A Most Welcome Development!
Lab-grown meat is the most exciting development in the kosher food industry in recent years (besides the many environmental benefits the broader world community embraces). Kosher meat is exceptionally expensive because it is labor intensive, beginning with shechita, the precise manner in which we slaughter kosher animals. In addition, in North America, more than a third of the animal is sold as non-kosher (the hind quarter) because of the difficulty in removing the gid and chelev (forbidden sinews and fats).
By contrast, lab-grown meat dramatically reduces labor since shechita is not required, and we may eat the entire product. In addition, no animals would be relegated as non-kosher due to being nevela (improperly slaughtered) or terefa (having one of the 18 defects rendering it non-kosher). This dramatic breakthrough will make kosher meat much less expensive and motivate more Jewish people to purchase kosher meat. The OU’s announcement in September 2023 of its first certification of an Israeli startup’s lab-grown meat is a major step towards realizing this vision.
Rabbanim, since 2010, have been vigorously debating the issues regarding lab-grown meat. The discussion focuses on whether the lab-grown meat must come from a kosher source and whether it is meat or pareve.
Debate #1: From a Kosher Source?
Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita is cited (Ma’ayan number 216) as ruling that lab-grown meat need not come from a kosher animal. According to this view, even lab-grown pig is permitted! In addition, we may extract the meat cell from which the lab-grown meat develops from a live animal without concern for ever min hachai, the prohibition for all human beings to eat flesh taken from an animal while it is alive.
Rav Schachter bases himself on the following sources: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 67b) records that several Amoraim created an animal based on the Sefer Yetzira (a Kabalistic work) and consumed it on Shabbat! The Pitchei Teshuva (Yoreh Deah 62:2) cites the Shlah saying that the halachot of ever min hachai do not apply to such a creature. The Malbim (Breishit 18:6) agrees and writes that the meat is not halachic meat and we may consume it with milk. The Cheishek Shlomo (to the Shach, Yoreh Deah 98:7) agrees.
Rav Schachter, in turn, said that the same reasoning applies to lab-grown meat. He argues that only meat derived from conventional means has the halachic status of meat.
However, most poskim, including Rav Yaakov Ariel (Techumin 35 and 36) and Rav Asher Weiss, disagree. Unlike lab-grown meat developed from stem cells, the Amoraims’ animal was produced by supernatural means. The OU certifies as kosher only lab-grown meat derived from a stem cell from kosher meat that was halachically slaughtered and processed.
The Mishna (Bechorot 1:2) articulates a cardinal rule that is a cornerstone of contemporary Kashrut: “Yotzei min hatahor, tahor; Yotzei min hasur, asur, that which emerges from a kosher source is kosher, and that which comes from a non-kosher source is non-kosher.” Therefore, if a kosher cow births a “pig,” this “pig” is kosher since it comes from a kosher source. If a pig gives birth to a “cow,” the “cow” is not kosher because it comes from a non-kosher source. Accordingly, lab-grown meat from non-kosher stem cells is not kosher because “if something comes from a non-kosher source, it is not kosher.”
Analogy to Chanukah
Rav Ariel brilliantly clinches the point, noting (translation from Eretz Hemda) “The Kli Chemda asked … regarding the miracle of oil [on Chanukah] why was it kosher for the menorah, since the Torah commanded to use olive oil, and “miracle oil” is not olive oil? He answers that the additional oil that was miraculously generated retained the status of the original oil (of olive oil sealed with the stamp of the Kohen Gadol) … So too in our case, the other materials and nutrients which allow the growth of the meat do not nullify the original cells, which are the substance that is proliferating. The meat in question is a multiplication of small cells in a way that is similar to the natural process and therefore it is considered like regular meat.”
Rav Shlomo Aviner (Torat HaRav Aviner, August 2013) adopts another approach to permit lab-grown meat, arguing that it is “panim chadashot, a new entity,” comparable to the following Gemara (Bava Kamma 96b; translation and elucidation is from Rav Avraham Manning):
If a person stole a brick and ground it into dust, that would be considered an irreversible change which could effect a transfer of ownership such that the thief would be liable to pay back the value rather than return the original stolen property. The Gemara asks—could the dust not be turned back into a brick!? The answer is that this would be a panim chadashot—a new entity which no longer has the same status as the first.
Rav Aviner compares lab-grown meat to a 20th-century development, gelatin derived from a non-kosher source. Gelatin is derived from collagen obtained from various animal by-products, including the bone and skin of cows and pigs. These are soaked in hydrochloric acid, soaked in lime for a month, and then washed in sulfuric acid. Some poskim (including Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, Teshuvot Achiver 3:33:5) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 8: Yoreh Deah 11) permitted gelatin made from cow bones or even cow skins on the basis that the original substance had been broken down and rendered entirely inedible, then reconstituted into something new, panim chadashot.
Rav Aviner concludes:
This “meat” undergoes many changes to the point that its identity differs. This “meat” is the same as gelatin from non-kosher animals. The bones undergo so many changes that the product is considered an entirely new creation. While some authorities are strict about this issue, the basic halacha is that gelatin is kosher.
Although Rav Dov Lior and Rav Yuval Sherlow (leading Religious Zionist poskim) agree (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1a9GHMm2Xk&ab_channel=SuperMeat), OU Kosher rejects this ruling. First, OU Kosher decades ago forbade gelatin from a non-kosher source based on three pillars of American Orthodoxy, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:27-end) Rav Aharon Kotler (Mishnat Rabbi Aharon 1:16-17), and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (his revised view from the 1970s, as cited by Rav Menachem Genack).
These poskim believe that gelatin is not a panim chadashot, which has changed from one form into another by a chemical process. Gelatin is the same product that existed in the bones beforehand. All the chemical means used in the gelatin manufacturing process are used only to separate other materials present in bones that would negatively impact the quality of the gelatin.
In addition, Rav Yaakov Ariel, shlita (Techumin 35 and 36), arguably the leading posek in the Religious Zionist community, summarily rejects the panim chadashot argument, noting that lab-grown meat simply multiplies the original stem cell meat. Thus, the original entity has just been expanded and not transformed into a new entity. Thus, OU Kosher correctly embraces the mainstream view that lab-grown meat must come from a kosher source.
Is Lab-Grown Meat Pareve?
Rav Ariel similarly insists that lab-grown meat is meat, not pareve, since it is just multiplied meat stem cells. Rav Asher Weiss agrees, and the OU has adopted this view as its policy. However, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Rav David Lau argues (in a ruling posted online) that it is pareve.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 87:7) rules that non-edible meat parts of an animal, like the skin and bones, are not halachically defined as meat. Accordingly, lab-grown meat might not be halachically meat because it is developed from stem cells of non-meat muscles of the animal, which are not edible. However, Rav Asher Weiss argues that lab-grown meat is considered meat because the end product is edible as meat.
There is a somewhat similar debate regarding whether animal-derived gelatin is meat or pareve. Rav Aharon Kotler (Mishnat Rav Aharon 1:16) rules that gelatin from a kosher animal source is meat, and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah I:37 and II:27) rules that gelatin produced from a kosher animal is pareve.
Interestingly, OU Kosher regards gelatin from an animal source as pareve and lab-grown meat as meat. An explanation is that gelatin is far more processed than lab-grown meat, which essentially multiplies meat stem cells.
Poskim are tasked with excluding outlier positions and endorsing mainstream opinions. While some respectable poskim disagree, the OU has embraced the most straightforward position that lab-grown meat must come from a kosher source and is halachically defined as meat. Now that an accepted and authoritative halahcic voice has emerged before lab-grown meat introduction to the mainstream market, kosher consumers rightfully anticipate the kashrut revolution this new technology will unleash.
Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County, and a get administrator with the Beth Din of Elizabeth. Rabbi Jachter’s 17 books may be purchased at Amazon and Judaica House.