One empowered to perform the ritual slaughter of cattle and poultry. In the Biblical writings there is no statement to the effect that any individual was specially appointed to fulfil this function; but it would seem that the expressions "shaḥaṭ" and "malaḳ" justify the inference that there were certain rules which governed slaughtering. In Ḥul. i. it is stated that every male adult, unless mentally incapacitated, may officiate as shoḥeṭ; while the Tosefta to this same passage allows women, and even Samaritans, to act in this capacity. The Baraita, however, restricts the office to one who is "mumḥeh," i.e., skilled in the proper handling of the knife and recognized as proficient in the laws governing his office.
The Talmudic regulations for slaughtering remained unchanged until the sixteenth century. Then, however, Joseph Caro in the Shulḥan 'Aruk (Yoreh De'ah, 1, 1) forbade women to act as slaughterers, perhaps because they might faint while performing the duty. In his opinion, furthermore, this ruling was in accordance with a "minhag" (custom); and in Israel minhagim frequently abrogated traditional legal rights. Moses Isserles confines the right of acting as shoḥeṭ to those who have already slaughtered at least three times in the presence of a rabbi; and he further states it to have been a minhag that, to be entitled to office, the slaughterer must possess a "cabala." Even such a man, according to Jacob Weil (who bases his statement on the authority of Shalom Klausner), must frequently repeat the laws governing his function, that he may not forget them.
The shoḥeṭ is not required, however, to know every detail of the rules, provided he can distinguish between clean and unclean animals (Ṭur, Yoreh De'ah, 1, 1), although Moses Isserles expressly requires him to be a Talmudic scholar, as is almost universally the case in the East. The shoḥeṭ is bound by the following prohibitions: he must not be addicted to the use of liquor (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 1, 8); he must never have been accused of having discharged his duties indifferently (ib. 1, 14); he must not be a wanton transgressor of the Law ("mumar lehak'is"); and he must never have openly desecrated the Sabbath (ib. 1, 5).
In the smaller cities the restrictions are still more severe; but it is frequently the case, especially in modern Occidental communities, that the shoḥeṭ discharges other functions besides his own, such as those of ḥazzan and reader. The government of Hanover formerly prohibited the shoḥeṭ from acting as a teacher ("Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1844, p. 155); but this rule has been abolished. In Poland, according to Hirsch Heller ("Bet Hillel," p. 116, Munkacs, 1893), the shoḥeṭ appointed by the administrating rabbi must be confirmed by the "Wunderrabbi" before he is entitled to act in his official capacity. Among the most authoritative modern manuals for shoḥeṭim are Fränkel's "Zibḥe Raẓon," Rybuck, 1861; and J. H. Caro's "Das Jüdische Rituale beim Schlachten," Leipsic, 1867.