Slaughtering animals can be incredibly transformative and powerful. When first experiencing shechita (kosher slaughter) I found it so powerful that my waking mind could not face the many dark and disturbing emotions that it brought up. I'd often wake up from disturbing dreams feeling frightened, sad and guilty about what I'd done. Today I've learned to cope and rarely dream as I did then, but the dreams I've had and things I've seen will forever hold a dark and frightening place inside my soul.
To make kosher meat, the first thing you need is a knife. But not just any knife will do; you need something called a chalef. The name chalef comes from the word lehachlif, which means “to change or transform.” With this very powerful instrument, we are able to change a living animal into something completely different: food. This knife is very long, has a flat end, and must be completely sharp and smooth. To ensure that the chalef is perfect, the shochet (kosher butcher) carefully checks it for nicks using his fingernails and re-hones it if even the smallest imperfection is discovered.
I spent last Sunday at the Good Shepard Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas performing my 3rd annual fall heritage turkey harvest. People are used to buying turkey any time of year, but heritage turkeys mate naturally and are consequently restricted to doing so only during their late winter breeding season. After hatching in the spring, the birds grow for eight months and are ready for slaughter just in time for, you guessed it, Thanksgiving. I also spent the day processing several heritage chickens, including some older breeder hens, which gave a lot of rich, yellow chicken fat that I rendered into shmaltz. I even saved the feet and made 12 quarts of delicious poultry stock. To celebrate the harvest, I invited a few friends over for an “organ party,” where we grilled up some hearts and livers from the slaughter, yum! Just two weeks ago, my 10cf freezer was almost empty, but now it is just about two thirds full. Being able to do this all myself is very rewarding, but I also can’t begin to describe how much work it takes and how truly mentally and physically exhausting it all is. When I started doing shechita I wanted to be connected to my meat no matter what the hassle, but after almost three years, I admit, I would love sometimes to go the store and buy some meat like everybody else.
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.
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.