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Steakholder Meets: Kashrut and the cultivated meat industry

Kashrut and cultivated meat

Is lab-grown meat kosher?


Mor:

Hello, everyone. I’m going to let our speakers join, and we’re going to start in just a moment.

Okay, I think everyone is here. So welcome, everyone, to Steakholder Meets our biweekly Twitter space show that’s brought to you by Steakholder Foods. Again, my name is Mor Glotter-Nov, and today I will be co hosting Steakholder Meets with Dr. Peter Bernstein, our senior scientist and expert in stem cell biology. Hello, Peter.

Mor:

I’m going to give him a few more seconds, and we’ll see if he can join.

So today we’re going to talk about a topic that’s been making front news everywhere and that in the cultivated meat production arena. And that topic is about kosher issues that is cultivated meat, which I believe is relevant to many of our listeners as well. So today we have two speakers from our team. We have our team leader of molecular and cellular engineering, Dr. Yoni Moskovich, and our special guest, Rabbi Cherlow. Thank you both for participating. I’m really excited about this and I’m glad that we’re all here.

So if you’re curious about this topic, this is the space for you. If you’re joining us live, you can drop your questions as comments on our Q&A tweet that we’re going to share here in this space. And I’ll leave some time at the end to answer any questions that you might have about kosher food and cultivated meat. So, Rabbi Cherlow, Peter and Yoni, welcome. I’m excited to have you all here on the space with me. Just first thing is first, let’s do a quick round of introductions. Yoni, would you like to go first?

Yoni:

Hi, good evening. I’m Yoni. I’m the team leader of the molecular biology team in Steakholder Foods, and I’m very excited to be here this evening as a religious and practicing Jewish. Really exciting to speak about this with Rabbi Cherlow. Good evening. Welcome.

Mor:

And Rabbi Cherlow, hi, welcome. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Rabbi Cherlow:

Good evening. My name is Rabbi Yuval Cherlow. I’m the head of the ethical center of the Rabbi Tzohar Rabbi’s organization. And I’m teaching Tora at the same time, I’m an expert in, let’s say, ethics of genetic experiments, and I’m a member of a few governmental committees that deal with the ethical part of genetics and all the things that are around.

Peter:

I’m finally here. I’m sorry. There were some technical problems. Anyways, it’s great to hear you finally and welcome. Rabbi Cherlow. It’s very impressive to have you here. I’m a big fan of your way of your thought teaching, and it’s a great honor to host you here today. And I think Mor, let’s start with let’s dive into the questions. What do we say?

Mor:

Before the questions, Do you want to introduce yourself? Just a few words?

Peter:

I feel a bit nervous because I’m not of that highest qualities. Anyways. I hold a Ph.D. in stem cell biology from Bar Ilan University, and actually, I’m a senior scientist at Steakholder Foods, practically deals with the whole thing of cell differentiation and works with creating whole-cut meat from cells.

Mor:

Perfect. Now that everyone knows who’s on this call and who’s speaking, I think we can definitely dive into the questions. My first question to you all is how does the Torah and Halakha define kosher diet? And more specifically, how does it define meat? Rabbi Cherlow, would you like to go first?

Rabbi Cherlow (7:23):

The Halakha is a traditional process, and therefore it defines meat as meat, as an animal that we are eating, it’s meat. So therefore, the new ideas and new abilities of building and creating a new kind of meat is a big advantage from one hand and a big challenge from the other hand. How to consider it? The Halakha is interested directly in two questions. The first one, is it meat or not? The new production? And that depends. What is the technology that we are working on? The second thing is, if it’s meat, is it kosher, is it dairy or meat? Now, a wider opinion that supports the idea, is the importance of producing it because of many other reasons for instant healthy food for people and definitely when there is poverty, sustainable questions, environment questions. But this is the second circle. The core is these two questions is it kosher or not? And is it meat or dairy?

Peter (8:47):

Rabbi Cherlow, thank you for your answer. Just maybe some of our listeners are not familiar with the whole kosher diet idea. So maybe you could elaborate a bit. Where does it come, the whole idea of kosher food? And what should the observant Jew keep in kosherwise meat cost?

Rabbi Cherlow:

Okay, there are two issues that are connected to this issue about kosher. Kosher food. Kosher diet is part of the commitments that are in the Torah and the Bible and we should obey. And this is part of our tradition and religion of living. We call it the holy food. Also, food has special food that you can eat, that you are prohibited to eat. And this is part of the commitment that we got from the divine, from God. Now, actually, there are two issues that define kosher food. The first one is the source. I mean, what is permitted to eat and what is not? When we are talking about animals, for instance, there are certain animals that you are allowed to eat and certain animals that you are prohibited to eat. And this is one thing that is connected to the issue that we are asking. Let’s say that we produced the new meat, new kind of meat in the laboratory from a non kosher or animal that you cannot eat, you’re prohibited to eat it. Can you eat the production and can you eat what did you succeeded to do from it? And as I said before, it’s the question depends also what is the technology that you use? Is it stem cells, or other technology? This is one thing. The second order is even if the meat is kosher and you can eat it, there is another order and that is that you are not allowed to mix meat and milk together, not to cook it and not to eat it. So therefore we separate completely between eating meat and eating things that are produced from milk. Now, when we are talking about this new idea of that meat that was produced in a laboratory, it really depends if it will be defined as meat. So therefore you will not be able to eat it in dairy dinners and whatever, because you’re not allowed to mix it. If it will be considered as something that is not meat, it doesn’t have to be milk. But if it’s not meat, then you can eat it with meat and then you can eat it with milk. And that’s a big advantage also from the commercial point of view because the flexibility that you have is much wider if it will be considered as not meat.

Mor:

That’s super interesting rep bike. It connects to my next question. Can you explain what the term parve means so that everyone’s on board here?

Rabbi Cherlow (12:32):

Parve, let’s call it, with no identification, it’s not meat and it’s not milk. So therefore you can eat it. If it will be considered as parve in the middle, then you can be able to eat it with meat because it’s not milk and with milk because it’s not meat. So you can have a cup of coffee if you want when you eat this meat. Or on the other hand, you can eat it with real meat that was produced from animals. I want to emphasize only one point, not from the Halakha point of view. There is a kind of contradiction between the Halakha interest or observance interest and the commercial point of view, because according to Halakha we prefer it will be considered as parve because then you can do whatever you want. You can eat it in this meal and that meal and it’s much easier for life. But as a producer, I want it to be considered as meat, because if it will be considered as parve, it’s actually like declaring that it’s not really meat. So therefore there is a kind of a contradiction, but it’s two different discourses, commercial and Halakha is completely different.

Mor:

It’s very interesting. Also from a marketing perspective on my end, is it meat, or is it defined as not meat by the Jewish religion? So very interesting to me. Peter, Yoni, anything you’d like to add to this topic?

Yoni (14:14):

Yes, if there is a correlation between if we’ll define this cultured meat as not meat in a Halakha perspective and the fact that this meat can come from any non-Kosher animal, is it connect between these two, the non Kosher and the Parve?

Rabbi Cherlow:

There is a connection because if you say and if the Halakha authorities will agree that it can be produced from a non kosher animal, so it definitely will not define as meat, because you can’t create a new kind of meat. You can do or develop or modify the original meat, and then you’ll call it non kosher food, or you say it’s something completely new. If it’s completely new, it’s not meat. So therefore, the Halakha authorities that will agree to produce it from non kosher animals definitely will consider it as non meat. And you can have a cup of coffee with it together.

Yoni:

Thank you.

Peter (15:40):

Actually, when we talk about the meat being parve or meaty, we actually have to take different points of view from different Rabbis, I believe, because as far as I know, for example, there are different approaches of different Rabbis in Israel and overseas. Now, I have a different question, maybe from another point of view. We all know that to have the meat to be kosher, it should be actually slaughtered in a very specific way, right? Let’s say if we find another way of isolating the cells, for example, from the cow or from a chicken, without actually performing this traditional slaughtering, could it be considered as meat, first of all? And could it be kosher, second of all? Because there is this approach of “Ever min hachay” (an tissue from the animal) the tissue that is taken from a living creature. So could just make some good sense in all these points of view and how actually, we, as a company that wants to produce kosher meat, that wants to reach to all our customers and serve them in a nice cut of meat, how exactly should we think how exactly we should fix the things that the meat will be kosher?

Rabbi Cherlow:

I must say something. In the beginning, Judaism or Halakha is not like Christianity in the Christian tradition or even in reality today. There’s one Pope that is the head of the system, and what he says is what all of the Catholic people should obey and should behave according to that. In Halakha, there is no one that will be considered of saying what’s the right thing to do? What’s the wrong thing to do? There are many Rabbis, many many congregations around them. There are bigger and smaller congregations. There are this kind of Rabbis and these kinds of Rabbis. Therefore, the disagreement is part of our deep tradition. So therefore, I cannot speak and not represent the Halakha or represent what will be. And part of your system should actually consultate with a few Rabbis that you will define that they are leading the biggest congregations that are around them, or that they are being defined as the great scholars, that even if they’ll say this, many people will follow them. But you must understand that everything that I say and another Rabbi will say, we are only representing part of the Jewish community and to come to an agreement, it will be very difficult. Even if the chief Rabbinate the chief Rabbinate is a very important factor here. But even if the chief Rabbinet will say something so again, a few, many people will follow them. But maybe the ultra Orthodox will not agree. So I can’t say something in the Halakha’s name. That’s what I’m saying in the beginning.

Now saying that and knowing that, I think that the more common opinion will be that if you are taking this cell without slaughter and trying to duplicate it or whatever, I understand many Rabbis will say not because of the source, but because of the system and the process. I’ll say it in a very funny way. The cell forgot already that what was the source. It had so many changes and so many chemical or whatever genetic or I don’t know what’s the system that changes its identity so much. So therefore, even if the source is problematic, but the final eventually, when you come to the final point, maybe I think that many Rabbis will say that it’s kosher, even if it was there. But the best thing to do is to find a better technology. For instance, if we’re talking about chicken producing it from the egg, from cells from the egg or whatever in this system, or there are other systems, even in animals. So therefore, the more you will do things that are far from the original cell, the more Rabbits that will support it and will consider it as kosher food and even as parve. As I said, from the commercial point of view, for we, the religious people, if it will be considered as parve, we’ll buy it much more because it will really make the life much easier.

Peter:

I see. Thanks a lot. So, just to summarize your answer, first of all, as you have told, actually, unlike Christianity, where the things are much more common and much more committing, here in Judaism, actually, there is no ultimate Rabbinic authority that can decide or at least nowadays there is no such authority that can decide for all the Orthodox Jews what exactly they should eat and how the food that they have on their plate is arriving from its sources to the plate. And the second thing that you have mentioned, is that the farer the cells are from the final destination, the easier it will be to make the final product kosher.

Mor (22:58):

Thank you both. Okay, so we know that just this month, the first kashrut reference of cultivated meat was defined as parve. We spoke about this a little bit, but can you quickly try to define why was that? Peter, would you like to take this?

Peter:

Okay, so as far as I know, the whole point is also based on what Rabbi Cherlow have been mentioned here. Actually, the cells that we see in Halakha are a bit problematic, let’s say, because Halakha doesn’t see a cell as an existing entity. I mean, the smallest thing in Halakha that we can relate is, I think it’s a seed of wheat or something like this. I’m not saying something wrong, Rabbi. Actually, Halakha cannot see a cell as something that exists, although we all know that there are cells that build our bodies and there is understanding of this now. And Halakha really wants to cover this gap, yet we don’t have the Halakha solution for the size of the cell. So actually, the creation of food, of meat, of chicken or pork, of whatever kind of meat we’re talking about from this single cell is like doing something from out of nothing, like Xni in Layton. So maybe that was the thought of the first kashrut, I won’t say approval, but first kashrut references for this kind of product. Now I believe, and I would like to hear Rabbi Cherlow here, that the whole process of granting, referring to the possibility of cash out of this meet, it makes progress as we Steakholders make progress, as our competitors and other companies make progress. So as we learn, as we, the scientists, learn the whole material of creating this meat from the cells, so do the Rabbis study and learn this issue. And I believe that the deeper they dig, the deeper their understanding is, the more precise answer they can grant to the people, to people, am I right?

Rabbi Cherlow:

Absolutely, I think you’re right. But I want to add another thing, and that is you have to understand also the positions of Rabbis because part of them are very high authorities, but they function in a congregation that expects that things will be prohibited. I mean, you feel more religious when you put more obstacles, let’s say it, or more boundaries. And it’s very difficult in those congregations to say that something is permitted because when it’s permitted now, you are like the whole entire world. When it’s permitted, you’re special. So you have to work as you said, I think that you need two things. One is a deep understanding what is the process. And like, we that saw our Rabbis came to some of the producers and went over and saw things and smelled things and understood things. And we saw how it’s produced. I think this is the most important thing in order to, first of all, to give us the Rabbits, the skills and the ability to go deeper and to understand what is the process. In the same time, you know, we have to support each other and you have to be brave. I mean, to say a new thing that this is kosher and this is parve, you need the guts to do that. So therefore you have to work carefully. And I think this is the right thing to do. I admire the Halakha, that the Halakha is not supporting big revolutions. It’s a kind of evolution. And slowly, slowly, you work and let people to understand and to go deeper and to know that other Rabbis agree with them and to sit together. And then this Rabbi will write it’s, okay? So many other Rabbis will say, if he said so, I can cooperate with it and collaborate with this idea. You have to work in this way because you have to give the skills and the abilities and the time and the patience. And you have to find brave Rabbis that will take the responsibility on their shoulders and will say, yes, this is our opinion. And we have a big congregation that will follow us. Therefore it will develop and people will use it.

Peter:

I can just say that I know from a very close point of view how Tzohar Rabbis specifically in Kashrut field are working. I personally know your head of Kashrut, Rabi Duvdevani, who is a huge “Talmid haham” (clever student), and I think one of the most professional people that are dealing with the kashrut and food industry these days. And I want to thank you for this answer. And I just wanted to ask another question. As far as I remember, in 2018 Rabbi Cherlow, you have mentioned that genetically cloned pig might be kosher and sincere by observing Jews with dairy products. And based on this claim that you made in your interview to Ynet Portal and at Science and Halakha seminar at Baron University, is there an option then that porcine embryonic cell-based meat? I’m talking about embryonic cells because they are the closest to the egg, actually. Could they be defined as kosher parve and therefore could we taste kosher pork in our days of life?

Rabbi Cherlow:

The truth is that I don’t know the answer. I even can’t say what my opinion is, because I’m debating and you said it very directly. When you use those kinds of cells, it’s actually gone backwards. And before the separation and before the development of the new animal, you go backwards and then you say, is it a new creation? And therefore you can disconnect it from the original source or whatever you’ll do, it’s still a pig, it’s still a pork. And even if you go backwards, it will stay pork. I really don’t know. But before I studied this issue, because we don’t have sources for that. It’s a new invention and we define the Halakha according to a very long way of tradition. But here we don’t have any kind of tradition because the traditional sources didn’t know anything about those cells. So I’m talking now not from my brain and not from the thinking, but from my stomach if I’ll say that way. And I think that because the Halakha will not doesn’t know about anything or doesn’t have an opinion about those kind of cells, I think that most of the Rabbis will say it’s too far to consider it as something that is not pork. Now, why did I write differently? Not because of this reason, I wrote it differently because I claimed that even if it’s an original cell from a pork, the whole process from the animal until your plate is a kind of disconnection between the original cell and the original source. And so therefore it’s a new thing. Now, if you’ll use those kinds of cells, it will be easier for me to say such a thing. But those Rabbis that said that you can produce this meat only from kosher animals, I don’t see them agreeing that any kind of sales that the original source is pork, they’ll say it’s kosher, I think they’ll say no, there’s no difference because we don’t know any halaka approach towards those kinds of cells.

Peter:

So actually you are comparing this to, for example, to eat in Giraffes that are absolutely kosher in Jewish tradition, but we don’t have a tradition of slaughtering them, of eating them or preparing them on pretty much the same criterion. Actually, you said that since we do not have the tradition of eating kosher pork, we could have a problem with this, right?

Rabbi Cherlow:

That’s what I think. I never know, I’m not a prophet, unfortunately, so I don’t know. But I think that there’ll be two kinds of Halakha rules. One will say only from kosher original animals and therefore nothing from pork or the other kind in the other edge will say everything will be kosher and Parve. As I said, in fact, I saw that someone wrote it even today I don’t know this Rabbi from Bet Shemesh that I saw that today advertised my opinion, I was very happy, but I don’t know him and he’s from the ultra-orthodox group and he wrote today that he thinks too that those cells are completely kosher and you can eat it with they’re not meat anymore, so therefore you can, as I said, drink a cup of coffee with it. But it will be a disagreement and a dispute and I don’t know where we’ll find the majority, where we’ll find the minority. And what’s more important for you is the audience, the people, the congregation. If at the end of the day, they’ll observe this way or the other way, I can’t tell in advance.

Peter:

I see a last question that I really wanted to ask you, the population of planet is raising and we’re talking about 9 billion people plus and counting. Now with all the agricultural problems and crisis and so on, do you think that Halakha could exhibit some kind acceptance of what actually happens in the world and therefore let the observant Jews eat different kinds of foods, genetically modified or cultivated or whatever you name it. So it will be part of a solution for the next generations to get the essential proteins and minerals and amino acids and all these nutrients that are so essential for people to live and remain healthy and strong and continue their generation further. So do you think you told you are not a prophet, but yet I would like to hear your point of view here. Do you think that Halakha could accept and embrace the changes and help us choose to consume different new products?

Rabbi Cherlow:

It’s a great question and actually it’s an excellent issue. Much wider point of view regarding this meat, but it’s much wider and I’ll answer it from a personal point of view. Two years or three years ago, I don’t remember, I think it was before the Corona, there was a big one convention, annual convention, usually it’s around March in Bar Ilan University that the title is Science and Tradition and I gave them a lecture about the meat and the new productions. It was even before the COVID-19 and my introduction was that we should have a lot of motivation to say it’s kosher and it’s the right thing to do because of environmental issues and sustainability issues and feeding the world issues. And this should be part of our motivation to have it as a factor of dealing with those issues. Now, my lecture was printed in the volume of this convention and I know that in really this week, I think responding to my lecture was published and advertised again and I was criticized saying that environmental or sustainable or feeding issues should be part of the discussion and the criticism claimed that you should not mix those issues. You should ask only one or two questions as we started: is it kosher and is it parve or meat? But environmental and all those issues are not part of the halakha. And I was asked by the editor to write a response to this criticism and I wrote exactly what you said. I said two things. First of all, I said that I wrote what I said in the original lecture that this is part of our motivation and I do agree that you should separate and distinguish between your motivation and the Halakha discussion. That’s completely and that’s what I said. So therefore you didn’t criticize what you wrote about against me. We agree in this issue, but with a capital B. Many times Rabbis ask themselves what is the correct Halakha? Because we doubt and it’s an uncertainty of what is the Halakha opinion and their claims to this side or this side and in this point of view? And when we reach this point, we should include the environmental and sustainable and health feeding and whatever into the discussion itself, because there are factors that we should consider. So, as I said, if it was completely non kosher, so the idea about feeding and environmental and sustainable or whatever is not a factor in Halakha, so therefore it’s not kosher. But if there is a debate and a disagreement and a doubt, what exactly should be, you should include those issues into and consider them. And if you are debating if it’s kosher or not kosher, and you have 50% here and 50% here and issues here and issues there, then add the issues that you raise and we must even include in the discussion the big question and the wider issues about it.

Peter:

I see. Well, it’s a very impressive answer that you gave here. And first of all, I hope that indeed we will see more and more intervention of Halakha life in the environment, whatever we see every morning when we leave our houses and go to yeshivas and works and offices and schools and whatever. And I want to thank you for all your answers and I think Mor, that’s the right time to get some questions from the audience.

Mor:

Yeah, I think this was really fascinating to me specifically hearing the process behind the scenes and getting kind of tuned into how the guidelines might adapt to our age and looking into all the different aspects together or apart. So thank you for this. And yes, at this stage we can take a few questions from the audience. I saw that already one question that was asked about cultivated pork was answered on the panel. So I’m going to skip this question and I’m going to move on to the next. If you are tuning in live and you have any questions, you can add them to our Q&A tweet that’s added to this space. And I’m going to ask a few more questions before we wrap up. So this is a question for the whole panel. Whoever is interested in answering you, just feel free. So from your perspective and knowledge, could Halal authorities accept cultivated meat as well?

Who would like to take this?

Peter:

I think Rabbi Cherlow isn’t connected.

Mor:

Yeah, well, he’ll join in a minute. So I’ll ask you both a question. Yoni. Peter is Steakholder Foods working towards a Kosher approval.

Peter:

First of all, absolutely yes, because our mission is not only to produce very quality and high grade meat, but also to get to every customer, every potential customer that we can get to. Actually, we want to create something that will be tasty and nutritional and healthy and the more people could be exposed and taste. Actually our production means the better job we just have done. So it is absolutely in our priorities. And right now, we are working in these directions with different people who are experts in Kashrut. And I hope soon enough we will hear news about us being kosher or at least getting to the kosher track. So once again, it’s very important for us to get to religious people, to Jews, to Muslims, to all the people who actually could eat our products. It’s a dream. It’s our main goal.

Mor:

Amazing. I think I see Rabbi Cherlow here again. Rabbi, I added you as a speaker so you can approve and rejoin us for the last question. Peter, thank you for your answer, and I will revert to my former question if any of you want to take it, and if not, we’ll answer on a Twitter comment. But regarding Halal authorities, do you think they can approve cultivated meat, Rabbi Cherlow? I’m sending you an invite again to be a speaker.

Okay? Not sure if he can join, but I think at this point we can wrap this up. I’ll still try to add Rabbi back to being a speaker, but regarding the Halakha authorities, we will definitely get you answered on our Twitter. So I definitely learned a lot and I hope you all found this as interesting as I did. Don’t forget to join us in two weeks in our next space. We will announce the topic and speakers in just a few days, so make sure to follow us to get all updates. I want to give a special thank you to Rabbi Cherlow and thank you to my colleagues Peter and Yoni. I appreciate your time and thank you to all of our listeners here. Again, I hope you enjoyed the space and I look forward to speaking with you all again in two weeks. Have a great day, everyone.

Peter:

Thanks for hosting Mor, and thank you to all our audience, all the listeners who joined us today, and we hope to see you during our next sessions.


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