עיקר א’ השחיטה והנחירה (part one)

The petiha to Dor Revi’i is primarily an extended discourse on 11 basic iqarim — essential concepts, ideas, and principles relating to shehitah and nehirah (the methods by which an animal may be rendered halakhically fit for human consumption) and to the concepts of treifah and neveilah, which are the subject matter of most of the masekhta. Here are the 11 iqarim:

  1. השחיטה והנחירה
  2. השחיטה מתרת מיד והנחירה אחר מיתה
  3. שחיטה שאינה ראויה
  4. שיעור השחיטה בבהמה ובעוף
  5. פסולי שחיטה
  6. בדיקת הסכין לשחיטה
  7. אבר היוצא ואבר המדולדל
  8. כל ספק בשחיטה להחמיר ונשחטה הותרה
  9. הטרפה והנבלה
  10. הח”י טרפות שנמסרו למשה מסיני
  11. נקובת הוושט נבלה

The author explains at the very outset why he is devoting so much time and space to laying out these principles in an extended introductory treatise on the principles of shehitah, treiphah and neveilah.

ראיתי נכון לפתוח שער הפתיחה לפרקים הראשונים המדברים מענין שחיטה וטרפות באשר זכיתי לגלות עמוקות, בפרט בשיטת הרמב”ם ז”ל, דברים שלא שערום נושאי כליו ומפרשי השיטות. ועפ”י הכללים שהוצאתי פרשתי הסוגיות אנה ואנה עד שבכל פרטי הענינים הייתי צריך לכפול הדברים ולהאריך יותר מדי. לכן מצאתי נכון להעמיד בריש ספרי עיקרים אחדים ולבאר כל עיקר ועיקר באריכות ובזה הקלתי לי המלאכה בפנים החיבור שלא אצטרך רק להראות מקום לעיקרים. וכן כתבתי שער הכולל בכמה כללים השייכים לכל המסכתא. וכל הקורא בחיבורי זאת יפה יעשה לעיין תחילה בפתיחה כולה ולהיות הענינים מסודרים בזכרונו. ואז בקל ירוץ בפנים כמובן. וזה החלי בעזרת החונן לאדם דעת ומאיר עיני חכמים.

The Torah explicitly prohibits the limb (or flesh) of a living animal (eiver min ha-hai), the corpse of an animal (neveilah), and the flesh of an animal on the verge of death (treifah). But the method by which unconsecrated animals (hullin) are rendered fit for consumption is not identified by an explicit commandment. A verse in Deuteronomy 12:21 “וזבחת מבקרך ומצאנך אשר נתן ה’ לך כאשר צויתיך,” which was communicated to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land, allowed them to perform shehitah on their cattle and sheep, which they had been prohibited from doing outside the Tabernacle while they were in the desert (Leviticus 17:3-4). So a commandment to perform shehitah on hullin is not stated explicitly, but can only be inferred. This verse having been communicated only after 40 years in the desert, it is not clear how the Israelites knew by which method hullin could be rendered fit for consumption. Another verse (Leviticus 17:13), “ושפך את דמו וכסהו בעפר” was transmitted immediately after the Revelation, but the method by which blood was to be spilt is not identified.

A method of rendering an animal fit for consumption is mentioned in the Scripture only in connection with animals brought as sacrifices (qodshim): “ושחט את בן הבקר.” But, laws pertaining to hullin cannot be deduced from laws pertaining to qodshim, and shehitah pertained only to the sacrifice of cattle and sheep while meliqah is the required method of slaughtering fowl brought as sacrifices. So we have no source explicitly stating that shehitah is required to render hullin fit for consumption.

This conundrum occasioned a dispute between R. Yishmael and R. Akiva (Hullin 16b), which provides the basis for understanding this subject. Conflicting explanations for this matter are provided by Rashi, the Tosafists, and the Rambam, each of which will be discussed in detail below. The dispute between R. Yishmael and R. Akiva concerns the passage in Deuteronomy 12:20-21.

כי ירחיב ה’ אלקיך את גבולך כאשר דבר לך ואמרת אכלה בשר כי תאוה נפשך לאכל בשר בכל אות נפשך תאכל בשר. כי ירחק ממך המקום אשר יבחר ה’ אלקיך לשום שמו שם וזבחת מבקרך ומצאנך אשר נתן ה’ לך כאשר צויתיך ואכלת בשעריך בכל אות נפשך

R. Yishmael believes that this passage comes to allow the Israelites, upon entering the Land, to consume the flesh of animals not brought as sacrifices (b’sar ta’avah), which had previously been prohibited, and R. Akiva believes that this passage comes to prohibit the flesh of animals slaughtered by way of nehirah, which had previously been a valid method of slaughter. The Gemara explains that R. Yishmael believes that nehirah was never valid, while R. Akiva believes that b’sar ta’avah was never prohibited. Rashi, the Tosafists, and the Rambam each interpret this dispute differently.

But we must first understand what “nehirah” means.

Concerning the opinion advanced by some tannaim that there is no Biblical obligation to perform shehitah on fowl (אין שחיטה לעוף מן התורה), Rashi (Hullin 27b) writes that although that opinion does not understand the verse (Leviticus 17:13) “ושפך את דמו“ (concerning the slaughter of an undomesticated animal (חיה) or a fowl (עוף)) to require that shehitah be performed on fowl, the verb “ושפך,” preceding the obligation to cover spilt blood with dirt, necessarily implies the shedding of blood. Thus, a method of slaughter was required that would cause a flow of lifeblood from the simanim (esophagus and trachea). The difference between “shehitah” and “nehirah” is that shehitah is performed by slicing back and forth across the neck with no downward pressure, while nehirah is performed by stabbing or by applying pressure to the neck to cut the simanim.

Rashi’s Explanation of the Dispute between R. Yishmael and R. Akiva

It was R. Yishmael’s opinion that b’sar ta’avah was prohibited in the desert; the Israelites could eat cattle and sheep only by bringing them to the Tabernacle as sacrifices. R. Yishmael derived the prohibition from the verses (Leviticus 17:3-4) concernin shehutei hutz (performing shehitah outside the Tabernacle). Rashi understands R. Yishmael to have read the verses as prohibiting either hullin or qodshim to be slaughtered outside the Tabernacle, inferring that R. Yishmael believed shehitah was always the only method whereby animal flesh could be rendered fit for consumption, rejecting R. Akiva’s opinion that, in the desert, nehirah had been a valid method of slaughter. If R. Yishmael believed nehirah was valid, how could he have inferred that b’sar ta’avah was forbidden in the desert, since only shehitah, not nehirah, was forbidden in R. Yishmael’s proof text (אשר ישחט שור או כשב או עז)? R. Yishmael must therefore have denied that nehirah was ever a valid method of slaughter, while deducing the validity of shehitah from the verse (Leviticus 1:5) “ושחט את בן הבקר”. Although the latter verse refers to an animal brought as a sacrifice, shehitah, according to R. Yishmael, unlike meliqah (the method of slaughtering fowl brought as sacrifices) was not part of the sacrificial rite, and could be performed by non-Kohanim. Shehitah was performed on sacrifices only to render them fit to be consumed (a requirement even for sacrifices completely burnt on the altar).

One might object that we don’t derive halakhic conclusions about hullin from a verse pertaining to qodshim. But inasmuch as R. Yishmael believed that b’sar ta’avah was prohibited in the desert, no other verse was required to teach us that shehitah would render hullin fit for consumption. Moreover, undomesticated animals and fowl were permitted in the desert, so the requirement to perform shehitah before consuming their flesh could be inferred via the gezeira shava of “שפיחה” “שפיחה“ from the verses related to shehutei hutz and kisui dam: just as “דם שפך” refers to shehitah, so also “ושפך את דמו” refers to shehitah. R. Yishmael must therefore have believed that the requirement to perform shehitah pertained not just to sacrifices, but was required, as Rashi notes, to avoid the prohibition of consuming neveilah.

However, R. Akiva infers the prohibition of nehirah, which had been permitted in the desert, from the verse

כי ירחק ממך המקום אש יבחר ה’ אלקיך לשום שמו שם וזבחת מבקרך ומצאנך. . . כאשר צויתיך

According to Rashi, R. Akiva inferred the permissibility of nehirah in the desert from the explicit commandment that zevihah (i.e., shehitah) be performed. If only shehitah was permissible after entry into the Land, it must have been that b’sar ta’avah, which was permissible in the desert, could have been rendered fit by another method of slaughter, i.e., nehirah. R. Akiva contends that “וזבחת” teaches that, not only was the  prohibition against performing shehitah on hullin outside the Tabernacle rescinded, but performing shehitah on hullin would henceforward fulfill a positive commandment; R. Akiva must therefore have also believed that, in the desert, performing shehitah on hullin had been permitted outside the Tabernacle, the prohibition of shehutei hutz having applied only to qodshim. (In his commentary on Leviticus 17:3, Rashi, following the opinion of R. Akiva, understands the verse to refer only to qodshim, while, in commenting on the verse (Deuteronomy 12:20) “בכל אות נפשך תאכל בשר”, Rashi, like R. Yishmael, understands the verse to refer to hullin, thus siding with both sides in their dispute).

Challenging Rashi’s interpretation, the Tosaphists ask, if Rashi accepted that R. Akiva inferred the permissibility of nehirah in the desert from the Torah’s imposition of the obligation to perform shehitah on hullin after entry into the Land, why did he not assume that R. Yishmael inferred the prohibition of b’sar ta’avah in the desert from the implied annulment by the verse in Deuteronomy of the prohibition against b’sar ta’avah? But, Deuteronomy was transmitted only at the end of 40 years in the desert, so the Israelites, while in the desert, could not have known, from verses in parashat Re’eh, that b’sar ta’avah had been prohibited. Clearly, Moshe must have conveyed a Divine commandment to them either requiring nehirah before consuming flesh or prohibiting b’sar ta’avah. But whatever Moshe taught as a Divine commandment had a source in the Written Torah, so a commandment to that effect that must have already been recorded in the first four books of the Torah. When Rashi wrote that R. Akiva inferred from the verse “כי ירחק ממך המקום אשר יבחר ה’ . . . וזבחת” that nehirah was a valid method of slaughter, inasmuch as there had been no previous commandment to perform shehitah, what Rashi meant was only that, in retrospect, we can now infer from the verse in parashat Re’eh that nehirah had been a valid method of slaugher in the desert. But for the dor midbar, the validity of nehirah must have been derived from a verse in the first four books of the Torah. That verse, “ושפך את דמו,” refers to the obligation of kisui dam for undomesticated animals and fowl (חיה ועוף) both nehirah and shehitah being subsumed under “ושפך.”

Let us consider a sugya (Zevahim 107a) in which R. Yishmael and R. Akiva disagree about the source of the prohibition to perform shehitah on a consecrated fowl outside the Tabernacle. R. Yishmael derives it from the repetition of the words “אשר ישחט” in the verse (Leviticus 17:3) “איש איש מבית ישראל אשר ישחט שור או כשב או עז במחנה או אשר ישחט מחוץ למחנה.” R. Yishmael also understands the verse (Leviticus 17:2) “זה הדבר” to exclude meliqah from the prohibition. R. Akiva, however, derives the prohibition of performing shehitah on fowl outside the Tabernacle from the verse (Leviticus 17:5)

דם יחשב לאיש ההוא דם שפך

and excludes meliqah from the prohibition from the verse “או אשר ישחט.” Derivations such as these are usually assumed to be based on purely linguistic or semantic considerations, but this example shows that the Sages did not make arbitrary semantic choices about their proof texts, but chose proof texts that corresponded to their underlying halakhic position, because we can see that the verses cited by R. Yishmael and R. Akiva in Zevahim align precisely with their positions concerning shehitah in Hullin.

Inasmuch as nehirah, according the R. Yishmael, was never a valid method of slaughter, consumption of flesh being permitted only after shehitah is performed, R. Yishmael derived the prohibition of shehitah on fowl outside the Tabernacle from the verse “או אשר ישחט.” Thus, the shehitah of pigeons and doves, which are fit to be offered as sacrifices, was prohibited outside the Tabernacle, while meliqah outside the Tabernacle was excluded from the prohibition, based on the verse “זה הדבר,” because meliqah does not render fowl fit for consumption, and only a method of slaughter that renders an animal fit for consumption was prohibited outside the Tabernacle. However, inasmuch as R. Akiva believed that nehirah was a valid method of slaughter in the desert, it was necessary to prohibit nehirah as well as shehitah on consecrated fowls outside the Tabernacle, there having been no halakhic distinction in the desert between shehitah and nehirah as methods of slaughtering fowl. Although nehirah, in the desert, was a valid method of slaughter for hullin, only shehitah had then been prohibited when performed on cattle and sheep outside the Tabernacle, because nehirah was an invalid method of slaughter for qodshim. So shehitah, being valid within the Tabernacle, was prohibited outside the Tabernacle. However, performing meliqah on consecrated pigeons and doves outside the Tabernacle was not prohibited, because meliqah is not a valid method of slaughter for hullin and renders the fowl unfit for consumption. But if the Torah had meant to prohibit the slaughter of consecrated fowls outside the Tabernacle, why would shehitah alone have been prohibited, since shehitah was neither the method by which consecrated fowl were slaughtered inside the Tabernacle nor the only method by which unconsecrated fowl could be slaughtered outside the Tabernacle? R. Akiva therefore derived the prohibition of slaughtering consecrated fowl outside the Tabernacle from the same verse, “דם יחשב דם שפך”, from which he inferred the validity of nehirah as a method of slaughtering hullin. However, the prohibition of performing shehitah on an animal outside the Tabernacle, which is deduced from the verse “ואל פתח אהל מועד לא הביאו,” referred specifically to cattle and sheep, not to fowl, which, in the Tabernacle, were slaughtered by the method of meliqah. We are thus compelled to say that R. Akiva considers nehirah of consecrated fowl outside the Tabernacle to violate the prohibition of shehutei hutz, because, otherwise R. Akiva, who believes that nehirah was a valid method of slaughter in the desert, would have required some verse to exclude nehirah from the prohibition of shehutei hutz. But the verse “דם שפך” could not exclude nehirah, because R. Akiva deduces the validity of nehirah as a method of slaughter from the verse “ושפך את דמו,” which, according to Rashi (Hullin 27b) includes nehirah. So, the only possible exclusion of nehirah from the prohibition would have been the verse “או אשר ישחט” written at the beginning of the passage of shehutei hutz. But if that verse had excluded nehirah, R. Akiva would have had no source from which to infer the exclusion of meliqah from the prohibition of shehutei hutz.

But Rashi’s explanation of the dispute between R. Yishmael and R. Akiva is problematic, because the word “וזבחת” in the passage concerning b’sar ta’avah in Deuteronomy is, according to the opinion of R. Yishmael that there was never a method of slaughter other than shehitah to render animal flesh fit for consumpition, completely redundant, as are the words “כאשר צויתיך,” which teach us nothing about the laws of shehitah. A further difficulty with Rashi’s approach is how R. Akiva would explain the verse “כי ירחק ממך המקום,” which would seem to give a reason for performing only shehitah and for the prohibition of nehirah. But why would the commandment to perform shehitah on hullin and the invalidation of nehirah depend on the distance from the Tabernacle?

Rashi’s explanation of R. Akiva’s position is also difficult because he provides no explanation of why R. Akiva assumes that the verse “ושפך את דמו” refers to nehirah rather than to shehitah as the verse is understood by R. Yishmael. The simple understanding of R. Yishmael that the verse refers to shehitah seems compelling unless there is some other independent reason for R. Akiva to have interpreted the verse as a reference to nehirah. But Rashi provides no rationale for R. Akiva’s understanding that the verse refers to nehirah as well as shehitah.

A further difficulty with Rashi’s approach arises from the baraita of Rebi quoted by the Gemara (Hullin 28a) stating that the words “כאשר צויתיך” teaches that Moshe was orally commanded that shehitah requires cutting the esophagus (וושט) and the trachea (קנה), and that a majority of at least one of the two be cut when slaughtering fowl and a majority of both when slaughtering other animals. How  this baraita to be understood? According to both Rashi and the Tosaphists, these requirements applied not just to shehitah, but to nehirah as well, and presumably the cutting of both in a four-legged animal is necessary to cause death while cutting only one is sufficient to cause the death of a fowl. Moreover, the verse “כאשר צויתיך“ cited by the Baraita does not even mention fowl, referring only to cattle and sheep. Sensing this difficulty, Rashi  (ד.ה. ברוב אחד בעוף) comments that these minimum requirements for shehitah were not inferred from the Scripture, rather, Rebi meant to say that the Scripture merely alludes to the oral commandment about the minimum requirements of shehitah. But this is not a satisfactory explanation because the Gemara cites the Rebi’s baraita in response to the question: which tanna disputes the position of R. Eliezer ha-Qappar that there is no Biblical obligation to perform shehitah on fowl? And R. Eliezer’s position follows from a heqeish between “הצבי והאיל” and pesulei ha-muqdashin (qodshim disqualified from being brought as sacrifices) which must be slaughtered by the method of shehitah before they may be consumed, teaching us that all four-legged animals, not just those that may be brought as sacrifices, must be slaughtered by the method of shehitah. But since only “הצבי והאיל”, not fowl, are compared to pesulei ha-muqdashin, R. Eliezer Ha-Qappar concludes that fowl are exempt from the Biblical requirement to be slaughtered by the method of shehitah. The Gemara cites Rebi as the tanna who holds the contrary opinion that the requirement to slaughter fowl by the method of shehitah is Biblically mandated based on the verse “כאשר צויתיך.” But how can “כאשר צויתיך,” which mentions only cattle and sheep, not fowl, in reference to the obligation to perform shehitah serve as a proof text that Biblical obligation to perform shehitah covers fowl as well as cattle and sheep?

The Tosaphists, commenting on this Gemara, raise the question why only Rebi is cited as opposing the opinion of R. Eliezer ha-Qappar, instead of citing another baraita already referenced by the Gemara (Hullin 27b) in which Bar Qappara infers the Biblical obligation to perform shehitah on fowl from a verse (Leviticus 11:46) “והעוף וכל נפש החיה הרמשת במים” in which “עוף” is mentioned between “בהמה” and “נפש החיה הרמשת במים”. The Tosaphists could have also asked why the Gemara did not cite the tanna qama of R. Eliezer who also deduces the Biblical requirement to perform shehitah on fowl from the same verse. The implausibly forced answer offered by the Tosaphists is that the Gemara preferred to identify Rebi as the tanna that disputes the position of R. Eliezer ha-Qappar. But their forced explanation is useless, because inasmuch as Rebi provides no proof text from which to derive an obligation to perform shehitah on fowl, a Biblical obligation not being derivable from a halakhah le-moshe mi-sinai, which can teach us no new obligation or commandment, only how to interpret halakhot that have an independent basis in and derivation from Scripture, we must in the end rely on Bar Qappara and the tanna qama of R. Eliezer for the source of the Biblical obligation to perform shehitah on fowl.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s