Rabbi Suggests That Lab-Grown Pork Might Be Kosher

New food technology could call for revising—or at least clarifying—some of Judaism's oldest rules.

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Mar 23 2018, 8:09pm

Photo via Flickr user briandtam

The book of Deuteronomy is found in both the Torah and in the Old Testament of the Bible and, in both versions, it’s pretty clear that pork products are off-limits for Jews. In one of its early chapters, God decrees that although pigs have split hooves like cows, sheep, and goats—which can all be kosher—they don’t chew their cud, so they’re considered to be unclean. For thousands of years, this has been the rule for devout Jews.

But one prominent Orthodox rabbi has suggested that pork chops might be on the menu someday—as long as those cuts came from a cloned animal.

In an interview with news site Ynet, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow said that cloned meat doesn’t have the same identity as, um, a traditional (read: non-lab-grown) animal, and shouldn’t be subject to the same restrictions.

“[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,” Cherlow said, according to the Times of Israel. “It wouldn’t even be meat, so you can consume it with dairy.”

Cherlow is challenging two long-held Jewish dietary restrictions: In addition to suggesting that cloned pigs might yield kosher meat, the idea of drinking milk with a meat product would also be game-changing. As Jewish website Chabad explains, kosher guidelines dictate that meat and dairy foods may not be eaten together and separate utensils are required to prepare, cook, and consume foods from either category. (Salmon and other finned, scaled fish are pareve—neither meat nor dairy—which is why lox and a schmear are A-OK together).

The Times suggests that Cherlow was specifically talking about pork that was grown in a lab from porcine cells, not meat from a live pig that was cloned from the cells of another live pig. Although the Rabbi didn’t speak to what technology he had in mind, his comments echo another rabbi’s perspective about artificial meats. In 2013, Rabbi Menachem Genack said that lab-grown hamburgers could be eaten with dairy products, because—as Cherlow agreed—lab-grown meat is not technically meat.

But unlike Cherlow, Rabbi Genack was less charitable about pork, telling Slate that “something derived from a non-kosher animal is not kosher.” (And a third rabbi, Rabbi Carl Feit, said that he doesn’t believe that cloned cow cells would ever lose their identity as cow cells—pretty much the opposite of Cherlow’s take. Yeesh, this is gonna get complicated).

Regardless of the complications, Rabbi Cherlow said that he believes that rabbis might want to consider approving cloned meat “so that people would not starve, to prevent pollution, and to avoid the suffering of animals.” That seems like a simple, understandable rationale—but when has any religion ever truly been simple?

“Without prophesying, clearly there will be a major disagreement,” he said. No kidding.

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