Masechet Chullin 2a-4b

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23 Jun 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 2a-b: Women as ritual slaughterers

Performing shechita – ritually slaughtering an animal for the purpose of eating it – is fulfillment of a Biblical commandment (see Devarim 12:21 with Rashi‘s commentary).

The first Mishna in Masechet Chullin teaches that this mitzvah can be performed by anyone, excluding people who are viewed as incompetent, like a cheresh (a deaf-mute, who was considered to be uneducable in the time of the Mishnah), shoteh (an “imbecile”) and a minor, who has not yet reached the age of maturity.

Tosafot point out that from the Mishnah it appears that women are included among those who are acceptable as ritual slaughterers, and the fact that the Mishnah does not choose to emphasize that by stating clearly “both men and women” is because there is no reason to think that women would be excluded from this mitzvah. Nevertheless, the rishonim quote sources (variously Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael, or Hilkhot Eldad ha-Dani), which preclude them from acting as shochatim because nashim da’atan kalot – that halacha perceives women as being “lightheaded.” Those works includes a number of other restrictions in the act of shechita; for example, shechita performed by someone who was not properly dressed or someone who did not recite the appropriate benediction at the time of slaughter will be invalid.

Tosafot argue that in all of these cases, these are chumrot – stringencies – established by the author of that work that are not actually requirements of Jewish law. With regard to women performing ritual slaughter, Tosafot point out that the statement in Masechet Zevachim (31b), which clearly states that women can act as ritual slaughterers in the Temple.

In any case, at least in the Ashkenazi world, we do not find that women served as ritual slaughterers for the community. And although they certainly were able to slaughter animals in the Temple, some suggest that the circumstances in the Temple were such that there was less concern for “lightheadedness” than there is in ordinary slaughter.

Chullin 3a-b: Would you buy kosher meat from this man?

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the Mishnah discusses those who are qualified to perform shechita and serve as ritual slaughterers. Abayye suggests that the Mishnah should be understood to include Kutim in this category.

The term Kutim refers to the nations (not all of whom were truly Kutim, as there were people from other nations, as well) that 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 gerei arayot – “lion converts”), but they continued worshiping their gods at the same time.

Upon the return of the Jews to Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period, the Samaritans, descendants of the Kutim, were active in trying to keep the returnees from rebuilding the Temple and the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Even so, there were families – including members of the kohanim – who intermarried with the Samaritans.

During the following years there were continued tensions between the two communities, and Yochanan Hyrcanus led his troops into battle against the Samaritans and destroyed the temple that they had built on Har Gerizim. Nevertheless, there were also periods of cooperation, such as the period of the Bar Kochba rebellion. As is clear in our Gemara, the attitude of the Sages towards them differed, although after a period of time a final conclusion was reached and they were ruled to be treated as non-Jews, due to their continued involvement with different types of idol worship.

It is important to note that the Gemara in Yevamot concludes that while a bet din should not accept potential converts whose reason for converting is anything other than a sincere desire to join the Jewish People, nevertheless, if such a person does undergo a full conversion process they are considered Jewish according to halakhah. It is possible that the Kutim did not fall into that category because they continued with their idolatrous practices even at the moment of their conversion. Nevertheless, today the community of Samaritans living in Israel are no longer idol worshipers, and there has been some level of acceptance of them into the larger Jewish community.

Chullin 4a-b – The five basic rules of kosher slaughter

As we learned on yesterday’s daf Abayye understands the Mishnah as teaching that shechita – ritual slaughter – performed by a Kuti is valid. According to him, the Mishnah follows the opinion that accepted the conversion of the Kutim, even though they did not keep all of the mitzvot that were not clearly stated in the Torah. Since shechita was one of the commandments that they did accept, they can be relied upon, assuming that we know that the Kuti ate from that meat himself, or, as the Ramban points out, he slaughtered the animal for his own consumption. This was necessary since Kutim had no compunctions about feeding non-kosher meat to others.

The Gemara on today’s daf asks whether we can trust a Kuti regarding ritual slaughter of fowl. Even if we saw him eating the bird, perhaps the Kuti believes that there is no Biblical requirement to slaughter birds according to the laws of shechita. The Gemara responds by pointing out that none of the five basic rules of shechita – she’hiyyah, derasa, chaladah, hagramah and ikkur – are found in the Torah, yet we know that the Kutim accept them; similarly we know that they accept these laws, as well.

What are these basic rules?

  1. She’hiyyah, “pausing,” is hesitating during the act of slaughter,
  2. Derasa, “pressing,” is cutting the esophagus and windpipe of the animal with pressure on the knife, rather than by using a back-and-forth cutting motion,
  3. Chalada, “thrusting,” is placing the knife between the esophagus and windpipe before slaughter,
  4. Hagramah, “deflecting,” is slaughtering outside of the proper place on the neck,
  5. Ikur, “tearing,” is pulling the esophagus and windpipe out of their proper place before slaughter, or tearing them during slaughter because the knife had nicks in it.

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.