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Hullin 18a-b: The Knife and the Local Sage

On yesterday’s daf we learned how Rav Ḥisda required that a slaughterer’s knife be checked before use. The Gemara concludes there that this is not only essential in order to ensure that the animal is kosher, but also that the knife must be given to the local Sage to check out of respect to him.

On today’s daf, Rav Huna teaches that if the knife was not shown to the local Sage, the slaughterer was ostracized; Rava rules that the slaughterer must be removed from his position and a public announcement must be made telling people that his meat is not kosher. The Gemara explains that there is no difference of opinion here; in Rav Huna’s case the knife was found to be kosher, so he was merely ostracized, while in Rava’s case the knife was found to have deficiencies, so he must be removed from his job. Ravina suggests that in such a case the meat should be smeared with excrement so that the slaughterer will not be able to profit by selling it to non-Jews.

The Gemara offers an anecdote to illustrate this law in practice. The Gemara relates:

There was a case of a slaughterer who did not present his knife for examination to Rava bar Ḥinnana. The latter thereupon put him under the ban, removed him from his vocation and announced publicly that his meat was not Kosher. Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi happened to call on the said Rava bar Ḥinnana who said to them, ‘Would you, Masters, look into this case, for there are small children dependent on him’?

Rav Ashi examined the knife and found it satisfactory; he thereupon declared him fit again to act as slaughterer. Mar Zutra then said to him: ‘Are you not concerned at all in overruling this Sage?’ Rav Ashi replied, ‘We were only carrying out his instructions’.

Although Rava bar Ḥinnana was obligated to follow the ruling of and remove the slaughterer from his position, we see how he worked “behind the scenes” to find a way to allow him to support himself and his family.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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