What is Ritual Slaughter?

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Halal logoDon’t be influenced by how it sounds — there are no people dancing and chanting around the animal, nor is the animal considered some sort of sacrifice. Ritual slaughter simply means killing an animal in a manner that allows it to be eaten in the way required by a specific religion.

Kosher and Glatt Kosher are terms for foods allowable under the dietary laws of Judiasm. Halal is the term applied to foods allowable under the dietary laws of the Muslim faith. These dietary laws cover all foods, not just meat. 

But what about meat?

Kosher meat harks back to the Jewish Bible (the Torah), specifically, Deuteronomy (14:3-10), which states:

These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope and the mountain sheep. You may eat any animal that has a split hoof divided in two and that chews the cud. However, of those that chew the cud or that have a split hoof completely divided you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the coney. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a split hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you. The pig is also unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses. Of all the creatures living in the water, you may eat any that has fins and scales.

But simply eating one of the allowable animals doesn’t make meat Kosher. The animal must be slaughtered in a specific way known as Shechitah, performed by a person called a Shochet. A Shochet must also be a pious man trained in Jewish law, particularly relating to Kashrut (dietary laws). The Shochet kills the animal with one quick, deep stroke across the throat. He uses a razor-sharp blade, which cannot have nicks or unevenness. The method is painless and causes rapid unconsciousness.

Glatt Kosher: There’s an assumption that Glatt means a higher standard of kosher, but this is inaccurate (although generally accepted). The Yiddish word glatt means “smooth”, and refers to the condition of the animal’s lungs when inspected after slaughter. If the lungs contain adhesions or other defects, the meat will not receive the certification of glatt kosher. As simple as that. Glatt kosher cannot be applied to chicken, dairy products or fish. If you see cheese labeled glatt, it’s not!

Halal means “permissible” in Arabic. In butchery terms, it is applied to meat slaughtered according to Islamic dietary law. Like Kosher, Halal slaughter is done by cutting the animal’s throat. However, Halal requires praying to Allah at the time of slaughter.

Muslims are taught by the Qur'an (Koran) and the teachings of the prophet Mohammed that animals should be treated with respect and well cared for.  Muslim law regarding how animals are killed is known as Dhabihah, and is quite specific. 

The animal must be treated gently and should be offered water at the time of slaughter. Out of mercy towards the animal, the knife must be extremely sharp, not serrated, and should be kept hidden until the last moment. Slaughter must be done by an adult Muslim, Jew or Christian (termed “People of the Book” in Arab culture).

It is also preferable that head of the animal should be positioned to face Mecca; the animal is then killed in a respectful way that limits suffering or pain. When an animal is slaughtered, it must be done “with Ihsaan” (in a beautiful, caring way). This is done by cutting the jugular vein swiftly to cut off oxygen to the brain and pain receptors, then waiting as blood completely drains out (like Jews, Muslims are forbidden to consume blood).

Cole Ward (AKA “The Gourmet Butcher”) is a teaching butcher who lives in Vermont. His 2-DVD butchery course is available online at www.TheGourmetButcher.com and his book “The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat” will be released by Chelsea Green Publishing in late 2013, and is available for pre-order here.

Photo by Wiki Commons/Zummis