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Author:  Renee
E-mail:  kohn@ix.netcom.com
Date:  10/29/2004 12:42:00 PM
Subject:  Hydroponics for Samantha
Message:  We are honored that Rabbi Abadi referred this question to us, but surely there are others out there who are much more knowledgable in this field whom you could write to. In Israel, in Gush Katif the Alei Katif company is growing many crops hydroponically and may be able to help you with your project.

Hydroponically grown vegetables are grown without soil. They are grown in a medium which might be water,or could sometimes be wood dust, styrofoam pellets or some other material. The benefit to the kosher consumer is that the vegetables do not need to be checked for insect infestation, since insect infestation would not be possible because the vegetables are grown in a bug free artificial environment.

The "ecological" benefit of hydroponics is that land and soil are not required for hydroponic farming thus making hydroponic research an outgrowth of the space program and of interest to scientists concerned with overpopulation. (I've driven cross country twice and have seen the vast thousands of miles of emptiness in this country and personally do not feel as though a lack of usuable farmland is a real concern for us in America, but that is another topic).

Hydroponic farmers fertilize their crops with a mineral blend that supposedly mimics the natural minerals in soil. My own personal experience using hydroponics for cooking is that I can taste a VERY big difference and will not use these products. I come home from the farmers market each week and then just sit down at the sink and wash, check and soak my veggies for the week so they are ready to cook as I need them. This does take a couple of hours, but I feel as though fresh greens are essential to our family's health and we eat a lot of them.

I also personally feel as though as with any branch of science, whatever we think we know, we really do not know and are merely just theorizing on a very juvenile scale. I personally do not think that science can actually duplicate the complex nature of soil and that people who try to live on these vegetables will develop serious nutritional deficiencies.

In fact you might look into the experiments that were done with the "self sufficient" biospheres about a decade ago. It seemed to me that a disproportionate number of the scientists working in these communities had to be removed in order to be treated for cancer.

As Jews, I believe that we do not have the viewpoint that "science is bad". To the contrary, any knowledge that Hashem reveals to the world is for our benefit and use. Hashem reveals certain scientific discoveries to us when we, as a world are ready to use them. You might look historically into the development of the steam engine and the telephone for verification of this. Simultaneous "scientific breakthroughs" were made by individuals in different corners of the world at a time when they could not have possibly communicated with each other. This seems to overwhelmingly point to the Divine Origin of all scientific knowledge. How could it be possible that steam locomotion was not obvious to us for thousands of years, only to be "discovered" simultaneously by scientists in different corners of the world??

I say this from personal experience as my husband was doing high energy physics research in super conductor labs two decades ago and one thing that he noticed was that every single scientist who worked on the projects became religious (whatever their religion was). The more we know the more we realize we do not understand and the more in awe of Hashem we become.

I was wondering, from a halachic viewpoint, if hydroponic vegetables could be considered "ha-adama" because they are not "from the ground"?
Would they be considered "shehakol" like mushrooms because they grow in "medium" like mushrooms? My next "wondering" was if hydroponic vegetables could be used for "Karpas" on Pesah if (or course that would be if) one could not make "ha-Adama" on them?

This is, of course just the "tip of the iceberg" as far as halachic questions that we will see in the coming years. Right now we are consulting for a company that is producing "custom genetically engineered life-forms" for the food and fertilizer industries. Their biggest products now are genetically engineered organisms that eat corn sugars and excrete styrofoam (replacing petro-chemicals), organisms that live in the intestines of cattle and eat the phosphorus that is a by-product of their digestion so that their waste will not harm the environment, and organisms that eat the grease stains from your clothing.

What happens if genetically altered corn (bred with fish DNA so that is contains protein and essential fatty acids) starts to really smell like fish?(One of my friends is SURE she can taste fish in tomatoes these days.)Will we someday have to check our corn for fins and scales? Especially if is it hydroponically grown in water? What will be the beracha on that one? (Water 'grown" corn that smells, tastes and is nutritionally like fish).

Reply:  Many people might know the facts here, but I referred it to you for the honest and objective response. I faxed it to my father for further review. Thank you!

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