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.
The main purpose of the chalef is to help the shochet avoid performing any of the five poslei shechita (acts that disqualify a kosher cut).
· Shehiya – Pausing
· Chalada – Covering the knife
· Drasa – Chopping, excessive pushing
· Eikur – Tearing, stabbing
· Hagrama – Cutting in the wrong location
Along with the poslei shechita, the butcher must attempt to completely sever the esophagus, trachea and all the major blood vessels within the neck. The long, smooth and sharp chalef acts a gigantic razor, and just as one often cannot feel it when a razor cuts his face, so does the chalef pass over an animal’s neck, opening up the esophagus and trachea with the animal showing little or no reaction to the cut.* While many believe that one has to “chop a chicken’s head off” for kosher slaughter, chopping (drasa), which causes an intense and immediate reaction, is expressly forbidden, as is cutting in the wrong place (hagrama) or painfully tearing an animal (eikur) as would a serrated knife or the teeth of a vicious predator. A kosher cut must be made using a gentle yet effective nonstop sawing motion, which does not only eliminate or at least significantly reduce any pain that might result from it, but also seems to remove any sense of violent motion when making the cut.
These laws are said to have been given to Moses on Mount Sinai and then passed down orally through the generations, until they were written down in the Mishnah and Talmud and then expounded upon throughout their many commentaries. While the metals we use to make the chalef have changed, the poslei shechita, the basic design of the chalef, and virtually all the laws of kosher slaughter are today little or no different than they were thousands of years ago. The ancient roots of shechita make the following remarks about kosher ritual slaughter from modern-day animal welfare expert Temple Grandin PhD all the more amazing.
There are five rules that Jewish law requires for a correct cut. I have observed that if the rules are disobeyed the animal will struggle. If these rules are obeyed the animal has little reaction.*
The special long knife used in kosher slaughter is important. When the knife is used correctly on adult cattle, there was little or no behavioral reaction….. Grandin (1994) reported that the behavioral reaction of cattle was greater when a hand was waved in their faces compared to well done Kosher slaughter.*
Professor Grandin’s stance supporting kosher slaughter has been an important boon to shechita, which throughout history has been consistently attacked by anti-Semites and legitimate scientists alike. I believe that even today, shechita can stand strong, maybe even strongest, when compared with the many new and high-tech methods of animal slaughter. While significant controversy remains about the humaneness of shechita—a controversy that we will further investigate in this series—it seems clear that at least one aim of the laws of kosher slaughter is to reduce animal suffering, and that these laws are highly effective regarding this task.
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.