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Is the Lab-Created Burger Kosher?

Is the Lab-Created Burger Kosher?

The halachic status of lab-created meat

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Question:

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?

Response:

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

Test-Tube Beef

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 Product In Jewish law, a food that contains only a minuscule amount of a non-kosher ingredient can still be considered kosher if the non-kosher ingredient is nullified (usually) by at least a factor of 60 to 1. At first glance it would appear that we can apply this rule to our scenario, since the original cells are greatly outnumbered by the “meat” produced. However, halachah states that the above rule does not apply to a “davar hama’amid,” an ingredient that establishes the form of the item. The essential ingredient can never be nullified, no matter how small it is.12 It would seem that the same rule applies to the cells that are essential to growing the meat. If they don’t come from a kosher source, they can never be nullified, and whatever is created with them is also not kosher.

As noted earlier, these are just preliminary thoughts on the subject. Any halachik ruling would have to come from rabbis who are expert in these matters.

Footnotes
2.
Rashi explains that this is a species of bird that always seems to be wailing and mourning. Some commentators explain that he meant to admonish his student Rabbi Zera for his excessive asceticism. Rabbi Abbhu felt that the many fasts that Rabbi Zera undertook had taken a toll on his clarity of mind, this being an example of it, see Chavos Ya’ir 152.
3.
Talmud Sanhedrin 59b
4.
A Kabbalistic work ascribed to Abraham our forefather.
5.
Talmud Sanhedrin 65b
6.
Shalaha Parshas Vayeishev. He cites this piece of Talmud in relation to the episode of the selling of Joseph by his brothers, which, some explain, was a punishment to Joseph. Thinking that he had seen the brothers eat the limb from a living animal, he went and tattled to his father. However, the Shelah explains that in fact the animal they ate was similar to the one described in the Talmud here, and therefore it did not required slaughter and was also not an issue of Eiver Min Hachai.
7.
See Pischei Teshuvah on Yoreh Deih 62:1
10.
Maimonides laws of kings 9:10. For more on the seven Noahide laws, see The Seven Noahide Laws
11.
Talmud Bechoros 5b
12.
Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 87:11
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Oheve Yisrael brooklyn September 11, 2017

what came first? the chicken or the soup? Reply

Anonymous August 1, 2017

If one were to create a completely new cell then grew meat from that, is it Kosher or not? Or is it considered inanimate? Reply

Adam Steinbrecher Binghamton February 26, 2017

Lab Grown Meat Comes from Stem Cells; Fetal Stem Cells Can Be Kosher. Currently lab grown meat comes from stem cells. Stem cells are not "meat" in the traditional sense as they can become anything including bone, blood, or even hair follicles. Bone, blood, and hair follicles are not meat, (yes I understand that blood is not kosher, but again, stem cells are not blood anymore than they are muscle or organ tissue.)

If "killed properly" the meat of a calf, or veal, can be just as kosher as the meat of an adult cow. Where is the line drawn on how young is too young? Would the same rules apply to a fetal calf? As long as the calf has reached a stage in it's development that it has a neck to cut, Shechitah can be performed.

Underdeveloped organs are not technically deformed, as they are as they were meant to be at the time of slaughter, but that is irrelevant because the only part of the fetus we're after are the stem cells. Which are not meat as previously established, and have come from a kosher slaughtered animal.

Fetuses too can be grown in test tubes. Reply

Feivel Bloch Chicago, IL January 27, 2016

The question here that should be a determinant is whether or not the source is a kosher animal and whether or not it has been ritually slaughtered. If it is still alive, then the problem of eating from a living animal would be in effect, and that is prohibited. If the animal has been slaughtered properly, it is not from a living animal given halachically the animal is considered dead. Given the latter situation, perhaps meat grown from the cells would be kosher. The last question would be regarding salting the meat. Would that be necessary if there is no blood? Reply

Alex Linton Singapore June 29, 2014

Possible solution? So perhaps the best solution then is to take the cells from a recently slaughtered kosher animal? That way, we'd still reduce the overall number of animals that would have to be killed and technically the meat would still be from a 'kosher' source.

Any thoughts? Reply

Joseph Vinegar September 25, 2017
in response to Alex Linton:

I was going to ask that. The real problem is, though, whether a scientifically "living" cell is "living" D'oraita as well. Reply

Josh Seattle, WA April 10, 2014

Maris Ayin For the same reason, it would seem it would not be recommended to put a slice of "vegan" (pareve) cheese substitute on a hamburger and eat it in public. Reply

Menachem March 11, 2014

Mar'it ayin Fruma: According to halacha, you are correct. The package of margarine should either be left on the table (so people can see that it is margarine), or it should be made to clear to everyone some other way. Reply

Yaacov Philadelphia March 11, 2014

To ya'akov ben avraham, New York state; not the State of New York From what the Torah teaches, all things come from "Heaven" including the "unfit". The concept of "fit" and "unfit" derives from those seven letters of the Hebrew alphabet called "doubling letters". They are known by the acronym "Beged Kaparat".

Some paints do require kosher supervision. They are often called "Natural Paints" and are more environmentally friendly. They often use flour for the binder and are prohibited to possess during Passover.

When we make blessings over what we consume or use, part of our intention as human beings (who are called medaber, 'speakers' in Torah) is to elevate those other classes of physical existence and uncover their inherent G-dliness. Those other classes are commonly divided into mineral (domem), plant (tzome'ach), and animal (chayah). Chemicals generally fall under the category of "domem", like salt.

Eating a bowl of Carolina Reaper peppers straight would be inedible for most people, even dangerous. But in moderation it seasons wonderfully. Reply

suzy hander woodland hills, ca March 10, 2014

Anonymous: I'm glad there's someone out there from my homeland, Texas. I'm from Houston and miss it from much. I never kept Kosher but I admired all of those that do. I thank G-d for all of our blessings and food that we eat. Reply

ya'akov ben avraham New York state; not the State of New York March 10, 2014

Test tube meat? I will address my thoughts on "In this case the dictum that “no unfit thing descends from heaven” obviously would not apply." My views are simple and semantically accurate to my observation though others in the past chose to see it as a "rant."

What man creates is not always heavenly no matter how novel the method. He did not create it, he manipulated it. As I see it, even a can of coca cola does not qualify by a long shot. I once asked a rabbi would you make a can of paint kosher; his immediate reply was "Why would you want to make paint kosher?" I continued by holding his can of soda up and pointed to the ingredients and asked why when you take such chemicals when they stand alone are uneatable would you deem it kosher because you combined it with other chemicals to make this? With an astonished look on his face he replied calmly; "No one ever questioned it before, not even I?"

Please don't offer me pork under the new pseudonym "other white meat" saying it's kosher. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI, USA March 10, 2014

Gregory Koch Gregory, Could you please give the supporting reference for the reason you give for fish not needing shichtah? I think the reason fish don't need shichitah is that there is nothing to shecht. Shichitah involves cutting the windpipe, and fish don't have one, or anything that would correspond to one. Reply

Gregory Koch storrs March 8, 2014

IIRC, the reason fish do not require shechitah is because they do not have that much blood. The cells grown in a lab have no blood either, just meat. Shouldn't the same apply to them? Reply

Chaya Brazil October 16, 2013

Advantages of Keeping Kosher The only real "advantage" of keeping kosher is to be closer to G_d by following His commandments regarding what a Jewish person must eat. If you are looking for any other kind of advantages such as health benefits, then perhaps you may find some in the prohibition of not eating pork or shellfish, but that kind of advantage is not really the point. The advantages of keeping kosher are spiritual and psychological in nature. Many such spiritual lessons, such as respect for all life and the prohibition against cruelty to animals, can be learned from every dietary law in the Torah. Reply

suzy hander woodland hills, ca October 16, 2013

I can't understand the advantages of keeping kosher if you do not try and keep a kosher life. Although I have never kept kosher, I read the Talmud and Torah daily and try to keep all Commandments. G-d instructed Adam to tend the Garden and to study Torah. In other words, obey His laws and the environment. I wish I could eat meat but my stomach won't permit this. I never knew about kosher butter. Thank you for informing me about halachik laws. I learn a great deal from your articles. Reply

Fruma Delray Beach, FL October 16, 2013

Marit ayin Why isn't the use of margarine (yellow, in quarter-pound sticks) at a meat meal considered marit ayin? The margarine is deliberately made to look like butter. Reply

Minucha Chicago October 16, 2013

Lab-created meat I don't think I would want to eat this even if it were determined to be kosher. I'm happy with my soy burgers, which are paarve & have kosher certificate. Reply

Alexei Choquet West Palm beach September 25, 2013

Eating a limb extracted from a living animal There is a movement to ban Kosher killing as inhumane in some animal rights circles. Wouldn't be hypocrital if these lobbys had their bussiness lunches munching on stone crab legs .{torn from living animals}.And as if nonJewish slaughter houses and dairy farms have any heritage of putting humanity before profits. I am all for compulsory humanity towards animals that arises from our obligation as humans to behave rationally.When the motive is profit or flavour, I come down on the side of animals. When the motive comes from properly performing religious ceremonies, neither side seems interested in searching for a win-win agreement on this issue One thing we Jews Know;, Our lord is always open to a Jacob wrestling with him for good motives. Humane Kosher killing should not be beyond the imagination of any right-minded Jew, and allowing it should not be beyond the imagination of any right-minded government. Reply

Suzy Handler calabasas, ca August 20, 2013

meat Thank you for this outstanding article. I never eat meat, not since the gall bladder operation. I'm a Reformed Jew who doesn't keep kosher. I do understand the concerns of others who do and I respect them very much. Since the New Year is coming, I thank G-d that blessed us with food and health. Reply

Chaya Brazil August 20, 2013

Use of Word "Synthetic" The word "synthetic" refers not to its class, i.e., whether or not a product can be considered "meat," but refers rather to its mode of production or fabrication, defining whether it comes from a natural entity such as a cow or is produced in a laboratory. Distinctions must be maintained, even should laboratory-grown meat be given the title "meat, if only for health´s sake." Remember transgenic products... Reply

Anonymous Texas August 16, 2013

stem cell burgers since a stem cell has to come from a living subject, then this must mean that the stem cell have to come from a Kosher Cow? Reply

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