What is the Law if a Slaughtered Animal Wasn’t Inspected After Shechita?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

We discussed this question on Thursday’s daf (9a) this week. 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 shechita. What if, the Gemara wonders, they weren’t inspected?

The Gemara presents two opinions on this: R’ Elazar son of R’ Yannai and the Braissa. Both opinions agree that since we cannot be certain that a proper shechita was performed, the meat is not kosher. They disagree, though, as to whether or not the carcass is considered a source of tuma, which is normally the law of an animal that was not killed through shechita. R’ Elazar rules that it isn’t a source of tuma whereas the Braissa 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 shechita. 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 shechita we fall back on the status quo, or the chazaka, and thus rule it prohibited.

Clearly on the basis of R’ Huna’s teaching, the animal in our case (where because the shechita wasn’t inspected, we can’t be sure that the shechita was valid) is deemed prohibited. The Braissa simply takes this teaching to what appears to be its inescapable conclusion: That this animal is thus a neveila, an animal that died without a proper shechita, and therefore it generates tuma. 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 shechita, how is it possible to regard this animal as anything other than a neveila which the Torah says generates tuma?

I think the answer can be found by inquiring what it really means to rely on a chazaka. At first glance, the concept of chazaka 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, chazaka does not. Instead, chazaka 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) chazaka 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 chazaka 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 “Thous shalt not eat a live animal,” which does not carry with it a tuma status. So while the meat going forward remains not kosher for consumption, it does not generate ritual impurity.

The Braissa, on the other hand, argues that we shouldn’t get too carried away with the notion that chazaka 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 tuma of an animal that didn’t receive a proper shechita. Thus, the Braissa rules that this animal is a source of tuma as well.