Another very familiar science fiction trope is the idea of the the “magically’ produced instant food. In Star Trek you merely order the computer and it creates a whole meal for you, Other SF universes have “food synthesizers” which will produce anything programmed into them. Since they are fictional, we are normally not given any idea how the food is produced, but I can think of some possibilities (I’m not making this less magical, just adding in some extra pretend mechanisms so there is something to talk about).

  • 1. “Vat grown food”. That’s a phrase you read in some books, broadly implying there is a culture of cells which continuously grows outside of any particular animal and produces meat without any sentient creature being involved. I could further subdivide it into:

a. Cultures from animal cells – the original cells came from a chicken, a cow, a pig. This is barely magical as people are almost there now.

b. Cultures from something like yeast, fungus etc


  • 2. “Pure magic” – the food is created out of thin air / energy-to-matter transformation / some incredibly cool chemistry or nano-engineering which assembles complex molecules out of raw elements.

Now – in case 1a we can imagine there might be a bunch of problems if you want to make them.  If the original cells came from an animal, would we need to worry that the animal was kosher and correctly slaughtered? So cultured pig meat would be out? I assume so, though I have no proof that the pig non-kosherness continues when cells are grown in a lab. Maybe someone has a clear source or reasoning. What about a good kosher chicken which was then cultured in a vat? I made an assumption that we’d want to take cells from a correctly slaughtered bird, because I think there might otherwise be a problem of  aiver min ha-chay (איבר מן החי) eating a limb from a living animal or trefa…. but assuming I have now grown a big lump of chicken meat, outside of a chicken….can I just carve bits off and eat it, or does this also need some sort of shechita?

Case 1b might be simpler – if we eat mushrooms and yeast now we ought to have no problems eating them in the future – even if they are somehow cultivated to taste exactly like beef or pork or crab, that doesn’t give them a meat-y or non-kosher status. So putting cheese on a mushroom burger which tastes exactly like beef ought to be ok….but then you always get caught out by the mar’it ayin (מראית עין) looking bad catch-all which says “people will think it’s OK to eat cheeseburgers, so we’d better not. My feeling is that after a certain amount of time when people had got used to divorcing the idea of a good burger or steak from the idea of animals, this might become OK.

As a side point, and I’m really asking from ignorance here, would a Muslim have a problem eating yeast based products if the yeast was the same type used to make wine?

Case 2 is more interesting to me. On the face of it, I’d assume a magic or chemically assembled meal cannot possibly be non-kosher even if it resembles a very non-kosher dish. I wonder if rabbis would institute some sort of new legislation to cover foods which look too bad or are too closely related to something non-kosher. For example – I’m assuming to “synthesize” a prawn cocktail, you would need you computer to have one time (or a million times) analyzed a prawn cocktail in painstaking detail, noting the chemical composition and temperatures in millions of places. Assuming this can be done and then has been done, is the stored “recipe” somehow tainted with non-kosherness, such that simulating a new prawn cocktail from it would transfer the over (so you now have a non-kosher product)? Ditto for a cheeseburger… I analyzed a non-kosher product…is the analysis non-kosher? One slightly more unusual case – what if I analyzed kosher meat, then analyzed kosher cheese, produced them separately in my machine, then cooked them together? I can imagine we would say neither of the products is actually meat or milk so it’s OK. I can also imagine saying the exact opposite.

Now, if I’m magically creating food out of air (or maybe old garbage, or dirt) what if I assemble “bread”? (I’ll write “bread” to distinguish it from the original bread made in a traditional way). This “bread” is based on a design from a leavened product, but has never been in the position where water mixed with grain-flour and sat for 18 minutes. Is it chametz? Can I eat it on Peasch?

What do you think?

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10 thoughts on “Kosher cheeseburgers and Pesach bread

  1. For me, an issue that comes up is the distance we are travelling from the original injunction not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk. We move one step away and don’t mix meat and milk of any sort. We include chickens. Then we don’t mix utensils and we wait hours between milk and meat. And now, we have a vat grown creature that never even had a mother. Do we continue the extrapolation?
    I think vat grown beef would be forbidden to eat with vat grown cheese though, solely because it would be too easy to mix up with real beef and cheese. Unless they dyed it a completely different colour e.g. neon blue.


  2. Cool subject, and one I am following with interest (vat grown meat).

    As we all know, halachik reality is not the same as scientific reality nor should it. Science describes the way the world works, halacha describes the way we should work in the world… I am sure there is a much more sophisticated and profound way of saying that, and likewise, I am sure that statement can be picked apart, but let’s go with it for a sec.

    When the rabbis of the time were confronted with electricity, a wide range of opinions came out, but over time converged into forbidding it on shabbat, and I am fairly certain that it was partially influenced by an understanding that, even if scientifically, electricity is not a violation of shabbat, allowing free use of electricity would destroy the concept of shabbat. Nothing is a better example that smartphones and computers. If those things were allowed, the temptation would be enormous, and shabbat would simply lose a huge part of it’s meaning.

    I think these concepts could and should, to some degree, be applied to the topics you raised as well. As an example, I do my utmost to not eat pessach rolls, and the ones I do make bear no resemblance to bread. They are more like some kind of weird soft cookie/muffin.

    While I am as interested in eating a cheeseburger or proper lasagna as the next guy, I worry about what would happen to the psychological/moral/spiritual value that kashrut provides if all of a sudden it were to lose all practical meaning.


    1. Well, we could examine the limits of that too. It’s possible to buy soy-based meat substitutes and cheese substitutes. People right now make pretend cheeseburgers using one ‘real’ ingredient and one soy based one. People running kosher restaurants. How much verisimilitude is needed for them to lose their kosher certification?


    2. Forgive me Kibi for jumping down a side rabbit hole, but I’ve never understood the whole “destroy the concept of shabbat” bit. So much of what we do today, even on shabbat, is completely alien to the world of even a few hundred years ago. I think that a lot of what we call “using electricity violates the spirit of shabbat” is really “using electricity violates the spirit of our customary current shabbat and its currently accepted limitations on electricity”. This has always felt much too circular for my taste.


      1. I may have heard a similar shiur to that which Michi heard. Michi, jump right in and defend your own honour any time you choose.
        Yes, our lives are different from those a few hundred years ago….perhaps electric stuff which runs 24/7 makes thr biggest difference, perhaps it’s all the ways our physical quality of life is improved. I can’t say for sure, but I assume any person picked up out of the 16th century and dropped in our homes would suffer enormous future shock about it all. No doubt that would extend to how we observe various Torah laws. However, I like to imagine that such a person, given a little while to acclimatize (so that the lights on the ceiling and the weirdly ice free icebox and the “never needs coal stove” become de rigueur), would then see how we treat Shabbat differently from weekdays and see that it is appropriate (even if now what they are used to)

        The shiur I heard implied that this sort of neo-halachic approach to shabbat has been going on since at leat Talmudic times, since the ‘original’ 39 melachot were already looking dated by Roman times.


      2. I feel bad I can’t provide chapter and verse, since I am the one who always says he wants it, but there is a story in the Gemara (I can’t even pin it down to Bavli or Yerushalmi, sorry) that a rabbi was wandering around the countryside and some folks asked him “what is the melacha involved in milking cows?” (מחלב) he answer “milking cows” (מחלב) – which is as circular an answer as you can get, and “wrong” too in the sense that they were asking for a categorization under one of the 39 av melachot, and “milking cows” ain’t one of them. The shiur I heard (from Rabbi Meyer Lichtenstein at OYM in Bet Shemesh) said that while it’s possible to figure out where milking comes from in the 39 (I think דש if you care), it seems clear that a. the simple farm people intuitively knew that it was not something you do on Shabbat and b. the Rabbi in the story didn’t feel it was 100% necessary to relate everything back to the original oldest source.
        In other words, they may not have been able to define what things were wrong for Shabbat but like Justice Potter Stewart, they knew what it was when they saw it.
        The Rabbi’s contention (I apologize to him if I got this wrong) was that this was a similar action to that taken by the Chazon Ish et al when they sweepingly said all completing circuits or breaking circuits is not allowed on Shabbat because . The reasons are pretty much beside the point. They knew Chillul Shabbat when they saw it.


  3. Can I get the fungus thing out of the way first? Fungi are neither animal not vegetable from a scientific point of view (Kingdom Fungi – you can be their King!), and halachickly are treated like vegetables. You probably wouldn’t want to eat the kind of yeast that ferments wine (Saccharomyces sp) because they taste gross, and they’re all a bit drunk anyway.

    Cultured meat presents us with some interesting problems (I’m reciting non-verbatim from a couple of shiurim on this matter). If the original cells were taken from a biopsy of a living – even kosher – animal, then we probably have the problem of ever min hachai (as you said). On the other hand we know that if a cow is properly shechted its unborn calf – by being considered a part of its body – does not need to be shechted in the future (I know it’s in Chulin, forget which Daf) so if the original cells are from a properly shechted and inspected kosher animal it’s probably alright.

    As far as the not-kosher animals are concerned we are not supposed to derive benefit from them (we never really manage to keep that one) and so cultured pig cells, no matter how many generations later, are still cultured pig cells.

    However, if your magical matter menu making machine ever comes online there should be no problem with a “food goy” tinkering with the recipe to make magic-bacon taste and feel like bacon for your magic-bacon double cheeseburger.

    You do bring up the point of Marit Ayin which AFAIK is a chiddush in this realm and a very important point to ponder. Perhaps in the future when it’s fairly common practice to eat “magic” food that this will be less of an issue.


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