Talmidav Shel Aharon
18-5767: Mitzvah 48-49
March 20, 2007
Mitzvah 48 – It is a positive commandment to ritually slaughter a domestic or untamed animal, or fowl, if one wishes to eat of their flesh.
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture says: “then you shall slaughter some of your herd and your flock as I have commanded” (Deut. 12:21) which teaches us that Moses our teacher was instructed orally the laws of shechitta (ritual slaughtering): That it must be at the gullet and the windpipe, cutting most of one tube in fowl and most of both in an animal; and about pausing, pressing the knife, inserting it under cover, cutting at a slant and tearing loose that these disqualify shechitta. It is in effect everywhere and every time for men and for women.
Mitzvah 49 – it is a positive commandment to cover the blood of the shechitta (ritual slaughtering) of pure (Kosher) untamed animals of fowl.
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture says: about an untamed animal or fowl, “he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.” (Lev. 17:13) It is necessary to put earth underneath, then do the ritual slaughtering, and then cover it; for the term “with earth” [lit. “in the earth” as Rashi] denotes earth underneath and above. It is in effect everywhere and every time for men and for women.
Kosher meat is not meat that has been blessed by a Rabbi, it is, from the moment of slaughter, handled in a special way. Here we have the Mitzvot of Kosher slaughter, called “shechitta” It has long been considered a form of slaughter that takes into account that an animal is giving up its life so that we can eat it for food. We have to be aware that we are taking a life and to treat that life with great respect. There are animals that can never be used as food. These are listed in the Torah. But even the animals we are permitted to eat, these must be slaughtered in the prescribed fashion so that we will take cognizance of their pain and give respect for the life we are taking.
I am not going to go into the details of kosher slaughter. The rules are spelled out in the Talmud and are studied by those wishing to practice as a Shochet, or one who is expert in ritual slaughter. As we see here, the Hafetz Hayim tells us that if any part of the slaughter goes wrong, Jews cannot eat that animal. The meat is not kosher. Since the blood of an animal carries life like the blood of a human, the blood must be covered once it has been drained out of the animal. Jews do not eat the blood of any animal or fowl but bury it in the earth.
In ancient days, only when a animal was to be sacrificed could its meat be eaten, later, when people would want to eat meat outside of the Temple, these laws of “secular sacrifice” were given. Notice that the details are called “oral law”. The written Torah is a wonderful text that teaches us many laws. It is very terse, however, and many details, necessary to keeping the Mitzvot are missing. The Sages therefore declared that, in addition to the written Torah, there was an “oral Torah” given verbally to Moses by G-d at Sinai and passed down from generation to generation of scholars. Much of the Talmud is the effort of Sages to get this law down in writing before it could be forgotten in the turbulent times of the Hadrianic Persecutions. This oral law was considered as binding as the written law.
While these laws of Shechitta were meant to help ease the pain of suffering of the animals, they do not do the job all by themselves. Questions in modern times have been raised about the way animals are treated before they are slaughtered. Some are kept in small pens, fed special foods that make the meat tender but do not nourish the animal. That the animal may be terrified by the way it is handled, hoisted by its hind legs into the air to put it in a better position for the slaughter. This seems to undermine the very principles that Shechitta should be all about. The Conservative/Masorti movement is committed to ending the suffering of animals not only at the moment of slaughter, but in all of their life.
Now there is a new concern. Some Rabbis have expressed a concern that we are treating the animals in a better way than the people hired to process the meat. Such thinking reminds us that Kashrut is about being as ethical with what goes in our mouth as with what comes out. If the factory workers are underpaid, understaffed, working in dangerous conditions and without adequate benefits, than how can we say that this meat was processed with a minimal of suffering? Tzedeck Heksher is what is being developed that will insure that neither the animals or the factory workers will suffer so that we can eat meat. Finally, notice that the rules only apply if we want to eat meat. It is not a commandment to eat meat. One is permitted to be a vegetarian and in fact, the Torah, it the early chapters of the book of Genesis, seems to imply that G-d intended us to be vegetarians and only after the flood, was divine permission given to eat meat. Vegetarianism seems to be the preferred form of eating, with meat eating being a concession to the more violent aspect of our humanity.