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.
Yesterday, during an in-camera session of the Knesset committee preparing the “equal burden” bill for its second reading before the plenum, the IDF representative at the meeting, Brigadier-Gen. Gadi Agmon, launched a vehement attack on the deans of Haredi yeshivas, accusing them of outright lying and covering up for students who are registered but do not show up for classes, Ma’ariv reported.
The legal arrangement between Israeli governments and Haredi yeshivas over the years, known as the “Torato umnuto” (his Torah study is his occupation) deal, recognized that young men whose only engagement was Torah scholarship would be absolved from enlisting in the army so long as they continue their studies. To be fair, the IDF has been giving similar deals to young men engaged in secular studies, but in many cases those deals involved attending students technical schools who went on to serve a longer stint, often using the skills they had learned.
The “Torato Umnuto” soon became a blanket covering the vast majority of Haredi young men, whether they were actually studying or not. It also turned out to be a two-edged sword, as those young men were barred from legal employment because of their military status, and so many were condemned to a life of dead-end jobs paid for illegaly.
This was the main purpose of the Tal Committee Law, which, back in 2002, was attempting to interject fairness and honesty into a seriously broken system. Many in the Haredi world have pointed to the steady stream of recruits, as well as the steadily rising numbers of Haredim both in the job market and in academic institutions as signs that the Tal law was working. But the Supreme Court, ever eager to equalize the country, was dissatisfied with what it considered lukewarm results and eventually killed the bill in the winter of 2012.
The new law, hammered out by the (Yesh Atid MK and Minister) Jacob Perry committee over the past six months, is a more sweeping version of the Tal law, calling for larger numbers of Haredi recruits in a shorter period of time. But while on paper the numbers might please the high court—in the Haredi world the Perry effort (which they usually pin on Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett’s back) is tantamount to at least the Russian Czar’s conscription of Jews, if not an outright holocaust.
This is the background of Brigadier-Gen. Agmon’s assault on the yeshiva deans, whom he sees as saboteurs of all the arrangements ever reached between the Zionist establishment and the Haredim, whether the Haredi representative were inside or outside the coalition government.
“It is inconceivable that deans of yeshivas would lie knowingly and sign for their students as if they’re present full time in the yeshivas, while in reality they’re not there,” Agmon, who serves as head of the Planning and Military Personnel Dept. in the IDF. “There are thousands who don’t study in the yeshivas [while stating that they are], but we don’t have the apparatus to enable us to identify them and enforce their enlistment,” he added.
Agmon’s appearance marked a distinct change in the IDF’s approach to the new draft legislation being cobbled in committee, this time headed by Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked. Until yesterday, the army stayed away from the discussion, essentially committing to carry out whatever the political echelon would decide. But the gloves were taken off yesterday, and all the spades were called out by the general.
MK Shaked decided to keep the session closed to the media, most likely to enable the Haredi committee members to speak frankly, away from their own newspapers which have been frothing at the mouth over the new bill for six months now. According to Ma’ariv, MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) and MK Ariel Atias (Shas) both agreed that a yeshiva boy who comes of age and is not attending classes should be drafted. Gafni went as far as to say that, should it be needed, those students should go to jail if they refuse to serve.
The problem is that that, too, is part of the Haredi parties’ kabuki theater, whereby they talk a good line, but when it comes to anyone actually encouraging those young men to inject a measure of honesty into their lives and go serve in the army – everybody is collaborating to keep them in the black garb, hat and all.
The international police organization Interpol has issued a global security alert, urging increased vigilance for terrorist activity, following a suspected al-Qaeda connection to prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, among others, AP reported.
Interpol says the prison escapes have taken place in nine Interpol member countries over the past month. The organization is requesting its 190 member countries’ assistance in figuring out whether such events are indeed linked.
The full statement from Interpol’s alert reads:
Following a series of prison escapes across nine INTERPOL member countries in the past month alone, including in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, the INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters has issued a global security alert advising increased vigilance.
With suspected Al Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the INTERPOL alert requests the Organization’s 190 member countries’ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events are coordinated or linked.
INTERPOL is asking its member countries to closely follow and swiftly process any information linked to these events and the escaped prisoners. They are also requested to alert the relevant member country and INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.
Staff at INTERPOL’s 24-hour Command and Coordination Centre and other specialized units are also prioritizing all information and intelligence in relation to the breakouts or terrorist plots in order to immediately inform relevant member countries of any updates.
August is the anniversary of violent terrorist incidents in Mumbai, India and Gluboky, Russia as well as in Jakarta, Indonesia. This week also marks the 15th anniversary of the US Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in which more than 200 mostly African citizens were killed and 4,000 others injured.
In recent years, terrorist attacks focusing on diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan, Greece, India, Kenya, Libya, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey and Yemen have also resulted in hundreds of casualties of all nationalities.
The US State Department has also issued a global travel alert in response to credible intelligence suggesting that Al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks between now and 31 August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to the US authorities announcing the one-day closure of more than 20 diplomatic missions on Sunday 4 August, the UK Foreign Office has also confirmed the closure of the British embassy in Yemen on 4 and 5 August.