As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page) although shehitah – ritual slaughter of the sacrifice – is one of the four essential parts of the sacrificial service, nevertheless it need not be performed by a kohen, and even women, slaves or temei’im – people who are in ritually defiled states – can play the role of a shohet in the Temple.
Given the fact that the animal that is to be sacrificed cannot become ritually defiled after slaughter (in any case, while it is alive it cannot contract tumah), we must assume that the person who is the shohet is not tameh on a severe level of defilement – e.g. a tameh met, someone who was in contact with a dead body – which would transfer the tumah to the slaughtering knife, as well, rather he must have been on a lower level of tumah, whose impurity would not transfer to the knife. Alternatively, as Rashi on the Mishnah suggests, in this case the knife may have been made of a sharpened reed, and simple wooden objects do not conduct ritual defilement.
The Gemara on today’s daf deals with a basic question. Since animals must be slaughtered in the Temple courtyard and people who are temei’im cannot enter that area, how could they possibly act as ritual slaughterers for sacrifices? The answer suggested by the Gemara is deceptively simple: He must be using a particularly long knife to slaughter the animal.
Tosafot discuss how this would have been done, and how long the knife would need to be. As noted, the slaughter had to be done in the Temple courtyard, a place that a tameh person could not enter. Even the area of the ezrat nashim was forbidden to people in a state of ritual defilement, and its length was 13 amot. Rabbenu Tam suggests that the prohibition against entering the ezrat nashim was only Rabbinic in origin, and if someone had become tameh while he was in that area, perhaps he was not required to leave. Other suggestions in Tosafot make clear that there were other places from which the tameh person may have been able to get relatively close to the place where the slaughter was done, including upper chambers that were not sanctified.