It is a positive commandment1 for one who desires to partake of the meat of a domesticated animal, wild beast, or fowl to slaughter [it] and then partake of it,2 as [Deuteronomy 12:21] states: "And you shall slaughter from your cattle and from your sheep." And with regard to a firstborn animal with a blemish,3 [ibid.:22] states: "As one would partake of a deer and a gazelle." From this, we learn that a wild beast is [governed by] the same [laws] as a domesticated animal with regard to ritual slaughter.
And with regard to a fowl, [Leviticus 17:13] states: "that will snare a beast or a fowl as prey... and shed its blood." This teaches that shedding the blood of a fowl is analogous to shedding the blood of a wild beast.4
The laws governing ritual slaughter are the same in all instances.5Therefore one who slaughters a domesticated animal, beast, or fowl should first6 recite the blessing: "[Blessed...] who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning7 ritual slaughter." If he did not recite a blessing, either consciously or inadvertently, the meat is permitted.8
It is forbidden to partake of a slaughtered animal throughout the time it is in its death throes.9 When a person partakes of it before it dies, he transgresses a negative commandment. [This act] is included in the prohibition [Leviticus 19:26]: "Do not eat upon the blood." He does not, however, receive lashes.10
It is permitted to cut meat from it after it has been ritually slaughtered, but before it dies. That meat should be salted thoroughly, washed thoroughly,11 and left until the animal dies. Afterwards, it may be eaten.
Fish and locusts need not be slaughtered. Instead, gathering them causes them to be permitted to be eaten. [This is indicated by Numbers 11:22]: "Can sheep and cattle be slaughtered for them that will suffice them? If all the fish of the sea would be gathered for them...." This indicates that gathering fish is like slaughtering cattle and sheep. And with regard to locusts, [Isaiah 33:4] states: "the gathering of the locusts," i.e., gathering alone [is sufficient]. Therefore if fish die naturally in the water, they are permitted.12 And it is permitted to eat them while they are alive.13
The slaughter which the Torah mentions without elaboration must be explained so that we know: a) which place in the animal is [appropriate] for ritual slaughter?, b) what is the measure of the slaughtering process?, c) with what do we slaughter?, d) when do we slaughter?, e) in which place [on the animal's neck] do we slaughter? f) how do we slaughter, g) what factors disqualify the slaughter? h) who can slaughter?14
We were commanded concerning all of these factors in the Torah with the verse [Deuteronomy 12:21]: "And you shall slaughter from your cattle... as I commanded you." All of these factors were commanded to us orally as is true with regard to the remainder of the Oral Law which is called "the mitzvah," as we explained in the beginning of this text.15
The place where an animal should be slaughtered is the neck. The entire neck is acceptable for slaughtering.
What is implied? With regard to the gullet,16 from the beginning of the place where when it is cut, it contracts until the place where hair grows17 and it begins appearing fissured like the stomach, this is the place of slaughter with regard to the gullet.
If one slaughters above this place - in the area called the entrance to the gullet18 - or below this place - i.e., the beginning of the digestive system, the slaughter is unacceptable.19
The measure of the entrance to the gullet above which is unfit for slaughter in an animal or a beast is so one can grab it with two fingers.20 With regard to a fowl, it depends on its size. The lower limit extends until the crop.21
Where is the place of slaughter with regard to the windpipe? From the slant of its cap22 downward until the beginning of the flank of the lung when the animal extends its neck to pasture,23 this is the place of slaughter with regard to the windpipe. The area opposite this place on the outside is called the neck.
When the animal strained itself and extended its neck exceedingly or the slaughterer applied exertion to the signs and extended them upward, but slaughtered in the neck at the place of slaughter, there is an unresolved doubt24 whether [the animal] is a nevelah. For the place where the gullet and windpipe were cut is not the place where [the animal] is [usually] slaughtered.25
The slaughterer must slaughter in the center of the neck. If he slaughters to the side, it is acceptable.26
What is the measure of slaughter? That one [cut] the two identifying marks, the windpipe and the gullet.27 Superior slaughter involves cutting both of them, whether for an animal or a fowl and a slaughterer should have this intent. [After the fact,] if one cut the majority of one of them for a fowl and the majority of both of them for an animal or a beast, the slaughter is acceptable.
When one cut one sign entirely and half28 of the other sign when slaughtering an animal, his slaughter is unacceptable. If he cut the majority of both signs, even though in each instance he cuts only a hair's breadth more than half, it is acceptable. Since he cut even the slightest amount more than half,29 he has cut the majority.
If he cut half30 of one and half of the other - even in a fowl - the slaughter is unacceptable. When a windpipe is half slit31 and one cut a little more on the place of the slit, making the cut a majority, the slaughter is acceptable. [This applies] whether one begins [on a portion of the windpipe] that is intact and reaches the slit or one inserts the knife into the slit and [increases its size until it] reaches the majority.
Every slaughterer must check the signs after he slaughters.32 If he did not check and the animal's head was cut off before he could check,33 [the animal] is [considered] a nevelah.34 [This applies even] if the slaughterer was adroit and expert.
During its lifetime, every animal is considered to be forbidden until it is definitely known that it was slaughtered in an acceptable manner.35
With what can we slaughter? With any entity, with a metal knife, a flint, glass, the edge of a bulrush,36 or the like among the entities that cut. [This applies] provided its edge is sharp and does not have a barb. If, however, there was a spike at the edge of the entity with which one slaughters, even if the spike is very small,37 the slaughter is unacceptable.38
If the spike was on only one side of the knife, one should not slaughter with it [at the outset]. [After the fact,] if one slaughtered with it using the side on which the blemish was not detectable, the slaughter is acceptable.
What is implied? There was a knife that was checked by passing it [over one's finger] and no blemish was felt on it, but when one drew it back, one felt that it had a blemish. If one slaughtered with it by passing it forwards and did not draw it back, the slaughter is acceptable. If one drew it back, the slaughter is unacceptable.39
When a knife ascends and descends [in a curve] like a snake40 but does not have a blemish, one may slaughter with it as an initial and preferred option. When the edge of a knife is smooth, but is not sharp, one may slaughter with it, since it does not have a blemish.41 Even though one passes it back and forth the entire day until the slaughter [is completed], the slaughter is acceptable.42
When a sharp knife has been whetted, but its [blade] is not smooth, instead, touching it is like touching the tip of an ear of grain which becomes snarled on one's finger, [nevertheless,] since it does not have a blemish, one may slaughter with it.43
When a person uproots a reed or a tooth or cuts off a flint or a nail, if they are sharp and do not have a blemish, one may slaughter with them.44 If one stuck them into the ground, one should not slaughter with them while they are stuck into the ground. [After the fact,] if one slaughtered [in such a situation],45 one's slaughter is acceptable.46
When one slaughtered with these entities when they were connected from the beginning of their existence, before they were uprooted, the slaughter is unacceptable47 even if they do not have a blemish.
If one took the jawbone of an animal that had sharp teeth and slaughtered with it, it is unacceptable, for they are like a sickle.48 When, however, only one tooth is fixed in a jaw, one may slaughter with it as an initial and preferred option, even though it is set in the jaw.49
When one made a knife white-hot in fire and slaughtered with it, the slaughter is acceptable.50 If one side of a knife is [jagged-edge like] a sickle and the other side is desirable, [i.e., smooth,] one should not slaughter with the desirable side as an initial and preferred measure. [This is] a decree lest one slaughter with the other side. If one slaughtered [with it], since one slaughtered with the desirable side, the slaughter is acceptable.
A slaughterer must check the knife at its tip and at both of its sides [before slaughtering]. How must he check it? He must pass it over and draw it back over the flesh of his finger and pass it over and draw it back51 over his fingernail on three edges, i.e., its tip and both of its sides so that it will not have a blemish at all. [Only] afterwards, should he slaughter with it.
It must [also] be inspected in this manner after slaughter.52 For if a blemish is discovered on it afterwards, there is an unresolved doubt whether the animal is a nevelah.53 For perhaps [the knife] became blemished [when cutting] the skin and when he cut the signs, he cut them with a blemished knife.54
For this reason, when a person slaughters many animals or many fowl,55 he must inspect [the knife] between each [slaughter]. For if he did not check, and then checked [after slaughtering] the last one and discovered [the knife] to be blemished, there is an unresolved doubt whether all of them - even the first - are nevelot56 or not.57
When one inspected a knife, slaughtered with it, but did not inspect it after slaughtering, and then used it to break a bone, a piece of wood, or the like, and afterwards, inspected it and discovered it to be unacceptable, his slaughter is acceptable. [The rationale is that] the prevailing assumption is that the knife became blemished on the hard entity which it was used to break.58 Similarly, if one was negligent and did not check his knife [after slaughtering] or the knife was lost before it could be checked, the slaughter is acceptable.59
Whenever a slaughterer60 does not have the knife with which he slaughters inspected by a wise man61 and uses it to slaughter for himself, we inspect it. If it is discovered to be desirable [and passes] the examination, we, nevertheless, place him under a ban of ostracism [lest] he rely on himself on another occasion and then the knife will be blemished, but he will still slaughter with it. If [upon examination] the knife is discovered to be blemished, he is removed from his position and placed under a ban of ostracism. We pronounce all the meat that he slaughtered to be unacceptable.62
How long must the knife with which one slaughters be? Even the slightest length, provided it is not [overly] thin to the extent that it pierces and does not slit63 like the head of a blade or the like.64
When can one slaughter? Any time, whether during the day or during the night, provided that [at night] he has a torch65 with him so that he sees what he is doing.66 If a person slaughters in darkness, his slaughter is acceptable.67
When a person inadvertently slaughters on Yom Kippur or the Sabbath,68 his slaughter is acceptable,69 even though were he to have been acting willfully he would be liable for his life70 or for lashes [for slaughtering] on Yom Kippur.71
Sefer HaMitzvot (positive commandment 146) and Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 451) include this among the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. As mentioned at the beginning of the Mishneh Torah, the Ra'avad differs and does not consider this a mitzvah.
The Rambam's wording echo his statements in Hilchot Berachot 11:2: "There are other mitzvot that are not obligations, but resemble voluntary activities, for example, the mitzvah of mezuzah.... A person is not obligated to dwell in a house that requires a mezuzah in order to fulfill this mitzvah." Similarly, in the instance at hand, a person is not obligated to slaughter. If, however, he desires to eat meat, he must fulfill this mitzvah.
Partaking of the meat at this time does not, however, represent a transgression of the prohibitions against eating a limb or flesh from a living animal (see Hilchot Ma'achalot Assurot, ch. 5). For once the animal has been slaughtered, these prohibitions no longer apply.
This prohibition is considered as a prohibition of a general nature (Hilchot Sanhedrin 18:2-3), i.e., prohibitions that include several diverse and unrelated acts, and lashes are not given for the violation of such prohibitions.
The Rambam's words provoke a question: Of course, this meat must be salted thoroughly as must all meat so that its blood will be removed (Hilchot Ma'achalot Assurot 6:10). Why would one think that this meat is different?
It would appear that the explanation is that other meat may be eaten if it is roasted or its blood sealed by being cast into vinegar (ibid.:12) and these options do not apply with regard to the meat in question.
One might think that man would have to gather them alive for them to be permitted. Hence the Rambam emphasizes that this is not so (Kessef Mishneh). The general principle is: Whenever the mitzvah of ritual slaughter does not apply, the prohibitions against eating flesh from a living animal and eating a dead animal do not apply.
The commentaries note that Shabbat 90b states that one who eats a live locust violates the prohibition: "Do not make your souls detestable." [See also Rama (Yoreh De'ah 13:1) who issues a similar warning with regard to partaking of live fish.) How the can the Rambam say that it is permitted?
Among the resolutions of this question are:
a) The passage in Shabbat refers only to a non-kosher locust, not a kosher one.
b) The Rambam, here, is saying that one may cut off part of a living locust and eat it, but not that one may eat an entire locust alive.
c) Here the Rambam is speaking with regard to the laws regarding ritual slaughter. He is not focusing on those involving other prohibitions.
I.e., in the Introduction that precedes Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah. There the Rambam explains that the Oral Law is called "the mitzvah," because it gives us instruction concerning the observance of the mitzvot. Without it, we would not know how to fulfill them.
This is the Rambam's interpretation of Chulin 44a. Rashi interprets that passage as referring to a space the size of four fingers. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 20:2) follows the Rambam's understanding, while the Rama cites that of Rashi.
I.e., the place of slaughter on the neck should be aligned with the place of slaughter on the windpipe and the gullet in their natural position. In this instance, the external place of slaughter - the position on the neck - was correct, but the signs were not cut in the usual place.
This is speaking about a situation where the animal is alive. The fact that an animal's windpipe is slit slightly does not cause it to be considered as a trefe. The Rama (Yoreh De'ah 21:5) adds that we must be careful that the gullet has not been punctured, for that would render the animal trefe. See the Turei Zahav 21:4 and the Siftei Cohen 21:5 who debate whether it is possible to rely on this leniency at present. See also Chapter 3, Halchot 6-7.
Generally, it is accepted that a spike that can be detected by a fingernail disqualifies an animal. Nevertheless, the Rambam appears to be referring to an even smaller measure. His approach is followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 18:2) which speaks of a spike that is even the size of a hairsbreadth being sufficient to disqualify a knife.
Alternatively, it can be understood that the two are synanomous. This understanding is reflected by Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 1:14 which speaks about "a stone being blemished so that a fingernail would become caught in it like a knife used for ritual slaughter."
The commentaries offer two explanations for this ruling. The Rambam's position is that when the spike is felt only on one side of the knife, one may slaughter with that side. Others add that the blemish must be positioned to the very far end of the knife, either near its point or near its handle. In such an instance, it is possible that the blemish never actually touched the signs and thus did not disqualify the ritual slaughter. See Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh De'ah and Rama (18:4)].
As indicated by the following halachah, an entity may not be used for ritual slaughter if it is connected to its source. When an entity is stuck into the ground, it is not connected to its source and hence, after the fact, the slaughter is acceptable. Nevertheless, because of the similarity to the forbidden situation, initially, one should not use such an entity for slaughter.
We do not say that rather than cut the signs, the knife burnt them. The latter would disqualify the slaughter.
It must be noted that the Tur (see also the gloss of the Radbaz) quotes the Rambam as ruling that the slaughter is unacceptable for the above reason. This approach is also followed by many other Rishonim. In his Kessef Mishneh, Rav Yosef Caro states that the Rambam rules that the slaughter is acceptable. In his Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 9:1), however, he quotes both views without stating which should be followed. All authorities agree that such a knife should not be used as an initial and preferred option.
The Ra'avad differs with the Rambam, maintaining that after ritual slaughter, no inspection is necessary unless the person desires to use the knife to slaughter another animal immeidately. In his Kessef Mishneh, Rav Yosef Caro justifies the Rambam's ruling and he cites it in his Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 18:3).
This ruling also depends on the principle stated in Halachah 13, that during its lifetime, an animal is forbidden. Hence it is not permitted unless we are certain that it was slaughtered in a proper manner (Radbaz; Siftei Cohen 18:2).
I.e., it is possible that the knife could have become blemished when cutting the skin of the first animal. Hence, that animal - and all the subsequent ones - were slaughtered with an unacceptable knife.
Since he checked the knife at the outset and it was acceptable, we rely on probability. As long as we have a way of explaining how the knife was blemished, we do not say it was blemished on the animal's skin, for the likelihood of that happening is very low.
The Radbaz notes that the Rambam's words appear to differ slightly from the simple meaning of Chullin 18a, his source. From Chullin, it appears that the necessity to show the knife to the wise man is a mere token of respect, while from the Rambam it appears that it is a necessary safeguard to check that the slaughter is kosher.
The difference between these approaches can lead to a variance in practice. If we say that this inspection is merely for the sake of respect, then the sages may forgo the respect due them and allow an expert to slaughter even though he does not present his knife. If, however, it is a necessary precaution to insure that the slaughter is performed correctly, an inspection is always necessary.
Both of these perspectives have continued to be given emphasis throughout the Rabbinic literature, although the halachah as prescribed by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 18:17) is that a sage may forgo the honor due him. The present custom in many slaughtering houses today is for the slaughterers to work in pairs and for one to check the knife of the other. At times, a visiting Rabbinic authority comes and he inspects the knives of all of the slaughterers.
As will be explained, ritual slaughter is accomplished by drawing the knife back and forth across the neck. If a knife is two small to enable this, it should not be used [Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 8:1)].
See the Ramah (Yoreh De'ah 24:2) who quotes opinions that require a knife used to slaughter a animal to be twice the length of the animal's neck. The custom is also to use a knife of such measure for a fowl.
If he does so intentionally, he is considered as an apostate who desecrates the Sabbath and his slaughter is disqualified (the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishnah, Chullin 1:1; see Chapter 4, Halachah 14). The Siftei Cohen 11:23 states that in certain instances the leniency would also apply if he slaughters intentionally.
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