Masechet Chullin 12a-18b

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07 Jul 2011

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Chullin 12a-b: Supervising ritual slaughter

Rav Nachman quotes Rav as teaching that if someone watches a person perform shechita – ritual slaughter – from the beginning to the end, the animal can be eaten, but if he does not see the entire process, it cannot be eaten. The Gemara explains that if the slaughterer was a known professional there is no need to watch him throughout, and this statement refers to someone who was not knowledgeable in the laws of shechita. I might have thought that if we see him perform half of the slaughter properly we can assume that the rest was done properly, as well, so Rav Nachman teaches us that we cannot make that assumption and must watch the entire process.

The clear implication from this ruling is that ritual slaughter performed even by someone who does not know the laws of shechita is acceptable if he is watched from beginning to end. Tosafot is troubled by this conclusion, given that an earlier Gemara (above, daf 3b) teaches that if we are unsure whether or not a person is expert in the laws of shechita, his slaughter cannot be relied upon, even if he is watched by another.

The Tosafot HaRosh distinguish between the two cases, arguing that the earlier Gemara was discussing a situation where someone happened to see the shechita, while the case on today’s daf was a situation where the person was specifically supervising the inexperienced slaughterer. Rabbi Akiva Eiger suggests that in the case on today’s daf we know for certain that the slaughterer was not expert in the laws, which is why he was being carefully watched, while in the earlier case we were simply unsure whether or not he was an expert, so people may have relied on him, and it was not enough that others were watching.

Chullin 13a-b: Ritual slaughter performed by heretics

The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that if a non-Jew performs shechita – ritual slaughter – on an animal it is not kosher.

Rabbi Hiyya the son of Rabbi Aba quotes Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that the Mishnah should be understood as forbidding eating the meat of an animal slaughtered by a non-Jew, but permitting its use for other purposes, inasmuch as we do not assume that the non-Jew had intentions to slaughter the animal for purposes of idolatry. This stands in contrast with slaughter performed by a min – a Jewish heretic – who we assume would have idolatrous intentions. This view is supported by a baraita that taught:

Ritual slaughter performed by a min is regarded as intended for idolatry, his bread as the bread of Kutim, his wine as wine used for idolatrous purposes, his scrolls of the Law as books of soothsayers, his fruit as tevel (untithed).

We learned above (daf 3) that Kutim were people who were exiled to the Land of Israel by the kings of Assyria who were interested in populating the land after they had removed the Israelite people from it. According to Sefer Melakhim (see II Melakhim, chapter 17), these nations converted to Judaism because of their fear of lions that had begun attacking them (from which derives the term geirei arayot – “lion converts”), but they continued worshiping their gods at the same time. By forbidding their bread, the Sages were even more stringent regarding Kutim than ordinary non-Jews, whose bread is permitted under certain circumstances (e.g. when Jewish baked bread is not readily available, see Avodah Zara daf 35b). In contrast, bread baked by Kutim was forbidden as if it were pork (see the Mishnah in Masechet Shevi’it 8:10).

The Ramban explains that the Rabbinic enactment forbidding bread baked by non-Jews was established in order to discourage close social interaction between Jews and non-Jews, which the Sages feared would lead to intermarriage. Since the Kutim kept some Jewish laws and traditions, there was a greater concern that such relationships might develop, which necessitated more stringent rules against it. Others argue that this enactment predated the ruling that Kutim should not be viewed as members of the Jewish community (see above, daf 6a), and that it stemmed from the fact that the community of Kutim worked to undermine the rebuilding of the Second Temple during Ezra’s time.

Chullin 14a-b: Feeding animals “bottle gourd” on Shabbat

According to the Mishnah on today’s daf if someone performs shechita (ritual slaughter) on an animal on Shabbat or on Yom Kippur, although the act of killing an animal on those days is forbidden and the person who performs shechita is liable to receive a death penalty, nevertheless the animal is kosher and can be eaten.

Rav Huna quotes Chiya bar Rav in the name of Rav as teaching that the animal may be kosher, but it still cannot be eaten on that day. This was understood by the Sages as an indication that Rav understood the Mishnah as following the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda.

Several suggestions are brought by the Gemara in an attempt to clarify which of Rabbi Yehuda’s teachings this followed. Rabbi Aba suggests that it is Rabbi Yehuda’s teaching about hachana – preparation. For the Mishnah in Masechet Shabbat (156a) teaches that a person is allowed to cut up dilu’in so that his animals can eat them on Shabbat, similarly he can cut up neveilah – non-kosher meat – for his dogs. Rabbi Yehuda argues that if these things were not prepared for this purpose when Shabbat began, they cannot be used for this purpose on Shabbat.

The dilu’im mentioned in the Mishnah in Masechet Shabbat do not appear to be the pumpkin that is popular today from the cucurbita family, rather it is the “bottle gourd” or Lagenaria vulgaris that was known by the Sages as kara. The kara, or “bottle gourd” is a summer vegetable of the gourd family. It usually grows on the ground, although sometimes it is hung to grow down from poles. It is a large vegetable (40-50 cm in length; 25-30 in width), which grows in the shape of a bottle or pitcher. If it is harvested young, it can be cooked and eaten. Its seeds are used as dessert nuts.

Gourds have a high nutritional value. As is clear from our Gemara, when raw, they served as food for animals.

Chullin 15a-b: Implements used in kosher slaughter

Regarding the implements that may be used for shechita – ritual slaughter – the Mishnah on today’s daf teaches:

If one slaughtered with the smooth edge of a hand sickle, with a flint or with a reed, the slaughtering is valid. All may slaughter; at all times one may slaughter; with any implement one may slaughter, excepting a scythe, a saw, teeth or a fingernail, since these strangle.

The Gemara points out that the expression used by the Mishnah, that slaughtering with the abovementioned implements is valid, indicates that the shechita is valid ex post-facto, but that ideally it should not be used. In the case of a hand sickle, or magel yad, the Gemara suggests that the reason for this is obvious – we fear lest the slaughterer might use the wrong side of the sickle, which would be invalid. According to Rashi, the wrong side of the magel yad has a serrated edge, while according to the Ra’avad, the magel yad is a type of axe, and the wrong side is sharp, but pointed and not long enough to perform shechita.

Regarding the flint (tzur) and the reed (kaneh), the Gemara explains that if they were properly sharpened and were not connected to the ground they can be used without any concern. If they were still connected to the ground, they cannot be used at all. The Mishnah’s case, where using them is acceptable after-the-fact, is where they were removed from the ground but afterwards were reconnected.

The implements in the Mishnah that are invalid for slaughter include a scythe (magel katzir), a saw, and teeth, which are problematic because they are not smooth and their irregular edges tear at the animal’s windpipe and esophagus that must be cut smoothly. The Gemara explains that the problem with using a fingernail for slaughter is a different one; it is considered “connected” which, as we learned, is invalid, even though in this case it is not connected to the ground, but to the slaughterer’s body.

Chullin 16a-b: Forbidden uses of reeds

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, according to the Mishnah if one used a kaneh, or reed to perform shechita – to ritually slaughter – an animal, the slaughter is valid. On today’s daf, Rav Chisda quotes Rabbi Yitzchak as teaching five laws regarding a kromit shel kana – the husk of a reed. They are –

  1. One must not slaughter with it,
  2. One must not perform circumcision with it,
  3. One must not cut flesh with it,
  4. One must not pick the teeth with it.
  5. One must not cleanse oneself with it.

Regarding the teaching that ‘one must not slaughter with it,’ the Gemara quotes a baraita that puts the husk of a reed in the same category as a flint and glass that are acceptable as implements for kosher slaughter. In response Rav Papa explains that the situation where the reed can be used is in the case of “simuna of the marshes.”

In all of the cases where Rabbi Yitzchak forbade use of a kromit shel kana it is because there is the danger of splinters breaking away from the reed and penetrating into the matter which is being cut, thereby causing damage or hurt. In the case of slaughtering, for example, it is feared that a splinter will perforate the gullet of the animal, thus invalidating the shechita. This concern apparently does not exist when using a “simuna of the marshes.” The Arukh brings two possible explanations for this. According to the Geonim the”simuna of the marshes” is a particular type of reed that is sharp and does not splinter. The second explanation, which also appears in Rashi and in Rabbeinu Gershom, suggests that it is a known type of wild grass that can be used for shechita after it dries out and hardens.

It appears that the plant referred to by Rashi is the Carex, a genus of plants in the family Cyperaceae, commonly known as sedges. These grow wild in marshes and have lengthy leaves whose width is about one and a half centimeters.

Chullin 17a-b: Checking the knife

On previous dapim we have been learning the laws regarding acceptable knives to be used in shechita – ritual slaughter. On today’s daf, Rav Chisda teaches that the passage in I Shmuel (14:34) should be understood as teaching that the knife that is used for shechita must be checked before being used. The Gemara offers a series of different methods that were used to check the knife to be sure that it was not nicked or damaged in a way that would invalidate the slaughter.

Rashi explains this to mean that the knife was checked in clear sunlight, and he brings a second explanation that the knife was held in the sun and its shadow was examined so that any imperfections would be seen.

Chullin 18a-b: The need to check a knife

On yesterday’s daf we learned how Rav Chisda required that a slaughterer’s knife be checked before use. The Gemara concludes there that this is not only essential in order to ensure that the animal is kosher, but also that the knife must be given to the local Sage to check out of respect to him.

On today’s daf, Rav Huna teaches that if the knife was not shown to the local Sage, the slaughterer was excommunicated; Rava rules that the slaughterer must be removed from his position and a public announcement must be made telling people that his meat is not kosher. The Gemara explains that there is no difference of opinion here; in Rav Huna’s case the knife was found to be kosher, so he was merely excommunicated, while in Rava’s case the knife was found to have deficiencies, so he must be removed from his job. Ravina suggests that in such a case the meat should be smeared with excrement so that the slaughterer will not be able to profit by selling it to non-Jews.

The Gemara offers an anecdote to illustrate this law in practice. The Gemara relates:

There was a case of a slaughterer who did not present his knife for examination to Raba bar Hinena. The latter thereupon put him under the ban, removed him from his vocation and announced publicly that his meat was not kosher. Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi happened to call on the said Raba bar Hinena who said to them, ‘Would you, Masters, look into this case, for there are small children dependent on him’?

Rav Ashi examined the knife and found it satisfactory; he thereupon declared him fit again to act as slaughterer. Mar Zutra then said to him: ‘Are you not concerned at all in overruling this Sage?’ Rav Ashi replied, ‘We were only carrying out his instructions’.

Although Raba bar Hinena was obligated to follow the ruling of the Sages and remove the slaughterer from his position, we see how he worked “behind the scenes” to find a way to allow him to support himself and his family.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.