halal

Kosher sort-of shrimp and cheeseburgers: Do plant-based foods violate spirit of biblical law?

Kosher sort-of shrimp and cheeseburgers: Do plant-based foods violate spirit of biblical law?

Back in my Rocky Mountain days, in the 1980s, I heard an Orthodox rabbi give a fascinating talk with a title that went something like this: “The quest for the kosher cheeseburger.”

His thesis: If the result of this quest is a cheeseburger — mixing meat with a milk product — then it’s not kosher. If you end up with something that is kosher, then it isn’t a real cheeseburger. So what’s the point?

The Orthodox rabbi was using the “kosher cheeseburger” as a symbol of the efforts that many Jews make to blur the line between assimilating into what can, at times, be a hostile culture and following the traditions of their ancient faith. Can modern Jewish believers create a golden cheeseburger and eat it, too?

This is an essentially spiritual question, but it’s a question that takes on a whole new meaning with the explosion of attention now being given to plant-based meat substitutes (note the blitz of ads for Burger King’s new Impossible Whooper).

The Washington Post business team recently covered this trend and did a fine job of digging into these religious questions, starting with the headline: “Shalt thou eat an Impossible Burger? Religious doctrine scrambles to catch up to new food technology.” It’s rare to see scripture in a business lede, but this one was right on point — focusing on on a symbolic food that is totally out of bounds in Jewish tradition.

You think a kosher cheeseburger is a wild idea? How about kosher shrimp?

Leviticus 11 contains a zoo’s worth of animals. The hyrax and the monitor lizard. The katydid is there, as is the gecko. And it ends: “You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.”

Dietary restrictions are woven into religious texts, the Old Testament and the New, the Koran, the Vedas and the Upanishads. Some are mercifully practical, as in the law of necessity in Islamic jurisprudence: “That which is necessary makes the forbidden permissible.”

Now, Tyson executives are seeking certification from various agencies declaring their plant-based shrimp both kosher and halal. The team at the Post business desk identified the religion ghost in that equation and produced this solid thesis statement:

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Ahmad Khan Rahami: The New York Times offers early clues to a life transformed

Ahmad Khan Rahami: The New York Times offers early clues to a life transformed

While politicians keep arguing about what is and what is not a bomb and what is and what is not a “motive” for terrorism, most American journalists -- at least in the print media -- have settled into a somewhat predictable pattern for covering the basic facts of these kinds of events.

That was a compliment.

There was a time when reporters seemed so anxious to avoid the religion angles in these stories that they actually buried or ignored basic facts -- which almost certainly led to increased distrust among readers. We are talking about stories in which a a suspect’s name or family history was hidden deep in the text or reporting that ignored details provided by witnesses, such as whether attackers shouted religious references or asked victims if they were Muslims.

At this point -- perhaps after waves of street-level violence in Europe and elsewhere -- reporters have gone back to writing basic stories. That doesn’t mean that potential links to radicalized forms of Islam dominate the headlines and the tops of news reports. It does mean that essential facts are covered and, often, they are linked to human details that help them make sense.

Consider the New York Times second-day feature story about the man arrested -- after a gun battle with police -- following the disturbing series of attacks in and around New York City. Just look at the complex matrix of materials at the very top of this story.

He presided behind the counter of a storefront New Jersey fried chicken restaurant, making his home with his family in an apartment above it. To some of his friends, Ahmad Khan Rahami was known as Mad, an abridgment of his name rather than a suggestion of his manner, and they liked that he gave them free food when they were short on money.

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