An Israeli company is expanding operations, selling plant-based meat alternatives to gourmet outlets in Europe. Some opinions maintain that vegetarianism is a Biblical idea while others compare high-tech proteins to “meat from Heaven” described in a Talmudic parable.
Redefine Meat, an Israeli company, announced this week that they have partnered with the prestigious meat importer, Monaco-based Giraudi Meats. The start-up, located in Rehovot south of Tel Aviv, raised $170 million in a series A financing round this year and opened a new factory in the Netherlands which will help the company achieve its production goal of 15 tons a day. Its 3-D printed “New Meat” is made from ingredients including soy and pea proteins, chickpeas, beetroot, nutritional yeasts, and coconut fat.
Plant-based meat alternatives are considered to be better for animals and the environment but the partnership with the gourmet meat purveyor emphasizes the company’s claim that its product is not a compromise or a meat substitute intended for vegans. Its product list includes tenderloin, striploin, lamb flank, premium burger, and lamb kebab. New Meat is currently available in Israel, Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany in almost 1,000 restaurants that are currently paying about $40 per kilo for Redefine Meat’s steak cuts.
A known powerhouse in high-tech, Israel is quickly becoming a leader in alternative meat and is ranked second in the absolute number of alternative protein companies, lagging behind the US. Israel companies pulled in over $114 million in investments in the field in 2020. Good Food Institute’s (GFI) Israel report found that Israeli startups raised over $320 million in the first six months of 2022. This is expected to grow at a rate of over 150 percent each year, reaching $155 billion by 2027.
New Meat is certified Kosher and since it is plant-based, it is parve (neither dairy nor meat). This allows for making cheeseburgers or preparing steaks with butter and cheese sauces, options that are normally prohibited to Jews who eat kosher food.
But switching to plant-based protein still has implications for Kosher diners. The Orthodox Union (OU), the largest and most prominent organization for certifying food for consumption, refused to certify vegan Impossible Pork, a plant-based protein made by Impossible Meat intended to mimic pork. The decision was based on the rabbinic concept of marit ayin (appearance to the eye) which prohibits actions that appear to violate Jewish law, even if they technically do not. A religious Jew eating an Impossible Pork product may be thought to be eating non-kosher food or that pork is, in fact, kosher.
Some rabbis suggest that the basis for high-tech meat alternatives was described in the Talmud. In tractate Sanhedrin 59b, the rabbis discuss “meat that descended from heaven”.
They tell of Rabbi Shimeon ben Chalafta, who was walking on the road when lions came and roared at him. He quoted, “The young lions roar for prey and beg their food from God” (Psalms 104:21), and two lumps of meat fell from heaven. The lions ate one and left the other. Rabbi ben Chalafta brought a piece of this meat to the study hall and asked: Is this fit to eat or not? The scholar answered: “Nothing unfit descends from heaven.”
The same tractate, on page 65b, deals with a similar issue, reading: “Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Oshaia would spend every Sabbath eve studying the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation, one of the early books of Kabbala) by means of which they created a calf and ate it.”
This could be understood as meat alternatives being ‘created’ in a laboratory.
There are opinions that vegetarianism is the spiritual ideal for humans. 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 unrestricted eating is actually a curse.
“Adam, who was personally created in the image of God, could only eat plants,” Rabbi Halperin noted. “After men became debased in the generation of Noah, they were permitted to eat meat. Adam and Eve were blessed by being prohibited from eating meat or from the tree of knowledge. The snake, the most hated animal in God’s eyes, was cursed with being able to even eat the dust.”
Rabbi Halperin explained that eating, bringing sustenance inside the body, is an intimate connection between man and his creator. This was especially evident in the Torah mandate that prohibits eating bugs and other forbidden animals.
You shall not draw abomination upon yourselves through anything that swarms; you shall not make yourselves unclean therewith and thus become unclean. Leviticus 11:43
The term used in this verse for ‘abomination is אַל־תְּשַׁקְּצוּ אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם, which literally means ‘do not make your soul detestable.’
“Eating in an unbridled fashion lowers the man, even on a soul level, to the level of animals,” Rabbi Halperin said.