Kashrut of Laboratory-Grown Hamburger


Question: What is the law concerning the hamburger that has been successfully created in a laboratory?  While the lab-grown burger is extremely expensive now, they say that eventually its price will become less than regular meat, and so – in the future – this may really be an issue.  Is it Treif because it was taken from a cow that hasn’t been slaughtered?  Is it considered a limb taken from a living animal?  Is it Fleischig?  Is it forbidden because of Maarit Ayin?

 

Answer:

1. We are not discussing cloning, as in the creation of Dolly the Sheep.  Cloning is an artificial process identical to the natural process of taking a cell from one animal and reproducing it.  Scientists have considered cloning human beings and this is certainly forbidden for various reasons: A. Horrible things can occur from the abuse of it.   B. Hashem wants a person to have two parents, a father and mother, and not one parent.  C. Hashem allows us to utilize medicine in order to heal, and not for other purposes (Baba Kamma 85a.  Ramban, Torat Ha-Adam, Sha'ar Ha-Sakanah).  In any event, such a creation would be a human being in every way.

 

2. Our case, however, is not a natural process of taking a cell and reproducing it, rather the meat is made by taking stem cells from a cow and growing them into strips of muscle which are then combined to make a burger.  Although the end product is meat, it is created in an unnatural manner.

This is similar to what is brought in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (59b) that Adam Ha-Rishon was prohibited from eating meat, but it is told that angels roasted meat for him.  The Gemara explains that meat which comes from the heavens was not considered meat, i.e. it is meat created in an unnatural manner.

It is also related there that Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta was once walking and encountered lions.  He cried out to Hashem: "The young lions roar after prey and seek their food from G-d" (Tehillim 104:21), and two pieces of meat came down from heaven.  He gave one piece to the lions and he brought one to the Beit Midrash, and asked if it was Kosher or Treif.  They answered him: An impure thing does not descend from heaven, i.e. since this was "miracle meat" – created in an unnatural way - it is not considered Treif (see also Menachot 69b).

 

3.  This "meat" undergoes many changes to the point that its entire identity is different.  This is the same as Gelatin from non-Kosher animals.  The bones undergo so many changes that the produt is considered an entirely new creation.  While some authorities are strict about this issue, the basic Halachah is that Gelatin is Kosher (See Shut Yabia Omer 8:11).

 

4. The stem cells cannot be seen by the human eye.  The Chochmat Adam (Klal 38 Binat Adam #34) explains that Halachah is only based on what we can see with the human eye and not on that we can see with a microscope.  There are many such examples in the Halachah: One can breathe, even though there are all sorts of creatures in the air, because these creatures cannot be seen (Aruch Ha-Shulchan Yoreh Deah 84:36); fish whose scales can only be seen by a microscope are not Kosher (Tiferet Yisrael, Avodah Zarah 2:6); worms only seen by a microscope are not considered as existent (Shut Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:146); and if two letters are touching in a Sefer Torah but their point of contact can only be seen by a microscope, the Sefer Torah is Kosher (Moadim U-Zmanim 2:124).  See my commentary on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 24:3. 

 

5. In sum: It seems that a lab-grown burger is not Treif, not considered a limb taken from a living animal and is Parve (although it is not vegetarian) based on three reasons: A. It is not created in the regular process as the creation of meat.  B.  It has undergone many changes to the point that its entire identity is different.  C.  The stem cells from which it is taken cannot be seen by the human eye.

However, since this is a new creation, the great Torah scholars must decide on the matter.

 

6.  And regarding eating such a burger with dairy, there is no problem of Maarit Ayin, since we do not add to the list of things forbidden in the Gemara on account of Maarit Ayin, otherwise there would be no end to such decrees (Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 87:7).  This is similar to the permission to use margarine, non-dairy creamer and Parve ice cream (Shut Yechaveh Daat 3:59).