Last updated: 2004-04-21
Everything you always wanted to know about Shechita and the importance of it to Jewish people. From how shechita is performed through to why this method of killing animals for food is a compasionate means of slaughter.
What is shechita?
Shechita is the Jewish religious humane method of animal slaughter for food.
Why is shechita practised?
The Torah (Bible) tells us that God instructed Moses in the laws of shechita, that Jews must only use this humane method of animal slaughter if they are to eat meat.
Is shechita painless?
Yes. Jews believe that God, who is merciful and compassionate would only provide for a merciful and compassionate method of dispatch for his creatures. The Torah is the first systematic legislation which forbids cruelty to animals and mandates that they be treated with consideration and respect. Judaism demands the humane treatment of animals. Shechita has been scientifically shown to be painless because the animal is rendered unconscious by this humane method.
How is shechita performed?
Shechita is a very swift and efficient procedure. The chalaf (the surgically sharp instrument used) incises the structures at the neck of an animal. Blood supply to the brain ceases, all consciousness is irreversibly lost and with it the ability to feel pain. It is quick, effective and safe.
Who performs shechita?
A Shochet performs shechita. He is highly trained over a number of years in animal anatomy, pathology, the laws of shechita and animal welfare and is examined and licensed every twelve months by the 'Rabbinical Commission for the Licensing of Shochetim'. The Shochet must also be licensed by the local authority where he practises shechita.
Why can't animals be stunned first and still be kosher?
Shechita does stun, but other methods of stunning, for example by captive-bolt shot into the brain, or by electric shock, or by gas, cause injuries to an animal and delay the slaughter unnecessarily. In order for an animal to be kosher it must be healthy and uninjured. Since shechita is the only permitted way for Jews to obtain meat for food, the other methods are not kosher and render the animal treifah (literally 'torn') - it may not be eaten.
Why is there opposition to shechita?
There is much misunderstanding and misconception about shechita. Most people who are opposed to shechita simply do not know the facts. There are also those whose opposition has little to do with animal welfare but is motivated by ill-will toward Jews.
If there was no option, could Jews eat pre-stunned meat?
No. The only permitted way for Jews to eat kosher meat is to despatch a healthy animal humanely and painlessly by shechita. Other methods cause unnecessary injury and suffering, and needless delay, before slaughter. It would be quite wrong in a democratic and free society to compel anyone to eat meat which did not accord with their religious conscience. If the law was changed to ban shechita, Jews would be deprived of a basic human right, namely, the right to eat meat and poultry prepared according to the requirements of their religion. (See also FAQ above - Why can't animals be stunned...)
Why can't shechita be adapted to account for modern developments in animal slaughter techniques?
The Jewish laws pertaining to shechita are precisely geared to the dictates of animal welfare. Other 'modern' methods may serve to assuage the feelings of the observer. Animal welfare organisations and veterinarians have complained continually about the ineffectiveness of other methods and how the animal regains consciousness while being killed. Often animals have to be re-shot or re-electrocuted because the stun was ineffective first time round, causing unnecessary suffering. Shechita avoids such problems because there are no mechanical or electrical parts to go wrong. Shechita stuns and dispatches in one action, and the manner in which it stuns is irreversible. The laws of shechita may be old, but they are not outmoded.
Are there health risks to humans from eating meat produced by shechita?
Quite the opposite. Shechita guarantees good quality meat because practically all the blood is drained out making for improved keeping quality. Further, research for the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) has shown that use of the captive-bolt stunner on animals infected with BSE can transmit the infected tissue into parts of an animal used in the human food chain. This presents a risk to humans contracting nvCJD because the same unsterilised captive bolt is used on successive animals. Infected tissue was also detected on the hands of operatives and on slaughter equipment. Shechita avoids these hazards and protects human health, and animal welfare.
Information supplied by: Shechita UK