Conventional wisdom tells us the answer to this question is a firm no, but Rabbi Yuval Cherlow of the Israel Modern Orthodox faith says standard kosher laws cannot apply to laboratory grown pork as it has never been alive in the conventional sense. Speaking at a panel on kosher food and genetic modification in late March Mr Cherlow echoed statements made by other prominent liberal-leaning Jewish leaders Rabbi Menachem Genack (who supports the idea of lab grown chicken and beef being considered kosher, but not pork) and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. More traditional Jewish law scholars dispute this approach, saying that kosher laws should still apply to lab grown meat products.
Kosher food laws govern the way an animal is slaughtered, which parts can be eaten and also which food groups should not be mixed, the main one being that meat and dairy cannot be consumed together. This means a cheeseburger is out of the question, but Mr Cherlow’s comments suggest that some Jewish people may now be able to enjoy a cheeseburger providing the meat is grown in a laboratory and not from a once-living animal.
The grey area is the consideration of the stem cells used to grow meat artificially – Rabbi Cherlow believes that when the cells are taken they lose their identity as part of a whole animal and therefore could be considered kosher. Rabbi Menachem takes the opposing view, believing that stem cells from pigs used to grow pork can still be considered to be pork.
For the moment this is still a hypothetical argument as the focus on lab grown meat has been around beef and chicken, but when lab grown meat becomes more mainstream the discussion will be more relevant to the daily lives of people following strict kosher laws. Given the diversity of opinion within the liberal leaning Jewish scholar community at the moment it looks set to be an interesting conversation.