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.Chabad.org
In the hour-long class, Rabbi Binyomin Bitton, director of Chabad of Downtown Vancouver and dean of the Jewish Academy there, dissects a complex Talmudic narrative and shows how it remains applicable in day-to-day life.
“The class starts at the literal level, then goes deeper and deeper,” says Susan Katz, a freelance writer and regular attendee of the “Talmud for Beginners” class. The class then discusses everyday situations and learns how to apply the Talmud and the thought processes behind it, says Katz.
Bitton’s calming demeanor and slightly French-accented voice set the tone to delve into daily life scenarios as they were seen by the Talmudic sages thousands of years ago. “Talmudic logic, principles, debates and discussions,” he explains, “help you analyze situations and issues from many angles, to come up with creative logical solutions to complex issues and conflicts, and help you to think ‘out of the box’ and discover that there is always another perspective to the matter.”
The crux of the Talmud is a commentary on the Mishnah. Written around the year 165 of the Common Era, the Mishnah was the first codification of Jewish “oral law” as handed down from generation to generation, from the times of Moses and the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. It took more than 200 years to write the Talmud, beginning around the year 220.
The Talmud, Bitton says to his class, is based on explaining the minute details of the Mishnah and its wording: “The Talmud is telling us that every word of the Mishnah is so precise and is chosen very carefully to tell us something.”
The first in the series of four classes will focus on “Liability for Damage.” It airs on Thursday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. EST, with subsequent lessons airing on Thursdays at the same hour. They also can be viewed afterwards at any time of the day on Jewish.tv.
Diving Into the Nitty-Gritty
“Rabbi Bitton zeroes in on a specific subject and presents it in an easy-to-understand and well-illustrated fashion,” says Rabbi Shmuel Lifshitz, director of Jewish.tv. “He skillfully helps the student to think ‘Talmudically’ and to gain the tools for studying Talmud.”
The first class examines the ramifications of what transpires when an object for sale is included in a certain category of goods. For example, what happens when an object that was purchased turns out to be different than described? What if someone had used the Hebrew word for “barrel,” and the item was indeed more like a “pitcher”?
The class discusses that while most people would, of course, understand it to be a barrel and nothing else, some may believe it to be a pitcher. Is such a sale valid or not? And does one take into account what the seller thought, based on an innate understanding of an item or a difference in terminology?
“The class gives me a way to take a situation with many possibilities and helps me narrow it down to look at a situation,” says Katz.
She explains that in life, multiple people share responsibility for a particular situation. For example, “if someone leaves a piece of pottery on the sidewalk and I break it,” is the fault of the one who placed it there or the one who stepped on it?
“The Talmud gives me the understanding of how to resolve the situation. It goes beyond civil law because there is also a sense of purpose, and it affirms the place of kindness and looking at a person as a person, and the ramifications it will have in their life. It teaches us how to relate to each other and how to take the other person into the equation, too.”
The debate around the table in Vancouver tries to probe the attendees to come up with their own logical responses. Says Bitton: “There is a depth and intellectual level that is unique within the Talmud. It challenges the mind like no other wisdom, and gives the individual a sentiment of intellectual achievement and appreciation that only the Talmud can give.”Chabad.org
A U.S.-led team of archaeologists has announced it has discovered the site of Shikhin in the Lower Galilee, which is mentioned even before the Second Temple by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and which existed after the destruction of the Temple.
The Talmud mentions Shikhin as a village of potters near Tzippori, which was a Talmudic center after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Josephus wrote that Shikhin as one of the earliest Jewish settlements in the Galilee at the time of the Hasmonaean rule about 140-63 B.C..
Religion Prof. Riley Strange, of Alabama’s Samford University, led a team of David Fiensy of Kentucky Christian University and Mordechai Aviam, of the Kinneret Academic College, and students and researchers, many of whom worked for nearly two years at the site approximately five miles northwest of Nazareth.
They found an ancient synagogue, houses and massive evidence of pottery production in the ancient village of Shikhin, near the ancient Talmudic center of Tzippori.
“The site of the discovery has been abandoned, except for agriculture, ever since the mid-fourth century A.D.,” said Prof. Strange. “The buildings came down and people used its stones in other nearby buildings, then those buildings were destroyed and the stones were re-used again.”
Like Tziporri, where ongoing archaeological digs have come up with numerous discoveries, Shikhin flourished as a Jewish village while co-existing with Christian neighbors.
The archaeologists uncovered a large number of molds that are proof that the village potters produced various types of seven-branched oil lamps in addition to common pottery forms. One small fragment of an oil lamp is decorated with a Menorah and Lulav, the palm branch used on the holiday of Sukkot.
The discovery is considered highly significant and opens up a treasure chest that sheds more light on the rich culture of the period and of the economic and religious lives of Jews in an era when Christians began to be influential.Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu
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.Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu
Two leading Haredi Knesset Members have delivered a revelation, apparently based on their Kabbalic insights, that Israel’s latest security and economic woes are a direct results of God’s vengeance for the universal draft that recognizes Haredi youth as equal to other Jewish citizens required to serve the country.
MK Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism party handed down to the common people his prophetic insights.
Everything was just dandy before Yair Lapid came along, according to his understanding. There were no missiles from Gaza threatening Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There was no poverty. The deficit, to a certain extent bloated by funding for yeshiva education, did not exist.
Syria was not a threat, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt really liked Israel.
So what happened that all of a sudden Syrian President Bashar Assad threatens Israel with missiles and Finance Minister Lapid raises taxes and cuts spending?
It’s the draft, stupid, the draft that demands that Haredi young men actually stop studying in yeshivas – except for the ones who don’t – and serve the country like every other Jew in Israel is supposed to.
The argument has been heard hundreds of times that studying Torah protect Israel through its spiritual rewards.
But this time, MK Gafni seems to have stayed on Mount Sinai too long since the Shavuot holiday.
When they [Yesh Atid] didn’t harm the Torah, there was quiet, also on the security front,” he said. “Syria was a country far away. There was quiet. Israel’s credit rating rose. We were in an excellent economic situation. They started harming the Torah; Syria got closer to us….Missiles are now pointed at Tel Aviv. I believe in this with full faith. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions like me who believe this. They harmed the Torah and so Israel’s credit rating is plummeting.”
Another Haredi MK, Yisrael Eichler, has identified two wars in Israel. “The first, against the Arabs, stems from security reasons, and the second is a cultural one, aimed against the Torah and the Jewish lifestyle,” said, according to the Yisrael HaYom newspaper.
“Anyone who is truly concerned about Israel’s security knows that only soldiers who are fit for battle should be drafted, subject to security officials’ discretion, not the commissars of secular culture.”
After the Knesset passed the universal draft law, Gafni announced that only two countries in the world have jailed Jews for learning Torah: Rome and Israel.
Thousands of Israeli men fight in the army and learn Torah in their spare time. Combat soldiers serving next to my community in the southern Hevron Hills come to our synagogue daily and open up their Talmud after praying.
So far, no has arrested them. Our security seems to be more or less okay, and the community’s budget is tight but balanced.
Could it be that these soldiers guarding the country and guarding the Torah know something that Gafni and Eichler don’t know?Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu
Has it ever snowed in Israel in the summer?
Two people have reported snow in the month of Sivan (late May-early June), though in both cases, it was hearsay.
On the lintel of the smaller entrance it is inscribed in Hebrew “May G-d give peace to this place and to all the places of Israel.” And I was told that on another stone which had fallen down was written “Don’t be surprised about snow in the month of Nissan, we’ve seen it in Sivan.”
The Hebrew inscription is unusual, as most inscriptions in Byzantine synagogues are in Aramaic. The synagogue was researched in the late 19th century, but by 1907 there was nothing left of its stones. The local Arab villagers had destroyed it completely and ransacked it for building materials. The “snow” inscription was never found. The lintel inscription is on display in the Louvre.
|The synagogue entrance, circa 1882|
The second to report snow in the summer was Joseph (Yehoseph) Schwarz, the father of Jewish research of the land of Israel. In his book “Tevu’ot ha-Areẓ” (The Bounty of the Land, published in English as well), he says as follows (translation mine):
In 1844 it snowed a bit on the night and morning of April 11 (22 of Nissan) [… Schwarz then goes on to bring various examples of snowy years…]. In 1754 there was a lot of snow and it was very cold, and so 25 people died in the Galilee in Nazareth of the cold, and I heard from an old man that the snow continued that year until the month of Sivan [late May], and there was barely a minyan that year on Shavuot in the synagogue here in Jerusalem, because that night it snowed so much that barely anybody could go out for morning prayers.
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Charlie Park, Vice President of Samsung Korea, visited an Israeli Yeshiva at Shalavim last week, accompanied by a South Korean camera crew, and met with the program directors and with students to document how students study Talmud at the Yeshiva.
The South Koreans have developed a fascination with the study of Talmud. The country’s ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-Sam, has told the “Culture Today” TV show that Talmud study is now a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum.
In addition, it is said, almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the “Light of Knowledge.”
Young-Sam explained, “We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews, who have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields – literature, science and economics.
“This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand: What is the secret of the Jewish people? How are they, more than other people, able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent?
“The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud… We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud study to our school curriculum. I, for example, have two sets of the Talmud.”
While touring the Beit Midrash, the study hall, he said he now felt he understood “the growing grounds” of the Jewish genius.
Park was at the yeshiva to get a first-hand account of this wonder, but his trip also involved business. He was in Israel to review possible acquisitions of Israeli startup companies.Aryeh Savir, Tazpit News Agency