The question often asked by people who are considering observing the laws of kashrus is, “Why does kosher meat have to cost so much?” We will attempt to answer this valid question by looking at the process of “shechita,” Jewish ritual slaughter.
Ritual slaughter of animals differs in many ways from common techniques of slaughter. In ritual slaughter, we find caution and detail in every act. In this rabbinically supervised slaughter, the animal is killed with a knife. In this act we emphasize Jewish respect for the dignity of life. Great care is taken to use a knife that has been properly sharpened. The blade must be flawless, without a nick, and perfectly smooth, thus assuring that the kill will be quick, clean and painless to the animal.
This entire process begins with the shochet (ritual slaughterer) inspecting the knife for possible flaws and nicks. He does this by running the edge of his fingernail and finger up and down the blade. The slightest nick means that the knife must be resharpened. After this, he recites a short Brachabefore beginning the actual Shechita.
This knife (chalaf) is usually about 6 inches long for chickens and 18 inches long for larger animals. The knife has no point at the end of it, and is of equal width from top to bottom. These precautions are necessary in order to guarantee that the neck of the animal will not be torn. The shochet must cut through the trachea and esophagus to the jugular vein very quickly and in a clean fashion. He must not kill the animal by stabbing it.
The animal’s neck is first washed thoroughly to remove any sand particles in the fur which could cause a nick in the knife during slaughter. The shochet’s hand must be very steady, and he must employ one continuous movement, carefully avoiding the spine. This cut only takes a few seconds and is a much more humane method of killing an animal than are such common practices as smashing the head, shooting the animal or scalding it while it is still alive.
Following the slaughter, the carcass is hung upside down so that the blood can drain properly. Then the shochet checks for adhesions on the lungs, which would indicate an abscess. If one is found, the animal is rejected as unkosher. Only about 30 percent of slaughtered animals can be used for kosher distribution.
At this point the traibering process is begun. The major blood vessels, nerves and forbidden fats will be removed.
The carcass is then divided into primal cuts. The next step is soaking the meat in water for 30 minutes. It is then salted for 1 hour, and then washed another 3 times.
A large slaughterhouse, when operating full time, may be able to slaughter 60 to 150 animals per hour. This process requires shochtim and rabbis on the premises for additional help in supervision. After the soaking and salting, a plumba (kosher seal) is either attached or stamped onto the meat or chicken.
Thus, the number of people needed to work in a kosher slaughtering and packing house is many times greater than in a non-kosher establishment and this considerably increases the price per pound of kosher meat. In addition, most butcher shops are relatively small businesses and must operate at a higher mark-up than do large chain supermarkets.
LAWS OF SHECHITA
There are 5 ways in which the slaughter becomes not kosher:
1) Shehiya. There must not be the least pause during the process of shechita.
2) Derassa. The process of slaughtering must be done by moving the knife back and forth — not through downward pressure. The knife, therefore, must be long enough to allow slaughtering without too much pressure. Moreover, the animal must be in such a position that undo pressure will not be placed on the knife.
3) Chalada. The shechita knife must be uncovered during the entire process of shechita. For this reason, the knife for shechita has a long and broad blade without a thin sharp end at the front or back.
4) Hagrama. The cut must be performed on the throat, between the level of the larynx and the lower part of the trachea and esophagus.
5) Ikkur. The trachea and esophagus must be cut through and not ripped out. The knife, therefore, must be very sharp and very smooth. The smallest nick in the blade will cause tearing. For this reason, the knife is checked for smoothness and sharpness before and after each shechita.
There are eight types of mortal injury that render an animal unfit to be eaten. They are:
1. Poisonous substance introduced into the body by an animal of prey hacking with its claws.
2. Organ walls perforated.
3. Complete organs or parts of them lacking.
4. Organs or parts of them having been removed.
5. Walls or covers of organs torn.
6. Shattered by a fall.
7. Pipes split.
8. Fracture in bones.