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Jewish Dietary Laws (Kashrut): Ritual Slaughter - Shechitah

Shechitah is the Hebrew term for the ritual slaughtering of animals under the laws of kashrut.

Shechitah slaughtering strives to minimize the pain experienced by the animal before dying and must be done "with respect and compassion" for the animal by a trained and certified religious Jew called a shochet.

An extremely sharp knife - challef - is used to slit the animal’s throat, severing the trachea, esophagus, carotid arteries, jugular veins and vagus nerve, in one swift action causing the animal to immediately lose all consciousness.  According to Jewish religious sources, after this cut is made the animal is insensible to pain and exsanguinates in a prompt and precise action. The blood is then drained in accordance with the biblical injunction to not benefit from the blood of an animal. Likeise, the blood may not be drunk because of its symbolic nature with man.

If the process of shechitah is not done perfectly according to the rules, the slaughtered animal is not kosher to eat, also known as treif. Any animals killed by hunters cannot be considered kosher since the method of killing is not in accordance to the biblical laws of kashrut.

Because animals need to be conscious when their necks are slit for their meat to be considered kosher, the practice has been condemned by liberals concerned with animal welfare and right-wing nationalists who view the custom as foreign to their countries’ cultures. In 2019, three states in Belgium banned the slaughter of animals without first stunning them, over the objections of Jewish community leaders who said it would illegally limit their religious freedom. In December 2020, the EU Court of Justice upheld the bans.

The ruling is likely to effect efforts to ban the practice or adopt similar laws in other EU countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Luxembourg.

Israel’s ambassador to Belgium, Emmanuel Nachson, said the ruling is “catastrophic and a blow to Jewish life in Europe.”

Sources: Ronald L. Eisenberg,  The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004;
Alfred J. Kolatch, The Jewish Book of Why/The Second Jewish Book of Why, NY: Jonathan David Publishers, 1989;
Geoffrey Wigoder, Ed. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. NY: Facts on File, 1992;
Cnaan Liphshiz, “Belgium’s First Female Prime Minister Is Jewish,” JTA, (October 28, 2019).