Rabbis approve lab-grown meat for cheeseburgers

No need to worry that people will think you’re not keeping kosher, say rabbis.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A group of Israeli rabbis published a position paper this past weekend stating that certain lab-grown meat is not considered “real” meat and therefore may be cooked and eaten with milk.

The group of national-religious clerics includes Rabbi David Stav, head of the moderate Orthodox Tzohar rabbinic organization, and Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, his fellow dean at the Petach Tikva hesder yeshiva, which combines army service with Torah study.

Two leading kashruth supervisors, Tzohar kashruth division chief Rabbi Oren Duvdevani and Rabbi Ze’ev Whitman of Tnuva, one of Israel’s largest dairy corporations, also signed onto the paper.

They clarified that they were not addressing processes that involve taking cells from live animals and cultivating them, which gives rise to a host of kashruth issues that divides rabbis to this day. They were only considering the newest methods of production based on cells that they said are not considered meat according to Jewish law, such as pre-embryonic cells taken from a fertilized egg or a cow.

Jewish law determined long ago that a chicken egg is “pareve” – it can be eaten with either milk or meat. Even if it is fertilized, so long as no chick has begun to grow and there is no trace of blood in the egg, it is kosher.

The cells being cultivated today, the rabbis noted, are from the blastula – where there is only a single layer of cells formed around a hollow cavity (called a blastula).

Based on this ruling, the Tzohar rabbis wrote that products based on cows’ “pre-embryonic cells and grown on a plant-based medium also have a ‘kosher pareve’ status, even if the cells are identical in both their composition and properties, to fat or muscle cells” of a real animal.

In this case, they dismissed one of the biggest problems that discourages rabbis from approving certain products, such as simulated pork, although there was no issue when it came to certifying pareve “hot dogs” and “hamburgers” made from soy products.

Last September, the Orthodox Union (OU) refused to certify as kosher a plant-based product called Impossible Pork. The world’s largest kashruth certifier said that its rejection was solely due to “consumer sensitivities” with regard to pork.

“I cannot speak for the OU, but the issue seems to be connected to the labelling,” world-renowned Torah scholar Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz told World Israel News at the time.

“Pork is so identified as the sign of traif, as a betrayal of Jewish commitment to kashrut, that giving a hashgacha [rabbinic approval] even on fake pork is like coming to synagogue wearing a swastika tie. It is a public identification with that which is deemed repulsive in the eyes of the Torah,” he said.

The OU noted that it did approve the same producer’s Impossible Burger as well as certain brands of artificial crab and similar simulated foods.