Has the era of the kosher cheeseburger arrived?


When the world’s first lab-grown burger was introduced and taste-tested on Monday, the event seemed full of promise for environmentalists, animal lovers and vegetarians.

Another group that had good reason to be excited? Kosher consumers.

The burger was created by harvesting stem cells from a portion of cow shoulder muscle that were multiplied in petri dishes to form tiny strips of muscle fiber. About 20,000 of the strips were needed to create the five-ounce burger, which was financed partially by Google founder Sergey Brin and unveiled by Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

PETA hailed the event as a “first step” toward humanely producing meat products. A University of Amsterdam study shows that lab-grown meat could significantly reduce the environmental impact of beef production.

For kosher-observant Jews, the “cultured” burgers could open the door to radical dietary changes — namely, the birth of the kosher cheeseburger.

That’s because meat produced through this process could be considered parve – neither meat nor dairy — according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division. Thus under traditional Jewish law, the burger could be paired with dairy products.

Several key conditions would have to be met to create kosher, parve cultured beef. The tissue samples would have to come from an animal that had been slaughtered according to kosher rules, not from a biopsy from a live animal, Genack said.

The principle underlying this theory is much like the status of gelatin in Jewish law: Though it is derived from an animal, it is not meat (the OU certifies some bovine-derived gelatin as parve).

Genack noted another source for viewing cultured meat as parve: a 19th century Vilna-born scholar known as the Heshek Shlomo wrote that the meat of an animal conjured up in a magical incantation could be considered parve. It may not be too much of a stretch, then, to apply the same logic to modern genetic wizardry.

But kosher chefs aren’t heating up the parve griddles just yet.

The lab-born burger, which cost $325,000 and took two years to make, is still a long way from market viability, kosher or otherwise. If mass produced, it could still cost $30 per pound, researchers said.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Jeff Nathan, the executive chef at Abigael’s on Broadway, a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. “Until it’s in my hands and I can touch it, smell it and taste it, I don’t believe it.”

Even if cultured beef became commonplace, consumers still might not be interested, said Elie Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Empire Kosher, the nation’s largest kosher poultry producer.

“Parve burgers made of tofu and vegetables have been on the market for years,” Rosenfeld said. “But customers are still looking for the real deal, a product that’s wholesome and genuine.”

Nevertheless, Nathan sounded an enthusiastic note about the potential for parve meat.

“I’m all for experimentation and science,” he said. “Let’s see what it tastes like!”

Is cutting Big Bird kosher?


When Governor Mitt Romney talked about ending funding for PBS – and Big Bird – during his first debate with President Obama, he was describing only one of the deep cuts in Romney-Ryan budget.

But it’s not just Big Bird. And it hits us hard, at home, in the Jewish community.

Governor Romney’s budget plan would affect us – dramatically. Calling for unprecedented budget cuts, a Romney Administration would negatively impact the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and yes, Jews who span each of these categories and more. As a community committed to tikkun olam, bettering the world, we have a responsibility to protect those in our community as well as those outside it and voting for a Romney-Ryan ticket would make that virtually impossible.

Jews across the country rely on federally funded social services every day. Just ask the thousands of the elderly living in Section 202 housing, a program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development used by both the Jewish Federation system and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty to provide house assistance to low-income seniors. Or what about seniors who benefit from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), without which we would be “leaving our most vulnerable residents behind,” the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society told Congress in 2010.

Federally funded social services are not just relegated to the elderly. One program that the Jewish Federations of North America helped pioneer is the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, an extension of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a program developed to supplement the work of local social service organizations who serve those in need of emergency assistance. This program, which helps hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals across American, Jewish and non-Jewish, has been threatened ever since Republicans have taken control of the House.

And the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – a program designed to provide nutritious food and other services to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children under the age of five – has slowly been chipped away at since Republicans took over the House in 2011. According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, proposed cuts to the program in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations budget would result in over 700,000 eligible low-come women and children being turned away. Cuts to programs like these are guaranteed to increase under a Romney Administration.

What’s more, those benefiting from federal funds are sometimes the last people you would suspect. What about those among us suffering from Tay-Sachs, which almost exclusively occurs among Jews, and Crohn’s Disease, which disproportionately impacts our community. In 2009, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a $3.5 million four-year grant to the Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium to aid in research of therapies for the disease. And according to the NIH, Crohn’s disease research received grants totaling $67 million in 2011. Think these are important? Well Congressman Ryan does not, as his budget demonstrates by cutting funding for biomedical research by NIH, which would result in fewer and fewer grants each year.

In the 2012 Jewish Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 72% of respondents listed tikkun olam as important in shaping their political beliefs and actions. The Jewish community feels a responsibility to better the world and many support the use of federal funds for social services to accomplish this gain. But we forget that many in our own community not just use but desperately need these funds – funds that would most likely be cut or drastically reduced if Governor Romney were to become president.

We, as a community and as citizens of the United States, cannot afford a Romney Administration. We want to better our country, not make it worse for those who need help the most. President Obama and his administration’s policies have embodied this tenet of our religion, helping those in need and gaining my vote.

And when it comes these kinds of draconian cuts to much needed social service programs, the Romney-Ryan budget is definitely treif.


Marie Abrams, Lynn Lyss, and Andrea Weinstein are all former chairs of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the united voice of the organized Jewish community.

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