Karaite Shechita: No Pregnant Animals Were Slaughtered For This Post

A Karaite Shochet's First Meal: Goat Pizza.  (Photo Courtesy of T. Wheeler.)

A Karaite Shochet’s First Meal: Goat Pizza.
(Photo Courtesy of T. Wheeler.)

By now, we all know that Karaites and Rabbanites have different traditions regarding kashrut (e.g.milk and meat and alyah). But the historical Karaite practice of slaughter (Hebrew: shechita) is also different from the Rabbinic practice.

Today, I catch up with Travis Wheeler, a Karaite schochet, and Eli Shmuel, a young Israeli Karaite, about the Karaite halakhic tradition regarding slaughter.

I am not an expert on anything – let alone slaughter (Karaite or Rabbanite), but I’ll note some interesting differences of which I’m aware.

First, historically Karaites absolutely forbade slaughtering a pregnant animal. [1.] By way of example, in March 2013, my uncle wanted to slaughter a lamb for our Passover seder. He showed up to the farm and saw that all the lambs were pregnant and refused to slaughter any of them. By contrast, the Rabbinic tradition permits slaughtering a pregnant animal. [2.]

Second, Karaites and Rabbanites differ as to the actual method of slaughter. In the historical Karaite tradition, all four parts of the animal’s throat must be completely cut in order for the slaughter to be valid. In the Rabbinic halakha, only two parts of the throat must be cut (and do not have to be completely cut). [3.]

Travis Wheeler became a Karaite shochet a few years ago. At the time of his training, he already had a background in slaughtering animals so it made the process go a bit more smoothly. But Travis notes that his training was not still not easy. His study included two trips to Israel to learn with Hakham Moshe Yosef and Hakham Moshe Firrouz.

Travis was only formally approved as a Karaite shochet later, when H. Moshe Firrouz came to the U.S. to observe Travis slaughter a goat. The goat became part of that night’s dinner – on a pizza with real cheese. Being Karaite is awesome – except for that shawarma thing.

Travis says that the most interesting thing he learned during his training is that he should not film the slaughter because it diminishes the dignity of the animal. The Karaites with whom Travis studied impressed upon Travis that mankind was given the permission to slaughter and we should not take that permission lightly.

Eli Shmuel, who is planning a trip to the United States in the coming months, discusses the dignity of the animal in this short video explaining the historic Karaite halakhic tradition. The video is only about nine minutes and addresses a lot of topics, including: (i) that some Karaites do not eat meat slaughtered by Rabbanites; (ii) that the method of slaughter was likely known before the Torah was given – and that is why God does not command a specific method of slaughter; and (iii) that the historical Karaite halakha imposes some requirements as to the piety of the slaughterer.

Regardless of how we each might view certain aspects of the Rabbanite and traditional Karaite practice, I think you’ll find this video informative.

* * *

[1.] Among the reasons why Karaites forbid slaughtering a pregnant animal is the biblical prohibition against killing an animal and its young on the same day. See Leviticus 22:28.

[2.] See, e.g., Talmud Bavli Chulin 68, 74.

[3.] Mishneh Torah, Sefer Kedusha, Shechita, Chapter 1, Halacha 9.


Filed under Eli Shmuel, Kashrut, Milk and Meat, Moshe Firrouz, Shechita, Travis Wheeler

20 Responses to Karaite Shechita: No Pregnant Animals Were Slaughtered For This Post

  1. Zvi

    Of course, the Rabbis also argue in turn that foetuses are not offspring (“Banim” in the original Hebrew).

    • My understanding is also that (in the rabbinic tradition), if a pregnant animal was slaughtered but somehow its offspring survives, then (under certain circumstances) you don’t need to slaughter the offspring to eat it. The shechita of the mother suffices.

    • Elie Lichaa

      When Rebekah was pregnant of twins, the Torah called the foetuses “בנים” (children) – Gen. 25 : 22 ” וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ הַבָּנִים, בְּקִרְבָּהּ” – “And the children struggled together within her”.

  2. Zvi

    More power to Eli Shemu’el and those who hold to his conviction that a slaughterer must subscribe to the proper beliefs and daily religious conduct as per the traditional Qaraite standard. Most seem to agree that this is unnecessary extremism that makes religion and life much harder than they need to be, and I gladly settle for Shehita that is properly performed technically but not on Shabbat and Mo`adim (Appointed Times).

  3. Ilan Ishaharim

    From where do Karaites know what parts of the neck need to be cut. The Rabbanites claim the Oral Law ie Talmud. Also It seems that Shecitah as done today is merely a matter of time and space. We drive a car, we dont use a cart and mule or ox. The Shecitah of old days may have been with a sharp knife, today there must be quicker methods. Ive favored the guillotine as it allows you to have the animal standing in comfort with a comfortable halter to hold its neck and voilaj, chain the hind legs now and raise the animal to drain, the animal doesent know what hit it because its so quick and you achieve the same painless shecitha except the cow never saw it coming, and it was slaughtered while standing in a comfortable position.

    Where in the Torah do Karaites learn about what parts to cut. We know it speaks plenty what goes to the priest or what chelev not to eat. But it seems shecitah is more of an ancient practice then a practical one. How do you know what parts you must cut unless you mimic the Rabbis and then add your own coup de grace for good measure.

    Thank You.

  4. Ilan Ishaharim

    Did I ask too hard question as regards Karaite Shechitah via vie Rabbinic Shechitah in my post of Dec 31 2013? Or are you in the same spot as the Rabbis who use the so called Oral Law to justify what they do. What do you base your method on?

    • Hi Ilan,

      The question was not too difficult. You asked your question on 12/31/13 while I was out of the country. As to your specific question, the video answers this (at least partly). In (mostly) full, historical Karaites believe that the method of slaughter was known prior to the revelation at sinai. As a result, the method has been passed down from generation to generation. There is something to be said for the fact that every historical Jewish community (at least of which I am aware) slaughters by slitting the neck. As to the parts of the neck that need to be cut, as a practical matter, Rabbanites would (very likely) have to cut the same parts in order to cut the parts they deem necessary. (But note, that the rabbanites, as far as I am aware, do not require complete severing. They only require that the signs be mostly cut).

  5. Ilan Ishaharim

    Thank you my friend. On this case then you would have to agree with the Rabbanites that there is such a concundrum as saying the Torah is the only Mapa/Map to Shemirat Mitzvot, yet you explain that your father and his fathers before him back to even before Sinai.

    Of course If I am to guess at your level of Limdus just by your presentation, I have now doubt you understand when I say that you know the Rabbanites claim that the Avot kept the Torah. This is a problem for me first because they use Avrahams meeting with the Melachim and 3 different psukim to justify seperating meat and milk to a fanatical degree.

    And Itzchak Ahave et Esav ki Tzad Bepif. If Itzchak was to eat meat that Esav caught then we must assume that Esav either used Bows and Arrows, which appromixate his mentality or he was a nice guy who snared his venision without causing pain to the animal. If you have ever tracked deer or Antelope, they are fleeted footed created whose sens of hearing and smell could only be overcome by bow and arrow or todays rifle. So Izchaks meet would have been treif being killed by the bow and arrow of those times.

    In my attempts to understand Karaite Halacha, it seems that Oral Law, Ba’al or if you wish Minhag handed down, but still not outlined in the Torah, is not removed from the Rabbanite arguments that there are things for which the written text can tell you nothing. Im very confused as too were the line is drawn between the Rabbanite and their Mishna, Gemara and assorted Tosafot and Beraitas say on shecita. In fact that the Mishnah does not say that anything such as , Ko amar Hashem lemoshe, daber el bnai Israel Uteztave otam shectu lachem behema kach ve kach.

    I hiope you understand what my dilemma is here. Your are an authentic Karai ledorot, but you also seem to rely on things not set out in the Torah which is the very argument against what the Rabbis legislate and they too use minhag avot, etc.

    Kol Kavod

    • Bob Searle

      Thank you,
      I have been reading many articles or comments on slaughter which disregard the instructions: De 12:15-16, 12:22-23, 14:5, 15:22-23.
      What weapons were available? I think the sling was also, and as David used against Goliat, quite possible to bring down a buck. both of which pretty much require a pursuit after the initial injury (rare to drop a deer in its tracks).

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  7. Eddie

    The Rabbanite permission to slaughter a pregnant animal is actually more repugnant than it seems from this article alone.

    They make a further claim. They say that when you kill an animal, it is all permitted to eat. They then argue that if there is a live fetus inside, it can be eaten even alive, or without “kosher” slaughter, since it is considered to be part of the slaughtered mother!

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  10. Elisheba Flor

    This is another fascinating article! I gave up meat longtime ago but I eat fish. What is the Karaite minhag on Fish? There is obviously no slaughtering, right? Is a fish carrying eggs (like caviar) fit to eat? Blood?

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