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Friday, 5 Adar II 5774 – March 7, 2014
The Gemara in Masekhet Berakhot (31b) infers from the Torah’s description of the procedure for offering sacrifices that the first stage – the slaughtering of the animal – may be done even by a non-kohen. The Torah writes in the beginning of Parashat Vayikra (1:5), “He shall slaughter the cattle before the Lord, and the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood around the altar…” The kohanim’s role begins only after the slaughtering, implying that the slaughtering may be done by anybody, and does not have to be performed by a kohen. It appears from the Gemara’s discussion (here and elsewhere, as will be mentioned later) that this halakha applies even le-khatechila; meaning, a non-kohen may be invited to perform the shechita from the outset. Not only is shechita by a non-kohen acceptable after the fact, but a non-kohen may be chosen already from the outset for this job.
The question arises as to how to reconcile the Gemara’s ruling with
the Mishna’s account in Masekhet Yoma (25a) of the “payis” (drawing) held
each morning to determine which kohanim would perform the
various daily rituals. One of
the rituals for which the “on-duty” kohanim vied was
shechita, the slaughtering
of the daily tamid offering, which was assigned based on a
drawing. It clearly emerges
from the Mishna’s account that this privilege was granted specifically to
one of the kohanim serving that day in the
One surprising answer is suggested by the Meiri, in his commentary to Yoma, who claims there is a special halakha requiring that the tamid sacrifice be slaughtered by a kohen (le-khatechila). Although in general even non-kohanim may perform the act of shechita, the tamid marks an exception to this rule, and should be slaughtered specifically by a kohen. The Minchat Avraham commentary to Masekhet Zevachim (beginning of chapter 3) claimed that the Meiri refers to all korbenot tzibur – sacrifices offered by Am Yisrael collectively, as opposed to private offerings. Although the straightforward implication of the Meiri’s comments is that he speaks specifically of the tamid, the Minchat Avraham contends that the distinction made is between public and private sacrifices. The Minchat Avraham draws upon this distinction to explain the answer given by the Ritva, in his commentary, to this question. The Ritva claimed that, contrary to the simple reading of the Gemara in Masekhet Berakhot, shechita should preferably be done by a kohen, and it is only be-di’avad – after the fact – that a non-kohen’s slaughtering is valid. This claim seems to be contradicted by an explicit comment by the Gemara, in Masekhet Zevachim (32a), allowing a non-kohen to slaughter a sacrifice even le-khatechila. Apparently, the Minchat Avraham writes, the Ritva understood the Gemara as referring specifically to private sacrifices, as opposed to public sacrifices which should be slaughtered specifically by a kohen.
Many others, however, explain that although a non-kohen is technically allowed to perform the shechita, it was customary for this to be done only by kohanim, as indicated by numerous other sources. One possible reason for this practice was suggested by Rav Yerucham Perlow, in his commentary to Rav Saadia Gaon’s listing of the mitzvot (vol. 1, p. 360). Rav Perlow postulates that although a non-kohen’s slaughtering is perfectly valid, the formal mitzva of slaughtering sacrifices is cast upon the kohanim. Hence, a non-kohen who slaughters a sacrifice is not credited with a mitzva, whereas a kohen who slaughters a sacrifice is. This might be one reason why it was customary to reserve the shechita for the kohanim, who were given the opportunity to perform a mitzva by slaughtering, a privilege which the Torah did not grant to non-kohanim.
Rav David Silverberg
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