When Dr. Mark Post unveiled his now-famous slaughter-free hamburger, and then again when the Isreali company SuperMeat launched its viral Kickstarter campaign to create “clean meat,” Jewish scholars were propelled into a debate about whether meat produced using the techniques of regenerative medicine (i.e., grown directly from animal cells, no farms or slaughterhouses required) could be considered kosher.
While consensus is impossible due to the disparate nature of certifying bodies, responses from the very top tiers of the rabbinical community have been extremely promising. For example, Rabbi Dov Lior, Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, declared that clean meat is “clearly parve” (i.e., not meat for religious purposes) and so obviously kosher; from a religious perspective, meat grown directly from cells is not meat.
Rabbi Lior is backed by the person in the world with the most power among kosher certifiers, Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the kosher division of the Orthodox Union, the largest and most widely respected kosher certification agency in the world (the OU certifies more than 6,000 facilities in 83 different countries).
Rabbi Genack has declared that clean meat will not be, for religious purposes, meat. “There’s no principle that says that something that comes out of meat is meat,” Genack told Moment Magazine a few years back.
As Rabbi Lior points out, gelatin is parve (not meat) because of its processing; so too meat from animals who are not slaughtered should be seen as parve.
At a much more ethereal level, Rabbi Genack points to an idea from 19th Century rabbinical scholar, Shlomo HaKohen from Vilna, who wrote that meat conjured through magic would be parve due to the lack of slaughter. We should apply that same concept here, suggests Rabbi Genack.
Finally, because clean meat is so much better for our planet and animals, both of which are important to Judaism, this new technology also aligns with the Jewish principle of Tikkun Olam, the goal of Judaism to repair the world.
Of course, eating more plants and less meat is another way of healing the world, and that’s why there are so many Jewish groups that are focused on promoting meat reduction, including The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute. Clean meat can be seen as complementing these efforts.
As Rabbi Moshe Tendler, former chair of the bioethical commission of the Rabbinical Council of America, explained with regard to the many benefits of clean meat: “God gave us a half-finished world and left us to investigate the laws of nature. When something comes up that could be of benefit to mankind, it becomes a divine responsibility to do so.”
2018 update: Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union explains the implications of clean meat for the kosher world.