June 15, 2024
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The makers of the “Impossible” plant-based products recently unveiled their latest offering, “Impossible Pork.” It contains zero pork and, technically speaking, is as un-treif as a fruit or vegetable. Yet the product’s name and apparent likeness to real pork might give some cause for concern. Even if other “Impossible” products are perfectly fine and widely-accepted, “Impossible Pork” might be a bridge, or an oink, too far.

Believe it or not, the Talmud discusses the consumption of non-pork items that taste like pork: “It is prohibited to eat pork, but one may eat the brain of a shibuta fish, which has a similar taste.” (Chullin 109b). If eating fish brains is the only way to experience a pork-like taste, then perhaps it’s not meant to be. The Talmud does mention at least one person who ate the pork-like shibuta fish: “Rava salted a shibuta fish in deference to Shabbat.” (Shabbat 119a) For the record, some people do not salt fish in deference to blood pressure and diabetes. The Talmud actually prescribes pork-like shibuta fish for curing at least one ailment: “For jaundice… let one bring the head of a salted shibuta fish and boil it in beer and drink it.” (Shabbat 110b). Boiling fish in beer also is a fun cure for sobriety-induced boredom.

For the record, even if “Impossible Pork” is problematic for various reasons, that does not mean that other pig-related things in life are equally problematic. For example, eating a “pig”nolia nut is fine and so is giving someone a “pig”gyback ride. Applying to a college like Bing“ham”ton is fine and so is applying to a wizardry school such as “Hog”warts. There is no issue with a doctor becoming “boar”d certified and it is perfectly fine to watch a movie featuring actor Kevin “Bacon.”

The “Impossible” line of fake meat products is impressive but there are instances in Jewish life in which using the “Impossible” (fake) version of something might be problematic. For example, Jewish law does not permit the eating of chametz on Pesach, so on Pesach should a Jew be allowed to eat a product called “Impossible Chametz”? Or, should such a product be the “yeast” of our concerns?

Jewish law also does not permit the wearing of Shatnez, i.e., cloth containing both wool and linen. What if a Jew wears a garment called “Impossible Shatnez” that is made out of fake Shatnez? Should Jews allow the “wool” to be pulled over their eyes in this fashion?

Jewish law does not allow permanent tattoos but what if a Jew applies a product called the “Impossible Tattoo,” which leaves a completely delible mark using fake dyes? Is such a fake tattoo permitted or should you decline and say “dye”-yenu?

Should a Jew be allowed to speak “Impossible Gossip”? Should Kohanim be allowed to enter an “Impossible Cemetery”? Should money-lending Jews be allowed to charge other Jews “Impossible Interest”? Should a Jew be permitted to perform “Impossible Work” on shabbos? Should a Jew be permitted to put an “Impossible Stumbling Block” before a blind person? Should a spouse who is seeking a divorce accept an “Impossible Get”?

In certain instances, Jewish law might condone the “Impossible” (fake) version of something. For example, when a bar mitzvah boy completes his haftarah, it probably would be fine to pelt him with “Impossible Candy.” On Chanukah, it probably would be fine to dine on “Impossible Latkes” but on Purim it probably would not be acceptable to deliver “Impossible Shalach Manos.”

While “Impossible Pork” might present issues about the product itself, sometimes the issue is more about the consumer. For example, the Talmud offers the following tale: “There was an innkeeper who was accustomed to feeding pork to gentiles and kosher meat to Jews. He distinguished between Jews and gentiles by watching to see whether they performed the ritual hand-washing before eating. One time, a Jew came and ate without washing his hands before the meal, and the innkeeper gave him pork to eat.” (Yoma 83b) This story shows the importance of washing one’s hands before a meal but it also shows the importance of staying at a kosher hotel.

Some might argue that the makers of “Impossible Pork” have overachieved by taking fake pork to such an impossibly high level that the end-product is too accurate. Some might further argue that kosher products, when imitating non-kosher items, should avoid such complete perfection so that consumers do not develop a taste for the real thing. This could be a valid argument when it comes to fake pork because, as some say, the “lard” works in mysterious ways.

Final thought: For obvious reasons, be sure to avoid a product named “Possibly Pork.”

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By Jonathan Kranz

 

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