A 15th-century depiction of shechita and bedikah.
|Halakhic texts relating to this article|
|Torah:||Deuteronomy 12:21, Deuteronomy 14:21, Numbers 11:22|
|Mishneh Torah:||Sefer Kodashim, Hilchot shechita|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Yoreh De'ah 1:27|
|Other rabbinic codes:||Sefer ha-Chinuch mitzvah 451|
In Judaism, shechita (anglicized: //; Hebrew: שחיטה; [ʃχiˈta]; also transliterated shehitah, shechitah, shehita) is slaughtering of certain mammals and birds for food according to kashrut (Deut. 12:21, Deut. 14:21, Num. 11:22).
The Torah (Deut. 12:21) states that sheep and cattle should be slaughtered "as I have instructed you" but nowhere in the Five books of Moses are any of the practices of shechita described. Instead, they have been handed down in Judaism's traditional Oral Torah, and codified in halakha.
The animal must be of a permitted species. For mammals, this is restricted to ruminants which have split hooves. For birds, although biblically any species of bird not specifically excluded in Deuteronomy 14:12–18 would be permitted, doubts as to the identity and scope of the species on the biblical list led to rabbinical law permitting only birds with a tradition of being permissible.
In the Talmudic era (beginning in 200 CE with the Jerusalem Talmud and 300 CE with the Babylonian Talmud and extending through the medieval ages), rabbis started to debate and define kosher laws. As the laws increased in number and complexity, following ritual slaughter laws became difficult for Jews who were not trained in those laws. This resulted in the need for a shochet (someone who has studied shechita extensively) to perform the slaughtering in the communities.
The shochtim (plural of shochet) study which slaughtered animals are kosher, what disqualifies them from being kosher, and how to prepare animals according to the laws of shechita. Subjects of study include the preparation of slaughtering tools, ways to interpret which foods follow the laws of shechita, and types of terefot (unfit kosher animals).
Shochtim studied under rabbis to learn the laws of shechita. Rabbis acted as the academics who, among themselves, debated how to apply laws from the Torah to the preparation of animals. Rabbis also conducted experiments to determine under which terefot animals were no-longer kosher. Shochtim studied under these rabbis, as rabbis were the officials who first interpret, debate, and determine the laws of shechita.
Shochtim are essential to every Jewish community, so they earn elevated social status. In medieval ages, the shochtim were treated as second in social status, just underneath rabbis. Shochtim were respected for committing their time to studying and for their importance to their communities.
The procedure, which must be performed by a shochet (שוחט), involves severing the trachea, esophagus and, crucially, the large blood vessels of the neck, in a swift action using a special knife with an extremely sharp blade. The procedure may be performed with the animal either lying on its back (שחיטה מוונחת, shechita munachat) or standing (שחיטה מעומדת, shechita me'umedet).
The procedure is done with the intention of causing a rapid drop in blood pressure in the brain and loss of consciousness, to render the animal insensitive to pain and to exsanguinate in a prompt and precise action. However, severing the carotid arteries and jugular veins does not cut blood flow to the brain of a bovine, because the brain is supplied with blood also by vertebral arteries.
If one did not sever the entirety of both the trachea and esophagus, then an animal may still be considered kosher as long as one severed the majority of the trachea and esophagus (windpipe and food pipe) of a mammal, or the majority of either one of these in the case of birds. The cut must be incised with a back and forth motion without violating one of the five major prohibited techniques (see below), or various other detailed rules.
- Shehiyah (שהייה; delay or pausing) - Pausing during the incision and then starting to cut again makes the animal's flesh unkosher. The knife must be moved across the neck in an uninterrupted motion until the trachea and esophagus are sufficiently severed to avoid this. There is some disagreement among legal sources as to the exact length of time needed to constitute shehiyah, but today the normative practice is to disqualify a kosher cut as a result of any length of pausing.
- Derasah (דרסה; pressing/chopping) - The knife must be drawn across the throat by a back and forth movement, not by chopping, hacking, or pressing without moving the knife back and forth. There are those who assert that it is forbidden to have the animal in an upright position during shechita due to the prohibition of derasah. They maintain that the animal must be on its back or lying on its side, and some also allow for the animal to be suspended upside down. However, the Rambam explicitly permits upright slaughter, and the Orthodox Union as well as all other major kosher certifiers in the United States accept upright slaughter.
- Haladah (חלדה; covering, digging, or burying) - The knife must be drawn over the throat so that the back of the knife is at all times visible while shechita is being performed. It must not be stabbed into the neck or buried by fur, hide, feathers, the wound itself, or a foreign object (such as a scarf) which may cover the knife.
- Hagramah (הגרמה; cutting in the wrong location) - Hagramah refers to the location on the neck on which a kosher cut may be performed; cutting outside this location will in most cases disqualify a kosher cut. According to today's normative Orthodox practice, any cutting outside this area will in all cases disqualify a kosher cut. The limits within which the knife may be applied are from the large ring in the windpipe to the top of the upper lobe of the lung when it is inflated, and corresponding to the length of the pharynx. Slaughtering above or below these limits renders the meat unkosher.
- Iqqur (עיקור; tearing) - If either the esophagus or the trachea is torn during the shechita incision, the carcass is rendered unkosher. Iqqur can occur if one tears out the esophagus or trachea while handling an animal's neck or if the esophagus or trachea is torn by a knife with imperfection/s on the blade, such as nicks or serration. In order to avoid tearing, the kosher slaughter knife is expertly maintained and regularly checked with the shochet's fingernail to ensure that no nicks are present.
Temple Grandin has observed that "if the rules (of the five forbidden techniques) are disobeyed, the animal will struggle. If these rules are obeyed, the animal has little reaction."
The knife used for shechita is called a sakin (סכין), or alternatively a hallaf (חלף) by Ashkenazi Jews. By biblical law the knife may be made from anything not attached directly or indirectly to the ground and capable of being sharpened and polished to the necessary level of sharpness and smoothness required for shechita. The Minhag now is to use a metal knife.
The knife must be at least slightly longer than the neck width but preferably at least twice as long as the animal's neck is wide, but not so long that the weight of the knife is deemed excessive. If the knife is too large, it is assumed to cause Derasah, excessive pressing. Kosher knife makers sell knives of differing sizes depending on the animal. Shorter blades may technically be used depending on the number of strokes employed to slaughter the animal, but the normative practice today is that shorter blades are not used. The knife must not have a point. It is feared a point may slip into the wound during slaughter and cause Haladah, covering, of the blade. The blade may also not be serrated, as serrations cause Iqqur, tearing.
The blade may not have imperfections in it. All blades are assumed by Jewish law to be imperfect, so the knife must be checked before each session. In the past the knife was checked through a variety of means. Today the common practice is for the shochet to run his fingernail up and down both sides of the blade and on the cutting edge to determine if he can feel any imperfections. He then uses a number of increasingly fine abrasive stones to sharpen and polish the blade until it is perfectly sharp and smooth. After the slaughter, the shochet must check the knife again in the same way to be certain the first inspection was properly done, and to ensure the blade was not damaged during shechita. If the blade is found to be damaged, the meat may not be eaten by Jews. If the blade falls or is lost before the second check is done, the first inspection is relied on and the meat is permitted.
In previous centuries, the hallaf was made of forged steel, which was not reflective and was difficult to make both smooth and sharp. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, fearing that Sabbateans were scratching the knives in a way not detectable by normal people, introduced the Hasidic hallaf (hasidishe hallaf). It differs from the previously-used knife design because it is made of molten steel and polished to a mirror gloss in which scratches could be seen as well as felt. The new knife was controversial and one of the reasons for the 1772 excommunication of the Hasidim.
It is forbidden to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day. An animal's "young" is defined as either its own offspring, or another animal that follows it around, even if of another species.
The animal's blood may not be collected in a bowl, a pit, or a body of water, as these resemble ancient forms of idol worship.
If the shochet accidentally slaughters with a knife dedicated to idol worship, he must remove an amount of meat equivalent to the value of the knife and destroy it. If he slaughtered with such a knife on purpose, the animal is forbidden as not kosher.
The carcass must be checked to see if the animal had any of a specific list of internal injuries that would have rendered the animal a treifah before the slaughter. These injuries were established by the Talmudic Rabbis as being likely to cause the animal to die within 12 months time. Today all mammals are inspected for lung adhesions (bedikat ha-reah "examination of the lung") and other disqualifying signs of the lungs, and most kosher birds will have their intestines inspected for infections. Further inspection of other parts of the body may be performed depending on the stringency applied and also depending on whether any signs of sickness were detected before slaughter or during the processing of the animal.
Glatt (Yiddish: גלאַט) and halak (Hebrew: חלק) both mean "smooth". In the context of kosher meat, they refer to the "smoothness" (lack of blemish) in the internal organs of the animal. In the case of an adhesion on a cow’s lungs specifically, there is debate between Ashkenazic customs and Sephardic customs. While there are certain areas of the lung where an adhesion is allowed, the debate revolves around adhesions which do not occur in these areas.
Ashkenazic Jews rule that if the adhesion can be removed (there are various methods of removing the adhesion, and not all of them are acceptable even according to the Ashkenazic custom) and the lungs are still airtight (a process that is tested by filling the lungs with air and then submerging them in water and looking for escaping air), then the animal is still kosher but not glatt. If, in addition, there were two or fewer adhesions, and they were small and easily removable, then these adhesions are considered a lesser type of adhesion, and the animal is considered glatt. Ashkenazi custom permits eating non-glatt kosher meat, but it is often considered praiseworthy to only eat glatt kosher meat.
Sephardic Jews rule that if there is any sort of adhesion on the forbidden areas of the lungs, then the animal is not kosher. This standard is commonly known as halak Beit Yosef. It is the strictest in terms of which adhesions are allowed.
The Rema (an Ashkenazi authority) had an additional stringency, of checking adhesions on additional parts of the lung which Sephardi practice does not require. Some Ashkenazi Jews keep this stringency.
Porging refers to the halakhic requirement to remove the carcass's veins, chelev (caul fat and suet) and sinews. The Torah prohibits the eating of certain fats, so they must be removed from the animal. These fats are typically known as chelev. There is also a biblical prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve (gid hanasheh), so that, too, is removed.
The removal of the chelev and the gid hanasheh, called nikkur, is considered complicated and tedious, and hence labor-intensive, and even more specialized training is necessary to perform the act properly. While the small amounts of chelev in the front half of the animal are relatively easy to remove, the back half of the animal is far more complicated, and it is where the sciatic nerve is located.
In countries such as the United States, where there exists a large nonkosher meat market, the hindquarters of the animal (where many of these forbidden meats are located) is often sold to non-Jews, rather than trouble with the process. This tradition goes back for centuries where local Muslims accept meat slaughtered by Jews as consumable; however, the custom was not universal throughout the Muslim world, and some Muslims (particularly on the Indian subcontinent) did not accept these hindquarters as halal. In Israel, on the other hand, specially trained men are hired to prepare the hindquarters for sale as kosher.
Because of the biblical prohibition of eating blood (Gen 9:4, Lev 17:10–14, Deut 12:23–24), all blood must be promptly removed from the carcass. All large arteries and veins are removed, as well as any bruised meat or coagulated blood. Then the meat is kashered, a process of soaking and salting the meat to draw out all the blood. If this procedure is not performed promptly, the blood is considered to have “set” in the meat, and the meat is no longer salvageable to eat except when prepared through broiling with appropriate drainage.
Giving of the Gifts
A Biblical commandment states a shochet must give the foreleg, cheeks and maw to a Kohen even though he does not own the meat. Thus, it is desirable that the shochet refuse to perform the shechita unless the animal's owner expresses his agreement to give the gifts. Betei din (Rabbinical courts) have the authority to excommunicate a shochet who refuses to perform this commandment.
The Rishonim point out the Shochet cannot claim that, since the animal does not belong to him, he cannot give the gifts without the owner's consent. On the contrary, since the average shochet is reputed to be well versed and knowledgeable in the laws of Shechitah ("Dinnei Shechita"), Beith Din relies on him to withhold his shechita so long as the owner refuses to give the gifts:
The obligation of giving the gifts lay upon the Shochet to separate the parts due to the Kohanim. Apparently, the reasoning is that since the average Shochet is a "Friend", since he completed the prerequisite of understanding the (complex) laws of Shechita and Bedikah. It is assumed that he -as well- is knowledgeable in the details of the laws of giving the gifts, and will not put the Mitzvah aside. This, however, is not the case with the animal's owner, since the average owner is an Am ha-aretz not wholly knowledgeable in the laws of the gifts -and procrastinates in completing the Mitzvah— Shulchan Gavoah to Yoreh Deah 61:61
Covering Of The Blood
After the שחיטה, it is a positive commandment incumbent upon the שוחט to cover the blood of חיות (non-domesticated animals) and עופות (birds) but not בהמות (domesticated animals). The שוחט is required to place dirt on the ground before the שחיטה and then to שחט over that dirt, then he grabs a handful of dirt, makes a ברכה and then covers the blood.
Animal welfare controversies
General description of controversy
The practices of handling, restraining, and unstunned slaughter have been criticized by, among others, animal welfare organizations such as Compassion in World Farming. The UK Farm Animal Welfare Council said that the method by which Kosher and Halal meat is produced causes "significant pain and distress" to animals and should be banned. According to FAWC it can take up to two minutes after the incision for cattle to become insensible. Compassion in World Farming also supported the recommendation saying "We believe that the law must be changed to require all animals to be stunned before slaughter." The UK government opted not to follow FAWC's recommendations after pressure from religious leaders. The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe has issued a position paper on slaughter without prior stunning, calling it "unacceptable."
Nick Cohen, writing for the New Statesman, discusses research papers collected by Compassion in World Farming which indicate that the animal suffers pain during the process. In 2009, Craig Johnson and colleagues showed that calves that have not been stunned feel pain from the cut in their necks, and they may take at least 10–30 seconds to lose consciousness. This has led to prohibitions against unstunned slaughter in some countries.
Generally these arguments are rejected by the Jewish community, who say that the method is humane and that criticism is at least partially motivated by antisemitism. A Knesset committee announced (January, 2012) that it would call on European parliaments and the European Union to put a stop to attempts to outlaw kosher slaughter. "The pretext [for this legislation] is preventing cruelty to animals or animal rights – but there is sometimes an element of anti-Semitism and there is a hidden message that Jews are cruel to animals," said Committee Chair MK Danny Danon (Likud).
Studies and experiments cited on the Jewish internet site Chabad.org include one conducted in 1994 by Dr. Temple Grandin - an Associate Professor of Animal Science at Colorado and a study completed in 1992 by Dr. Flemming Bager, Head of the Danish Veterinary Laboratory, which showed that when the animals were slaughtered in a comfortable position they appeared to give no resistance and none of the animals attempted to pull away their head. The studies concluded that the animals had no pain and were not even aware that their throats were cut.
Temple Grandin – a leading designer of animal handling systems – gives various research times for loss of consciousness via kosher and halal ritual slaughter and elaborates on what parts of the process she finds may or may not be cause for concern. Grandin observes that the way animals are handled and restrained prior to slaughter likely has a greater impact on their welfare than whether or not they are stunned. For this reason, "under the leadership of Grandin, research into animal welfare during slaughter has shifted away from examination of different techniques of stunning to a focus on auditing the performance of actual slaughter plants operating under commercial conditions."
Efforts to improve conditions in shechita slaughterhouses
Temple Grandin is opposed to shackling and hoisting as a method of handling animals and wrote, on visiting a shechita slaughterhouse, "I will never forget having nightmares after visiting the now defunct Spencer Foods plant in Spencer, Iowa, fifteen years ago. Employees wearing football helmets attached a nose tong to the nose of a writhing beast suspended by a chain wrapped around one back leg. Each terrified animal was forced with an electric prod to run into a small stall which had a slick floor on a forty-five degree angle. This caused the animal to slip and fall so that workers could attach the chain to its rear leg [in order to raise it into the air]. As I watched this nightmare, I thought, 'This should not be happening in a civilized society.' In my diary I wrote, 'If hell exists, I am in it.' I vowed that I would replace the plant from hell with a kinder and gentler system."
Efforts are made to improve the techniques used in slaughterhouses. Temple Grandin has worked closely with Jewish slaughterers to design handling systems for cattle, and has said: "When the cut is done correctly, the animal appears not to feel it. From an animal welfare standpoint, the major concern during ritual slaughter are the stressful and cruel methods of restraint (holding) that are used in some plants." When shackling and hoisting is used, it is recommended that cattle not be hoisted clear of the floor until they have had time to bleed out.
The prohibition of stunning and the treatment of the slaughtered animal expressed in shechita law limit the extent to which Jewish slaughterhouses can industrialize their procedures. The most industrialized attempt at a kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors of Postville, Iowa, became the center of controversy in 2004, after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a gruesome undercover video of cattle struggling to their feet with their tracheas and esophagi ripped out after shechita. Some of the cattle actually got up and stood for a minute or so after being dumped from the rotating pen. Dr. Temple Grandin, told Mason City, Iowa's Globe Gazette, "I thought it was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen. I couldn't believe it. I've been in at least 30 other kosher slaughter plants, and I had never ever seen that kind of procedure done before. … I've seen kosher slaughter really done right, so the problem here is not kosher slaughter. The problem here is a plant that is doing everything wrong they can do wrong." While Agriprocessors has been criticized by both secular and Jewish organizations for both its human and animal rights violations, the Jewish Orthodox Union (OU) made note to point out that the kashrut of a product is not contingent upon "the conditions in which it is produced. The OU's condonation of Agriprocessors as a possibly inhumane, yet appropriately glatt kosher company has led to discussion as to whether or not industrialized agriculture has undermined the place of halakha (Jewish law) in shechita as well as whether or not halakha has any place at all in Jewish ritual slaughter.
Jonathan Safran Foer, a Jewish vegetarian, narrated the short documentary film If This Is Kosher..., which records what he considers abuses within the kosher meat industry. Forums surrounding the ethical treatment of workers and animals in kosher slaughterhouses have inspired a revival of the small-scale, kosher-certified farms and slaughterhouses, which are gradually appearing throughout the United States.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shechita.|
- The Cutting Edge: The debate over the regulation of ritual slaughter in the western world Jeremy A. Rovinsky
- Shechita at The Orthodox Union
- What's the Truth about Niqqur Acharonayim? by Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky
- Laws of Judaism concerning food laws of ritual slaughter
- Shechita - The Jewish Religious Humane Method of Animal Slaughter for Food
- Shehitah: A photo essay
- From the Slaughterhouse to the Consumer. Transparency and Information in the Distribution of Halal and Kosher Meat. Dialrel project report. Authors: J. Lever, María Puig de la Bellacasa, M. Miele, Marc Higgin. University of Cardiff Cardiff, U.K.
- dialrel final report: Consumer and Consumption issues: Halal and Kosher Focus Groups Results Dr Florence Bergeaud-Blacker IREMAM (CNRS) & Université de la Méditerrainée, Aix-Marseille; Dr Adrian Evans, University of Cardiff; Dr Ari Zivotofsky, Bar-Ilan University
- Comparative Report of the Public Debates on Religious Slaughter in Germany, UK, France & Norway. DIALREL Encouraging Dialogue in Issues of Religious Slaughter. Comparative report: Lill M Vramo & Taina Bucher: SIFO (National Institute for Consumer Research); National Reports (in appendix): Florence Bergeaud-Blecker (French report) Adrian Evans (UK report) Taina Bucher, Lill M. Vramo & Ellen Esser (German report) Taina Bucher, Laura Terragni & Lill M. Vramo (Norwegian report) 01/03/2009
- S.D. Rosen Physiological Insights into Shechita The Veterinary Record (2004) 154, 759-765
- Should Animals be Stunned Before Slaughter? Raffi Berg BBC
- Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, What Does "Glatt" Mean? on Arutz Sheva.