Would transplants from pigs to people break religious dietary laws?

From the department of Applying Ancient Religious Beliefs to Modern Technologies…

We have an article from Ari Stillman at ReligionDispatches.org about the possibility of growing human organs in pigs for transplantation into humans. Apparently, pigs have already generated “human blood” after being injected with human blood cells.

According to the Telegraph of London, these techniques could provide a solution to the current shortage of available organs.

Professor Hiromitsu Nakauchi, director of the centre for stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the University of Tokyo in Japan, tells the Telegraph: “Our ultimate goal is to generate human organs from induced pluripotent stem cells…”The technique, called blastocyst complementation, provides us with a novel approach for organ supply. We have successfully tried it between mice and rats. We are now rather confident in generating functional human organs using this approach.”

Stillman raises the very interesting question of whether traditional Judaism and Islam — which prohibit the eating of pork — would allow for “xenotransplantation” using pigs.

Scholars from both traditions say that saving a life generally takes precedence over other rules.

And the pig would not actually be eaten, but would only, well, produce organs that would become part of human bodies. Hmmm.

Stillman writes: “Of course, the question is bound to surface at some point as to whether they have to use a pig? Why not another animal so as to save the trouble of these religious debates? Unfortunately (or quite fortunately, depending on your orientation), pigs are anatomically and physiologically similar to man. Coupled with their low maintenance, it makes them ideal surrogates for the growth of human organs. If you believe in intelligent design and techno-determinism, then maybe this is just indicative of God’s progressive sense of irony.”

(AP Photo/David Duprey)

Can vegetarianism be the Reform Kosher?

Passover, which begins at sundown Monday, comes with plenty of dietary rules. No bagels, for instance.

Well, a new book published by the Reform movement takes a fresh look at Jewish eating in general. It’s called “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic.”

The Reform movement has traditionally rejected Kosher laws — or at least made them very optional. But the book (published by the Reform Rabbis association) explores the meaning of Kosher (or Kashrut) for liberal Jews in the modern world.

A press release says: “Does Kashrut represent a facade of religiosity, hiding immorality and abuse, or is it, in its purest form, a summons to raise the ethical standards of food production?  How does Kashrut enrich spiritual practice by teaching intentionality and gratitude?  Can paying attention to our own eating practices raise our awareness of the hungry?  Can Kashrut inspire us to eat healthfully?  Can these laws draw us around the same table, thus creating community?”

One essay in the book is by Rabbi Mark Sameth of Pleasantville Community Synagogue (which is a non-denominational congregation). Sameth is a vegetarian and suggests that the Reform movement adopt vegetarianism as a formal dietary standard.

He writes: “Over one billion people on the planet are either starving or are chronically undernourished. Animal agriculture is inefficient in the extreme… You’ve got to invest eight to twelve pounds of grain for every one pound of edible beef you get back. Unbelievably inefficient. If we gave up our meat-based diets, simply stopped raising animals for food, all of those crops we are now raising to feed those animals would be sufficient to feed every starving man, woman, and child on the planet.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has a nice feature about whether the book and other rumblings suggest that the Reform world is considering/suggesting/mulling over some sort of more formal kosher observance.

The article includes this:

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Some Reform leaders, including the book’s editor, Rabbi Mary Zamore of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, N.J., want to play down the trendiness aspect.

“This is part of a continuum within Reform Judaism,” said Zamore, who pushed the project along for 13 years. “It’s not liberal Judaism becoming something different; it’s that we continue to evolve. Here is a topic which for many Reform Jews was taboo or a non-starter. Now everywhere I go, people are talking about these topics as Reform Jews.”

“The Sacred Table” opens with a discussion of the historical Reform approach to kashrut and includes an overview of traditional kosher laws — a first for an official Reform publication, according to Zamore.

It also includes chapters on each of the Jewish values that proponents of ethical kashrut embrace as they seek to broaden the traditional definition of the Jewish diet, from the ban on “tzaar baalei chayim,” or cruelty to animals, to preventing “oshek,” or oppression of workers. It includes the results of a 2005 survey that showed increasing numbers of Reform synagogues, clergy and lay leaders are keeping kosher, partially or entirely. And it ends with a guide that Reform congregations can use to develop their own communal dietary practice, which may or may not include kashrut.