Ari Z. Zifotofsky takes on a commonly-held misconception about an intriguing animal of the wild.
Misconception: Although the giraffe is a kosher animal, it is not slaughtered because it is not known where on the neck to perform the shechitah (ritual slaughter).
Fact: The makom shechitah (region of the neck in which ritual slaughter is valid) on a giraffe is precisely defined by halachah, just as it is for all animals, and the only impediments to shechting giraffe are cost and practical considerations. (They are among the most difficult animals to restrain.)
Background: This misconception is very widespread and is shared by young and old alike. Children learn it in kindergarten, and senior citizens have told it to me in shul.
Before questioning how to perform the shechitah, it is necessary to ascertain that the giraffe (giraffa camelopardalis) — the biggest ruminant and the tallest mammal — is indeed kosher. The physical indicia of a kosher mammal are that it be a ruminant and have split hooves (Leviticus 11:2-8 and Deuteronomy 14:4-8). A visit to your local zoo will reveal this striped giant standing on split hooves and chewing its cud. There is also an historical record of the giraffe being accepted as kosher. The zemer, listed among the ten types of kosher animals in Deuteronomy (14:5), is identified as the giraffe by Rav Saadia Gaon, Rabbenu Yona, Radak, the Septuagint, and many others.
Regarding the makom shechitah, the Talmud (Chullin 27a) probes for the Biblical source that slaughtering must be performed at the neck, and concludes that it is a tradition, a law given to Moses at Sinai. This would indicate that the entire neck is valid for shechitah. In most animals, one does not think about how to define the neck, because it is a relatively small area. In the case of the giraffe, one might contemplate whether the whole neck really is valid and wonder about the exact location of the acceptable zone. But there is no need to equivocate; the specific anatomic boundaries (cited in Chullin 45a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 20:1-2) for the ritual slaughter of all animals apply to the giraffe as well. For a pigeon, the valid region is a few inches long; for a cow, over 12 inches; and for a giraffe, close to six feet. A kashrut expert once quipped that “anyone who does not know where to shecht a giraffe either knows nothing about the laws of shechitah or could not hit the side of a barn with a baseball.”
When I asked Rabbi Yosef Kafich, a leading rabbi and scholar in the Israeli Yemenite community, if there are any halachic impediments to shechting giraffe, his tongue-in-cheek response was that the only problem might be that “at $10,000 per kilo, it would be ba’al tashchit (a waste)!”
Rabbi Zivotofsky contributes Legal-ease, a column devoted to researching misconceptions, regularly featured in Jewish Action. He has prepared a detailed essay on the laws pertaining to shechting giraffe. To obtain a copy, contact Jewish Action: 11 Broadway, NY, NY 10004 or email: email@example.com.