Masechet Chullin 26a-32b

hero image
21 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 26a-b: Announcing the approach of Shabbat

How were people informed of the time when Shabbat began in an era without clocks or modern communication?

The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses the role of the tekiah, or shofar blast, that served that purpose.

According to the Mishnah in Sukkah (daf 53b), during Temple times the tradition was to blow the shofar three times on Friday in the early afternoon in order to indicate to the people that Shabbat was approaching and that they should put aside their work in the fields or in their businesses in order to prepare for Shabbat. Later in the afternoon there were three more shofar blasts that warned that Shabbat was imminent; with the final sound of the shofar, all work was forbidden. Similar announcements were made in Jewish communities throughout the generations. Rashi and Rabbeinu Chananel suggest that a similar series of shofar blasts were sounded on the eve of holidays, as well, even though there is no clear source for this in the Gemara.

The Rambam writes that there were shofar blasts sounded at the close of Shabbat, as well, whose purpose was to permit the people to return to work. This appears to contradict the Mishnah on today’s daf, which teaches that when havdalah was made the shofar was not sounded. The Ohr Sameach suggests that the Rambam is based on the Gemara in Shabbat (daf 114b) which is discussing the practice in Babylonia, while our Mishnah refers to the practice in the Temple.

The description of the shofar blasts in the Mishnah is supported by Josephus who records that there was a tower in the walls of the Temple Mount where the trumpeter stood and sounded the shofar on Friday afternoon in order to announce that the laborers should stop their work. In fact, archaeological excavations in the area of the Southern Wall of the Temple have uncovered the remains of a large stone fragment, which has inscribed on it “…to the trumpeting house.” This rock was discovered in the south-west corner of the Temple Mount which faced the business district, as well as the fields on the slopes of the Jerusalem hills.

Chullin 27a-b: Creation and ritual slaughter

The Mishnah on today’s daf – the opening Mishnah of the second perek in Masechet Chullin – teaches one of the most basic rules of ritual slaughter. When performing shechita the slaughterer must cut two simanim – the esophagus and trachea – in an animal, and a single siman – either the esophagus or the trachea – in a bird. In both cases, it would be sufficient to cut the majority of the simanim (or one of the simanim in the case of a bird). Rabbi Yehuda requires that the arteries should be cut, as well.

The Gemara discusses the source for these laws and for the difference between the requirements for kosher slaughter for an animal in contrast to those of a bird. Aside from Biblical passages that are brought, the Gemara also quotes a teaching from a certain Galilean traveler who suggested that animals were created by God from the dirt of the earth, so the requirement for their slaughter is two simanim. Fish were created from water, so there is no need for any sort of slaughter. Birds, which were created from mud, need a single siman for ritual slaughter.

Rashi explains this reasoning by suggesting that the more solid the raw material used in creation, the greater the life-force of the creation, and consequently the greater the need for a more significant act of slaughter. Other commentators took a spiritual direction in explaining this matter.

Chullin 28a-b: Cutting veins and arteries

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, according to Rabbi Yehuda, beyond cutting the esophagus and trachea, shechita – ritual slaughter – also requires severing the arteries in the neck. On today’s daf, Rav Hisda limits Rabbi Yehudah’s teaching to shechita performed on a bird, since a bird is often roasted whole. Larger animals, however, that are invariably cut into pieces, do not need to have their arteries severed.

The Gemara concludes from this that Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling is not connected with shechita per se, so much as it is a response to a potential problem with blood becoming congealed in the body of the animal. Therefore, it is not essential that the veins be cut during the act of ritual slaughter, in fact it is sufficient if the arteries are punctured after slaughter, as well. Furthermore, the rishonim point out that if the arteries were not cut during slaughter or punctured after slaughter, nevertheless the bird would still be kosher; it would just have to be cut up, rather than roasted whole, so that the blood would have an opportunity to drain out of the meat.

The term used by Rabbi Yehuda for arteries is veridim – a word that does not appear in biblical Hebrew at all – that refers to the major blood vessels in the neck. The distinction that is made today between veins – the vessels that carry deoxygenated blood from the rest of the body to the heart – and arteries that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body, is a modern concept that was unknown in the time of the Gemara. The Aruch HaShulchan rules that Rabbi Yehuda requires that the large veins in the neck near the skin be cut, but most of the poskim, following the Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishnah, argue that the reference is to the two arteries that are deeper in the neck, behind the esophagus and the trachea.

Chullin 29a-b: Parallel requirements in ritual slaughter in different settings

As we learned in the Mishnah (daf, or page 27a) it is not necessary to fully cut the esophagus and the trachea; it is sufficient to cut the majority of those simanim (or, in the case of a bird where only one is necessary, it is sufficient to cut the majority of one of those two simanim). The Gemara points out that when teaching this law, the Mishnah appears repetitive and redundant, since we find the same law in the opening line of the Mishnah and in the closing line of the Mishnah.

In response to this question, Rav Hoshaya suggests that both are necessary – one to teach that this law is true in ordinary situations of ritual slaughter and the other to teach that this law is true specifically in kodashim, in ritual slaughter that is part of the sacrificial service in the Temple. He explains that we need to be taught this law in both circumstances:

The Mishnah therefore must teach us the law in both cases.

As we have learned in Masechet Zevachim (see, for example, daf 25), the service of collecting the blood of the offering and sprinkling it on the altar is the centerpiece of the sacrificial service. Once that is performed, atonement has been accomplished even if the other parts of the service are not done. Although the esophagus and the trachea do not, themselves, carry blood, it is possible that if they are not cut completely, the nearby blood vessels may not be cut, either.

Chullin 30a-b: Ritual slaughter performed “in two or three places”

Generally speaking, we anticipate that shechita – ritual slaughter – is a single cut of the simanim – the trachea and the esophagus. Nevertheless, we find that Rav Yehuda quotes Rav as teaching that if shechita is performed “in two or three places,” it is acceptable. Although Shmuel objected that this is not a clear slaughtering, which he deems necessary, nevertheless it appears that the Gemara‘s conclusion follows Rav Yehuda’s teaching in the name of Rav, given that it closes by the relating the story of Rav Yitzchak bar Shmuel bar Marta who ate the choice part of an ox that was slaughtered “in two or three places,” thereby indicating his position on the matter.

There are three main approaches to explaining the case of slaughtering “in two or three places” –

  1. According to Rashi, the case is where the cutting was begun in one spot and then continued in another spot and then, perhaps, in a third spot. A number of different explanations are offered for this Rashi; the Ba’al HaTerumot suggests that according to this approach all of the partial cuttings can be combined into a single, sufficient shechita.
  1. Two possible explanations are brought in the name of the She’iltot (number 124). According to one, cuts are made in the esophagus or the trachea around a single spot that combine into the majority of that siman; according to the other it would be sufficient even if it were around a number of spots.
  1. Rabbeinu Chananel and the Rambam take a different approach, explaining that the case is where the majority of the trachea is cut in one spot, while the majority of the esophagus is cut in a different spot.

Obviously, according to all of these opinions, it is essential that the shechita be done in one continuous back-and-forth cutting motion, for if there was hesitation during the slaughter, the animal would not be kosher.

Chullin 31a-b: Is there a need for human involvement in ritual slaughter?

The Mishnah on today’s daf presents a situation where a knife falls and slaughters an animal. According to the Mishnah, such slaughter is not sufficient and the animal is not kosher. The source for this ruling is the passage in Sefer Devarim (27:7) that teaches that a person must slaughter and eat. Only after you slaughter the animal are you permitted to eat its meat.

The case in the Mishnah must be understood where the animal is lying on its side and the knife falls in such a manner that it cuts through the trachea and esophagus perfectly, with none of the problems with shechita (see above, daf 4) occurring.

The Gemara points out that the law of the Mishnah is only true in cases where the knife fell on its own. If, however, the knife was directed by the person, then it is acceptable as ritual slaughter, even without specific intent to perform shechita.

According to the Rashba, it appears that the case of the Gemara that is acceptable is when the knife fell out of his hand, since we view it as being the act of an intelligent person – even if it was unintentional. A parallel case to this would be a case of damages, where a person who is sitting with a stone in his lap – even if he is unaware of the stone – will be held liable for any damage that it causes if it fell from him (see Masechet Bava Kamma daf 26b). Thus, the case of the Mishnah must be when the knife fell because it was blown by the wind. Others (Re’ah, Me’iri) argue that shechita must involve the direct force of the individual, and it will only be kosher slaughter if the person actually causes the knife to fall. According to this approach, shechita differs from the case of damages, since all that is needed for a person to be held responsible is that he was the cause of the damage. Rashi goes one step further and suggests that even if there is no requirement to have specific intent to perform shechita, nevertheless he must minimally intend to make the knife fall. Otherwise it is no better than being blown off the table by the wind.

Chullin 32a-b: Interrupting ritual slaughter

We have already learned (see above, daf, or page, 4) that one of the basic rules of ritual slaughter prohibits she’hiyah, or hesitating, during the act of shechita. The Mishnah and Gemara on today’s daf attempt to clarify and define the parameters of the hesitation that would be forbidden. We find, for example, that Rava teaches that a person who is using a dull blade may continuously move the knife back-and-forth “all day long,” but this would not be considered she’hiyah as long as he did not pause in the middle.

The Mishnah describes cases where the knife fell in the course of shechita, or even where the slaughterer’s clothing fell, and he stopped to pick up the knife or the clothing and continued with shechita. In such cases, as long as the pause was not equal to the time of slaughter, it is not considered to be she’hiyah. In defining “the time of slaughter” a number of possibilities are suggested, with Rav ruling that it is the length of time that it would take to slaughter a similar animal or bird; Shmuel ruling that it is the length of time that it would take to slaughter an animal, even if a bird was being slaughtered, and Rabbi Yossi b’Rabbi Chanina ruling that it is the length or time that it takes to lift the animal from the ground, position it for slaughter and perform shechita on it – for each type of animal according to its needs.

Although the Mishnah and the Gemara appear to offer a variety of different possibilities for the definition of she’hiyah based on the particular animal that is being slaughtered and so forth, nevertheless, common practice today is to declare any hesitation – even of very short duration – as unkosher, whether in the case of an animal or the case of a bird.

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.