I wish to preface my lengthy critique of rabbis who are promoting fake meat with the following disclaimer: I’m not qualified to chime in on whether fake meat is technically kosher or not, and I’ve purposely avoided getting involved with hair-splitting analysis of scholarly material. It’s more the process and behind the scenes agenda that concerns me. If people want to eat artificial goo grown from fetuses and they have what to rely on, that’s their business (though I would be concerned about bal teshaktzu — defiling one’s soul — even if it is technically kosher).
However, this shouldn’t be promoted as saving the planet or sparing animals from harm. That’s the pretext for foisting this sludge on us, upon which all scholarly rationalizations hinge. When you cut out the pretext from under them, there is no reason for normal people to want to eat this sludge.
The 20th century saw unprecedented innovation in technology, which presented new questions and challenges for the Torah giants of the time to address. Instead of merely relying on “experts” or deferring to them, Gedolim like Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach performed due diligence. They meticulously studied the matter, in essence becoming experts in their own right, before undertaking the awesome responsibility to issue rulings.
These rulings were documented with a detailed analysis of the various sides of the issue, the relevant Torah sources, and the train of thought that led to one conclusion over another. Torah scholar and layman alike could study these rulings, debate them in the Beis Medrash, correspond with the Rabbonim, and at times even offer an insight that would lead to a revision in the ruling. Everyone who approached the process with sincerity – not an agenda – would come away more educated and enriched. The Torah was alive, and all of Klal Yisrael had a portion.
Notably absent from this unique era were halachic rulings from these Gedolim issued via sound bites in the media or professionally produced videos. Rav Moshe could have saved a tremendous amount of time by simply giving orders this way instead of writing Igros Moshe – they had video cameras then too – yet Rav Moshe and his contemporary Gedolim did it the painstaking, old-fashioned way. This is the way it was always done, even in the most difficult of circumstances, even in the darkest pits of the Holocaust.
If the halachic process is to have any integrity, this is the only way.
In recent years the halachic process has been hijacked to a degree unlike any since the time of idolatrous kings, and with it the integrity of the process has gone out the window. Halachic rulings on even the most sensitive issues are now typically issued via hyperbolic proclamations, op-eds, social media posts, and videos that are scripted and funded by people as far removed from halacha and integrity as can be.
Concurrently, society has been dumbed down, misinformed, and downright brainwashed to believe such statements are not only valid, but authoritative and binding on the entire Jewish people. In just a few decades we went from studying brilliant teshuvos that brought all the issues to light to sharing clips of actors in rabbinic garb performing for the camera, and making life and death decisions based strictly on the cast and carefully scripted lines: Rabbis, Robots, and Rodfim.
No thought process involved. No education. Just sound bites and instructions – the very definition of propaganda. This is how halacha, or what poses as halacha, works today.
In Igros Moshe Yoreh De’ah 4:38 Rav Moshe Feinstein offers critical insights into how halachic rulings are supposed to work. He is responding to a Rav who had asked about a previous letter. Before we even get to the substance of Rav Moshe’s response, we must emphasize that Rav Moshe frequently engaged in lengthy back and forth with people who questioned his rulings. Unlike the charlatans of today, Rav Moshe did not consider such questions a nuisance, he did not talk down to the people who sent him letters, and he did not casually dismiss them. On the contrary, Rav Moshe frequently expressed gratitude for their thoughts and humbly thanked them for considering his words worth studying and responding to.
Furthermore, Rav Moshe laboriously wrote letters by hand to Rabbonim and ordinary people alike until he was no longer physically able due to age and poor health, after which he dictated them.
With all the tools of easy communication we have today, you can’t get a straight answer out of most rabbis – none of whom are worthy of shining Rav Moshe’s shoes – who issue “rulings” from on high. Oftentimes you cannot access them at all unless you know someone who knows someone, or pay a handler for the privilege, and even then they won’t give you the time of day.
Back to the teshuva. Rav Moshe had previously written that that he did not want a sefer to be printed with just his halachic conclusions, without the reasoning and sources. He explains as follows:
The reason for this is because I know my low worth , that I don’t know all of Shas in the two Talmuds, Bavli and Yerushalmi, and all the words of the poskim, and certainly not the words of our rabbis in their commentaries and chiddushim on Gemara, Rashi, and Tosfos and their responsa, and there are some I have not even seen. However, I relied on the fact that I clarified the halacha to the best of my ability, which is the primary aspect to ruling, as I wrote in my introduction to my book of letters.
I further wrote that, since I wrote my reasons and all that has been clarified, I am merely like a teacher of halacha, so the questioner can delve into it himself and examine it and choose. And I also brought there the words of Rabbi Akiva Eiger [who responded to questioners out of a sense of duty, but counted on the Rav asking the question to study the matter and decide for himself].
And even though I know that some people will not study the matter at all, and they will rely strictly on my ruling at the conclusion of the response, he had it in his hands to study it. And when he doesn’t have the free time, he is permitted to rely on it for the moment when he is busy, and to study the matter at a later time. And if it doesn’t appear correct to him, he can go back on it…
Rav Moshe goes on to explain that if a sefer were printed with just his “bottom line”, people would rely on that in other cases, when he only has the power to rule on specific cases that are brought before him. “A Torah scholar is permitted to rule against me [even in similar cases] if his reasoning is proper according to his opinion,” writes Rav Moshe.
He continues as follows:
Even if [a Torah scholar] is given explicit permission to issue rulings to the entire world, and also to issue responsa on practical halacha, there is no force to these rulings, except as a matter of learning. Only with a Sanhedrin is this considered a ruling to create a capital offense for an elder who rebels, because the Sanhedrin has the power to issue rulings that one is obligated to listen to even if there is no practical case before them.
If even Rav Moshe and Rabbi Akiva Eiger, by their own admission, had no authority to issue binding rulings on all of Klal Yisrael, the little rabbinic tyrants of today who serve the establishment, who attempt to browbeat and mislead the ignorant masses with bombastic proclamations and clever distortions, are not even worthy of our time and attention. Their words are null and void.
Rav Moshe continues with a Talmudic analysis that is outside the scope of this article, but I encourage those who can to study it. The end of this teshuva is particularly relevant for our times:
We see that the reasoning is the primary aspect of halachic rulings. Therefore, even after the sealing of the Gemara, after which it is no longer within our purview to say reasons that we made up in our hearts, but only to understand the reasons of the Gemara, we nevertheless need to understand in our own minds what the Gemara clarifies, which largely depends on the manner in which it is explained [through the chain of traditional commentaries and poskim that Rav Moshe mentions].
…Being that this is the case, the giants in Torah need to clarify a new question, and not just literally a new question, but whatever halachic ruling has not been publicized regarding a matter is like something new, requiring great study and understanding.
The Torah giant responding should be concerned that the matter might have already been clarified by another giant, or will be clarified in the future, contrary to what he decided is the law. Even though now he is allowed to rule according to his logic, and even if at a later time another giant will disagree with him, at the present time the law is clear to him according to his logic, and he is obligated to rule according to what appears to him to be the law – nevertheless, it’s not appropriate for him to write this in a sefer as an absolute law according to what he ruled, in brief, without his reasons and sources.
Therefore, even though I wrote this letter over the fact that I don’t want just my halachic conclusions in my letters to be printed, I mentioned that in general there is no one at all in our times who can say and print novel halachic rulings that are not explicitly mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch without providing clarification and sources…
With this firmly in mind, consider this 2017 video from Supermeat with the presumptuous title “Clean meat will be kosher.” That’s right, as far as these morally superior saviors of the planet were concerned, it was a foregone conclusion that rabbis would declare their Frankenmeat kosher. It was only a question of when, not if.
How did the unlettered creators of this video know which rabbis to approach? This is a question worth pondering.
It begins with Rabbi Dov Lior stating that “there are mitzvahs whose main purpose is to prevent animal suffering”. This segues to “the advancement of science”, which allows people to get the nutritional value of actual meat without “any need to harm animals”.
Of course, one with even slight familiarity with the Torah will know that the laws against cruelty to animals or causing them needless suffering have no relation to presumed theological issues with eating meat. Eating meat is central to our fulfillment of the Torah. Eating the meat of the Pesach offering is one of only two positive commandments that carry the penalty of spiritual extinction if one does not fulfill them. (The other is circumcision, and it is no coincidence that these two commandments are relentlessly attacked by morally bankrupt hypocrites who consider themselves more compassionate than God Himself.)
Slaughtering an animal to partake of its meat (or to write a Sefer Torah) is not “harming” the animal. It is using the animal for that which Hashem intended it, and thereby elevating the animal to a higher spiritual level. The scoffers will scoff, but if we are discussing the Torah’s actual position on the matter, what Lior articulates is squarely against it.
Next we see the “leading ethicist” Yuval Cherlow, who magnanimously concedes that, in his opinion, eating meat is allowed. However, considering the appalling condition in which cattle and chickens are raised on an industrial scale (in this he is correct) he views the development of “cultured meat” as “a great redemption.”
He literally speaks of fake meat in Messianic terms – the precise opposite of what we pray for with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.
Having established in barely sixty seconds that Frankenmeat is just what the Torah wants, we then see Shlomo Aviner, an establishment tool who sabotaged popular resistance against the Erev Rav destruction of Gush Katif from within. The fact that he is still relevant to many of the very people he betrayed, to the extent that Supermeat would solicit his services as a rabbinic shill, is Stockholm Syndrome at its finest.
Aviner fabricates a “scholarly” analysis: “Do I rule according to the process or do I rule according to the result? If I rule according to the result, it appears just like ordinary meat. But, if we rule according to the process, and the process is nothing like the usual process of how animals are raised and meat is produced, then it could be parve, and one could take cells from a living animal.”
In less than half a minute, sans a single actual Torah source, let alone a competent discussion of the numerous issues related to taking cells from living animals and growing them artificially into something resembling meat, Aviner takes for granted that this is kosher, and the question is merely whether or not one can eat it with dairy.
Compare and contrast with Rav Moshe Feinstein’s explanation of how psak works – and how it doesn’t.
The video then cuts back to Lior responding to the same question. Unlike Aviner, he has no scholarly qualms:
“It’s not considered meat and is clearly parve,” he declares from on high with forceful hand gestures.
The interviewer then asks a silly question. “And it’s kosher?”
“And it’s kosher!” Lior exclaims. “That’s clear.”
The next cut shows Lior offering a scholarly fabrication of his own.
“Every material in the world, if it changes and becomes something else, in the words of the Halakha it’s called ‘a new face has come here’. Does it retain its former identity or not? A thing that had changed has lost its former identity, and is called ‘a new face’.”
Lior, or whoever edited the video, doesn’t bother to flesh out this ruling (pun intended), but the message is clear enough. Since the cells taken from a living animal have changed and become something else, it’s parve (and obviously kosher), even though the animal was never slaughtered according to Jewish law. Why? Just so. It’s obvious.
Of course, this raises the question of why we need to begin with a kosher animal altogether. Why not Frankenpork? (Indeed, Cherlow already declared this is kosher.) Why not something resembling meat that originated with cells from aborted babies? Why not bugs that have “lost their identity” and become “a new face”?
But the very foundation of Lior’s novel ruling is built on dubious ground. The term “a new face” does not appear in the Gemara with reference to unclean food reinventing itself as kosher food. It appears in reference to vessels and objects that became tamei, spiritually impure.
Normally these can be cleansed with immersion in the mikveh or, in more serious cases, with the ashes of the red heifer, but there is another alternative. If such a vessel is broken to the extent that it can no longer be used for its previous purpose, the impurity disappears from what remains of it. If the vessel is then repaired (subject to the details of the laws, which are complicated) it is as if “a new face has appeared” and the former impurity does not settle on the refurbished vessel.
This argument is indeed used by some to permit gelatin from non-kosher sources, but even the OU rejects it. So why does it work for fake meat culled from unslaughtered animals?
What does “a new face” have to do with taking cells from a fertilized egg and growing something resembling chicken nuggets in a lab? Absolutely nothing. Unless, of course, Lior can present powerful evidence to support his thesis, which he does not.
What does this have to do with taking cells from a fertilized egg and growing something resembling chicken nuggets in a lab? Absolutely nothing. Unless, of course, Lior can present powerful evidence to support his thesis, which he does not.
This is an excellent example of what Rav Moshe Feinstein referred to as “reasons that we made up in our hearts”, as opposed to our license “only to understand the reasons of the Gemara”.
In a later clip Lior outdoes himself with pseudo-halachic nonsense.
“Here, from the beginning it’s not considered meat because it’s a microscopic thing…”
What is the minimum amount of meat for something to be considered meat, as opposed to parve? He does not say, or provide a source.
Then comes the coup de grace:
“…And you artificially, make it multiply, I don’t know how it’s done. [Waves the problem away with his hands, then closes his eyes intently.] And even if it was really meat, because it changed its form, so “a new face has arrived here” and it’s not considered meat, and it’s clearly parve.”
And God spoke and it was so.
Dov Lior admittedly has no idea what they are even doing, and he can’t be troubled to look into it, but it’s obviously kosher, and it’s clearly parve.
It can take years to bring back one person who is estranged from Torah, but rabbis who talk like this can drive them away by the thousands.
In case the viewer is troubled by Lior coming across as a total shmuck, Yuval Cherlow reappears to urge us forward.
“If in it lies part of the solution, I think that one must run with it.”
So spake the ethicist. Don’t concern yourself too much with the details of halacha. We have a moral obligation to run with this, just like he would later rule that we have a moral obligation to destroy the lives of anyone who refused to take part in medical genocide.
The video concludes with one final burst of nonsense from Dov Lior:
“Certainly there is interest in research in general, especially in this field that could prevent the killing of animals. Moreover, this coincides with the goals of Judaism in the future, maybe it’s already starting in our generation. At the beginning at least we’ll do it, until humanity will uplift itself and afterwards they won’t eat it (meat), and that’s the goal that we will return to the ways of the first man.”
Actually, the prophets and Chazal do not emphasize returning to the ways of the first man. We do not yearn for the day when we abstain from eating meat, we do not yearn for the day when we print out Sifrei Torah instead of writing them on parchment from slaughtered animals, and we do not yearn for the day when we walk around naked like the first man.
One who opens up a book of Tanach or Gemara to a random page is fairly likely to find that the goals of Judaism in the future are to kill lots and lots of animals in the Beis Hamikdash, and outside the Beis Hamikdash, in the performance of numerous mitzvos that we pray numerous times every single day to be able to fulfill.
Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Torah giants of even a generation ago would never disgrace themselves and the Torah by appearing in a propaganda video. Rav Moshe wouldn’t even allow his rulings to be published in absence of the Torah sources and detailed analysis behind them. Our generation has fallen a great deal in a very short time, and our Torah giants have been replaced mostly by Erev Rav and fools.
Let us not go back to the days of the first man, but at least to the days of Rav Moshe Feinstein, who clearly articulated for us how real Torah works — and how it doesn’t.