It often amazes me how little most of us know about what is entailed in killing animals, and even more so, how little even well-versed Jews know about kosher slaughter (aka shechita). This lack of understanding often leads to either idealized or vilified views of kosher and other forms of slaughter. In order to eat animals ethically, it is essential that we understand the end of our animals’ lives. Therefore, I will attempt to explain and demystify this topic in many of my coming posts.
The laws of shechita are based almost entirely on the Oral Torah, which was originally only passed down verbally, but because of the fear of losing the oral tradition, it was eventually written down and is now comprised of such books as the Mishna, the Talmud, and the Shulchan Aruch, and their commentaries. This is opposed to the Written Torah, which is composed of the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. According to Jewish tradition, the oral and the written Torah were both handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai, they are perfectly complementary and cannot be separated from one another. While the laws of kosher slaughter comprise teachings from the oral tradition, the Rabbis identified chapter 12, verse 21, in the book of Deuteronomy as the written source of these laws.
“If the place which HASHEM your God shall choose to put His name there [the holy temple] becomes too far from you, then you shall slaughter of your cattle and of your sheep which HASHEM has given you, and you shall eat within your gates after all the desire of your soul, all this shall you do as I have commanded you.”
כִּי-יִרְחַק מִמְּךָ הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְי אֱלֹקיךָ לָשׂוּם שְׁמוֹ שָׁם, וְזָבַחְתָּ מִבְּקָרְךָ וּמִצֹּאנְךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן יְי לְךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ--וְאָכַלְתָּ, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ, בְּכֹל, אַוַּת נַפְשֶׁךָ.
This beginning of the verse, “If the place . . . (the holy temple) becomes too far from you,” establishes that the slaughter and consumption of animals should ideally only occur at the holy temple, a place that one must reach complete psychological and spiritual purity to enter. This indicates that the killing of animals is a sacred act and must involve the highest levels of care and consideration, as were all acts performed in the holy temple. But just as the temple might be too far from us physically, the emotional and spiritual level that the temple represents often “becomes too far from us.” So in order to facilitate holiness and care while providing nourishment for others in the everyday world, we have been given the laws of shechita, as is indicated by the end of the verse, “Then you shall slaughter of your cattle and of your sheep . . . all this shall you do as I have commanded you.” From this, we learn that the core reason for shechita is to help humans strive to kill and eat animals with the utmost holiness, care, compassion and respect.
About the blog:
Welcome to The Kosher Omnivore's Quest! My old blog on kosher slaughter, kosher meat, and animal welfare. For new content check out my new website, The Kosher Cut™. There you'll find: blog posts about shechita and related topics, educational slaughter presentations, kosher slaughter training, and a selection of high quality professional kosher slaughter equipment.