Is it Permissible for Women to Serve as Shohatot (Ritual Slaughterers)? Responsa in a Moment Vol. 12, No. 1, December 2017


Question: Is it permissible for women to serve as Shohatot (ritual slaughterers)?

Responsum: We shall present the opinions of those who permit, those who limit, and those who prohibit, and then we shall summarize the matter and give a halakhic ruling. In this responsum, we shall repeatedly use the Hebrew words Shehitah [ritual slaughter] and Nikkur [porging of meat in order to remove the forbidden fat and sinews].

  1. It is permissible for women to slaughter animals

Mishnah

  1. Mishnah Hullin 1:1, fol. 2a: “Everyone may slaughter and their Shehitah is kosher, except for a deaf mute, an insane person and a minor lest they ruin their slaughter.”
  2. Mishnah Zevahim 3:1, fol. 31b: “… for Shehitah is kosher when performed by non-Kohanim, by women, slaves, and the impure, even of [sacrifices that are] the holy of holies” and the Talmud (, 32a) emphasizes that this permission to slaughter is l’khathilah, before the fact.
  3. Mishnah Niddah 8:2, fol. 58b: “And [the woman can blame the spot of blood she found] on anything: if she had slaughtered a domestic animal, a wild animal, and a fowl…” and this ruling was codified in Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 190:18. This Mishnah informs us tangentially that women slaughtered various animals and fowl in practice.

Geonim

Rav Sa’adiah Gaon (882-942) in his Torah commentary opposed the opinion of Anan ben David, the founder of the Karaites, who forbade Shehitah by women (see the article by Prof. Zucker as emphasized by Rabbi Kapah in Halikhot Teiman).

Italy

Rabbeinu Shabbetai (end of the 10th century) in an early work published by Prof. Simhah Assaf (quoted by Tzurieli, p. 169): He opposed the strict approach of Eldad Hadani which we shall quote below and wrote: “but even a slave and a woman, their Shehitah is kosher, as we have learned in the Mishnah [Zevahim loc. cit.] that Shehitah is kosher when performed by women, slaves and the impure…”.

Provence

  1. Avraham ben Yitzhak Av Bet Din (d. 1159), Sefer Ha’eshkol, ed. Albeck, Hilkhot Hullin, Part II, p. 105 (and cf. ed. Auerbach, Part III, Hilkhot Shehitat Hullin, Chapter 2, p. 4): “And Shehitah is kosher when performed by women… and even regarding sacred animals, how much the more so hullin (ordinary animals)”.
  2. Yitzhak ben Abba Mari (d. 1190), Ha’ittur, Hilkhot Shehitah, Gate II, ed. Vilna, Part II, fol. 21a: “And women and slaves who know the laws of Shehitah may slaughter before the fact”.
  3. Sefer Kol Bo (ca. 1300), ed. Avraham David, Part 6, col.460: “And even women and slaves and minors who are experts may slaughter before the fact”.
  4. Aaron Hakohen of Lunel (ca. 1300) in Sefer Orhot Hayyim – which is related to the Kol Bo, Part II, ed. Schlesinger, Berlin, 1899, p. 389: “And even women and slaves, if they are experts, they may slaughter before the fact”.

France and Germany  

1a. Tosafot to Hullin 2a, s.v. hakol shohatin: “It is written in Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael that women may not slaughter because da’atan kallot [their understanding is poor], and this is not correct… but certainly because women slaughter before the fact even sacred animals…”.

1b. Tosafot to Zevahim 31b, s.v. shehashehitah: “in the Gemara it is proved that women may slaughter even before the fact… this provides an answer to what they wrote in Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael that women should not slaughter because da’atan kallah [their understanding is poor]… and it appears that these are stringencies without basis which were said by the Sage who wrote Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael”.

1c. Tosafot to Pesahim 4b, s.v. heimnuhu: “for there are cases every day where we trust a woman and a slave regarding Shehitah and Nikkur ”.

1d. Tosafot to Eruvin 59a, s.v. u’tehumin derabbanan: “and even though there are cases every day where we trust women regarding Shehitah and Nikkur and giving Hallah [the Kohen’s share of the dough which is separated before baking]…”

1e. Tosafot to Kiddushin 36a, s.v. hakabbalot v’haza’ot.

1f. Tosafot to Kiddushin 76b, s.v. ein bodkin (and cf. the discussion about this Tosafot in the Taz to YD 1:1 and Pahad Yitzhak, Part 8, fol. 143a).

  1. A gloss on Hilkhot Shehitah by Rabbi Judah the Pious (d. 1217) (Sefer Hut Hameshulash, edited by Ze’ev Biyednovitz, Part I, New York, 1940 = Me’ah She’arim, Jerusalem, 1974, p. 21): “From whence do we know that a woman is fit to slaughter? As it is written (I Samuel 8:13) ‘And [the king] shall take your daughters as perfumers and tabahot [i.e. slaughterers] and bakers’ and it further says (ibid., 28:24) ‘and the woman had a stall-fed calf in the house, and she hurried and slaughtered it’ ”. It is difficult to know who wrote this gloss and when. In any case, the author of this gloss understood that in the first verse tabahot, which usually means “cooks”, means “slaughterers”, while the second verse relates that the woman who consulted ghosts at Ein Dor took a stall-fed calf and slaughtered it and fed King Saul. In general, we do not learn halakhah directly from prophetic verses, but these verses seem to concur with the approach of the Mishnah cited above.
  2. R. Moshe of Coucy (d. 1236), Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (Semag), Mitzvot Aseh, end of paragraph 63, Hilkhot Shehitah, ed. Venice, fol. 141b. Like Tosafot above, he quotes from Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael “that women should not slaughter lest they faint because da’atan kallot [their understanding is poor] (see more on this below), but our Talmud does not agree… but rather women may certainly slaughter before the fact…”.
  3. R. Yitzhak ben Moshe of Vienna (d. 1250), Or Zarua, Hilkhot Kisui Hadam, paragraph 387, ed. Zhitomir, Part I, fol. 54c = ed. Machon Yerushalayim, Part I, p. 322. Like Tosafot, he quotes from Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael “that women should not slaughter because da’atan kallot [their understanding is poor]”, but we have learned explicitly in Zevahim loc. cit. that Shehitah is kosher when performed by women “and it seems to me that even this Sage only wrote this as a stringency without basis”.
  4. R. Yithak of Corbeil (d. 1280), Sefer Mitzvot Kattan (Semak), paragraph 197: “but women may slaughter, if they know the laws of Shehitah”. This exact reading is also found in HaSemak MiZurich, Part II, Jerusalem, 1977, paragraph 195, p. 222 and in R. Hayyim Benveniste (d. 1673), Knesset Hagedolah to YD 1, Hagahot Bet Yosef, paragraph 4.

However, there is another reading of this sentence in the Semak with one additional word: “that women may slaughter l’atzman if they know the laws of slaughter”.

This reading is early. It is quoted by the Kol Bo loc. cit. ca. 1300 (and from there in the Bet Yosef to YD 1); the related work Orhat Hayyim loc. cit. ca. 1300 (a partial quotation); Sefer Ha’agudah by R. Alexander Susslein Hakohen (d. 1349), the beginning of Hullin, ed. Brizel, Part 8, p. 100; Sefer Ha’agur by Rabbi Ya’akov Barukh Landau (in 1480), ed. Hirshler, p. 171, which we shall quote below; and R. Yoel Sirkes claims in the Ba”h to YD 1 that this is the reading in the “old, outstanding” manuscripts of the Semak.

What does l’atzman mean? The Kol Bo explained: “it means that they do not slaughter for others”, i.e. only for themselves. Yet, as Rabbi Yosef Karo emphasized in the Bet Yosef to Tur YD 1, s.v. va’ani omer: “this is surprising; what difference is there between slaughtering for yourself and for others, for likewise, you need a hekhsher for this as for that!” He replies: “and what Rabbi Yitzhak wrote [in the Semak] l’atzman, it means that they slaughter alone and no one needs to stand over them”. In other words, l’atzman = b’atzman, by themselves without supervision. This explanation seems reasonable in light of all the sources cited above, for it is hard to imagine that the Semak made up this stringency by himself.

Furthermore, Rabbi Yosef Karo’s explanation is clearly proved by the words of the Rashba which we shall quote below, which were written just a few years after the words of the Semak: “And a woman and a slave check the knife l’atzman, for themselves, and they slaughter before the fact bifnei atzman, by themselves, like men”. It is also proved by the permission given to a woman to slaughter in Mantua in 1581 which we shall quote below in paragraph II: “I hereby permit her to slaughter beina l’vein atzma, all by herself, and her Shehitah will be permissible for the entire Jewish people”. (And cf. additional expressions like this in paragraph II.)

Therefore, according to both versions, the Semak rules that women slaughter by themselves without any limitations if they know the laws of Shehitah.

  1. Rabbi Meir, the Maharam of Rothenburg (d. 1293), Responsa, ed. Prague/Bloch, Budapest, 1895, paragraph 193: “And regarding slaughtering by women if they may, it is already evident from Zevahim (31b) that Shehitah is kosher when performed by women even before the fact as is evident from there. And what they quote from Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael [which forbids, as above], those who want to innovate and ‘those who rejoice over nothing’ (Amos 6:13) wrote it”.
  2. Rabbeinu Peretz of Corbeil (d. 1298) who is quoted by Orhot Hayyim loc. cit.: “And the Raf z”l wrote that Shehitah is kosher when performed by women as by men and so too the examination [of the lungs] and he brought many proofs for his words” (cf. a similar quote in the Kol Bo loc. cit.).
  3. Rabbeinu Asher, the Rosh (Ashkenaz and Toledo, d. 1327) to Hullin, Chapter 1, paragraph 1, is similar to the Tosafot in Hullin and Zevahim.
  4. The Mordechai (Ashkenaz, d. 1298) at the beginning of Hullin quotes from Eldad Hadani (see the quotation below) who forbids women from slaughtering, but he concludes: “and all these things are stringencies without any basis and we do not act according to him”.

Spain

  1. Rambam (Egypt, d. 1204), Hilkhot Shehitah 4:4: “And even women and slaves, if they are experts, they slaughter before the fact”.
  2. Aaron Halevi of Barcelona (Spain, d. 1303), in his Hiddushim to Hullin, Jerusalem, 1975, p. 4: “Everyone may slaughter, and even women…”.
  3. Rashba (Barcelona, d. 1310), Torat Habayit Ha’arokh, Bayit Alef, Sha’ar Alef, ed. Yosefof, fols. 7a-b: “And a woman and a slave check the knife l’atzman, for themselves, and they slaughter before the fact bifnei atzman, by themselves, like men. And they are included in ‘Everyone may slaughter’ in the Mishnah, even if no-one else sees them, since it says in the Mishnah ‘except for a deaf-mute, an insane person, and a minor’ and it does not say ‘women and slaves’ with them…”.
  4. Rabbi Ya’akov ben Asher (Toledo, d. 1340), Tur YD 1: “Everyone may slaughter before the fact, women and freed slaves…”.
  5. Rabbeinu Yeruham (Toledo, d. 1350), Toledot Adam Vehava, Netiv 15, ed, Venice 1553, fol. 115d: Women slaughter before the fact on the basis of the Tosafot “and all the Poskim [=halakhic authorities] agreed” and so wrote the Rambam and so it is proved from Zevahim. And he rejects the approach of Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael: “And our Talmud is the main thing which disagreed with him, that of course [women] slaughter before the fact as I have written.”
  6. The Ran (Rabbeinu Nissim Gerondi, Spain, d. 1380) on the Rif to Hullin (Chapter 1, fol. 1a, s.v. v’khulan) also allowed women to slaughter before the fact (see a quotation below).

Spain and Eretz Yisrael   

  1. Eshtori Hafarhi (d. 1357), Kaftor Vaferah, Chapter 25, ed. Luncz, pp. 476, 478 = ed. Jerusalem, 1998, Vol. 2, pp. 320-321. He quotes the Ittur: Since Shehitah by women is kosher, so are they trusted regarding Nikkur of the meat and the forbidden fat. And later on he writes: “Women are fit to slaughter before the fact, and so wrote also the R”am [=Rambam] ‘and if the women are experts, they slaughter before the fact’. And the women in the lands of Eldad Hadani, their hearts were too weak and liable to faint, but the women in our lands are hearty”. In other words, he too was familiar with the strict approach of Eldad Hadani which we shall see below, but instead of rejecting it entirely, he explains that there is a difference between women in different places.

The Sixteenth Century 

  1. Azriel Dienna (Sabioneta, d. 1536), Responsa, No. 137 apparently was lenient (see a summary by Adelman, 1991, pp. 33-34; I have yet to see this reponsum).
  2. Yosef Karo (Safed, d. 1575), in the Bet Yosef to Tur YD 1; and so he wrote in Shulhan Arukh YD 1:1: “Everyone may slaughter before the fact, even women”.

II) Testimony and documents regarding women who served as Shohatot, in chronological order

In addition to all the laws from the Mishnah and halakhic authorities which we have seen above, there are many testimonies and documents about women who did indeed serve as Shohatot in practice.

France

The 12th century – “Even though everything which is in their hands [to do] we trust women and slaves, even regarding Biblical commandments, for there are cases every day where we trust a woman and a slave about Shehitah and Nikkur… (Tosafot to Pesahim 4b, s.v. heimnuhu). And there is a similar sentence in Tosafot to Eruvin 59a, s.v. u’tehumin: “And even though there are cases every day that we trust women regarding Shehitah, Nikkur and taking Hallah…”.

Spain

Before 1380 – “But in other matters they [=women] are trusted even regarding Biblical prohibitions, and there are cases every day that we rely on them regarding salting meat, and Nikkur of the meat even though it requires a lot of effort, because they know the places of the forbidden fat and the sinews” (the Ran on the Rif to Hullin, fol. 1a, s.v. v’khulan).   

Marrano or Converso women in Spain also used to slaughter animals and did their best to follow Halakhah, including checking the knife, covering the blood, and even Nikkur (see Prof. Levine-Melammed, pp. 84-86).

Italy

1435 – In an illuminated manuscript of the Tur written in Mantua in 1435 (Ms. Vatican, Codex Rossiana 555, fol. 127b; see the illustration here) there is a detailed illumination of Shehitah on top of paragraph 1, just a few lines above the sentence “Everyone may slaughter before the fact, women and freed slaves and every person”. The Shohet on the left in the forefront is slaughtering a large animal; the Shohet on the right is inspecting the lungs of an animal for blemishes; and in the middle two men are slaughtering fowl. On the left in the back stands a woman in the doorway gazing intently at everything being done. According to the structure of the room and the picture, she does not look like a customer who has come to buy meat. The Metzgers and Shalom Sabar suggested that in light of the fact that there were many Shohatot in Mantua (see below), it is probable that the woman in the picture is somehow connected to the process of Shehitah. (1) I would only add that in light of her gazing intently at what is going on, it could be that she was standing there in order to learn the laws and practice of Shehitah.

1439 – Ariel Toaff quotes the regulations concerning Shehitah issued by the Italian rulers of Perugia in 1439, which begin as follows: “No Jew or Jewess living in the city of Perugia may in any way slaughter any beast… except in the said slaughterhouses of the Jews”. The simple meaning of this passage is that Jewish women also engaged in Shehitah.

1556 – Two Reshuyot [permissions] of Rabbi Yitzhak ben Immanuel de Lattes, one for a young woman and one for a married woman. In the first it says: “And allow every Jew to eat from her Shehitah” on condition that she slaughter two-three times before an expert to see if she faints, and that she review over the course of an entire year the booklet of laws which she had learned with him (see his Responsa, ed. Friedlander, Vienna, 1860, No. 139, pp. 139-140; a facsimile is found in Ashkenazi, Dor Dor Uminhagav, pp. 255-256).

1576 – “I saw a Reshut [permission] on parchment from 5336 (1576) from the Rabbi of Mantua Rabbi Avraham Shimshon Basila to a certain young woman” (testimony from the Hid”a, R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulay, d. 1806, Shiyurei Berakhah to YD 1:1).

1581 – A Kabbalah or permission to perform Shehitah for Mrs. Malkah the wife of the Rabbi Hananiah Elyakim Rieti, Mantua, 1581. The examining rabbi was R. Shlomo b. Shimshon Basilea, and he wrote to her: “I hereby permit her to slaughter beina l’vein atzma, by herself (see above in paragraph I), and her Shehitah will be permissible to the entire Jewish people”. (It was published by Mortara in 1886 and from there quoted by Roth and Simonsohn. After that, the Kabbalah somehow ended up at the JTS library in New York where Haberman saw it; the quotation is from the latter.)

1614 – A Harsha’ah [permission] for Shehitah for the maiden Isota daughter of R. Elhanan Yael of Fano from the Mantua municipal Shohet Elya ben Yehosef of Forli and she even slaughtered fowl in his presence many times. She therefore received “absolute permission to slaughter beina l’vein atzma, by herself, like the other bekiot [proficient ones, in the plural feminine form!] among our people, and whoever is called a Jew may eat from her Shehitah” (quoted briefly by Marx; Assaf; Ashkenazi; Tzurieli, p. 172; the entire document was published by Duschinsky, p. 105)

1624 – After her marriage, Isota received a Harsha’ah for Nikkur “to porge hindquarters and loins… that she is bekiah [proficient] in the skill of the Nikkur of meat in all its details… and I hereby allow her completely to do Nikkur bifnei atzma, by herself as she sees fit, both loins and thighs and kidneys…” from Refael Vigura the Menaker [Porger] of the Kehillah of Mantua with the agreement of the Bet Din of Mantua (ibid.). It should be stressed that only the most proficient Shohatim were allowed to do Nikkur.

Before 1679 – “The Rabbi Peri Hadash testified that he saw women slaughtering”. Peri Hadash to Yoreh Deah was written by R. Hizkiyah de Silva, who made Aliyah from Livorno to Jerusalem in 1679. I assume that he saw women slaughtering in Livorno. (quoted by the Hid”a, Birkei Yosef to YD 1:4).

1684 – A Harsha’ah of R. David Cittoni to Bella Donna Galicci in the city of Sienna (Document A, Tzurieli, p. 173).

Before 1697 – “And so he wrote in Sefer Gur Aryeh (by Rabbi David Gur Aryeh Halevi who lived in Mantua, Glosses to YD 1:2, Mantua, 1721-1723) in his Glosses as follows: ‘And in these regions I saw women slaughtering with permission and no one protests…’ ” (quoted by the Hid”a, ibid.; Sperber, Part 4, pp. 10-11; and Pahad Yitzhak, Part 8, fol. 142b).

Before 1749 – Testimony of R. Yitzhak Lampronti who lived in Ferrara: “And I saw some women who obtained permission to slaughter from elderly Sages and slaughtered before the fact, and one of them is still alive… and she is Mrs. Susana the second wife of the Haver R. Yehudah Cohen Firano the Scribe of the Ferrara Yeshivah. And now she does not slaughter because she has reached the age of 60 or even 70” (Pahad Yitzhak, ibid.).

1870 – A Reshut from Yonatan Camirini to Elvira Finzi in the city of Cento “to slaughter every pure type of fowl, both for her and for the members of her household”. He apparently adopted the limitation of “l’atzman” [for her own use] that we have seen above (Document 2, Tzurieli, p. 173).

1909 – A Reshut from R. Guido Sonino in Italian to Mrs. Gina Fano in the city of Sorenia “for slaughtering fowl… for the use of her and her family” (Document 3, Tzurieli, p. 174).

1931 – Testimony from Prof. Dessau of Perugia about very religious women who received a Reshut to slaughter fowl for their own private use (Duschinsy, p. 102).

1933 – A Reshut from R. Gustavo Castel Bolognesi in Italian to Mrs. Amelia Morpurgo (d. 1963) in Padua for slaughtering fowl (Document 4, Tzurieli, p. 174; there is a photograph of the document in Asulin’s article).

1938 – Testimony by Dr. Kalman Freidman, formerly the Rabbi of Florence, who knew two women who were taught to slaughter fowl for their households (Berman quoted by Tzurieli, p. 175).

After 1930 – Testimony about two teachers who served as Shohatot; one from Florence received permission from Rabbi Prof. Artom and the second from Ferrara received permission from Rabbi Margaliot (Tzurieli, p. 175).

Ca. 1930 – Permission from Rabbi Prof. Artom to Mrs. Sinigalia; she died in Israel and the document is in the possession of her son Jacob in Ramat Gan (Tzurieli, ibid.).

1983 – Testimony from Prof. Alexander Rofe in Jerusalem about an elderly woman in Jerusalem who served as a Shohetet in Italy (Gruber).

1984 – Testimony from Prof. Reuven Bonfil that there are still women Shohatot in Italy today (Bonfil, 1984, p. 73).

Other countries in the 20th century

Before 1939 – Testimony from Mikhael Ben-Yitzhak of Sedei Eliyahu about his aunt Emma Liefer from the village of Rosebek in Germany who received permission to slaughter in her town where twenty Jewish families lived (Tzurieli, p. 175).

Before 1943 – Testimony from R. Yosef Kapah about a woman “who knew the laws of Shehitah and checking the knife thoroughly and used to slaughter fowl” in the city of Sana’a in Yemen (based on Rabbi Kapah’s two testimonies).

Before 1949 – Testimony from R. Shalom Gamliel about the wife of R. Yahya Ghiyyat in Yemen who used to slaughter fowl when her husband was busy studying with his students (Tzurieli, p. 175).

III) Women may slaughter with certain limitations

In the period of the Aharonim, after the Shulhan Arukh, there were rabbis who tried to limit Shehitah by women:

  1. Ya’akov Emden (d. 1776), Responsa Ya’avetz, Part II, No. 157, permitted Shehitah by women with many conditions: to slaughter only chickens or other fowl for her own exclusive use; if a man checked the knife and handed it to her and stood over her, she may slaughter also for the use of others, but one may not appoint her to slaughter for the public at all. As we have seen, all of these conditions are missing from the Mishnah, Talmud and all of the many Rishonim cited above.
  2. Charles Duschinsky in his article/responsum from 1936 (p. 104) permits women to slaughter fowl only, provided that she and her family are living in a remote area where there is no Shohet. He relied on the Tosafot and on the custom in Italy.

IV) It is forbidden for women to perform Shehitah

  1. “Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael”

A brief sentence from Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael was quoted by many of the above-mentioned Rishonim. Most of them quote:

“for women may not slaughter because da’atan kallah/kallot [their understanding is poor]”.

(Tosafot to Hullin; Tosafot to Zevahim; Or Zarua; Rosh; Rabbeinu Yeruham; Ran).

But the Semag quotes:

“for women may not slaughter lest they faint because da’atan kallot [their understanding is poor]

and Orhot Hayyim quotes:

“for women do not slaughter, a rabbinic decree lest they faint”.

In any case, all the Rishonim who quoted this sentence rejected it outright (see the citations above in paragraph I), because it is opposed to the clear halakhah found in the Mishnah and Talmud that women may slaughter before the fact.

  1. Eldad Hadani

Eldad Hadani arrived in Babylon, Kairouan (Tunisia) and Spain beginning in the year 880, claiming that he was from the Ten Lost Tribes. His book, which was widely circulated, includes the Laws of Shehitah, which differ both in style and rulings from normative halakhah as found in the Talmud and Geonic literature. The passage we shall cite below appears in his work (Epstein, p. 134, paragraph 30), but I have copied his words from the Mordechai (to Hullin, beginning of Chapter One, fol. 1a) since that version is clearer:

Rabbeinu Barukh wrote: I saw written in the laws of Shehitah which were brought by Rabi Eldad ben Mahli who came from the Ten Tribes: Said Joshua from the mouth of Moses from the mouth of the Almighty… And if he slaughters without a blessing — it is pigul [an abomination], and if he slaughters when naked – pigul; and if drunk – pigul; and if he slaughtered and did not have a turban – pigul; and if he was not cleansed of a nocturnal emission and forgot and slaughtered – pigul. A mourner may not slaughter during his days of mourning, [and Shehitah is forbidden] by the hands of a woman, a eunuch, an old man after the age of 80, and a young man until he turns 18.

In this passage, there are quite a few laws which contradict normative halakhah in the Talmud, including the law about Shehitah by women, and therefore the Mordechai concludes:

And all these things are stringencies without any basis and we do not act according to him.

Tosafot to Zevahim loc. cit. also reject these laws as “stringencies without any basis” and Sefer Ha’agudah loc. cit. writes: “And Rabbeinu Eldad wrote tremendous stringencies about women or the naked or one who had a nocturnal emission or did not have a turban on [his head] – and they did not act according to him”. Rabbeinu Shabetai of Italy loc. cit. rejected the words of Eldad Hadani (which are mistakenly attributed to Shmuel ben Hofni Hacohen!) with the help of Mishnah Zevahim. Eshtori Hafarhi loc. cit. also understood that the ruling of Eldad contradicts Talmudic law and he explained as above that the women in Eldad’s land are weaker and liable to faint, while in our land they are hearty and will not faint!

We have seen above that Rav Sa’adia Gaon polemicized against Anan ben David the founder of the Karaites, who was opposed to Shehitah by women. I want to suggest that Eldad was influenced regarding our topic by the Karaites, since his ruling is completely opposed to Talmudic law. Indeed, this is what Shir Rapoport claimed regarding another stringency by Eldad regarding Shehitah (see Epstein, p. 139, note 33). (2)

     3. Due to Custom

Ya’akov Barukh Landau (Ashkenaz and Italy, 1480) ruled in Sefer Ha’agur (beginning of Laws of Shehitah, paragraph 1062, ed. Hirshler, Jerusalem, 1960, p. 171):

It is a simple matter that a woman is fit to slaughter even before the fact… even though the Tosafot wrote explicitly “that women slaughter even before the fact”, the custom in the entire Exile of Israel is that they should not slaughter, and I have never seen a custom [for women] to slaughter. And therefore one should not allow them to slaughter. “For the custom cancels the halakhah”, “and the custom of our forefathers is Torah”.

The Rema (R. Moshe Isserles, Cracow, d. 1572) ruled in his Glosses to Shulhan Arukh YD 1:1 in the footsteps of the Agur: “Some say that one should not allow women to slaughter, since they have already had the custom not to slaughter, and so is it the custom that women do not slaughter”.

This custom was then absorbed by most Jewish ethnic groups. And so wrote R. Ya’akov Hayyim Sofer (Jerusalem, d. 1939) in Kaf Hahayyim to YD 1:12: “And the custom here in the holy city of Jerusalem is that women do not slaughter, and so is the custom in all the cities of Eretz Yisrael, Syria, Iraq, India, Mede (sic!) and Persia”.

  1. The Aharonim

Following in the footsteps of the Agur and the Rema, the Aharonim (after 1575) invented all sorts of reasons why it is forbidden for women to slaughter, such as: da’atan kallot [their understanding is poor] which they borrowed from Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael quoted above; “and the reason seems to me because most of them have soft hearts and faint from seeing blood”; “they are lazy” based on a passage in Yerushalmi Pesahim which deals with the search for hametz, and more.(3) All of these reasons are not convincing. They were not stated in the Mishnah or Talmud, which are the primary sources of Jewish law, nor by all the Rishonim quoted above, but rather were invented by the Aharonim in order to justify and fortify the strict custom which contradicts the simple law allowing women to slaughter.

V) Why did the late custom forbid women to slaughter?

As Prof. Sperber noted, there are different opinions among scholars as to why they were lenient in Italy vis-à-vis our topic. Cecil Roth and Moshe Shulvass maintained that the Italians were exhibiting a feminist tendency. Duschinsky, on the other hand, explained that the families in Italy moved in the summers to the cooler mountains. Since the men stayed in the city to work, there was a need to give the women permission to slaughter. Finally, Bonfil claims that the Italian custom stems from the demographic dispersion of Italian Jews. Since there were a handful of Jews in many places, there were not enough Jews to maintain a local Shohet and therefore women and even children learned the laws of Shehitah and received permission to slaughter. With all due respect to these eminent scholars, in my opinion, the real question is the opposite. The rabbis of Italy and the other rabbis who ruled leniently regarding our issue did not do anything new. They simply acted according to the Mishnah, the Talmud and all the halakhic authorities. This does not require an explanation. What requires an explanation is this: Why did the late Ashkenazic authorities beginning ca. 1480 forbid something which is entirely permissible? There are two answers to this question: a) some of them were influenced by Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael and by Eldad Hadani; b) there is a general trend among the halakhic authorities of Ashkenaz to prevent women from doing things which are entirely permissible. Indeed, this is what happened regarding women wearing tefillin which was entirely permissible until the Maharam of Rothenburg forbade it at the end of the 13th century (see my book The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, Jerusalem, 2012, Chapter 1). A similar thing happened regarding the recitation of the Kiddush on Shabbat by women, who have the exact same Biblical obligation to recite Kiddush as men (Berakhot 20b) until the Maharshal (Poland, d. 1573) came along and decided that that women may only recite Kiddush for other women (in his Glosses to Tur OH 689).

VI) Summary and Practical Halakhah

In conclusion, women may serve as Shohatot according to the Mishnah, the Talmud and all the Geonim and Rishonim until ca. 1480. Furthermore, there are many testimonies and written documents which prove that this was done in practice from the 12th to the 20th century especially in Italy, but also in France, Spain, Yemen and Germany. There is no Talmudic or halakhic basis for the custom to prohibit and the custom cannot uproot a simple halakhah. (4)

David Golinkin
Jerusalem
19 Kislev 5778


Notes

  1. Joseph Gutmann, Hebrew Manuscript Painting, New York 1978, Plate 33; Therese and Mendel Metzger, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, New York, 1982, plate 252 and p. 181; Shalom Sabar, “Bride, Heroine and Courtesan” etc., Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Division D, Volume II, Jerusalem, 1990, p. 67
  2. Beginning with Tosafot in Zevahim loc. cit., many mistakenly assumed that the above-mentioned quote from Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael is taken from Eldad Hadani’s book; this was also the opinion of important modern scholars such as Graetz and Reifman (see the summary by Duschinsky, pp. 98-99) as well as some scholars today (see Sperber, Vol. 6, p. 263). However, since the quote from Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael does not appear in Eldad Hadani’s book or in the quotation in the Mordechai, and since the quote from Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael is written in regular rabbinic style versus the strange Hebrew of Eldad Hadani, it is clear that these are two different works. Indeed, the Or Zarua loc. cit. quotes a small passage from Eldad Hadani and continues: “And so it is found written in Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael that women may not slaughter because da’atan kallah [their understanding is poor]”. In other words, he viewed these two books as two different I surmise that Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael here was a similar or identical work to Treifot D’eretz Yisrael parts of which were published by Y.N. Epstein, Tarbitz 2 (5691), pp. 308-318 = idem, Mehkarim B’sifrut Hatalmud Ubilshonot Shemiyot, Part II, Jerusalem, 1988, pp. 336-346; S. Sasson, Halakhot Pesukot, Jerusalem, 1951, pp. 27-28 and קצ”ג-ר”ח; and Mordechai Margaliot, Talpiyot 8/3-4 (Nissan 5723), pp. 307-330 = Hilkhot Eretz Yisrael Min Hagenizah, Jerusalem, 1974, pp. 95-117.
  3. See Maharshal (d. 1573), Yam Shel Shelomo to Hullin 1:1; R. Mordechai Yaffe (d. 1612), Levush to YD 1:1; R. Yehoshua Falk (d. 1614), Derishah to Tur YD 1, s.v. hakol shohatin; R. Yoel Sirkes (d. 1640), Ba”h to Tur YD 1; R. Shmuel Aboab (Venice, d. 1694), Devar Shemuel, No. 353, quoted by Adelman, 1991, p. 33 (he apparently was opposed); R. Alexander Sender Schor (d. 1737), Simlah Hadashah/Tevuot Shor, p. 38, paragraph 1:13 (quoted in part by R. Yitzhak Yosef; Tzurieli, 170; and Kaf Hahayyim to YD 1: 11, 13); R. Yosef Teomim (d. 1792), Peri Magadim/Mishbetzot Zahav to YD 1:1; R. Tzvi Hirsch Shapira (Munkatch, d. 1913), summarized by Duschinsky, p. 101; R. Shelomo b”r Yahya Amram Korah (b. 1936), Arikhat Hashulhan, YD, p. 1, paragraph 2 (quoted by Tzurieli, p. 170); and R. Yizhak Yosef (b. 1952).

Pahad Yitzhak copies an extensive polemic between R. Avraham Yahya of Modena and R. Shabbetai Elhanan dal Vecchio from 1728. R. Shabetai ruled that women may slaughter only for themselves, while R. Yahya ruled that they may slaughter for others as well (Pahad Yitzhak, Part 8, fols. 143a-150a, summarized by Duschinsky, p. 103).

For a summary of the reasons of the Aharonim to prohibit, see Duschinsky, p. 101; E”T, notes 414-421; and Sperber, Part 4, middle of note 3 who refers to Orah Mishor of R. Yohanan of Mezeritsh.

  1. According to Rabbi Wolfe Kelman writing in 1986, Rabbi Prof. Saul Lieberman told him and Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal ca. 1953 that “he saw no reason why, consistent with Jewish law, women could not be trained to become… ritual slaughterers” (see Lieberman).

Bibliography

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Assulin — אסולין, הדסה, “מוסמכת לשחוט”, סגולה: מגזין ישראלי להיסטוריה, מרץ 2012, עמ’ 75-74 = הספרנים: בלוג הספריה הלאומית, 2/10/17

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Duschinsky — C. Duschinsky, “May a Woman act as Shoheteth?”, Occident and Orient… Gaster Anniversary Volume, London, 1936, pp. 96-106

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E”T — אנציקלופדיה תלמודית, חלק ב’, ערך “אשה”, עמ’ רנ”ב

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5 thoughts on “Is it Permissible for Women to Serve as Shohatot (Ritual Slaughterers)? Responsa in a Moment Vol. 12, No. 1, December 2017

  1. David, have you ever visited a משחטה? I have.. Frankly I don’t know why anybody would want to be a שוחט. My grandfather trained as one in Europe before he went to America and worked as one for a very short time- he hated the sight of blood!!!-. He went on to more profitable and bloodless endeavors

  2. An outstanding review of the sources. However, from these sources it seems that da’atan kallah does not mean “their understanding is poor” but rather, they are “weak-stomached” as we might colloquially say, as we find in several of the sources above: “liable to faint”. And that fits with many other contexts in which da’atan kallah is used. The difference seems to me to be important.

    • David,

      You might have a point. The expression daatan kalot appears in many places in rabbinic and halakhic literature. It can mean different things in different places. I did not have time to check all of those sources. It bears further study.
      David Golinkin

  3. My maternal grandfather, Reb Yosef Sha’ul Kamelhar (ca. 1880-1946), was a shochet. When he came to America in 1927, he took a job in a Brooklyn slaughterhouse. After one week, he declared to his family, “Mein kinder, if you want to keep kusher in America, eat only ofos [fowl], not gasos [large cattle]. He did not explain why. I assume he disapproved of the “assembly-line” procedures he witnessed here. And I am now a vegetarian.

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