Weekly Daf: What is the law if a slaughtered animal wasn’t inspected after shechitah?


What is the law if a slaughtered animal wasn’t inspected after shechitah?

Rabbi Shmuel Wise

We discussed this question on this Thursday’s daf (9a). The discussion began with the ruling of Shmuel that a shochet is required to inspect the trachea and esophagus, the simanim, to ensure that they were properly severed by the shechitah. What if, the gemara wonders, they weren’t inspected?

The gemara presents two opinions on this: R’ Elazar son of R’ Yannai and the beraisa. Both opinions agree that since we cannot be certain that a proper shechitah was performed, the meat is not kosher. They disagree, though, as to whether or not the carcass is considered a source of tumah, which is normally the law of an animal that was not killed through shechitah. R’ Elazar rules that it isn’t a source of tumah, whereas the beraisa rules it is.

What is their underlying dispute? The gemara explains that the debate here is how to apply a teaching of R’ Huna which addresses situations like ours where we have a question about the validity of the shechitah. R’ Huna taught: When the animal was still alive it was prohibited (under the prohibition against eating a live animal). If we’re not sure whether or not the animal had a proper shechitah we fall back on the status quo, or the chazakah, and thus rule it prohibited.

Clearly on the basis of R’ Huna’s teaching, the animal in our case (where because the shechitah wasn’t inspected, we can’t be sure that the shechitah was valid) is deemed prohibited. The beraisa simply takes this teaching to what appears to be its inescapable conclusion: That this animal is thus a neveilah, an animal that died without a proper shechitah, and therefore it generates tumah. R’ Elazar’s position, on the other hand, seems hard to understand: Since he acknowledges that we have insufficient evidence to believe that this animal received a proper shechitah, how is it possible to regard this animal as anything other than a neveilah which the Torah says generates tumah?

I think the answer can be found by inquiring what it really means to rely on a chazakah. At first glance, the concept of chazakah would appear to be closely related to the concept of assuming like the majority (e.g. if nine out of ten items in a mixture are A, and we pull one out of the mixture, we can assume the removed item is an A) in that the Torah tells us that both of these things are considered sufficient evidence to draw a conclusion about what happened. In fact, though, many commentators explain that while “majority” tells us what happened, chazakah does not. Instead, chazakah is more in the realm of a “scriptural decree” which states that we have “permission” to assume that the status quo didn’t change.

And really if we think about it there’s a good basis for such an understanding. Consider: If a husband threw a divorce document to his wife, and we are uncertain as to whether the document entered her legal jurisdiction (a necessary condition for the divorce to go into effect), chazakah rules that she is fully considered a married woman, along with all of the serious ramification that entails, even though in terms of probability it’s equally possible that she is no longer a married woman!

We can therefore explain that according to R’ Elazar the scriptural decree of chazakah says only that we continue to act in accordance with the particular previous status at hand. And, as pointed out by Rashi, the previous status here is the prohibition of “Thou shalt not eat a live animal,” which does not carry with it a tumah status. So, while the meat going forward remains not kosher for consumption, it does not generate ritual impurity.

The beraisa, on the other hand, argues that we shouldn’t get too carried away with the notion that chazakah is a scriptural decree that tells us to act in accordance with the status quo. For in our case that fact of the matter is that this animal is quite dead and thus it is an intolerable contradiction in terms to suggest that this animal isn’t kosher and yet doesn’t generate the tumah of an animal that didn’t receive a proper shechitah. Thus, the beraisa rules that this animal is a source of tumah as well.