March 28, 2006

Kosher bacon?

piggirl.jpg In response to the news that scientists are genetically engineering pigs to produce heart-healthy pork, my friend Brett asks if they can create kosher pork?

Though meant as a joke, it's an interesting question. The laws regarding kosher mammals derive from Leviticus 11, which begins, "You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud." Verse 7 specifically forbids eating pig, which "though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud." Chewing the cud is a method of digestion that is exactly as disgusting as it sounds and transforming an animal's entire digestive tract is probably beyond current technology -- but it's a brave new world out there, and if someone put their mind to this, I'm sure it could be done eventually. Presumably some rabbis would say that since Leviticus specifically mentions pig, nothing would change the prohibition. But it seems to me that the pig is being used as an example of an animal with certain traits, and if those traits are different... who knows?

I'm currently seeking answers from rabbis. Will report back with results. Meanwhile, please enjoy the photograph of the hot pig-head lingerie model.

Update 1: It's not looking good: " So, we move into a philosophical notion of Kilayim, that is, impudently trying to 'improve' G-d's creation by creating new species. The rabbis are divided on this. Some would consider many hybrid foods to be a philosophically unpleasant matter; others would say that G-d creates anew and we merely facilitate by performing the hybrid planting." And that's just veggies! Stay tuned.

Update 1a: OK, here's the relevant part of the Torah: "Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." The first decree would seem pretty definitive. Yet, so does the third, and nobody follows that any more. I bet the second is pretty widely dismissed too. I suspect it might be possible to find a rabbi somewhere who would OK kosher bacon. Maybe.

Update 2: A case against. Seems tautological to me, but for what it's worth: "If a carp is genetically engineered so that it has no scales, is it still kosher? After all, fins and scales are what make a fish kosher in the first place.... Abraham Steinberg, a leading Jewish medical ethicist, says the scale-less carp would still be kosher. Steinberg argues that altering a carp's genes so that it does not have scales does not change anything fundamental about the fish. Since we know carp is kosher, he said, it doesn't matter whether it actually has scales."

Update 3: Turns out, bleeding edge Jews have been wrestling with this question for some time.

Here's a life sciences prof at Bar Ilan from way back in 5758:

In the Mishnah, tractate Bekhorot 1.2, we read: "...that which issues from the impure is impure, and that which issues from the pure is pure." In other words, the decisive factor when dealing with animals is not necessarily the indications of purity; rather, the state of the mother that gives birth to the animal is the determining factor. Therefore, everything born of a pig is impure. This is supported by a talmudic ruling based on Lev.11:4: "The following, however, of those that either chew the cud or have true hoofs, you shall not eat..." One might have an animal that chews the cud and has true hoofs, yet is not to be eaten. And what might that be? A pure animal born of an impure one (Bekhorot 6a). Thus, it seems, with the means currently available to us, any genetically engineered pig parented by a fertilized ovum from an impure pig, reimplanted in a host pig, is not kosher and its offspring are not kosher.

However, the rule that "what issues from the impure is impure" is not mentioned in the Mishnah and Gemara with respect to fish. It appears, in my humble opinion, that only indications of cleanness, fins and scales, are operative with respect to fish. Thus a non-kosher fish that has been genetically engineered to have the requisite signs of cleanness would be kosher. Returning to the case of non-kosher animals, if it becomes possible to grow a fertilized egg in vitreo until it reaches maturity, then this will pose a more complicated halakhic question.

Or you could make use the first cud-chewing (pure) pig just for breeding pure piglets. The mother might not be kosh, but the offspring would be pure-from-pure, right? Now all we need is a non-dairy cheese and it's kosher ham and swiss on rye time.

Update 4: Cite your sources, man! "Is a pig that’s been genetically engineered to chew its cud kosher? Some of these questions have been answered—a pig is, for now, still a pig, so kosher bacon isn’t on the horizon—but more fascinating and difficult problems are sure to be raised in the coming years." Answered by whom? When? Why? This isn't my Jewish learning!

Update 5: Good news and bad from Torah.org. The good: "gene transplantation isn't cross-breeding, and isn't forbidden under the laws of kilayim." The bad: "Transplantation of a few genes from a non-kosher creature into a kosher creature doesn't make it unkosher, because its basic identity hasn't changed." Still in the realm of tautology, though.

Update 6: Thinking outside the box: Don't engineer the pig, engineer a cow to give birth to a pig! "As the Mishna says, "If a kosher animal gives birth to a non-kosher animal, the offspring is kosher...because whatever comes from a kosher animal is kosher." Jackpot!

Update 7: And of course there's test-tube pork, but that's disgusting.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


i'm fascinated by this question. (and terrified by the girl in the pig head and lingerie.) remember the flavr savr, that genetically engineered tomato from the early 90s? it was made with a fish gene; for a while i wondered what would happen if it were made with a pig gene: would it be kosher? i wrote to Ask the Rabbi, one of the few online sources at the time, and to my shock was told that yeah, it would probably be kosher.


so if you de-pigged a pig and denied it of its essential ontological kashrut-snuffing pigness by creating a cud-chewing mechanism, why would it NOT be kosher?

While I agree with you (and Ilove that you sign your letters to the rabbi "Margalit"), I have to point out that the answer you got doesn't apply to the pig question, since it's pegged on the fact that genetic material is neutral, not on the essential nature of the tomato that the genes go into.

There's always the fallback position that the new pig isn't kosher becuase pigs traditionally aren't kosher, and tradition trumps science. A Vanderbilt professor made a similar argument (tradition trumps actual language) in an article about whether the prohibition on mixing milk and meat is based on a mistranslation.

While many observant Jews seem to enjoy finding loopholes to get around their own rules, I suspect most of them would still balk at the idea of kosher pigs, regardless of whether or not a rabbi said it was okay.

bottom line is that we need to redefine kosher for the 21st century to mean more locally grown, organic, non-industrial foods. foods that don't fug up the planet or your body in the growing, transporting and eating of them. that'd be a useful kashrut. what we've got now -- the stuff about shellfish and pigs -- that was useful in a world without refrigeration. time for an update.

Bacon, just in and of itself, is not automatically treyf. Yesterday, I had Beef Bacon at a kosher restaurant (in, of all places, Houston), which was basically thinly sliced pastrami that had been sauted in its own juices. Pretty darn good.

While the world would undoubtedly be a better place if everyone lived a new, organic kashrut as defined by Alice Waters, the starting assumption that the laws of kashrut must have been designed to fight botulism in the Sinai is an old canard, one that frankly gives too much credit to the ancient lawmakers. Maybe pork couldn't keep long in those days. But then why is rsbbit meat unkosher? What difference does it make if fish have scales? And who cares who tends the grapes our wine is made from? No, jewfaq.org has it right: We follow the laws of kashrut because, basically, the Torah says we should: "A Jew who observes the laws of kashrut cannot eat a meal without being reminded of the fact that he is a Jew." That's kashrut. The rest, while intriguing, is commentary.

i agree that ultimately kashrut boils down to "BECAUSE I SAID SO, THAT'S WHY." but given the debates within that framework about which animals are kosher and which aren't (case in point: swordfish: scales as a baby, no scales as an adult fish! DISCUSS!) (and see fascinating fish-related discussion here:
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/daily_life/Kashrut/Overview_Kosher_Food/Kosher_NonKosher_Animals.htm), i think it's fair game to talk about pig manipulation. (and hey, that's my new band.) if the Ask the Rabbi rabbi says the genetic material in the flavr-savr tomato would be so manipulated it would contain no essential pig-ness, would it not also be true that if you manipulated the actual pig so that it no longer had the characteristics (lack of cud-chewage) that made it unkosher, it WOULD be kosher? if a single piece of bacon claps in a forest...

On the "beef bacon" front, there's "beef fry," which is commercially available. Example: http://www.kosher.com/UploadedImages/cachedir/d90aa94b09848806564193689d828188.jpg

Never mind all that other stuff, does the pig-model chew the cud?

I had an interesting experience. In Jerusalem, I dined with Israeli friend, who asked for special chops. I asked for lamb chops. But, when the meal was served, I realized that I had made the wrong choice. "What race of lambs would that be", I asked. They laughed. Is is not lamb, they said. It is pig, bought on the West Bank by this jewish restaurant. We like it. Oh yes, why not. I have often travelled with European airlines from the ´Middle East serving bacon. The Muslims love it.

There seems to have been an essential principle of not mixing species.

And another of not usurping what belongs to Jehovah. (Some reading this may think of God as Allah ... I wish to be intentionally specific and clear. I do not recognize Allah as God and I do not accept the teachings of Muhammed.He was a false prophet. Not the first, not the last, but among the most dangerous.)

It would appear that mixing species by splicing genes (an event that rarely, if ever, occurs in nature) from one kingdom (plant / animal) to the other violates both of those basic principles.

Giving sheep an ability to make lard and changing the taste may be easier than making a pig that chews cud.
Why do you think creation of new kinds of living things as belonging solely to G-d? This was done by humans for millenia while selecting new breeds and strains of animals and plants. Gene engineering simply speeds up the process.
Defining something as G-d's alone because humans just recently learned it is incorrect (is it right for humans to travel in the sky?)
Also, spontaneous mixing of species occurs rarely but is quite important. Wheat, for example, descends from two such events and has genes of three different wild cereals.

So carp is kosher and catfish isn't?

You ever think that maybe that's why Jews and Rednecks don't get along? A redneck wouldn't eat carp unless he was starving.

He wouldn't give up pork, either.

Also, wouldn't the easy way out of this be to make a cow or sheep that tastes like bacon?

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