Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Beyond the Impossible Burger


Operation Inspiration

In the food and “foodie”-centric world in which we live, there are numerous terms you will likely hear bandied about as the latest and greatest food creations to come forth. It was pointed out to me how sad it is that there is more money to be made by scientists in finding a new artificial sweetener with no calories than there is in curing cancer. But of course, there are many more consumers who are looking for the next new treat rather than worrying about diseases they don’t have.

One of the latest debates I’ve heard is over the plant-(and chemical)-based artificial beef patties branded under the names, “Beyond Burger” and “Impossible Burger.” I’m guessing they both have good kosher certification as frum people are testing them out, but I’ve heard varying perspectives on which one is better and which one feels and tastes more like real beef.

The question I had is, why do we need these “burgers”? Now, some will tell me the go-to line for foodies, “After 120, Hashem will take people to task for not having enjoyed ALL of His world.” I may be wrong but I don’t think there will be a scoreboard for those who managed to experience every taste imaginable, and some multiple times. I recall Harav Mordecai Gifter z”l angrily lamenting about “kosher crab,” saying, “We take a kosher fish and give it the taste of a treif one!” (It sounded much better in Yiddish!) I don’t think Hashem would have us create something just so we could imagine we were mixing meat and milk.

It’s not even just about Jews who want to taste a cheeseburger. It’s about people who are interested in finding an alternative to meat for either animal mercy or health motives. Even non-kosher restaurant chains who are renowned for their flame-broiled burgers are touting their “impossible” offerings. I’m not sure about the nutrient factor or whether they are wholesome but either way that’s really not the answer to the question I’m asking.

My real question is why Hashem felt that the world needed a meat-like product like this. It’s a close approximation of the original but why does the world need it? Are Vegans feeling bad about not being able to participate in barbecues? Are we supposed to lessen the impact of the Nine Days further for the Ashkenazim? What is the lesson and point of these patties? There has to be more than “meats” the eye.

As I reflected on this I was reminded of a story. The Chofetz Chaim spoke to a baker who told him that business was rough. People would come to his bakery and judge all his challos. This one was too lightly baked, this one was overdone, people would drop things, “and pretty soon, I’ve lost all my profit!”

Sometime later, during World War I, the Chofetz Chaim met him again. This time he was effusive about how business was booming. “There’s a bread shortage and people will take whatever I have to offer PLUS pay a premium price.”

The Chofetz Chaim nodded sadly, “The Navi foretells that at the end of time there will be a hunger but not for bread, and a thirst but not for water. People will desperately want to hear the word of Hashem. But just as in a time of hunger, people will take any bread even if it’s low-quality or moldy, when there’s a famine for Torah, they will accept cheap imitations too!”

That’s where I think I found my inspiration from the “Impossible Burger.” It’s Hashem reminding us that people can create very close replicas of many things. On the surface something may seem like a mitzvah; someone may seem like a scrupulously religious Jew or even a knowledgeable rabbi. A movement may seem to be the truthful word of Hashem and you have to be very careful to differentiate and know that this is a copy.

The old expression was, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!” Today that is not true. It may be a robotic facsimile of said fowl creature or perhaps a laboratory-grown duck-like creature, just like these new meat substitutes are positioned to replace beef.

The message, then, is that we must be alert and aware that these copies exist, and scrutinize our behavior and what we listen to and read to make sure we’ve got the genuine article in our Judaism. We don’t want to live our lives following the wrong things and thinking we were taking the path of truth when all we really had was someone’s similar-looking contrived version of it.

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