Is Test-tube Meat Kosher?

Observant Jews are abstaining from meat for nine days to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem's ancient temples. But one day even bacon cheeseburgers might not be off limits.

Moti Milrod

Technological advances are bringing us to ask a pressing question: Does Judaism consider meat created in a laboratory to be kosher? Does Jewish law even consider it to be meat?

The question takes on particular significance now, during the nine days, the traditional period of mourning that precedes Tisha B'Av when observant Jews abstain from meat. (Well, theoretical significance, at least – the world's first lab-grown hamburger, created in 2013, cost a cool $325,000 and it's not exactly available at your neighborhood grocery store yet.)

Some kashrut experts are ready to rule the burger kosher, and not only that, parve, reported Ynet reporter Koby Nachshoni – meaning observant Jews, who won't eat milk and meat together, can eat their test-tube burger topped with cheese. Furthermore, the halachic authorities with whom Nachshon consulted even said this would apply to test-tube pork – so make that a bacon cheeseburger.

But, no surprise here, not everyone agrees about that. Chabad addressed the issue, too, noting that there are precedents for test-tube meat in the ancient Jewish sources. The Talmud's tales of miraculous flesh descending from heaven, or being created by holy men through prayer, takes on new meaning in the face of modern science.

But while modern test-tube meat may be a miraculous advance of science, it's not exactly miraculous in the heavenly sense, notes Chabad's Yehuda Shurpin. The meat is not kosher if its central component is not kosher – even if it contains only a miniscule quantity of that ingredient – and it is not fit for human consumption at all if it contains any mean taken from a live animal, Shurpin writes. And then there's the rabbinic prohibition against doing something that looks “misleadingly similar” to forbidden activity, he notes.

The actual ruling will need to come from expert rabbis after careful study, Shurpin adds. They'll probably be able to take their time on that – Dutch professor Mark Post, the scientist behind the first man-made burger, said earlier this year that while the price of laboratory beef is down to $80 a kilo, it will be another 20-30 years until there's a faux-beef industry.