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Home » Animal Rights, K'doshim, Questions of Ethics

K’doshim: Is Crossbreeding Permitted?

Submitted by on April 29, 2012 – 4:49 amNo Comment | 4,240 views


Throughout history farmers and breeders experimented with crossbreeding seeking the most enduring specimen. Despite the popularity of this practice we Jews must ask, is crossbreeding permitted?

The Torah prohibits crossbreeding. [1] Jewish philosophers[2] suggest it is because crossbreeding implies that G-d might have overlooked a creation that could possibly benefit humanity. We are summoned to believe that G-d made a perfect world and provided all the materials necessary for human existence. Suggesting that He should have embarked on a track that He did not is a diminution of His perfection.  [3] [4]

Writing for the Huffington Post [5] about the Grapple, a hybrid that looks like an apple and tastes like a grape, Mark Bazer commented, “My introduction to the Grapple came… with an initial wave of excitement. “An apple and a grape combined! We humans are so clever! Oh, I love being one! There is something fantastic and joyous about hybrids — two species that should have no business being together combining to produce something beautiful and odd.” is crossbreeding permitted innerstream

In two short sentences, Bazer managed to capture the precise sentiment that the Biblical prohibition intended to guard against. He demonstrated precisely why crossbreeding isn’t kosher.

At this point many readers are likely to ask, but didn’t G-d indeed make an imperfect world? As my friend Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg is fond of saying, “a perfect G-d, created an imperfect world, perfectly.” G-d didn’t give us houses; He gave us trees and stone so we could build houses. It is not a rejection of G-d’s perfection when we perfect His world. On the contrary it is an embracing of our G-d given mission.

This is true, but there is a world of difference between using the raw materials that G-d provided to build a home and suggesting that G-d failed to provide us with all the material that we require. This is akin to the difference between a builder who uses bricks provided by the homeowner to build a wall and one that complains that the homeowner provided the wrong bricks. The former is rewarded for doing a good job. The latter, if wrong, risks censure and even termination.

The Mystical Side

Let us now explore this prohibition from a mystical perspective. Jewish mystics [6] suggest that crossbreeding creates chaos on the spiritual realm because G-d created an orderly system, where each species on earth is assigned a unique spiritual formula that is channeled into it and vivifies it. When we introduce a new product that blends two existing species this delicate balance is disturbed. The new creation fuses two channels that are meant to remain separate and blends two spiritual formulas that were meant to remain unique.

This is not to say that G-d is incapable of adjusting the system and restoring harmony. On the contrary, G-d is lauded for His peacekeeping in heaven. [7] But it is not our role to muddy His waters and hand G-d new tasks. What seems simple to us generates complications in the spiritual realm. All we have done is created a new fruit. But in the heavens, a delicate balance was disturbed necessitating drastic adjustments and complete system overhauls.[8] So we ask is crossbreeding permitted? No, replies G-d and thank you very much.

Wool and Linen
If crossbreeding between two species of plants or two species of animals is forbidden, crossbreeding between the animal and botanical realms is surely forbidden. Though plants don’t cross pollinate with animals, there is one example of this prohibition – the mixture of wool and linen. Linen is a product of flax and wool is an animal derivative, thus fashioning a garment from linen and wool is forbidden.

Yet here we find a fascinating exception. The prohibition of mixing wool and linen was lifted in the holy Temple and for the Mitzvah of Tzitzit.[9] To understand these special dispensations we must recall that crossbreeding is forbidden because it corrupts the purity of the distinctive spiritual formulas created by G-d. However, at their seminal point, where all spiritual formulas converge, they are all one – manifestations of a single G-d.

In the Holy temple, where sanctity was unrestrained and Divinity was revealed, the spiritual prevalence was similar to that of the seminal point of all spiritual formulas. Similarly, the convergence of blue and white threads in Tzitzit represents the convergence point of all spiritual formulas.  Accordingly, suggest the mystics, special dispensation to mix linen and wool is accorded in these two arenas.

Everything Serves G-d

That a forbidden mixture becomes permissible under particular conditions is not unique to wool and linen. It is true of practically every Torah prohibition. Though non kosher food is forbidden to eat, its wanton destruction is also forbidden.  Though Chametz on Pesach must be destroyed, it is kosher to eat during the rest of the year. Though use of idols is absolutely forbidden, golden cherubs were required in the Temple. Furthermore, the materials from which idols are constructed are permissible for use in alternate ways. In every instance of prohibition there is an alternate method by which the forbidden becomes permitted.

This is because ultimately everything that G-d created must serve Him. G-d can be served passively. For example, when we refrain from non kosher food, the food plays a passive role in serving G-d. But the Torah isn’t satisfied with a passive form of service. The Torah insists that everything, including forbidden product, be used, under particular conditions, to serve G-d actively. Thus nothing in the Torah is forbidden universally and under all circumstances. Every single object, from idols to non kosher food, from hybrids to mixtures of wool and linen, can and must be engaged in the active service of G-d.

Otherwise, what is the point of its existence? [10]

[1] Leviticus 19:19. In almost every instance the prohibition is against crossbreeding, not against eating the hybrid. So to answer the question, is crossbreeding permitted? No. Are hybrids kosher? Most often, yes.

[2] See Nachmonides and Rabbenu Bachya’s commentary ad loc.

[3] Only cross breeding between species is forbidden. Cross breeding within the same species is permissible.

[4] To bolster the truth of this assertion G-d decreed the sterility of all true hybrids. Through their inability to propagate G-d demonstrated that these strains cannot contribute to the perfection of our world. This might also be why G-d did not permit two distinctly different species e.g. a wolf and a lioness to create offspring.

[5] Huffington Post, March 27, 2007, “A Grapple A Day…Won’t Do Much For You.”

[6] See Nachmonides and Rabbenu Bachya’s commentary to Leviticus 19:19.This based on the Midrashic proclamation (Bereshit Rabbah 1:7) that every blade of grass has a unique flow of spiritual energy that vivifies it.

[7] Job 25: 2.

[8] I discussed this idea with a friend, a senior scientist for Agriculture and Agrifood Canada, and he mentioned that it is not only the celestial balance that we tamper with, but the physical one as well. We have created a situation where almost all our crops are completely dependent on us and cannot self generate. We have also modified our crops so that there is little variety in their genetic makeup, which exposes us to the nightmarish possibility of an unanticipated botanic disease wiping out the world’s entire supply in a horribly brief span of time.

[9] See Exodus 28: 5, 6 and 15. See also Maimonides Hilchos Tzitzis 3: 6.

[10] Toras Menachem 5744 p. 2522.