Slaughtering an animal to benefit from its hide or meat is the av melachah of shochait. It encompasses any means of ending life (not just kosher slaughter) of any living creature, including insects, birds or fish.1

Shochait in the Mishkan

The tachash was a unique animal whose hide the Torah required for several parts of the Mishkan. Along with other animals, the tachash needed to be slaughtered for its hide to be used.

One is only biblically liable for transgressing a melachah on Shabbat if one desires to benefit from the results of his action. For example, slaughtering an animal to consume its meat.

If one’s intention is only to forestall or remove an annoyance, it is a rabbinic prohibition. For example, killing a mosquito or swatting a fly. For this reason, most common instances of shochait on Shabbat are rabbinic transgressions.2 This does not diminish the seriousness of the prohibition, but it does allow for leniences in cases where the sages ruled the prohibition should not be applied, as we will discuss below.

In Case of Danger

Dangerous animals which can certainly kill may be killed on Shabbat even if they do not pose an immediate threat. This is because in a case where one’s life is in danger, the Torah permits one to do whatever is needed to save a life.

If the animal cannot kill but can cause serious harm, one may kill the animal if it appears that it is trying to inflict harm. Even if this does not seem to be the case, one may still kill it in an inconspicuous manner. The reason for this leniency is based on the abovementioned point that in a case such as this, where one does not intend to benefit from the results of his action, the prohibition is only rabbinic. In this scenario, where keeping the rabbinic stringency might cause one harm, the sages lifted the prohibition but required that one do so in an inconspicuous way so that an onlooker shouldn’t think that killing animals is permitted on Shabbat.3

For example, a person seriously allergic to bee stings who is wiping the table on Shabbat, may, in the process of wiping, kill a bee on the table.

Causing Bleeding

The blood of a living creature is called its nefesh, “lifesource.” Therefore, causing a person to bleed or creating a bruise, thereby diminishing his lifesource, is also included in shochait.4


Based on what we have learned, spraying poison on ants or insects is forbidden on Shabbat. One may not even put out poison on Shabbat because this may cause a creature to die on Shabbat, an indirect violation of shochait.5