Shechita (Hebrew:שחיטה) is the ritual slaughter of mammals and birds according to Jewish dietary laws. The act is performed by cutting the animal's throat by means of a very sharp knife (referred to as "drawing" in ritual terminology) and allowing the blood to drain out, which causes death within a few minutes. Islamic dietary laws require a similar procedure, Dhabiĥa.
The animal must be killed with respect and compassion by a "shochet" (ritual slaughterer), a pious Jew who has in mind the life of the animal as he "draws" the knife across its neck. The animal can be in a number of positions; when the animal is lying on its back, this is referred to as shechita munachat.
If the hindquarters (or sirloin) of kosher mammals are to be eaten by Jews, they must be 'porged' - stripped of veins, fats and sinews in accordance with a strict procedure. Because of the expense of porging and the skill required to properly separate out the forbidden parts, a large portion of the meat of kosher mammals slaughtered through shechita in the United States winds up on the non-kosher market.
The animal must be kosher. Before slaughtering, the animal must be healthy, so the animal is inspected as carefully as possible without being invasive. The shochet may feel the area around the lungs, for scabbing or lesions, which would render the animal not kosher. The animal cannot be stunned, as is common practice in modern animal slaughter, for this would render the shechita invalid.
Pressing is accomplished when the shochet pushes the knife into the animal's throat, chops rather than slices, or positions the animal improperly so that either its head presses down on the blade as it expires or the shochet must push the knife into the throat against the force of gravity. There are those who feel that it is forbidden to have the animal in an upright position during shechita due to the prohibition of pressing. They feel that the animal must be on its back, laying on its side, suspended upside down by a rope or chain, or - as is done in most commercial slaughter houses - placed in a barrel like pen that restrains the animal's limbs while it is turned on its back for slaughter. However, an expert shochet can slaughter the animal while it is upright without pressing the knife. This method is employed in most smaller operations in America.
Pausing is performed by the shochet if he stops the slaughtering process after either the trachea or esophagus has been cut but before they have been cut the majority of the way through. Pausing can happen accidentally if muscle contractions in the animal's neck pull one of these organs out of contact with the blade. The latter case is especially common in turkeys.
Piercing is the result of stabbing the animal in the throat, slicing the trachea or esophagus with a serrated knife, slaughtering with a rusty knife or one that has an imperfection that rises above the blade's surface, burning the animal's throat, or slaughtering with a knife that is so hot it would cause a person to not touch it. Burning is always considered piercing in shechita, regardless of the motion of the knife.
Tearing is caused by using a knife with an imperfection on the blade, such as a scratch or nick, that causes a section of blade to be lower than the surface of the blade.
Covering is accomplished by either cutting into the animal's throat so deeply that the entire width of the knife disappears in the wound, using a knife that is too short so that the end disappears in the wound, or by having a foreign object fall over the knife so the shochet loses sight of the incision.
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. It is forbidden to slaughter an animal in front of others, or to slaughter an animal and its young on the same day, even separately. This is forbidden no matter how far away the animals are from each other. An animal's "young" is defined as either its own offspring, or another animal that follows it around, even if of another species.
The knife used for shechita is called a hallaf by Ashkenazim or a sacin by Sephardim. 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. Anything but a metal knife today would render the animal unfit to eat except in certain narrow circumstances.
The knife must be minimally 1.5 or 2 times as long as the animal's neck is wide, depending on the species of animal and the number of strokes needed to slaughter the animal, but not so long that the weight of the knife exceeds the weight of the animal's head. If the knife is too large, it is assumed to cause Pressing. The knife must not have a point. It is feared a point may slip into the wound during slaughter and cause piercing. The blade may also not be serrated, as serrations cause 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. The shochet must 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 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. The Baal Shem Tov, fearing that Sabbateans were scratching the knives in a way not detectable by normal people, introduced the Chasidische Hallaf. The Chasidische Hallaf differs from the previously used knife in that it was made from molten steel and polished to a mirror gloss in which scratches could be seen as well as felt. The new knife was controversial and was one of four reasons listed in the Brody Cherem for the excommunication of the Chassidim.
Today the Chasidische Hallaf is the only commercially available knife for shechita and is universally accepted.
Temple Grandin, a leading designer of animal handling systems, 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. However, Dr Grandin has said that "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.
The UK Farm Animal Welfare Council says that the method by which Kosher and Halal meat is produced causes severe suffering to animals and it should be banned immediately. According to FAWC it can take up to two minutes for cattle to bleed to death, thus amounting to animal abuse. 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 rejected its recommendations.
Various research papers on cattle slaughter collected by Compassion In World Farming mention that "after the throat is cut, large clots can form at the severed ends of the carotid arteries, leading to occlusion of the wound (or “ballooning” as it is known in the slaughtering trade). Nick Cohen wrote in the New Statesman, "Occlusions slow blood loss from the carotids and delay the decline in blood pressure that prevents the suffering brain from blacking out. In one group of calves, 62.5 per cent suffered from ballooning. Even if the slaughterman is a master of his craft and the cut to the neck is clean, blood is carried to the brain by vertebral arteries and it keeps cattle conscious of their pain."
The Orthodox Union, the leading certificating body for kosher food in the USA, concluded, however, that AgriProcessors was observing proper procedures , though some changes could be made in consideration of marit ayin - community perceptions. The OU pointed out:
PETA was rebuked by several parties in the Jewish community for mounting what they considered to be a vindictive campaign so soon after Jewish organizations had criticized the group for its "Holocaust on your Plate" ad campaign promoting veganism. Leading rabbis of the non-Orthodox movements in Judaism, allied with a small number of Orthodox rabbis including David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, sided with PETA and condemned what they viewed as the inhumane methods used at AgriProcessors.
The first instance of anti-Shechita legislation occurred when obligatory stunning of animals was introduced in the Swiss canton of Aragon (Aragau) in 1850 with a dispensation for shehitah that was rescinded ten years later. A ban was introduced in the Kingdom of Saxony. Later the Swiss ban in Aragon applied to the whole country after a referendum on the question; the Catholic cantons voted against and the Protestant cantons supported the ban. Shehitah was banned in Finland when it was part of the Imperial Russian Empire. The ban was lifted when Finland won its independence as a result of the Communist Revolution. In 1936 there were only bans in Switzerland and Saxony. The aim of preventing shehitah being practised because if offended the sensibilities of the gentile population was pointed out as a valid grounds for introducing anti-shehitah legislation in the Swedish riksdag in a proposal for legislation in 1937:
In Germany post 1880 the Tierschutz - animal welfare (literally: animal protection) movement took on an antisemitic aspect. Shechita and vivisection were both protested. The Tierschutz and the related Völkisch movement were not endorsed by the Kaiserreich elite but were embraced by the Nazis. The anti-Shechita and animal welfare laws introduced by the Nazi regime after 1933 also affected Jews because they limited shechita. Today, animal welfare is a controversial topic in the Jewish community in Germany due to its associations with the Nazi regime..
In 1939 when Germany invaded Poland shehitah was banned there and in other areas under direct German governance between 1939 and 1945. Mussolini banned shehitah in Italy. The Allied command removed the bans together with other anti-Jewish legislation (Nuremberg laws) when they liberated Europe in 1945.
The Swedish government commissioned a report from the Veterinary College in the 1920s that concluded that shehitah could continue but this was later ignored in later legislation by the Swedish government. Shechita slaughtering is also prohibited in Norway and Iceland. According to Swedish law it is permitted to slaughter fowl for private consumption.
The United Kingdom forbids shechitah munachat (slaughter of the animal while it is lying on its back), on animal welfare grounds.
In the shehitah debates feeling has been inflamed at times and there were strikes of slaughterhouse workers in Germany and in Malmö, in southern Sweden, protesting that shechitah was practised at all.
European Jewish community fights to prevent anti-shechita legislation. Dutch bill prohibiting killing without stunning and EU amendment that would oblige manufacturers to label ritually slaughtered m
Apr 05, 2011; JONAH MANDEL Jerusalem Post 04-05-2011 European Jewish community fights to prevent anti-Shechita legislation. Dutch bill...