At a recent symposium, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a recognized authoritative figure on Halacha (Torah law), recently gave a speech in which he said that developing the field of lab-grown meat was a moral imperative and that meat grown from pig-cells could technically be kosher.
“When the cell of a pig is used and its genetic material is utilized in the production of food, the cell, in fact, loses its original identity and therefore cannot be defined as forbidden for consumption,” Rabbi Cherlow had suggested. “It wouldn’t even be meat, so you can consume it with dairy.”
However, A closer look at the new technology of growing meat in labs shows that some of the techniques may still violate one of the seven Noahide laws, a set of imperatives which according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the “children of Noah” – that is, all of humanity. If growing lab meat is in violation of one of the Noahide laws, then the food product is forbidden for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Rabbi Cherlow was one of the founders of Tzohar, an organization of religious-Zionist rabbis in Israel, and is a member of the Israeli Ministry of Health’s ethics committee. At a Bar-Ilan University symposium last Thursday titled, “Science and Halacha,” Rabbi Cherlow gave his speech advocating for cultured meat in which cell culture is used to produce “meat” for human consumption.
Many vegetarians and animal rights activists, though certainly not all of them, do not consider cultured meat to violate their moral convictions, but Rabbi Cherlow’s motives for promoting lab-grown meat were societal ones. He advocated for lab-grown meat at the symposium “so that people would not starve, to prevent pollution, and to avoid the suffering of animals.”
“Genetic engineering is important because the meat industry is one of the world’s major sources of pollution, consuming many natural resources – such as water and soil – and also because of the moral problem of industrial production of meat,” he had said.
“There is a very deep religious and moral motive for developing food based on genetic research,” he continued. “On the other hand, there are two issues that must be addressed: scientific caution against its consequences – and the Halachic issue.”
Rabbi Cherlow addressed the halachic issues, stating his opinion that meat grown from pork cells should not be considered meat and should, therefore, be kosher, an opinion some halachic authorities consider to be significantly lenient.
“I think that we should always consider the stringency in light of the reasons we mentioned – the desire to prevent hunger in the world, the great damage to nature and the prohibition of cruelty to animals. In this case, it is not clear which side is being strict and which is being lenient.”
In fact, the new technology is already a subject of hot debate among Halachic authorities. Rabbi Moshe Avraham Halperin of the Machon Mada’i Technology Al Pi Halacha (the Institute for Science and Technology According to Jewish Law) noted that even though the technology is cutting edge, the Biblical principles have already been delineated by rabbis.
“The main question is whether to relate to the cells used as part of the animal from which they were taken,” Rabbi Halperin told Breaking Israel News.
“Individual cells are not normally considered a living organism for Halachic purposes,” he continued. “The end product is also so different from the donor that it could be considered a new being. But here, we have cells that increase until they represent a significant mass.”
Rabbi Halperin noted that there was a reason to allow Jews to consume “meat” of cells taken from a non-Kosher animal.
“The Torah forbids us from eating these forbidden foods, but the main aspect of eating is taste,” he explained. “Even though it looks like meat and tastes somewhat like meat when it is first made, it does not taste exactly like meat taken from the animal.”
Rabbi Halperin emphasized, however, that if cells are considered as being part of the donor animal, it would have implications for Jews and non-Jews alike.
“Taking living cells from a living animal might violate the prohibition of ever min ha’chai (eating a limb from a living animal),” Rabbi Halperin said.
The prohibition of eating a limb from a live animal is one of the seven Noahide Laws. The sixth law, forbidding the eating of a limb torn from a live animal, was stated explicitly to Noah.
You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. Genesis 9:4
The sixth Noahide law requires killing an animal before eating from its flesh.
“One possible solution would be to take the cells from an animal after it has been properly slaughtered,” Halperin suggested. “Jews would need this to be done in a kosher manner, but even non-jews would need some form of slaughtering.”
“Until the techniques used by scientists are established, no definitive ruling can be made,” he added. “In any case, every effort should be made to adhere to the Halach before relying on leniencies. Cells should be taken from Kosher animals and from slaughtered animals before non-kosher animals.”
The speech Rabbi Cherlow gave at the symposium was informative but he emphasized it was not intended as a definitive ruling.
“Without prophesizing, clearly there will be a major disagreement,” Cherlow said. “But halachic thought should examine the needs of all humanity, not only one’s own case.”