May I Take Lives?

Introduction

One of the 39 melachos on Shabbos is netilas neshamah, literally, taking a life. Although we may not want to consider this to be a constructive activity, we recognize that the animal world was placed under our control to use it responsibly and respectfully. This article will discuss some of the details of the halachos of Shabbos that are included in this melacha.

When listing the melachos, the Mishnah, refers to it as hashocheit, meaning he who slaughters. (Later in the article, I will discuss why the Mishnah refers to it in this manner, rather than the more technically accurate hanoteil neshama.) To quote the Mishnah, “One who traps a deer, one who slaughters it, one who skins it, one who salts the hide, one who tans the hide, one who scrapes off the hair, and one who cuts it to size” (Shabbos 73a). Performing any of these activities on Shabbos violates one of the 39 main categories of desecrating Shabbos, what we call an av melacha. As we will see shortly, there are also tolados melacha, subcategories of these 39, which also involve a Torah violation of Shabbos.

An obvious question is that the Mishnah lists “salting the hide” and “tanning the hide” as two different melachos, which is strange, since salting is one of the stages in tanning, and, therefore, does not comprise a separate av melacha. The Gemara notes that this is indeed true, and that “salting” should therefore be deleted from the Mishnah. Since this would result in the Mishnah listing only 38 melachos and not 39, the Gemara explains that a different melacha, called mesarteit, should be included. Mesarteit means “marking,” which, according to Rashi, refers to scoring or marking leather in order to know where to cut it (Shabbos 75b). According to the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 11:17), mesarteit is scoring paper or parchment in order to be able to write on it neatly. The Rambam explains that a toladah of this melacha would be to mark lumber prior to sawing it. Marking a precious stone in order to decide how to cut it is another application of mesarteit (Minchas Chinuch). An interesting contemporary example might be when a surgeon marks a patient’s skin where he intends to make his incision.

Purpose of shocheit

Returning to shocheit, this melacha was necessary to prepare materials for the construction of the Mishkan, such as the hides of the rams and the techashim, the unusual species that appeared on earth so that its hide could be used in the construction of the Mishkan and then became extinct (Shabbos 28b).

Chilazon catching

There is halachic discussion regarding whether the melacha of shocheit was necessary to create the dyes prepared from the chilazon, the fish from which the techeiles was made. Allow me to explain. The Gemara (Shabbos 75a) quotes a beraysa, a teaching dating to the era of the Mishnah, that there is a machlokes tanna’im regarding someone who catches a chilazon and squeezes out its liquid used for dyeing. Does he violate only the melacha of trapping or is he also liable for extracting the dye, which would violate the melacha of dosh, threshing. The Gemara then asks why this process does not also violate the melacha of netilas neshamah. The Gemara quotes two answers to this question:

Rabbi Yochanan explains that processing dyes from a live chilazon indeed violates netilas neshamah, but the beraysa omits this fact, because it is discussing a case where the chilazon is already dead.

Rava answers that the beraysa may indeed be discussing someone extracting dye from a live chilazon, yet he does not violate netilas neshamah because the dyer is trying to keep the chilazon alive while he extracts its dye, since it produces better color when it is alive (Shabbos 75a). Notwithstanding the fact that the extraction will kill the chilazon, since the dyer is trying to keep it alive, he does not violate a melacha for killing it, according to this opinion.

Bleeding

Causing a person or animal to bleed on Shabbos is a Torah violation of shocheit. Which of the 39 melachos does this violate? This is the subject of a major dispute among the rishonim, many of whom conclude that one violates the melacha of netilas neshamah. A question already raised by the rishonim is that if netilas neshamah is the taking of life, why does one violate it when all he did was cause a loss of blood?

The answer is that since the posuk states, ki hadam hu hanefesh, that blood is life, causing bleeding is considered, for the purposes of this melacha, the same as taking life (Tosafos, Kesubos 5b s.v. Dam and Shabbos 75a s.v. Ki).

Causing what we call a black-and-blue mark, which means that there is some form of bruising or superficial bleeding beneath the skin, also violates shocheit min haTorah (Shabbos 107b and Rashi).

As we have learned, the concept of meleches shocheit is taking the life of an animal. It refers to the instances in which it was necessary to take an animal’s life (netilas neshamah) in order to prepare materials for the construction of the Mishkan. However, this netilas neshamah did not require ritual slaughter. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 11:1): “One who slaughters is obligated for desecrating Shabbos, and not only one who slaughters, but anyone who takes the life of any living creature, be it a mammal, a bird, a fish or a creeping creature; whether he took its life through shechitah, nechirah, or by beating it.” I will explain shortly what the word nechirah means.

Drowning

Several later authorities conclude that drowning an animal on Shabbos similarly violates netilas neshamah min haTorah (Shu”t Chavos Yair #164; Nishmas Odom 31:3).

Fish out of water

Removing a fish from water violates netilas neshamah (Rashi, Shabbos 107b; Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 11:1). To quote the Gemara, “Shmuel said, one who removes a fish from water is guilty of desecrating Shabbos once a coin-sized part of its skin has dried out” (Shabbos 107b). The Gemara then adds that this is true when the dried-out area is between its fins, since, once the fish has dried out this much, it will die, even should one return it to water.

One who catches a fish and hauls it out of the water violates both trapping, tzad, and taking its life. If it was caught from before Shabbos, but left in the water until Shabbos, one who removes it from the water is in violation only for killing it. Someone who trapped the fish on Shabbos and placed it into a bucket of water violated tzad, but not killing it.

Wrong name

At this point, I will discuss a question alluded to earlier. Although when we use the word shechitah, we ordinarily mean the halachically accepted method of preparing an animal for the Jewish table, the word can be used as a translation for any instance in which one would use the word slaughter in English. (See, for example, Yirmiyohu 52:10.) Why, then, does the Mishnah call the melachahashocheit,” rather than the broader and more accurate term hanoteil neshamah, “one who takes the life of an animal?”

The answer is that, in truth, the melacha is killing an animal and not necessarily shechting it. However, the Mishnah (Shabbos 73a) uses the term “hashocheit” because it chooses, for its own educational reasons, the example of a deer (“one who traps a deer, one who slaughters it, etc.”), and prefers expressing the name of the melacha in the context of processing it for kosher food.

Baking or cooking?

This is similar to another case in the same Mishnah, regarding the melacha that we usually call bishul, cooking, which the Mishnah calls “ofeh,” baking. The “cooking” performed in the construction of the Mishkan was the heating of dyes in vats, in which cloth was placed for dyeing. Nevertheless, the Mishnah calls the melacha ofeh, baking, since it fits the Mishnah’s pedagogic style better to refer to the baking of bread, notwithstanding that no baking was involved in the construction of the Mishkan (Shabbos 74b).

Nechirah

We quoted, above, the Rambam’s statement that someone who kills an animal by means of nechirah has violated the av melacha of netilas neshamah. What is nechirah?

In Modern Hebrew, the word nechirah means stabbing an animal to death, a common method of non-kosher slaughter. However, there is no evidence in traditional sources that this is what the word means. From the Mishnah (Bava Kama 7:5; Chullin 5:3; 6:2), we see that the word nechirah refers to a means of killing an animal, but it is unclear exactly which method is intended. Further complicating matters is that Rashi, in two different places, presents two contrary approaches. In Chullin (85b) he explains nechirah to mean choking an animal to death, whereas in Bava Kama (78b), he understands it differently, relating the word nechirah to the Hebrew word for nostril, nechir, which has the same root.

The Rambam could not have understood nocheir to mean choking, because he explains (Hilchos Shabbos 11:1) that choking an animal is a toladah of netilas neshamah, whereas he explains that nechirah is the av melacha itself. Since he wrote no other description, we cannot ascertain what he understood nechirah to mean. Thus, we are left with no definitive conclusion regarding what constitutes nechirah.

Av versus toladah

The statement of the Rambam that I just quoted raises a different question: Indeed, why is choking an animal only a toladah of netilas neshama and not the av melacha itself? Perhaps this is because choking withholds something vital from the animal (air) rather than directly killing it (Nimla Tal, Meleches Shocheit #32).

Dyeing or dying?

In this context, we cannot ignore a seemingly very strange passage of Gemara (Shabbos 75a-b, as explained by Tosafos). “Why is slaughtering on Shabbos a punishable offense for desecrating Shabbos? Rav said because of dyeing, and Shmuel said because of taking a life.” The Gemara then asked of Rav, is slaughtering only a violation of dyeing and not of taking a life? To this, the Gemara replies that Rav meant that slaughtering violates two prohibitions on Shabbos, one for taking a life and the other for dyeing. The Gemara then explains why Rav contends that the shocheit also violates dyeing: The butcher wants part of the hide of a freshly slaughtered animal to look bright red, because it attracts customers interested in purchasing fresh meat. This is an adequate reason to consider the slaughtering a melacha of dyeing.

Dies after Shabbos?

What is the halacha if someone removed a fish from water towards the very end of Shabbos, but the fish did not die until Shabbos was over? Has the person violated Shabbos min haTorah, since his action was performed on Shabbos, or has he not, since the fish did not die until motza’ei Shabbos? This subject is debated by several late authorities (see, for example, Rashash, Shabbos 73a; Minchas Chinuch 298:8; Tzafnas Paneiach, Hilchos Shabbos 9:1; Eglei Tal, Meleches Zorei’a 8:8).

Positive purpose

A general principle regarding the melachos of Shabbos is that they are prohibited min haTorah only when they provide a positive benefit, what we call a tikun (Mishnah Shabbos 105b). Performing a melacha activity whose direct result is negative is called mekalkeil and does not violate Shabbos min haTorah. For example, digging a hole on Shabbos only because one needs some earth with which to cover a spill is not a violation of the melacha min haTorah, but only miderabbanan. The reason is that the hole is itself not an advantage. One violates the melacha of choreish, plowing, only when one creates a furrow or something similar, such that the digging itself results in something beneficial.

A consequence of this principle is that violating netilas neshamah min haTorah requires that the result is positive – it creates or is a stage in the creation of meat, leather, dye or something similar. (Although there is a tanna, Rabbi Shimon, who rules that netilas neshamah is an exception to the general rule of mekalkeil [Shabbos 106a], the halacha does not follow his approach [Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 8:8, 12:1; Rashi, Chullin 40a s.v. Shalosh; Tosafos, Chullin 29b s.v. Kegon].)

Killing insects

The halacha that a melacha activity is prohibited min haTorah only when its results are positive affects the following common question: Is killing annoying insects on Shabbos prohibited min haTorah? If it is prohibited min haTorah, the only reason to permit eliminating these insects is when they pose a threat to life. However, if the prohibition is only miderabbanan, there may be other grounds upon which to permit this, under extenuating circumstances. Although we will leave details of this for a different time, we now realize that a Torah prohibition is involved only when someone intends to put the insect remains to good use.

I will now present a more detailed discussion about this idea, which requires an introduction germane to a different, seemingly unrelated topic.

Value added

It is prohibited min haTorah to have any benefit from something that was used to worship idols. The Gemara (Chullin 8a) rules that, notwithstanding this law, one is permitted to perform the act of shechitah with a knife that was designated for idol worship. How can this be permitted?

The Gemara assumes that an animal is worth more in the marketplace when alive than after shechitah. This was certainly true in the time of the Gemara, when a living animal could be used for hauling or other employment, something difficult to get it to do after shechitah. The Gemara explains that since an animal is worth more alive than dead, no value was added when the prohibited appliance changed the animal from employee to food. Thus, shechitah did not add any value, and the shechitah knife’s contribution is considered negative. In other words, this act is considered mekalkeil. And this is halachically true, even if you are a butcher with a long line of customers waiting to purchase fresh meat.

The Gemara then states that, although we have established that the avodah zarah knife may be used to shecht the animal, it is forbidden to use that knife to slice up the meat after shechitah has been completed. This is because, at this point, cutting up and slicing the meat add financial value.

The animal is sick

There is an old Yiddish proverb: When a poor man eats chicken, one of them is sick. This proverb can be used to explain the next passage of the Gemara that we have been studying: Rava explained that sometimes it is prohibited to shecht with this avodah zarah knife. When? In the case of a sick animal whose life is in danger, but it is not a tereifah, meaning that its illness does not affect its kashrus status. In this instance, slaughtering the animal, thus permitting its meat for Jewish consumption, increases the value of the animal, since a sick animal cannot work and may die without the benefit of shechitah, which would severely decrease its value. Thus, this shechitah adds financial value, and, as a result, may not be performed with an avodah zarah knife.

Honored guest

The next point in the Gemara is that although we have just established that one may not slice up meat with an avodah zarah knife, there is a situation in which this is permitted. When is this? If it is a nice cut of meat that would be suitable to serve to an honored guest, but one chooses to cut it up. Although this may make it more serviceable for your family, on an objective level it has decreased the value of the meat, since upper echelon people would no longer purchase it. Since the slicing in this instance reduces the commercial value of the meat, it is considered mekalkeil, and therefore permitted to be done with an avodah zarah knife.

Isn’t all shechitah mekalkeil?

On the basis of this Talmudic discussion, Tosafos (Shabbos 106a) asks: Should not every act of shechitah qualify as mekalkeil, whenever the animal is worth more as a work animal? If that is true, then most acts of shechitah will be exempt from desecrating Shabbos, something that the Gemara, in the above-quoted dispute between Rav and Shmuel, should have noted, but did not.

There are several answers to this question. Some assume that the two mitzvos, Shabbos and avodah zarah, follow different rules. Regarding avodah zarah, there must be a financial net gain for it to be considered that one “benefited” from the prohibition. Regarding the laws of Shabbos, a person’s subjective interest that this animal becomes meat is enough reason to render the melacha a tikun (Sefer Yerei’im).

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and instead emphasize Hashem’s role (Shemos 20:11). We thereby acknowledge the true Builder and Creator of the world and all that it contains.

What Could be Wrong with the Steak?

Since this week’s parsha includes the prohibition of gid hanasheh, we have the opportunity to discuss certain issues of shechitah.

One of my editors suggested that I mention to those who are squeamish that this article will be graphic about aspects of shechitah, so I am fulfilling this request.

Question #1:

When Yankel returns from kollel one day, his wife Miriam asks for his advice about the following situation. While visiting a neighbor, Miriam noticed her neighbor using a brand of meat that nobody she knows considers reliably kosher. “Should I tell her that her meat does not have a good hechsher?”

Question #2: Chayim asks me the following: “In parshas Vayeishev, Rashi mentions that Yosef reported to his father that his brothers ate meat that was prohibited, even for a Ben Noach; but Yosef was mistaken — the brothers were very careful to eat only properly shechted meat. Could it be that they were following different kashrus standards, so that Yosef thought what they were eating was treif, whereas the brothers were convinced that it was kosher?”

The Torah requires that kosher meat and poultry be slaughtered in a specific, halachically approved way (shechitah) and may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. In Parshas Re’eih, the Torah (Devarim 12:20-21) teaches, When Hashem will enlarge your border as He has promised you, and you will say, “I will eat meat” because you desire to eat meat, to your heart’s desire you may eat meat… And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you. Yet,nowhere in all of Chumash does the Torah provide such instructions. This is one of the internal proofs that the written Torah was accompanied by an explanatory Oral Torah, and, indeed, the laws referred to in the verse, And you shall slaughter as I have commanded you, are part of this Torah she’baal peh. Via halacha leMoshe miSinai, an oral communication that Hashem taught Moshe at Har Sinai, the Torah provided five regulations that must be followed for a shechitah to be kosher (Chullin 9a). Violating any one of these regulations means that the meat was not slaughtered as I have commanded you, and is not kosher.

The five rules are:

  1. Shehiyah — Pausing during the act of shechitah invalidates it, even if the shechitah is subsequently completed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  2. Drasah – Pressing down or chopping with the knife invalidates the shechitah. A proper shechitah involves a slicing motion, usually with a back-and-forth stroke (Mishnah Chullin 30b).
  3. Chaladah – Burrowing the knife into the neck and then cutting in an outward direction invalidates the shechitah. Proper shechitah requires that the back of the knife is always exposed (Mishnah Chullin 32a).
  4. Hagramah – Cutting above or below the area of the neck designated by the Torah for proper shechitah (Mishnah Chullin 18a).
  5. Ikur – Tearing, rather than cutting, is not kosher (Tosafos, Chullin 9a s.v. Kulhu, in explanation of Rashi). If the shechitah knife has nicks in it, it may tear, rather than cut. 

Thus, a shocheit must be highly competent, both in the halachos of shechitah and in the skills necessary to do the job correctly. His shechitah blade must not only be sharper than a razor, but also totally smooth, because a slight nick invalidates the shechitah (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 18:2). It takes a considerable amount of time and effort for a shocheit to learn all the skills of his trade adequately, including how to quickly hone his knife to the required sharpness and how to check with his fingernail that its blade is completely smooth. These are difficult skills to learn. I recently borrowed the shechitah knife of someone who is in the process of learning the skill, and although his knife was adequately smooth, it was not nearly sharp enough to pass muster. Indeed, halachic literature is replete with anecdotes of rabbonim who discovered that shochatim active in the profession were not as proficient in their skills as the halacha requires. The Maharshal reports checking the knife of a well-experienced shocheit doing his rounds of shechting chickens for kaparos Erev Yom Kippur, and discovering that not only was the shocheit’s knife nicked, but the shocheit repeatedly checked his knife too speedily  to notice it! (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 1:39)

Furthermore, a shocheit must be fully proficient in the detailed laws applying to his profession; he is expected to review the laws of his field every thirty days to maintain his expertise.

Since it is easy for a shocheit to invalidate a shechitah without anyone but him knowing about it, one should use only a shocheit who is known to be G-d-fearing, a yarei shamayim. We now understand why the old European shtetl people viewed the shocheit with tremendous esteem. He was respected second only to the rav for his erudition and his fear of heaven.

Other rules regarding shechitah include that the shechitah must be performed by an observant Jew. A gentile’s shechitah is not kosher, even if a knowledgeable observant Jew supervises to ensure that everything is done correctly.

We can already see why people sometimes hesitate to use a particular shechitah. Although one cannot be sure whether a shocheit is a yarei shamayim, one can sometimes sense that he is not. Indeed, the responsa literature is full of cases concerning shochatim whose behavior or personal shortcomings caused concern about their trustworthiness. Unfortunately, I, too, have met shochtim whose lackadaisical attitude to mitzvah observance did not reflect the type of person I would want to entrust with this responsibility.

But maybe it’s treif!

Even if the animal passed muster and merited a flawless kosher shechitah, it may still not be kosher. The Torah prohibits eating meat of a bird or animal that is tereifah, meaning that the animal has certain physical defects (Chullin Chapter Three). For example, a bird or animal that has a perforated lung, gall bladder or intestine; that has a torn spinal cord; or that has been attacked with the fang of a predator, is tereifah. Although people colloquially use the word tereifah for any non-kosher food, technically speaking, it refers to an animal or bird with one of these defects. Not only is a tereifah animal non-kosher, but so, too, are its milk or eggs that were produced after it became tereifah.

This leads us to an interesting question. If the milk produced by a tereifah cow is not kosher, how can we drink milk without checking to see if the milked cow has none of these defects? Most signs of tereifah are internal and cannot be verified on a living animal without a CT scan or MRI equipment, not commonly available on a farm.  Obviously, such testing would drive up the price of eggs and dairy products, even more than last year’s heat wave.

The answer is that although the milk of an animal and the eggs of a bird with any of these imperfections is indeed tereifah, so long as we do not know that the animals or birds are tereifah, we assume that most animals and birds are kosher and follow the majority. Therefore, we can rely on milk and eggs being kosher, unless there is reason to assume that there is a problem.

Regarding meat, we are not required to check for a particular tereifah unless the defect occurs frequently. Thus, since animals commonly have lung problems, one is required to check their lungs, even if they do not smoke. Another example is a perforation in the intestinal wall that renders its possessor treif. There is a section of the small intestine, called Meckel’s diverticulum, that in poultry frequently becomes infected and swollen, often resulting in a perforation that renders the bird tereifah. Since this defect is not unusual, mashgichim in kosher poultry plants routinely check this part of the intestine.

How do I check?

There are often different opinions among rabbonim how carefully one needs to check for these tereifos, and, at times, whether one needs to check altogether. There may also be a disagreement over other subtle details, such as whether the factory is set up in a way that allows the shochatim sufficient time to do their work properly. The rav overseeing the packing plant may feel that all is in order, whereas another rav may feel it is lacking.

At this point, I return to the question that Miriam asked her husband Yankel: “While in my friend’s house, I noticed that they were using a brand of meat that no one I know uses. Should I tell her that her meat does not meet a proper kashrus standard?” The answer here would depend on circumstances: If there is indeed a real, serious problem at that abattoir, then Miriam should certainly tell her friend not to purchase that meat. However, this applies only if Miriam has firsthand knowledge of this issue, which is rarely the case. In the vast majority of situations, Miriam herself has no idea why the people in “her circle” do not use that shechitah. It may indeed be for the reasons we have mentioned, but sometimes it is not.

Yankel realized that besides the laws of loshon hora involved here, he would also need active kashrus experience to answer her question. Lacking this qualification, he decided to educate himself on the subject by asking a rav who is experienced with the kashrus of meat. Since this rav requested not to be identified, we will call him Rav Posek as we present their conversation.

No brisket for me!

“I want to give you a bit of a history of shechitah,” began the rav. “Originally, almost all American kosher meat packers used a method called shechitah teluyah, which means ‘hanging shechitah.’ This method of shechitah was highly popular, because a non-kosher meat packing plant can very easily be used to produce kosher meat. This was  advantageous, since the kosher market in America does not use the meat from the hindquarters, and the non-kosher market considers hindquarter cuts to be the highest quality cuts. The non-kosher meat packers had trouble selling their forequarters, so arranging a shechitah was a very convenient way of finding a new market for their product without jeopardizing their existing customers. It was a classic win-win arrangement that encouraged large, non-kosher meat plants to have kosher shechitah and was responsible for making kosher meat widely available and keeping its price down.

“The standard method of shechitah in these packing plants involved hanging the animal from a hind leg, while gentile employees held the animal’s head still for the shocheit. Although the abattoir owners encouraged this method because it involved no investment on their part, it was not viewed favorably among most of the other people involved. Not the rabbanim, for reasons I will shortly explain; not animals’ rights advocates, who justifiably noted that this method is cruel; not the shochatim and plant workers, because it is unnecessarily dangerous; and, presumably, not the animals themselves, although they were not consulted.

“Many rabbonim frowned on shechitah teluyah because it inflicts unnecessary pain on the animals (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 16:2). Although this was perhaps the most popular method of shechitah both in North and South America until fairly recently, many rabbonim had additional reasons to disapprove of shechitah teluyah.”

Pulling a sefer off his bookshelf, the rav continued. “Let me read you a teshuvah from Rav Pesach Frank, the Rav of Yerushalayim for several decades, written on the 19th of Elul, 5755, to Rav Shmuel Yaakov Glicksburg, then the rav of Buenos Aires, Argentina:

‘I rejoiced when I read your letter saying that you have succeeded to organize a shechitah where the animals are not hung, similar to what we have here in Eretz Yisrael. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and the merits of the public are yours. If you have any other news about the kashrus of the shechitah, please notify me, as I am often asked whether one may eat the meat from Argentina and am constantly uncertain how to respond. I would like to hear from his dignity if I can guarantee to a G-d-fearing person that this meat is kosher without any concerns, because this is what they ask me’ (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Even HaEzer #189).

“In an article published in the rabbinic journal Hamaor, in Teiveis, 5719 Rabbi Eliezer Silver ruled that one may not use shechitah teluyah because he had concerns about the actual shechitah being non-kosher. He felt that the gentile holding the animal might actually push the animal into the shechitah knife, which would involve the gentile partially performing the shechitah and thereby invalidating it.

“Rav Silver recorded that during the years the Ridbaz (who served as the Rav of Slutzk, Tzefas, and served briefly as the Chief Rabbi of Chicago) spent in the United States, he once saw a shechitah teluyah in Denver and prohibited it. Also, when a shaylah about this matter was sent from Caracas, Venezuela to Rav Menashe Klein, he prohibited it (Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 9:151). Similarly, in an interesting letter to Rav Pinchas Hirschsprung of Montreal, Rav Moshe Feinstein describes a shechitah teluyah facility that he saw in Toronto. Although his initial reaction was that there was basis to allow the shechitah, he told them that he would need to examine the matter further. Upon further research, Rav Moshe withdrew his original psak permitting this shechitah and permitted it only if the animal’s head was secured during the shechitah, and not if it was simply held by workers (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:13). Rav Moshe makes no mention of any of the other concerns about this shechitah, such as the possibility that the gentile may move the animal into the shechitah or about tzaar baalei chayim.

“Nevertheless, this method of shechitah was very popular in the United States even among some of the most responsible hechsherim. When I was involved in examining shechitos, back in the 1980’s, most shechitos that I saw were still shechitah teluyah.

“As the animals’ advocacy organizations became stronger and plant procedures came under the scrutiny of the general public, shechitah teluyah became less popular and was replaced with shechitah in a pen. Although the pen would certainly resolve Rav Moshe’s concern that the head must be secured during the shechitah, it may have created its own issues.”

At this point Yankel interrupted the Rav’s monologue: “What do you mean by shechitah in a pen?”

“I have seen many such pens, each one with a slightly variant design. The basic idea is that the entire animal, especially its head, is secured by a pen operated either by electricity or through hydraulic power, which holds the animal securely during the shechitah. This appliance makes the shechitah very safe for the shocheit, and he has plenty of time in which to perform the shechitah and to check afterwards that it was performed correctly. In the United States, this became the standard method for most shechitos, but it is unusual to find such a shechitah in Europe, in Eretz Yisroel, or in those in South America that shecht for a chareidi market.

“Why do they not use this method in Europe?”

Again the Rav perused his well-stocked bookshelves and produced a sefer Yankel had never seen before.

“In 1988, a movement was afoot in England to require that all animals be shechted only while standing in a pen. However, there was fierce opposition to requiring all Anglo-Jewish hechsherim to shecht with this device. This volume, Bishvilei Hashechitah, by an English shocheit named Rabbi Simcha Bunim Lieberman, includes an essay that cites many reasons to oppose the change.

“1. The shocheit has to shecht upwards. This is a highly technical halacha, but there are authorities who contend that it is prohibited to shecht upwards, predominantly out of concern that this might cause the shocheit to press rather than slice while he is shechting, violating the Torah rule of drasah.

“2. A shocheit who is shechting in a manner to which he is accustomed should not suddenly be required to shecht in a different way, foreign to his experience.

“3. The greatest concern was that since these devices are usually custom made, it is possible that the mechanical force used to control the animal’s head may be so strong that it renders the animal tereifah, before the shechitah takes place. The contention was that such a device should not be used, without first seeing whether the animal appears physically unharmed, and, ideally, the animal should be checked carefully afterwards.”

Yankel asked Rav Posek if he was familiar with the particular hechsher that Miriam had seen in the neighbor’s house.

“Although I have not been in that shechitah recently, I was there once many years ago. I cannot say that I was that happy with the operation. The shochatim and bodakim all needed to work quickly to keep pace with the speed of the assembly line production. I found it difficult to imagine that they could do their jobs properly in the time allowed. As I recall, I even mentioned this to the rav hamachshir, who responded that he hires exclusively competent personnel who are up to the task. I left very unsatisfied.”

“What would you tell our neighbor?”

“If she seems to be the type of person who wants to do the correct thing, tell her: ‘According to what I have heard, people feel that the kashrus standard used by that company is not the highest.’ This statement is accurate and reflects exactly what you know.”

CONCLUSION

We now more fully appreciate the difficulties in maintaining high kashrus standards, particularly when producing meat. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands.

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