Star Trek’s replicators are perhaps the most intriguing invention in the star trek universe, and also one of the most frequently debated halachic aspects of the show. When seen on screen, the replicators have the ability to seemingly create any object out of thin air. The exact method of operation of the replicators is unfortunately a matter of some disagreement. The Star Trek technical manual describes one method of operation, while their operation on screen is different. The technical manual explains that the replicators disassemble matter into a matter stream, move it to a new location, and reassemble the matter as a new object. In this conception, the object never exists as pure energy. It is stored and transported as matter.
In the TV series however the transporters and replicators are shown to operate as if they were assembling objects from pure energy and not matter. In The Original Series episode The Enemy Within, the transporter duplicates captain Kirk, an alien dog-like animal, and some industrial heaters. In Second Chances Riker is duplicated when a second transporter beam reflects off of the first. In both of these instances if the transporter was sending matter in addition to energy then it would have no way to duplicate the matter present. Only by transporting pure energy could it hope to duplicate the amount of matter present. If that wasn’t enough, in the Next Generation episode Lonely Among Us captain Picard is reassembled from pure energy by the transporter. No matter exists when the process begins, but by the end captain Picard is standing on the ship – clearly the product of a process which converted pure energy into matter. (Physicist Lawrence Krauss describes in detail how the depiction in the show and the description in the technical manual are incompatible in his book, The Physics of Star Trek).
Like any good machloket, we will have to analyze the issue from both perspectives, however for this blog post we’re just going to analyze the replicators from the show’s point of view – that the replicators assemble matter from pure energy. In that case, would food designed to look like meat be meat? Would something with the same molecular pattern as pork be considered pork? B’etzrat Hashem there will be future post which examines the issue from the technical manual’s perspective.
The Torah provides many guidelines for which animals can be eaten and which cannot. Pork is forbidden not because of something inherently wrong with pork, but because it comes from a forbidden animal. Without the pig, the prohibition goes away. To take a very common contemporary example, if someone creates a pork like dish made from kosher beef, then it would be kosher. A pork like dish made from a non-meat source like soy protein is even parve. The fact that the final product is designed to look and taste like a forbidden product does not make it actually forbidden. What matters if the origin of the item you are eating. The question is – since the replicators are making a new object with the same molecular structure as pork, is it halachically the same as pork?
Although the traditional sources do not talk directly about food created from pure energy, there are some close analogies. The Talmud explains that in the garden of Eden Adam was served meat and wine by the angels, despite the fact that he was forbidden to eat meat. (This follows the interpretation that humans were not allowed to eat meat until the time of Noah). That meat had descended from heaven, and Adam was able to eat this non-animal based mean even though he was not allowed to eat regular meat. This interpretation is also clarified by the Rashbatz (Magen Avot 4:21).
When clarifying whether meat can descend from heaven, the Talmud recounts a story about Rabbi Shimon Ben Chalafta. (Sanhedrin 59b). Rabbi Shimon encountered two lions who appeared ready to devour him. He prayed and two pieces of meat descended from heaven. The lions ate one and he brought the other one with him to the beit midrash where he sought to clarify if the meat was kosher. The rabbis ruled that nothing unkosher falls from heaven. Rabbi Zeira questioned what would happen if donkey meat were to descend from heaven. Rabbi Abahu answered him by repeating the initial statement that nothing unclean comes from heaven. On this point Rashi and Yad Ramah both clarify that donkey meat would not descend from heaven, but even if it did, it would be kosher as nothing unclean can come from heaven. The Meiri (Beit Habechira, Sanhedrin 59b, sv Harbei Peamim) goes a step further, explaining that the rabbis intended to include not just things which literally come from heaven, but rather anything which is created in a supernatural fashion and is not from nature. (Since he lived in the 13th century the Meiri was likely making sure to explicitly exclude creatures which spontaneously generate from this category).
In two locations the Talmud recounts stories of rabbis using Sefer Yitzirah (the book of creation) to create living beings. In the first story (Sanhedrin 65b) Rava makes a man. Rav Zeira later tells the man “return to dust” and the man is destroyed. Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi, better known as the Chacham Tzvi, discusses this in Shut Chacham Tzvi #93. He says that because Rav Zeira told the man “return to dust” and the man did, that this man created by the rabbis did not count as a man, otherwise Rav Zeira would have been committing murder. Although the man could function and communicate as a human, he was still created by men in an unnatural fashion and not through the usual methods, so he did not count as a human.
The Talmud’s second account (Sanhedrin 65b) of people using Sefer Yitzirah revolves around Hanina and Rav Ushaya who studied Sefer Yetzirah and used the knowledge within to create a cow every Friday to be eaten on shabbat. Many authorities have used this midrash to try and answer other questions. Malbim for example, is one of many commentators to try and resolve the issue of how Avraham could have served his angelic guests both meat and milk in Bereshit 18:8. He says that Avraham created the cow using sefer yitzirah, and therefore was parve and could be eaten with milk. The Cheshek Shlomo (1828–1905, Av Beit din in Vilna) likewise ruled that a cow made in this manner would be be parve. Nachalat Binyamin even says that this cow would not require shechita (ritual slaughter).
Although none of these sources talk directly about food created by energy, it is clear that when considering the status of a piece of meat that came from a non-natural source, it is judged based on its origin and not its form. Even if actual donket meat were to appear without coming from a donkey, it would be kosher. It follows then that food created from pure energy would be kosher, regardless of what molecular pattern the user asked the food replicators to duplicate. The similarity in taste and structure when compared to other foods would be only coincidental from a halachic standpoint. For these reasons it would also be parve – neither meat nor dairy. A kosher keeping Jew in the 24th century could eat a replicated bacon cheeseburger knowing that it was kosher. The food is a new creation, and is kosher from the outset.
Are there any other possible concerns when it comes to eating a replicated cheeseburger? Unfortunately for the observant 24th century Jew there are some other issues, like maarit ayin, which we will cover in a future post b’ezrat hashem.