Can the Shechita Incision Be Made in the Lower Rings of the Trachea?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

We discussed this question on last  Shabbos’s Daf (18a). The Mishnah there presents the opinions of the Rabbanan and R’ Yose the son of R’ Yehudah who deal with a case where a minority portion of the shechita incision in the trachea veered above the upper limit. Both opinions agree that the upper limit is “the Great Ring,” i.e. the uppermost ring of cartilage that completely encircles the trachea (as opposed to the halachically accepted view of R’ Chanina who grants more leeway).

So what is the law if, say, the last one third of the incision was made above the Great Ring? The Rabbanan invalidate the shechita insisting that the entire cut be made within the allowed confines. R’ Yose however validates the shechita since most of the incision was made in the correct place, and, as we know, the halacha treats completing most of the required act as if the whole thing was done.

You might be wondering how an incision in the Great Ring can ever be valid considering that shechita means making an incision in the trachea itself. The answer to this question is that the Halacha regards the Great Ring as one entity with the trachea. Let’s bear this in mind as we review the Gemara’s discussion of the Mishnah...

The Gemara asserts that even R’ Yose doesn’t always rely on the concept of majority to validate a questionable shechita: If the incision were made below the Great Ring in one of the lower rings, the Gemara says, the shechita would not be valid. This is not because the incision was made too low--in fact, if the incision were made between any of the lower rings it would be perfectly fine--rather, the issue here is that the Halacha views such a cutting as a cutting of the ring and not of the trachea.

But why can’t we validate even this shechita by arguing that the lower rings too be considered as one entity with the trachea? And even though these lower rings do not completely encircle the trachea (they are horseshoe shaped with their ends connected by tissue), since they do encircle the majority of the trachea’s circumference, according to R’ Yose this should be a sufficient basis to consider these rings as one with the trachea.

It appears that the Gemara draws a fundamental distinction regarding the concept of “most is deemed all.” “Most = all” works in a situation where all of the conditions necessary to complete the mitzva are present and all that remains is to perform the mitzva act itself. If there is an amount to that mitzva and the person does most of it, then that is deemed good enough and the mitzva is fulfilled. Here though the problem is deeper: We lack even the precondition to perform shechita on this spot, namely, that the incision be made in the correct place (the trachea). It is not within the capacity of “most = all” to bridge the gap in order to turn this from cartilage to trachea flesh, and thus this cutting is not valid.

However there’s one lingering question which remains: Granted that we’re not defining the ring as part of the trachea, but surely the pipe underneath is the trachea and thus as long as he cut through most of the pipe, the shechita should be perfectly fine! The Artscroll (note 29) leaves this matter with, “the rationale behind this is not clear.”

Perhaps the rationale is hiding in plain site: the teaching that we follow majority. That is (though I admittedly did not recently dissect a cow to make a hands-on assessment), it seem clear that these horseshoe rings of cartilage take up more volume than the portion of trachea flesh that they encircle. Perhaps then it could be suggested that at each section where there is a ring (save for the Great Ring; see above), the Halacha defines that section, based on majority, as cartilage and not trachea. In any event, Tosfos here states that in practice we follow R’ Chanina who permits an incision in the lower rings as well.