Ritual slaughter

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Ritual slaughter is the practice of slaughtering livestock for meat in the context of a ritual. Ritual slaughter involves a prescribed method of slaughtering an animal for food production purposes. This differs from animal sacrifices that involve slaughtering animals, often in the context of rituals, for purposes other than mere food production.


Walter Burkert in Homo Necans discusses animal sacrifice as arising from the anthropological transition to hunting. With the domestication of livestock, the hunt was gradually replaced by the slaughter of livestock, and hunting rituals were consequently transformed to the context of slaughter.

In antiquity, ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice was one and the same. Thus, as argued by Detienne et al. (1989), for the Greeks, consumption of meat not slaughtered ritually was unthinkable, so that beyond being a tribute to the gods, Greek animal sacrifice marked a cultural boundary, separating "Hellenes" from "barbarians". Greek animal sacrifice was christianized into slaughter ceremonies involving Greek Orthodox Christian ritual, known as kourbania.

Ancient Egyptian slaughter rituals are frequently depicted in tombs and temples from the Old Kingdom onward. The standard iconography of the ritual involves a bull lying fettered on the ground with the butcher standing over it cutting its foreleg. The scene is attended by a woman and two priests.[1]

Jewish and Islamic ritual slaughter

Jewish and Islamic dietary laws require similar procedures for slaughtering animals. Ritual slaughter with a sharp knife is classified in the U.S. as humane under the Humane Slaughter Act and practiced with no restrictions; in Europe, some countries have outlawed the practice as inhumane (see below).

Jewish Shechita

Shechita (Hebrew: שחיטה) is the Jewish ritual slaughter for poultry and cattle for food according to Halakha.[2] Talmud – Tractate Hulin Shulkhan Arukh Yore De'ah. The method of slaughter of animals for food is the same as was used for Temple sacrifices, but since the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, sacrifices are prohibited. The Jewish Bible explains that animals not sacrificed must be slaughtered by the same method, and today Shechita, kosher slaughtering does not include any religious ceremony, although the slaughtering method may not be deviated from, if the meat is to be consumed by Jews.

The act is performed by drawing a very sharp knife across the animal's throat making a single incision incising the trachea and esophagus.[3] The carotid arteries are also cut, allowing the blood to drain out. The knife must also be perfectly smooth, and free of any nicks.

The animal must be killed by a shochet - religious slaughterer also known in Hebrew as shochet ubodek (slaughterer and inspector). An inspection is mandatory and the animal is rejected for Jewish consumption if certain imperfections are discovered. A shochet must be a Jew in good standing in the community. The training period for a shochet varies, depending on the skill of the trainee. Qualifying as a slaughterer of only chickens can be achieved with a shorter period of study.

Islamic Ḏabīḥah

Ḏabīḥah (ذَبِيْحَة) is the method prescribed in Islam for slaughtering all halal animals (goats, sheep, cattle, chickens), only excluding fish and most sea-life, according to Islamic law. This means that unlawful animals (pig, dog, kangaroo) may not be slaughtered (dabihah). This method of slaughtering halal animals needs several conditions to be fulfilled: (1) the butcher must be Muslim; (2) the name of "ALLAH" should be called while slaughtering each halal animal separately; (3) the killing should consist of complete drainage of blood from whole body by a swift, deep incision with a very sharp knife on the throat, cutting the wind pipe, jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact.[4] The objective of this technique is to drain the body of the animal's blood more effectively, resulting in more hygienic meat.[5]

European bans on ritual slaughter

Bans on ritual slaughter have been proposed or enacted in a number of European countries, from the 1840s onward. Most of them have been removed. Although ostensibly introduced for reasons of animal welfare, the consistent involvement of antisemites in the campaigns from the outset in the 1840s has, among other things lead Pascal Krauthammer in a doctoral dissertation to conclude that the aim of the Swiss anti-Semitic campaign, that included elements from blood libel accusations in neighbouring countries, was to reimpose restrictions on Jews at a time when they were just beginning to achieve enfranchisement.[6]

In 2014 Denmark ruled that Islamic and Jewish slaughter practices are inhumane, requiring that all animals be stunned before being killed for food,[7] sparking a debate on religious freedom and the relative harms of different methods.

Ethnic and regional traditions


Bullfighting and Running of the Bulls is still widely practiced in Spain, Portugal and many Spanish influenced areas of the Northern Mediterranean and Latin America. It is a modern adaptation of ancient ritual slaughter supposedly imported by Roman soldiers who worshiped Mithras.[citation needed]


Bali (pronounced Bal-ee) or Bali Sacrifice[8] (sometimes known as Jhatka Bali) is the ritual killing of an animal in Hinduism. Jhatka is the proscribed method for Hindu ritual sacrifice, however other methods such as strangulation and the use of a wooden spile (sphya) driven into the heart is used.[9] The reason for this is that priests saw the animal making a noise as a bad omen. Jhatka requires the instant killing of the animal in a single decapitating blow with an axe or sword. Those Hindus who do eat meat prescribe jhatka.

Jhatka goat sacrifice in Sikhism

Ritual jhatka sacrifice of goats is also practiced by some sections of Sikhs such as Hazuri Sikhs and Nihangs on certain events of religious significance.[10][11][12][13]

It is to be noted that certain sections of Sikh society are opposed to this ritual and there exists a debate about its religious roots within Sikh society.[14][15]


Ritual slaughter is practiced in various African traditional religions. Zulu slaughter rituals have led to controversy in South Africa.

Monica Hunter in her 1936 study of the Mpondo people of the Transkei described the ritual:

"When speaking to the ancestors was finished Sipopone [one of Hunter's informants] took the sacrificial spear of the umzi [homestead], passed it between the forelegs of the animal, and between its back legs, which were tied, then stabbed it in the stomach over the aorta muscle. The beast bellowed horribly, and lay in agony for about five minutes before it died."

The bellowing of the animal is supposed to represent communication with the ancestors. (David Welsh 2007 [1])

See also


  1. Eberhard Otto, An Ancient Egyptian Hunting Ritual, Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1950).
  2. Deut. 12:21; Deut. 14:21; Num. 11:22
  3. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/222240/jewish/What-is-Shechita.htm
  4. [Mufti Taqi Usmani, "The Islamic Laws of Animal Slaughter", White Thread Press, CA, USA]
  5. Halal/Haram/Zabiha, ISNA Halal Certification Agency.
  6. Pascal Krauthammer. "Das Schächtverbot in der Schweiz 1854 - 2000. Die Schächtfrage zwischen Teirschutz, Politik und Fremdenfeindlichkeit Zurich: Schulthess" (The Prohibition of Ritual Slaughter in Switzerland 1854-2000. The Ritual Slaughter Question from the Aspects of Animal Protection, Politics and Xenophobia) (Includes a Summary in English)
  7. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/04/09/291887381/banning-traditional-animal-slaughter-denmark-stokes-religous-ire
  8. O.P. Radhan (Sep 2002). Encyclopaedia of Political Parties. 33–50. Anmol, India. p. 854. ISBN 81-7488-865-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Nripendr Kumar Dutt (4 Nov 2008). Origin and Growth of Caste in India (C. B.C. 2000-300). p. 195. ISBN 1-4437-3590-6. Retrieved 26 July 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "A Nihang carries out 'Chatka' on a 'Chatanga' (a specially selected goat for sacrifice)", The Multifarious Faces of Sikhism throughout Sikh History, www.sarbloh.info
  11. "The most special occasion of the Chhauni is the festival of Diwali which is celebrated for ten days. This is the only Sikh shrine at Amritsar where Maha Prasad (meat) is served on special occasions in Langar", The Sikh review, Volume 35, Issue 409 – Volume 36, Issue 420, Sikh Cultural Centre., 1988
  12. "The tradition traces back to the time of Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji who started the tradition of hunting for Sikhs ... The tradition of ritually sacrificing goats and consuming Mahaparshad remains alive not only with the Nihang Singh Dals, but also at Sachkhand Sri Hazoor Sahib and Sachkhand Sri Patna Sahib (two of the Sikhs holiest shrines)." Panth Akali Budha Dal
  13. "Another noteworthy practice performed here is that a goat is sacrificed on Dussehra night every year. This ceremony was performed on Diwali day this year (Oct 28, 2008). The fresh blood of the sacrificed goat is used for tilak on the Guru’s weapons.", SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS OF THE SIKH COMMUNITY, Dr Madanjit Kaur, Institute of Sikh Studies Institute of Sikh Studies, Madan Kaur
  14. Sacrifice at Hazur Sahib – Myth & Truth, Nanak Singh Nishter, World Sikh News, 21 January 2009
  15. "Sacrifice of a goat within precints of Gurudwara on a number of occasions, apply its blood to arms/armaments kept inside the shrine, distribute its meat as Prasad among devotees at their home." The Sikh Bulletin, July–August 2009, Volume 11, Number 7 & 8, pp. 26, Khalsa Tricentenneal Foundation of N.A. Inc


  • "Regulating Slaughter: Animal Protection and Antisemitism in Scandinavia, 1880-1941," Patterns of Prejudice 23 (1989)
  • M. Detienne, J.-P. Vernant (eds.), The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks, trans. Wissing, University of Chicago Press (1989).
  • Roy A. Rappaport, Pigs for the Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of a New Guinea People (1969, 2000), ISBN 978-1-57766-101-6.

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