Dr. Mark Post of the University of Maastricht stunned the world several summers ago by producing the most expensive burger in history. Working from stem cells taken from a live cow, his team cultured muscle tissue that they then turned into an edible product resembling ground beef. Amongst all the specifications for kosher animals in this week’s parashah, lab-grown meat is unsurprisingly absent. Jews therefore want to know—is it kosher? Could it even be pareve? (Muslims likewise want to know if it is halal.)
This is the subject of my current responsum for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards; the answer depends on many technical questions. One tantalizing precedent for miracle meat is found in a Talmudic story about Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Hoshaya : “Every Sabbath eve they would study the [mystical] Book of Creation, and they would create for themselves a third-grown calf and they ate it” (BT Sanhedrin 67b). Later rabbis argued that this miracle meat could be considered pareve. That won’t prove the point for Dr. Post, nor for those of us focused on the halakhic considerations, but it shows us that meat isn’t always meat!
אמר אביי: הלכות כשפים כהלכות שבת, יש מהן בסקילה, ויש מהן פטור אבל אסור, ויש מהן מותר לכתחלה. …
מותר לכתחלה—כדרב חנינא ורב אושעיא. כל מעלי שבתא הוו עסקי בהלכות יצירה, ומיברי להו עיגלא תילתא ואכלי ליה.
Abaye taught: the laws of magic are like the laws of Shabbat. Some acts are [forbidden and punished] by stoning, some are forbidden but exempt [from the death penalty], and some are permitted outright. …
As for an act that is permitted outright, that is like the story of Rav Hanina and Rav Hoshaya: Every Sabbath eve they would study the [mystical] Book of Creation, and they would create for themselves a third-grown calf and they ate it.