Clean meat is a term I recently added to my vocabulary. It refers to meat that is grown in laboratories from animal cells. Environmentalists and animal activists are proponents of clean meat because it could produce the flavor of hamburgers and sausages without the greenhouse gases and animal suffering of the factory farming system. Jewish consumers are proponents of clean meat because it could produce kosher bacon et al.
Because I am neither a scientist nor a nutritionist, I find the technological reasoning behind clean meat to be beyond my purview. As a rabbi, as one who believes that I have a fair understanding of American Jewry, I cannot help but feel that the interest – mildly put – in the ability to artificially produce bacon and other heretofore forbidden food products is rooted in the following three reasons:
American Jews, observant American Jews do not seem to be concerned about the prohibition found in the Torah adjuring us not to act according to the abominations of foreign nations. Rather than expand the prohibition to include all foreign nations, our rabbinic sage strove to show that it applies to the seven Canaanite nations and that kosher is solely limited to ingredients. Therefore, from a kosher standpoint, rabbinic authorities seem to have no problem giving their seal of approval to chemically laced, nitrate loaded and artery clogging nutrition free foods. Apparently, contemporary rabbinic greats as well as those who oversee kashrut agencies are not in any way troubled that we have succeeded in mimicking American culture as far as fast food (hamburgers, hotdogs and pizza), nor do they seem to be concerned that more often than not, observant Jews consume these fast foods in “animal position” that is to say, while standing up (as Jews, we are mandated to eat like a mentsch, in a seated position). Having shown that we are halachically (in accordance with the dictates of Jewish law) capable of duplicating Big Macs and Big Whoppers, it’s only logical to segue into duplicating an Egg McMuffin and a (Whataburger) Breakfast Platter using clean meat.
I believe that it’s fair to say that there is a disproportionate number of American Jews in the fields of law, medicine, accounting and comedy. I cannot help but wonderer if there is a disproportionate number of American Jews when it comes to being curious. Even though Adam and Eve had no religious affiliation (we read about them last Shabbat) did their sense of curiosity filter down more to American Jews than to any other people? Are observant American Jews more infatuated in foods that are verboten, than say observant American Moslems? Does Mohammed crave bacon and eggs as much Menachem? As apt an addage as “curiosity killed the cat” may be, perhaps it doesn’t apply to Jews when it comes to heretofore forbidden foods that are suddenly deemed kosher because they constitute clean meat.
The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) forbids us to remind a person of his past deeds. Heaven forfend that I should single out any one person, but we are living in an age of “Ba’alei Teshuvah” or those who began to observe the dictates of Judaism at some point in their lives. They constitute a sizeable portion of the Orthodox community in contemporary America. Unlike the “Frum from Birth” or those born into observant Jewish family, “Ba’alei Teshuvah” gave up a great deal, including in some cases forbidden foods when they embraced their new lifestyle. Those “Frum from Birth” never tasted shrimp, bacon or cheeseburgers. Frum from Birth Jews neither long for the taste nor savor the flavor. Not so, the “Ba’alei Teshuvah community. The Ba’alei Teshuvah community has every reason to anticipate the day when clean meat hits the market. However private a matter it might be, upon tasting clean meat kosher bacon or similar, “Ba’alei Teshuvah will have every right to silently intone “Chadeish Yameinu K’Kedem” or renew our days as of old.