Talmud Tips

For the week ending 12 January 2019 / 6 Shevat 5779

Chullin 30-36

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Covering Up and Down

“Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Rav: One who does shechita needs to put ground under (the blood) and over the blood.”

One of the mitzvahs in the Torah is to cover the blood of certain animals after shechita (ritual slaughter). This mitzvah is called “kisui hadam,” and is taught in the verse which says that a person “who traps a quarry of a wild animal, or fowl that may be eaten, and spills its blood (i.e. through shechita), he will cover it (the blood) with ground.”(Vayikra 17:13) It’s important to note that this mitzvah is applicable to only shechita of a chaya (any kosher non-domestic type of animal such as a deer) or an ohf (any kosher bird or fowl), but not to a beheima (domestic type of animal such as cattle and sheep).

The statement by Rabbi Zeira in the name of Rav that the blood must be covered with ground both on top of it and underneath it is also taught later in our masechet in the sixth chapter (That chapter is actually called “Kisui Hadam,” which means “covering of the blood.) This halacha is derived from the wording of the verse. It states to cover the blood “b’afar”. If the intent was to merely cover over the blood on top after shechita, the Torah would have said this word without a letter beit as a prefix. But since the Torah included beit, our Sages learn from this that the blood is not merely to be covered, but to be inside the afar — sandwiched between two layers of earth. Other details of the laws for fulfilling this mitzvah are codified in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, siman 28.

Rabbi Zeira’s teaching is mentioned on our daf as part of a question on an act of kosher shechita that Rava did with Rabbi Yonah bar Tachlifa by shooting a bird with an arrow while the bird was in mid-flight! First the gemara resolves the obvious question of how they could be certain that the shechita happened in a kosher manner (answer: the neck was checked properly). Then the gemara asks how this shechita could have been done, since there was no apparent way to place earth on the exact spot where the blood from the bird would land. How, therefore, could the shechita be done with earth placed below the blood as well as above it, in accordance with halachic teaching of Rabbi Zeira in the name of Rav?

The answer given by the gemara is that he “prepared” the ground of the entire valley over which the bird flew. He didn’t put the ground there, so what does it mean that he prepared it? Rashi offers two explanations: he moved and ground up (pun intended) the earth of the entire valley; or he verbally designated that the already-soft ground of the valley would be used for the mitzvah of kisui hadam. Therefore, according to Rashi, we see that one must do or say something to show his intent to use a particular area of ground for the “floor” of the mitzvah, in addition to covering over the blood. Tosefot, on the other hand, later in the masechet (83b) writes that if there is already suitable ground at the place of the shechita, there is only a need to cover it from the top since there is already ground underneath. Both opinions are cited in the Shulchan Aruch.

Is there a reason we can understand for this mitzvah to apply only for the blood of a chaya or ohf, but not for that of a beheima as well? Of course, the ultimate reason is that it is the Will of G-d that it should be this way, but perhaps there is a logical reason for this distinction that might provide for us a better understanding of the mitzvah. Many answers are offered and I will briefly mention one.

The Midrash (Ber. Rabbah 22) teaches that the “pure” (i.e. kosher) chayot and ofot buried Hevel (Abel who was murdered by Kayin), showing him great dignity and respect. In reward for this, G-d commanded us to cover the blood of these animals, and not leave their blood scattered on the face of the earth, to likewise show them a special measure of dignity and respect. (I also suggest learning the commentary of the Malbim on the verse of kisui hadam, Vayikra 17:13. Regarding the beracha said for fulfilling the mitzvah of kisui hadam, see Aruch Hashulchan 28:8-9, who discusses in detail the variant texts of the beracha and the reasons for this variation.)

· Chullin 31a

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