Rabbi Shemuel ben Moshe de Medina (1505-1589) was Rosh HaYeshiva of the Thessaloniki yeshiva which produced some of the most important scholars and halakhic decisors of the 16th and 17th centuries. In addition, he also served as the Av Beit Din, and in this role he was known for his humility and scholarship. Viewed as a leading halakhic authority of his time, he was the recipient of halakhic inquiries from Italy and the entire Balkan region. His collection of responsa, Piske HaRashdam, includes nearly a thousand of his answers.
In this teshuva, he deals with the question of whether it is permissible for a Jew to use a non-kosher knife to slaughter animals for non-Jews. The questioner suggests that this is a problem of bal tashchit, the prohibition against wasting, since these animals could have been slaughtered with a kosher knife and therefore would have then been available to Jews as well. The Maharashdam rejects this claim because bal tashchit only applies when the specific act benefits no one (derekh haschata). In this case though other Jews cannot eat the meat being sold, the one who sells it still receives financial compensation by selling it to non-Jews.
However, the Maharashdam finds another, more powerful Talmudic principle to address this question. It is forbidden to empty a cistern as long as others may need to use it. Based on this, he notes that it is still permitted for a Jew to slaughter the animals belonging to non-Jews if there is no way that they would give the meat to Jews. However, if there are Jews who might benefit from these animals had they been slaughtered in a kosher fashion then one should look to do so.
Tu B’shvat is the time contemporary Jews have chosen to consider the state of the natural world, and, as our news feeds constantly remind us, the state of the natural world is not good. Many of the ecological crises that the world faces stem from the perception that the earth itself is merely a resource to be used for human benefit. The principle introduced by the Maharashdam in this teshuva, however, invites us to consider the planet to be a cistern, a resource that can and must benefit all. Indiscriminately altering the nature of the planet itself, it’s atmosphere, available clean water, and biodiversity, is tantamount to emptying the cistern even when done for human benefit. Just as a cistern must be preserved to ensure its water is available to all, so too the same must be done with the earth.
This year Tu B’shvat falls just a week after the presidential inauguration. Our new government has the opportunity to implement policy that will affect the environment for the foreseeable future. Ideally, the principle behind the Talmudic prohibition of emptying a cistern must be active in all levels of society, from national and international policy to the behaviors of individuals. If we all take this principle to heart, then there is good reason to hope for a better environmental future.
|שו”ת מהרשד”ם יו”ד סי’ נ”א|
ולשאלה השלישית מאיש שהיה שוחט בסכין פגום לגוים לכאורה נראה דמותר וראיה לדבר דאמרינן בגמ’ דמס’ חולין על משנת שחיטת חש”ו דייק בגמ’ שמא קלקלו לא קתני אלא שמא יקלקלו זאת אומרת אין מוסרין להם חולין לכתחלה… ופי’ ר”ת דאין מוסרין להם חולין אפי’ להשליכן לכלבין דלמא אתי למיכל משחיטתן. ואם כדבריך תיפוק לי משום דקעבר על בל תשחית אלא נראה דליכא משום בל תשחית אלא כשעושה דרך השחתה הרי ששחיטת חש”ו… הכא נמי לא מיקרי השחתה… בנ”ד שהבהמה מגוי נראה דכ”ש ודאי דליכא למימר טעמא דבל תשחי’ … ומ”מ מצאתי קצ’ סמך לדבריך … ההיא דפרק החולץ דאמר רב יוסף לא ישפוך אדם מי בורו ואחרים צריכין לו ע”כ. א”כ הכא אם בהמה שזה הישראל שוחט בסכין פגום צריכין לה ישראל ואם היה נשחטת בכשרות היו יכולין ישראל לאכול ממנה נראה ודאי דעבד /דעבר/ על לא ישפוך וכו’ ואם לא שהיה הבהמה של גוי או של תוגר מיוחד ואפי’ שישחטנה בכשרות לא יתנו לישראל ממנה אין להקפיד …
|Regarding the third question about a person who uses a blemished knife to slaughter animals for non-Jews: It would appear that this is permitted as it says in the Talmud regarding the slaughter of a minor or a person with mental illness. The Gemara notes that “the Mishna isn’t concerned about damage they have done in the past, but only damage they may do in the future… This means that we do not allow them to slaughter.” And Rabbeinu Tam explains that we don’t give them animals to slaughter, even if it is only to throw the meat to the dogs, because maybe a Jew will come to eat meat that they slaughter. |
And if your argument is correct, then it should be prohibited simply because of bal tashchit. Rather, it appears that bal tashchit only applies when an act is done in such a way that nobody benefits (derekh hashchata). But the slaughter of a minor or a person with mental illness…is not called derekh hashchata… And in our case, where the animal actually came from a non-Jew, it seems all the more so that bal tashchit does not apply.
However, I found some support for your position, as is found in Yevamot, “Rav Yosef said a person may not pour out the water from their cistern as long as others need it.” Therefore, in our case, if a Jew is using a blemished knife to slaughter animals that other Jews need, and if it was done appropriately Jews could eat then this would violate [the Talmudic principle] of “a person may not pour out…” But if this animal belongs to a non-Jew or to a traveling merchant who, even if the animal were slaughtered in a kosher way would not give it to a Jew, then it is not a violation of the principle [to slaughter the animal with a blemished knife].
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