One of the claims Rabbinic Judaism makes is that Oral Torah contains instructions for how to "properly slaughter" animals. The laws of shechitah are not in the Written Torah, yet one of the proofs for its existence is given from Deuteronomy 12:20-21, which says:

When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. If the place where the LORD your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want.

This is, in fact, only one of the proof texts that argues for the existence of an Oral Torah.

And yet we read in Exodus 21:28 the following:

If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.

Keeping in mind the well-known Rabbinic principle that Torah doesn't repeat itself needlessly, what is the point of God telling the Israelites that the meat of the stoned bull is not to be eaten?

Furthermore, later in the same chapter it is told that a dead ox will belong to the owner of a pit it has fallen into, or to the owner of a troublesome ox which gored it. What is the point of having a dead ox if one cannot eat it? Is one simply to dispose of the dead ox?

  • "Keeping in mind the well-known Rabbinic principle that Torah doesn't repeat itself needlessly" see judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/18799/…
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 12, 2015 at 3:44
  • 1
    It should be noted that several commandments, such as observance of the Sabbath, are mentioned repeatedly. Presumably this is for emphasis. The assumption that the Torah wouldn't repeat itself needlessly does not preclude a repetition that doesn't add any new technicalities.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 12, 2015 at 3:50
  • I am suggesting that perhaps the rabbinical rules of schehita were not known at the times of Moses. But if indeed they were required, what is the meaning of owning a dead ox, etc. etc. ? Jul 12, 2015 at 3:55
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    Why downvotes? This seems like a perfectly legitimate, and even important, question, which the Talmud itself asks... Jul 12, 2015 at 18:29

3 Answers 3


The Talmud addresses this issue in Bava Kamma 41a:

ת"ר ממשמע שנאמר (שמות כא, כח) סקל יסקל השור איני יודע שנבילה היא ונבילה אסורה באכילה מה ת"ל לא יאכל את בשרו מגיד לך הכתוב שאם שחטו לאחר שנגמר דינו אסור באכילה

From the fact that it says "the bull shall be stoned" do I not know that it is neveilah (unslaughtered), and neveilah is forbidden to eat? So what does "do not eat its flesh" teach? The verse tells us that if he slaughters it after it has been ruled upon [as needing to be stoned], it is still forbidden to eat it.

The verse about who owns the dead ox is the subject of a discussion in Bava Kama 10b which has ramifications as to how to assess the payment owed (i.e. the victim keeps the carcass and its value is deducted from the amount that must be reimbursed), and who will be responsible for the inconvenience of removing the carcass from the pit (in order to be able to sell it) and the effort of selling it.


While the talmudic passage quoted above is certainly relevant in this case, I don't think that it is necessary to even resort to such a source in this case. According to it's own interpretive methodology, the question was flawed from the beginning.

The question was why the pasuq in Shemoth 21:28 needed to state "wa-lo ye'okhel eth besaro - and its meat shall not be eaten" when it was already stated in Devarim 12:21 that meat may be eaten when it is slaughtered "ka-asher ssiwithikha - as I have commanded you." So, either there is a contradiction between the two pasuqim (with one implying a prescribed manner of slaughter and the other indicated that it there is no such prescription) or the implication of "ka-asher ssiwithikha" is only that the animal should be killed, or perhaps just killed in a certain place, and not eaten while alive. Thus assumes the questioner. However, not enough attention was paid to the language of Shemoth 21:28, nor was the entirety of the Torah considered before jumping to a [mistaken] conclusion.

Notice how the language of the pasuq is wa-lo ye'okhel ("it shall not be eaten") rather than the usual wa-lo thokhal or wa-lo thokhelu ("and you shall not eat [it]"). This is because the pasuq which deals with the shor nisqal is not directing the prohibition of eating toward Jews. Instead, it is directing Jews not to either give it to a non-Jewish resident alien (i.e. a ger toshav) or sell it to a nokhri (a non-Jew passing through the nation, but not a resident of it). Thus, it says [to Jews] that the meat of the ox "shall not be eaten" (i.e. by others who are not Jewish).

How do we know this? Because of the explicit statement of Devarim 14:21, which says:

Lo thokhelu khol nevelah la-ger asher bish`arekha titenenah wa-akhalah o makhor la-nokhri ki 'am qadhosh la-Shem Elohekha...


"And you [Jews] should not eat any nevelah (i.e. that which is improperly slaughtered or dies of itself). You shall give such [meat] to the ger (i.e. resident non-Jew) who is within your gates, or you may sell it to a nokhri (i.e. a non-resident non-Jew)..."

In other words, Shemoth 21:28 is instructing that a shor nisqal may not be made use of in any way - not by a resident alien, nor by those non-Jews who pass through your dwellings willing to purchase it.

As a side note, a ger toshav was a non-Jew who was subject to Jewish jurisprudence and governmental regulation in every way. They are often referred to in the Torah and many times are spoken of in the third person as people who are obligated in certain thing as well as prohibited from certain acts while living under the Jewish nation. (See MT Hilkhoth Melakhim Umilhhamoth 8-10 for a complete discussion of this subject.)

And this is what the statement indicates in Shemoth 12:49, "Torah ahhath yihyeh la-ezrahh wa-la-ger ha-gar be-thokhekhem - There shall be one law for the native-born and the resident alien who dwells among you." See also, Wayyiqra 24:22 and Bamidbar 15:16, 29.

As Rav Sa`adyah Gaon writes in his introduction to HaNivhhar Emunoth Wa-De'oth, most people arrive at false conclusions instead of the truth because they settle too quickly, do not search out a matter thoroughly, and base their conclusions on incomplete or faulty investigation. The Torah is not a document thrown together and rabbinic law is not a pollyannish connection of dots. Search it thoroughly and weigh all of its parts before assuming error on its part (has wa-shalom).

Kol tuv.


For your first question about needing to be told that the bull cannot be eaten, see this answer. Your other question is asks why we care about ownership; we care because there are uses for the carcass besides food.

An animal that you can't eat, but are allowed to benefit from, can be sold to non-Jews. Non-Jews have no prohibition against eating it. They can also use its hide:

Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself; thou mayest give it unto the stranger that is within thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto a foreigner; for thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk. (Devarim 14:21)

In fact, this is routinely done with the region containing the sciatic nerve; this part of an otherwise-kosher animal is forbidden to Jews, so butchers sell that part to gentiles.


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