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Are genetically modified foods kosher?

by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman


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Although there are instances of genetic material of non-Kosher animals being used in kosher foods, to date, no one has succeeded in demonstrating that this renders the food non-kosher. The issues are complex, and require a thorough knowledge of Halachic precedent to date.

On the other hand, are we allowed to mess around with species in this manner? This is a whole other issue. The debate centers around the words of the outstanding medieval Jewish scholar, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (known as "the Ramban" or Nachmanides—not to be confused with his predecessor, the Rambam). Concerning the Biblical prohibition of grafting trees or cross-breeding animals, he writes that this is forbidden for a reason of cosmic import: It disturbs the fundamental path of nature. He calls this act, "obnoxious and vain." Humankind, he says, is given the right to make use of the Creation and to dominate it, but not to disturb its fundamental nature. Speciation is G-d’s business, and off limits to human beings.

when such radical adjustments are being made to the schemes of nature...a responsible attitude is to progress cautiously
The Ramban has a significant retractor on this point: Rabbi Yehudah Lowe (aka "the Maharal of Prague), who lived a few hundred years later. The Maharal, with support from the Talmud, asserts that any change that human beings introduce into the world already existed in potential when the world was created. All that humans do is bring that potential into actuality. The Torah prohibition against cross-breeding is specific to Jewish people and only under the conditions specified by the Torah. Once performed, a Jew is permitted to benefit from the results. I have not come across a significant argument that the current procedures of genetic engineering constitute cross-breeding as prohibited by the Torah.

The truly crucial issues of genetically modified foods are the health and environmental issues. There is a considerable outcry from informed voices that research has been far from thorough in these areas. In fact, there appears to be strong evidence of significant dangers involved. Forty years ago, a horticulturist wrote the Lubavitcher Rebbe about his work stimulating plant growth by means of electric current. The Rebbe expressed his astonishment at the lack of long-term research concerning the effects of foods grown this way on human health, since, "For all these years, human beings have not been eating foods grown this way." Certainly, when such radical adjustments are being made to the schemes of nature as we are doing now, a responsible attitude is to progress cautiously.

However, greed and the apathy of government agencies have worked against us in these matters. As a talmudic sage, Rabbi Yaacov of Kfar Chanin, said, "Adam was told to dominate the earth. But the word 'dominate' can also be read as 'descend'. If Adam approached the earth as he was made in the image of the Creator, then he dominates over it. But if not, if he comes as just another selfish creature, then he descends lower than any of the creation."


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Mitzvot » Kosher » Kosher Creatures

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
Acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, widely known as Maimonides. Born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.