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What Is Shechita?

What Is Shechita?


Shechita is the Jewish religious and humane method of slaughtering permitted animals and poultry for food. It is the only method of producing kosher meat and poultry allowed by Jewish law. It is a most humane method as explained below.

There is no ritual involved in shechita. It is a cardinal tenet of the Jewish faith that the laws of shechita were divinely given to Moses at Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 12:21); the rules governing shechita are codified and defined and are as binding and valued today as ever and they ensure a swift and painless dispatch of the animal. Infringing the laws of shechita renders the meat unconditionally forbidden as food to Jews. The time hallowed practice of shechita, marked as it is by compassion and consideration for the welfare of the animal, has been a central pillar in the sustaining of Jewish life for millennia.

Shechita is performed by a highly trained shochet. The procedure consists of a rapid and expert transverse incision with an instrument of surgical sharpness (a chalaf), which severs the major structures and vessels at the neck. This causes an instant drop in blood pressure in the brain and immediately results in the irreversible cessation of consciousness. Thus, shechita renders the animal insensible to pain, dispatches and exsanguinates in a swift action, and fulfils all the requirements of humaneness and compassion.

It is noteworthy that since 1928, shechita has been protected by various enactments of primary and secondary legislation. Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, now incorporated into British law, protects freedom of religious belief and practice. In the United States and Canada, the humaneness of shechita is acknowledged in the Humane Methods of Animal Slaughter Legislation.

Reprinted with permission from the board of Shechita UK
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Ruth Natick, Massachusetts July 12, 2017

Dear Ian,

In the hands of low-paid low-status workers in the meat processing plants, the stunning (bolt) and electrocution methods don't always work. This results in cattle being hoisted and skinned while alive or live chickens being dunked in boiling water while workers in the chicken processing plants mock their suffering.

A rabbi is educated in the proper procedures. The knife (chalif) must be sharpened properly and have no nicks; the rabbi slides his finger across it to check. This is same technology as in antiquity, it is the care and attention to using them which results in sparing suffering to the animal.

Kosher slaughter is the most humane. I suspect most animal rights activists who object to it haven't been in non-kosher processing plants because the atmosphere there is markedly worse. Reply

Ian England August 10, 2017
in response to Ruth:


That's a load of nonsense. If any workers in the meat processing plants of Europe were caught being negligent, their employers (and the workers themselves) would be prosecuted. Shechita would be just as terrifying to the animal as would a decapitation being committed on a human by an ISIS fanatic, except that at least death would occur more quickly that way, having not been forced to wait for sufficient blood to drain from the body.

Studies such as that carried out by the Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand measured the brain signals of calves during halal and shechita slaughter and have found that these animals do experience pain during the process.

With modern stunning methods available, and properly executed, there is absolutely no excuse to willingly submit these unfortunate animals to such pain and terror. Reply

Ian England September 4, 2017
in response to Ruth:

If stunning is applied incorrectly, whether due to incompetence or not, that is an illegal act, both by the operative and the owner of the abattoir that turns a blind eye to it.

However, the point I made earlier with regard to Deuteronomy 12:21 has still not been properly addressed, but has instead merely been skirted around in with reasons that are not even mentioned in this part of the Torah. Reply

daniel NJ, US January 15, 2016

it's my understanding that "as I have commanded you" in Deuteronomy 12.21 doesn't apply to the slaughtering, but rather to the giving of herd and flock animals. there are several passages throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy that specify which animals (and parts) are to be sacrificed, which are unfit for sacrifice and allowed to be eaten, and which are unfit for sacrifice and forbidden to be eaten. a flawed firstborn animal, for example, may not be sacrificed but may be eaten. Reply

Kevin O'Neil London May 12, 2014

Ian Firstly, there is little point in quoting scientific sources because there is science to support both sides. I refer you to the collection of articles on this site in which highly-qualified veterinary surgeons have given their opinion in favour of shechita. These are powerful testimonies, and, no doubt, there are testimonies that say the exact opposite, so this avenue appears to be a dead end. Inconclusive.

I think that you're suggesting that, in the case of animal slaughter, there was a barbarism and cruelty present in the ancient world which our modern technology has largely done away with. I understand your reasoning but don't fully subscribe to it because it appears to completely overlook what, for want of a better phrase, I would call the spiritual aspect.

Your comments have helped me to see that there are not only two conflicting viewpoints here but that there is something rather unpleasant at work.

I'll try to deal solely with the viewpoint of the believing Jew because I think I have some understanding and sympathy with that. He believes that, when G-d gave him instruction on how to sacrifice or slaughter an animal, the advice was berthed in kindness and consideration for the creature which, we must remember, G-d Himself had created. This man could not - and cannot - countenance the idea that G-d was compelled to sanction cruelty for some three and a half thousand years simply because the people didn't possess the technology to do the thing more kindly. This idea is unacceptable to me also. Nobody is forced to believe this, of course, you either do or you don't.
The thing that has become clearer to me in my life is that G-d has ways and means which are beyond our understanding and that we need to trust Him and obey Him. This is what believing Jews are doing, this is their choice and, whilst we may give our opinion on the matter, there the matter ends. They believe one thing, somebody else believes another. Neither side can prove their point conclusively. It appears that solid evidence can be brought to support both sides and, therefore, the issue can't be settled and both sides must allow the other to live according to his beliefs.

The unfortunate thing that I must reluctantly note, however, (this is the 'unpleasant' thing I mentioned above) is that the pressure to conform always comes from the modern so-called rationalist, never the other way around. We never hear Jews insisting on our labelling our meat products or that we slaughter animals by shechita. This is worth noting, and I do note it. Reply

Beth NY October 8, 2017
in response to Kevin O'Neil:

exactly Reply

Ian May 12, 2014

Kevin O'Neil,

Jesus Christ lived in a time that lacked the technology we now have. There is therefore a rational reason for conscious livestock slaughter at that time. No such excuse exists now.

Large livestock such as cattle and sheep are rendered unconscious with a captive bolt, which causes instant brain death. As far as I'm aware, only relatively small headed animals such as birds are stunned by electrocution which, although not as reliable as the captive bolt method, is better than having it consciously exposed to the terror of having its neck sliced open. Such technology would have been tested with brain monitors before being released on the market in order to comply with slaughter laws that are only applied to meat intended for non-Jews and non-Muslims. Reply

Kevin O'Neil London May 11, 2014

Ian Ian, I appreciate your points. I will make a couple of my own, one a statement, the other a question.

1. Jesus not only never condemned the practice of shechitah but would have eaten meat slaughtered by that method.

2. It seems to be taken for granted that electrocution gives the animal less suffering than a surgically sharp knife. Is there proof of this? Reply

Beth NY October 8, 2017
in response to Kevin O'Neil:

Kevin, that is exactly what I thought. Is giving a bolt of electricity to a brain less painful then cutting a neck. Both are terrifying. But what the Jewish people believe is that cutting in those arteries lowest blood pressure and makes the animal completely unconscious. I've heard that giving a bolt of electricity to the animal's head doesn't always work right away. Reply

Ian England February 6, 2014

Paul Benson,

Tradition is all very well, but that's not a rational reason. Female genital mutilation is part of the tradition in many places of Africa, but that does not make it right or desirable.

I was not comparing Judaism to Islam. If you read what I said more carefully, instead of looking for offence, you will see that I pointed to the reasoning with regard to maintaining shechita is as irrational and mindless as that of Islam, both of which are acting as though they are still in pre-Industrial Revolution times, without the technology that enables us to move towards slaughter practices that avoid inflicting terror, and possibly pain, onto the conscious animal.

If you look at my past postings you will see that I approached this matter calmly and respectfully, and without the obvious anti-Semitism that you are clearly looking for. Yet still my original question has not been properly answered. Reply

Paul Benson England February 1, 2014

Shechita Ian,
I start by saying that I think you have a valid point on the technicalities. However, 3 things come to mind:
1) Tradition plays an important part in all religions and societies and clearly does in this instance.
2) To compare Judaism, with Islam based on this tradition is frankly gross and your intention seems to be confrontational.
3) What it the point you are trying to make, Is it a quest for knowledge or to have a go at Judaism? To be honest, to tone of your comments suggest that this is what you wish to do.
Paul Reply

Anonymous USA December 17, 2013

Shechita Great points, Ian. If the text is read properly, the requirement states the blood should be avoided, that is all. This leaves room for many methods of gathering meat, including hunting. Reply

Molly Tx August 24, 2013

Response to Ian I would also like a response to the last points that Ian raises, from a moderator preferably. Reply

Ian England July 7, 2013

"Conclusion... There can be no doubt that electro-stunning any animal prior to its slaughter is contrary to the commandment, thus against the word of HaShem."

In that case, why do you use electricity or any post-Biblical technology at all? Yours is an argument against progress. It was God (HaShem) who provided man with the means to progress to a higher intellectual and technological, level, so what is wrong with using such technology to save innocent animals from the terror of having their throats cut?

Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 commands that adulterers be stoned to death. Why do Jews now discard commands such as these, yet maintain one about Shechita which is not even explicit? Political expediency? Surely not a part-adoption of Christianity (John 8.1-11)?

Unfortunately, there is a lack of rational thinking in these justifications for Shechita which reaches the point of being indistinguishable from the unintelligent, slavish barbarity of Islam. Reply

Barry Scotland, UK July 5, 2013

The scientific method.... @ Ian ... an observation,

"thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock as I have commanded thee." - The word of HaShem spoken to Moses some 2000+ years before man developed the ability to use electricity.

Conclusion... There can be no doubt that electro-stunning any animal prior to its slaughter is contrary to the commandment, thus against the word of HaShem.

Where there may be a debate around other aspects of this topic, electro-stunning can not even be considered a valid way to kill an animal as it can never result in anything other than treif. Reply

Ian England February 7, 2013

@ Boruch Siper

The article here states that the laws of Shechita were given to Moses according to Deuteronomy XII:21. The only instruction given is "thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock as I have commanded thee." Therefore, pre-stunning would not be in contradiction to this command.

You claim the omission of the slaughter method proves that God gave the instruction orally, which is why it's not in The Bible. This is highly spurious because if God told Moses this "orally", then why is it not referred to in Deuteronomy XII or anywhere else? Are you suggesting this article is incorrect, and that the Shechita laws have only been passed on through the many generations via Chinese whispers? If that's the case it's unreliable. Reply

Boruch Siper January 31, 2013

Re: Deuteronomy XII:21 @Ian,
Demanding a source for the prohibition against stunning in Tanach specifically is the same as someone who, for whatever reason, decides he only believes in The Book of Ezekiel and demands to bring a proof from there. The Torah is not just The Old Testament. The fact that some other religions decided to concatenate the Torah and believe only in Tanach is not our problem.

Our "Bible" is the Jewish Mesorah which includes Tanach, Talmud, Rishonim and Achronim .

Additionally, the fact that the Torah does not explain how to slaughter but merely states "thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock as I have commanded thee" proves that G-d explained how to do it OUTSIDE OF THE BIBLE, ie: Orally. Reply

Ian England December 16, 2012

Apart from the fact that the time between stunning and cutting of the throat is too short to make any difference to the health of the animal, there is no definitive stipulation in Deuteronomy XII.21 or adjacent verses as to how the slaughter is performed. It does not state that the animal must be conscious, and it does not state that it may not be pre-stunned, neither does it make any stipulation with regard to the physical health of the animal, nor does it even state that its throat should be cut. However, it does appear that someone has extracted a 'command' that is not there. That is effectively putting words into God's mouth, and therefore blasphemous. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for December 12, 2012

Re: Deuteronomy XII:21 If you look at Deuteronomy 12:21 you will see that it actually does discuss any of the laws of shecitah. The only thing that can be deduced from Deuteronomy is that there is a certain way to do it (i.e. you need to slaughter it) but it does not get into any detail of what that means. The actual laws of Shecitah are part of the Oral Torah which was given to Moses by G-d on mount Sinai, and are codified in the Talmud and code of Jewish Law. With regards to stunning in particular, the issue is that other methods of stunning, (for example by captive-bolt shot into the brain, electric shock, or gas, cause injuries to an animal and delay the slaughter unnecessarily. In order for an animal to be kosher it must be healthy and uninjured, when slaughtered. Reply

Ian England December 10, 2012

Deuteronomy XII:21 I have checked various translations of Dueteronomy XII:21 and nowhere there does it say that animals must be slaughtered whilst alive and conscious, which is the Shechita way. All it says in that and adjacent verses is that the herds and flock (of animals) given by God may be killed and eaten, but the blood must be avoided. So if the laws of Shechita are based on Deuteronomy XII:21 then Jews have got it wrong, for there is no particular ritual dictated by God. Therefore, pre-stunning would not be contrary to the laws given to Moses. Kindly address this matter. Reply

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