal to be “miracle meat”? Or does it need to come through an actual miracle? How about test-tube meat, which does come from actual animal cells? In this case the dictum that “no unfit thing descends from heaven” obviously would not apply. Here are some of the issues that will need to be explored:
● The Cells The scientist extracted the cells of a real animal and used them to grow the tissues in a Petri dish. If, and that is not a small if, the mere cells are considered substantial enough to be called meat, this may present a problem. In addition to the prohibition of eating a limb from a living animal,8 there is an additional injunction not to eat any meat that was severed from a live animal.9
This is an issue for non-Jews as well as Jews, since Noahide law dictates that non-Jews may not eat even a minute amount of meat that was separated from a living animal.10
For Jews, if the cells are considered real meat, then presumably they would need to be extracted from a kosher animal that was slaughtered according to Jewish law.
Another consideration is that there is a halachik concept, “the product of non-kosher is itself not kosher, and the product of that which is kosher is itself kosher.”11 While at first glance this would seem to imply that the cells need to come from a kosher source, it is not clear whether the above rule would apply to microscopic cells that were extracted from an animal.
The Knesset bill mandating a national referendum before the government gives away areas of sovereign Israel passed its first reading in the Knesset in a vote of 66 to 45. The bill will now go to committee for deliberations and amendments and is expected to be presented to the Knesset plenum during its fall session.
The vote on the referendum was taken on the last day of the 19th Knesset’s first session, ushering in the much needed summer break.
According to the national referendum bill, should Israel be forced to give back territories within the 1948 green line—in case of land exchanges—as well as the annexed territories of East Jerusalem and the Golan heights, the voter will have to decide for or against the move in a special referendum.
The bill, which has already been approved by the 18th Knesset, is up for adoption as a “Basic Law,” which is as close as Israeli law gets to a constitutional amendment. The upgrade would mean that it would require a majority of 61 MKs to change it.
The law distinctly avoids any reference to Judea and Samaria, which to date have not been annexed and therefore are not governed under Israeli law. This fact is likely to be forgotten as the “peace negotiations” are proceeding without a hitch. In other words, the government should be able to evict Israelis from anywhere east of the 1967 border without the voters’ input via the referendum, and such an eviction—quite like the Gush Katif expulsion—can still be undertaken with a simple majority: 20 MKs in favor, 19 against, could finish off Jewish life in Judea and Samaria as we know it.
The new, upgraded law was promoted most heavily by Jewish Home and its leader, Naftali Bennett, who boasted like week that his party has proven “why the Jewish nation needs the Jewish Home in the government… We said openly that we would not remain in a government that would deal on the basis of the ’67 borders – and this will no longer happen. It shows that when we insist we get results.”
Not quite. The fact is that, as far as the half million Israelis living in Judea and Samaria—most of whom are Jewish Home voters—the parameters of the national referendum bill certainly are on the basis of the ’67 borders. From the point of view of any Jew living in Ariel, Karney Shomron, or Efrat, the new bill constitutes their betrayal by Bennett et al.
The bill is a huge loss to Jewish Home, whose leader is just not astute enough, apparently, to realize how his lunch money was taken a second time by smarter politicians. Netanyahu is the huge winner of last night’s vote, because he will get a year of industrial peace out of it. Despite the subtle point regarding Judea and Samaria, Israelis would be convinced that, come givebacks time, they would be able to influence the process with their referendum votes – but they won’t.
Should the Palestinians be smart enough not to attack Israel with rockets or start an intifada while negotiations are in session (a Yid can always hope), Tzipi Livni and the gang could forge a peace agreement that would satisfy a majority of Israelis. For one thing, the Palestinians could easily avoid any discussion of the Golan Heights – it’s not their territory. As to East Jerusalem – the two sides could decide to co-own it. There have been similar proposals in the past, which died only because the Arabs rejected them (thank God). This time around they might agree that East Jerusalem would be governed by both Israel and the PA, and local residents would be asked to decide which ID card they prefer (two bits they’d all opt for the “blue card”).
Most Israelis would embrace such a deal, which, on its face, does not take away East Jerusalem and maintains their free access to the holy sites (except Temple Mount). Having achieved majority support this way, Netanyahu and Livni can basically give back all of Judea and Samaria and it won’t affect the results of the referendum.
Of course, Jewish Home would then leave the coalition government in a huff, fallen heroes and whatnot, to be replaced swiftly by Labor, or Shas, or both.
In the immortal words of the president of Freedonia Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx in Duck Soup): “Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you: he really is an idiot.”
Incidentally, last night Prime Minister Netanyahu came across positively Churchillian with his retort to Arab MK Jamal Zahalka. The latter cried from the podium at Minister Yuval Steinitz: “You are the enemy of peace, we were here before you – and we’ll be here after you.” Netanyahu asked to be allowed to speak, took the podium and said directly to Zahalka: “The first part of your statement is incorrect, and the second part will not happen.”
He received great applause, proving to anyone who cared to watch that he had been there before one Naftali Bennett got elected MK, and he would be there long after Mr. Bennett is asked by his party members to return to his promising career in hi tech.
Researchers in Connecticut have unearthed in a old farming community a 19th century mikveh that has totally changed view of Jewish history in the United States.
In addition to the rarity of finding a mikveh in the United States dating back approximately 120 years, the University of Connecticut researchers were astonished to see that the mikveh was more similar those in ancient Israel rather than in America.
“The stone and wood-lined structure from Old Chesterfield may be the only mikveh excavated outside a major North American city and may be the only example of its kind at one of the settlements created by a wealthy philanthropist who in the 1890s established farming communities for Jewish immigrants in New Jersey and Connecticut,” according to the university’s UCONN website.
Approximately 500 people lived in the old rural eastern Connecticut community. Historians have generally assumed that Jewish immigrants shunned tradition as part of their assimilation into the American “melting pot.”
Many immigrants clung to Jewish laws, such as kosher slaughtering, but the observance of ritual bathing was far from common, especially in a rural community.
“The image many people have of those who belonged to the earliest agricultural communities is that they were largely socialists, and that they weren’t particularly religious,” said Prof. Stuart Miller, Academic Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at the university and an expert on ritual baths in ancient Israel. “This is going to enable us to write a chapter of Jewish history which to my knowledge hasn’t been written, one that will deal with the spiritual life of these communities.”
“This mikveh is very exciting because there’s really nothing else like it in the United States,” Miller said. “It’s intact, it’s magnificent, and from a religious law point of view, it’s a marvel.”
It was a routine message from State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni that brought Miller to the site, where he later realized that mikveh was located there.
Miller was raised in New Jersey but spent several years researching ancient mikvehs in Israel. Colleagues mentioned Miller’s name to Bellantoni, who called him to ask if he would look at an old ritual slaughterhouse that had been found.
“I’ll be honest. I wasn’t really expecting anything,” Miller said. “I was thinking, ‘I write about and work at sites that are 2,000 years old. What am I going to find in Chesterfield?’”
When miller arrived. he noticed the high walls of the slaughtering house and was told that a mikveh might be located at the site, despite rabbis at the time who were bewailing the disappearance of traditional Judaism.
Previous discoveries of mikvehs, one of them dating back to the 1840s in Baltimore, didn’t prepare Miller for what he found in Connecticut because the rural mikveh was made of stone with concrete floors, unlike those found in Baltimore and elsewhere.
“I know what a mikveh is,” Miller said. “And this doesn’t look anything like a modern mikveh. What I’m expecting is a tiled pool. And suddenly I’m seeing concrete. I’m standing there staring at this and thinking, ‘Where am I? Am I in Sepphoris [an archaeological site in Israel]? Is this really Chesterfield, Connecticut?”
Miller knowledge of mikvehs, both in the United States and in Israel., led him to work with his team to excavate a pipe that provided water from a nearby slope.
“They theorize that the settlers fulfilled the religious command to use only water from the heavens or the earth by connecting the mikveh to a brook or pond about 200 yards away and relying on gravity to draw the water into the ritual bath.,” the university website reported.
Further research in archives allowed the researches to get a clearer picture of Jewish life in the farming community 120 years ago. One letter, written in Yiddish around 1915, lamented the demise of a creamery that was going bankrupt.
One surprise concerning Jewish law was that the Connecticut mikveh’s stairs were made of wood, which also lined the walls and in apparent contradiction to laws in the Talmud that forbid the use of wood in building a mikveh. Further research revealed that many Eastern European communities interpreted the law differently.
The researchers plan further excavations to uncover the remains of the old synagogue in Chesterfield, which was partially destroyed by arson in 1972 and completely destroyed eight years later.
For Jews in prison, incarceration can keep them isolated from their family and their faith. But thanks to the Aleph Institute, a Florida-based nonprofit, they and their loved ones receive some much-needed help from an organization that has been providing assistance for more than three decades.
In fact, the institute’s Yeshiva in Prison program recently expanded to include a visit for the first time to female prisoners, said Rabbi Aaron Lipskar, executive director of the institute.
The program spans three days of interactive classroom-style work. Yeshiva volunteers work with inmates in small groups or on a one-on-one basis to provide introspection using the Torah. Inmates learn how to live as a Jew despite their surroundings.
The program covers many topics, including Jewish law, ethics, explanatory prayer services, kosher dietary laws, faith and reason, and Kabbalah. Daily afternoon lectures focus on the idea of personal responsibility, self-control and the skills for accepting authority.
The idea is to help channel the inmate’s energies in a positive manner, which could improve a sense of personal responsibility, explained the rabbi.
THREE-DAY PROGRAM FOR WOMEN
Earlier this month, program volunteers Rebbetzin Chanie Lipskar, Judy Adouth, Leah Lipskar and Rochel Katz went to Coleman Federal Prison Camp near Orlando, Fla., for their first time teaching female inmates.
The three-day sessions included a full-day program—8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.—of interactive classroom-style learning. The volunteers also divided the women into smaller focus groups, each concentrating on a prepared course subject by the teacher.
Katz said of the experience: “I’ve gained as much as the inmates have, if not more.”
She alluded to preconceptions regarding inmates and prison culture in general, and noted that they can often be misguided. “Some of the women were doctors, and lawyers—educated women with tears running down their faces in gratitude for myself and my colleagues taking the time to spend the day with them,” she said.
Chaplain Yolanda Garcia works there, and called the Yeshiva program “awesome.”
“I think the women felt a sense of womanhood being around Jewish female representatives,” she said. “I actually received a ‘thank you’ card from them. It taught them how to get along with each other and pray with each other.”
Garcia welcomed the opportunity for the program to return to the prison camp. Rabbi Lipskar responded that the group will absolutely come back to female prisons.
WORK THAT TOUCHES THOUSANDS
The Aleph Institute was founded 32 years ago by Lipskar’s uncle, Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, at the request of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. The organization says it regularly services more than 4,000 Jewish inmates and nearly 6,000 of their family members. The institute has 35 employees, including a dozen rabbinical positions and many volunteers.
“From a personal perspective,” said Lipskar, “it’s very rewarding to make a tangible impact in someone’s life at very challenging times. It certainly is very special.”
Beyond the Yeshiva program, the institute’s prison work encompasses a range of activities at the federal, state and local levels.
During the High Holy days, for example, it helps conduct more than 300 services in prison. Much of Aleph’s inmate advocacy work is related to basic issues, Lipskar said, such as inmate placement, medical concerns and what materials can be contained in a religious library.
The foundation does not provide lawyers or legal advice, but it can be involved in the legal process, he said, such as creating alternative programs for offenders. If a medical professional is found guilty of prescription fraud, for instance, Lipskar said the institute could suggest he work a certain number of hours at a rehab center, perhaps cleaning bed pans, to appreciate the damage he has done.
“We try to help people through the entire process, and to maintain familial relations,” said the rabbi.
To that end, the institute has a gift program, sending birthday or Chanukah presents to children in the name of the inmate. There’s even a pen-pal program to write to Jewish inmates, both of which add moral support to their prison stays.
In addition to its prison-related efforts, the institute has been helping Jews in the military for 20 years now.
It works with close to 5,000 Jewish service members and their families through Aleph Operation Enduring Traditions. That support could take the form of advocating for the rights of Jews, providing training to military chaplains, sending food packages to personnel and even distributing camouflaged pocket-size Torahs.
Jerusalem police on Sunday detained at least seven ultra-Orthodox protesters at the Schneller Compound, opposite the Lubavitch yeshiva on Jeremiah Street, after they disturbed archaeological excavations taking place in the area.
The protesters were claiming that there are Jewish burial caves nearby, which may not be disturbed. Other protesters were dispersed, but not before a police car windshield was damaged.
The protesters belong to the Atra Kadisha (Aramaic for “holy site”) organization, whose goal is the protection and preservation of the tombs of Jews in Israel and around the world, based on the halachic value of respect for the dead.
The organization was founded in 1959, following the original battles waged between the Ultra-Orthodox and archaeologists over the excavation of ancient tombs for scientific study – which is prohibited by Jewish law, as it violates the dignity of the deceased.
Atra Kadisha is considered to be quite extremist, even compared to the Haredi public at as a whole, and he has been involved in violent clashes with police. One of the results of their activity, however, is that many archeological projects, as well as simple construction projects must budget for the possibility of a clash over Jewish graves within the sites in question.
Justice Menachem Elon, who passed away on February 6, revolutionized the study of Jewish law, Mishpat Ivri. He personally took the Choshen Mishpat – the hornbook of Torah laws on interpersonal relations – out of the closet of the yeshivas, where it was the specialized expertise of rabbis given the honorific accolade of Yadin Yadin, into the modern courtroom.
Scores of leading American law schools now emulate Elon and offer courses in Jewish or Talmudic law. Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset now look proudly to our traditional teachings when they enact laws that govern a contemporary society because Elon taught them that the wisdom of centuries of rabbinic study and debate can guide a modern society.
He was an intellectual revolutionary, but unlike most historic figures who have broken new paths, he had no ego. All who knew him were struck by his humility, personal grace, compassion, and sweetness. Lawyers are a contentious lot, but Menachem Elon – a mentor to hundreds of lawyers – had no sharp elbows. Though he differed frequently with colleagues on the Israeli Supreme Court – and particularly with Aharon Barak, who served as president of the court for much of Elon’s tenure – he never was heard to utter an unkind word about those with whom he disagreed.
As a frequent guest in the Elon home and one who was in tune with virtually all his views, I expected expressions of acrimony from him over issues on which his opinions were rejected by less traditionally oriented colleagues. I never heard what I expected. Dissenting judges frequently say, “I respectfully disagree,” not truly meaning the respect that the words express. Justice Elon truly respected even those who disagreed or did not comprehend his own commitment to Torah and Halacha.
A remarkable feature of Elon’s scholarship was his insistence on personally doing the work that bore his name. When I first met him, the English translation of his monumental Ha-Mishpat Ha-Ivri was being crafted by American lawyers and scholars Bernard Auerbach and Melvin J. Sykes. Elon happily confided in me how much he enjoyed his many sessions with the translators, reviewing punctiliously the remarkable work they did in making his landmark treatise understandable (and even enjoyable) to English-speaking readers.
In their Introduction to the Jewish Publication Society’s four-volume translation, Auerbach and Sykes observed that they had benefited from “the many hours we have spent with Justice Elon” and said that the product was “more than just a translation, our work has been a collaboration with him.”
Justice Elon encouraged me to file friend-of-the-court briefs in cases pending in the United States Supreme Court to transmit to the American justices the wisdom of Jewish law on issues that came before the court.
In 1999 and again in 2007 the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of execution methods that were excessively cruel. A brief I wrote and filed in 1999 on behalf of Jewish groups appended 30 pages from an English translation of the Talmud in Sanhedrin. My friend-of-the-court brief concluded with the observation that “if execution by the electric chair, as administered in Florida, results in unnecessary pain and disfigurement, it would be unacceptable under the principles underlying the traditional Jewish legal system applied 2,000 years ago, and should also be unacceptable under the Eighth Amendment today.”
To top off more ancient authorities, I cited and quoted Justice Elon’s conclusion in an opinion he wrote for the Israeli Supreme Court in State of Israel v. Tamir:
According to Jewish law, a death sentence must be carried out with the minimum of suffering and without offense to human dignity. This is based on the biblical verse, “Love your fellow as yourself,” and the rule is, “Choose for him a humane death.” From this we declare that even a condemned felon is your “fellow.” The justice gave my brief – which I sent him in draft form before I filed it – the personal attention and critical review I had hoped for, and he even considered seriously (but wisely rejected) my request that he formally attach his name to it.
He was, of course, a master of the Hebrew language, and he wrote lovingly and poetically not only about the law but also about Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. He came within a hairs-breadth of being selected Israel’s president, and no one could have filled that position with greater elegance than Menachem Elon.
“It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths for you, and you shall afflict yourselves, It is an eternal statute” (Vayikra 16:31).
This is how our Torah sums up the upcoming experience of Yom Kippur: a Sabbath of all Sabbaths. Rather than use the more colloquially known “Yom HaKippurim,” The Day of Atonement, the Torah reading of Yom Kippur morning uses the above term to summarize the twenty-five hour experience we are about to step into.
This once-a-year “Sabbath of Sabbaths” is not alone; our weekly Shabbat is coined a “Sabbath of Sabbaths” as well (see Shemot 31:15, 35:2, Vayikra 3:3). However, there are many distinctions between our weekly Shabbat versus the “once a year Shabbat,” ones that make it highly doubtful that any of us would naturally state that “Yom Kippur is just another Shabbat.“ After all, the tenth day of Tishrei is devoted to fasting in place of the three obligatory Shabbat meals, praying almost all day in place of far more free time, and abstaining from other prohibitions that are totally permissible on Shabbat. Alas, if G-d decided to coin the same phrase for both, it’s incumbent upon us to try and seek the similarities between these two elevated days in our calendar. Allow me to extrapolate but one that the former clearly possesses, to which the latter, in my opinion, has not been properly privileged: preparation.
There isn’t a Rabbi or Teacher that preached during the past few weeks, and didn’t state, in some way or another, how vital it is to “prepare” for the Days of Judgment. Teshuva, introspection and other such terms were surely refrains in any sermon or class, imploring us not to “stumble into” Yom Kippur without the proper period of preparation.
And indeed, preparation seems to be exactly what is on the menu at this time of the year. Jews of Sephardic decent began to recite Selichot prayers forty days before Yom Kippur (Code of Jewish Law, OC 581:1,). Ashkenazic Jewa began Selichot at least fourdays before Rosh Hashana (Rama’s glosses, ibid), allowing at least four days of “inspection” of oneself, as one would inspect a sacrifice for blemishes prior it’s offering (Mishna-Berura, ibid, 6). As we draw closer to Yom Kippur, preparations increase greatly, as articulated beautifully by Rav Solovetchik:
“I remember how difficult it was to go to sleep on Erev Yom Kippur. The shochet (ritual slaughterer) used to come at the break of dawn to provide chickens for the Kaparos ritual, and later the people would give charity…Minchah, vidui, the final meal before the fast (seudah hamafsekes), my grandfather’s preparations all made Erev Yom Kippur a special entity, not only halakhic, but emotional and religious as well.
Erev Yom Kippur constitutes the herald that the Ribono Shel Olam is coming… (A. Lustiger, Before Hashem, page 60-61).
If all the above preparations are so vital for the “Shabbat” of Yom Kippur, are they not critical also for the weekly “Shabbat?” If both are called “Shabbat of Shabbats,” why should just one require preparation, while we stumble into the other with none?
Indeed, it’s known that “One that was busy preparing on the eve of Shabbat will eat on Shabbat, and one that didn’t prepare will not eat on Shabbat“ (Tractate Avoda Zara 3a). While this seems like good advice rather than a rabbinical edict (i.e., the prohibition of cooking would prevent one who didn’t pre-prepare food from eating on Shabbat), this is not the only statement that speaks of preparing for the Shabbat. Just as the Code of Jewish Law deals extensively with the Laws of Shabbat, there are endless chapters dealing with the Eve of Shabbat (OC, chapters 249-252, 256 & 270), from what should be done in honor of Shabbat, to what one should refrain from due to the oncoming holiness of the day.
The list goes on and the idea is clear: we are about to enter a twenty-five hour period of time with just family, friends and G-d, without distractions of the email, phone, work and more. If we want to have a profound “Shabbat” experience, it is vital that we prepare for it prior to its commencement.
It is uncanny for any event to turn out successfully without months of preparation, Thus too, our weekly Shabbat-event, even while refraining from the thirty-nine prohibitions, and making Kiddush, can easily turn into a wasted experience, or G-d forbid, a disastrous one, if not properly prepared for. Thus lamented Rav Solovetchik:
True, there are Jews in America who observe the Sabbath. The label ‘Sabbath observer’ has come to be used as a title of honor in our circles…But, it is not for the Sabbath that my heart aches, it is for the forgotten ‘eve of the Sabbat’ There are Sabbath-observing Jews in America, but there are not ‘eve-of-the-Sabbath’ Jews who go out to greet the Sabbath with beating hearts and pulsating souls… (Pinchas Peli, On Repentance).
And indeed, even if you buy “ready-made” Shabbat food, pay someone to clean your house, and even have someone else bathe your kids, much spiritual and mental preparation is needed for Shabbat to become a true experience; Have you put thought into what will be the topic of discussion at the Shabbat table? Have your kids prepared a Dvar-Torah to share? Which games will you play with your kids over Shabbat? How will you balance your time between your guests and friend, and the time with your husband/wife and kids? Is there inspiring reading material in the house? How will this Shabbat be different from all others?