The case of Jack of Ripper has long maintained a fascination for me. Long before I began studying the jewish question; I had cut my historical teeth as a teenager studying the case of the Whitechapel Murders as the killing spree of Jack the Ripper is better known.
After I began studying the laws of Kashruth in Judaism; I began to notice certain parallels between the method of ritual slaughter and preparation (Shechita) and the modus operandi of Jack the Ripper.
I am not the first to do so either as at the time; the local inhabitants of the East End of London, (1) prominent newspapers such as the Times and Pall Mall Gazette, (2) and Geoffrey Lushington, an Under-Secretary to the Home Secretary, (3) among others all believed that Jack the Ripper was a jew.
Indeed to this day the two most plausible suspects identified as Jack the Ripper are Aaron Kosminksi and David Cohen: who were both jewish. (4)
Further it was a widespread belief – of doubtful validity in and of itself – that Jack the Ripper was, or had worked as, a butcher. (5) A great many butchers in the East End of London at the time were schochetim or rabbinically-licensed jewish butchers who killed animals according to the laws of Kashruth (i.e. shechita). (6)
Ordinary people in the East End would then naturally have a good working knowledge of what the practice of shechita would look like even if they would be unlikely to have much understanding of the halakhah (jewish religious law) and reasoning behind the practice.
That a similarity was noticed between the practice of shechita and the modus operandi of Jack the Ripper – which was made much of in the newspapers of the day - is thus noteworthy. (7)
Some authors have tried to dismiss the general connection between jews and the Jack the Ripper killings. On the basis that the jews were then flooding into the East End of London from the Russian Empire (making up thirty percent of the population of the area at the time of killings), (8) which naturally antagonised the British and Irish inhabitants of the area. (9)
The idea that Jack the Ripper couldn’t have been jewish, because well… that would be anti-Semitic… was used at the time by both the Chief Rabbi Dr. Hermann Adler (10) and Ashley Myers (the editor of the Jewish Chronicle) (11) as well as more recently by Israeli media outlets. (12)
That, as Stephen Molyneaux has become famous for saying, is not an argument.
We must always remember that we were all born many years after this event occurred and should pay attention – although not slavishly – to what the people who lived with and/or tried to track down Jack the Ripper at the time thought.
In the case of the link between the practice of shechita and Jack the Ripper’s modus operandi; I think there is something to the proverbial jungle drums of the East End.
In the first instance we have the undeniable facts that the two likeliest suspects that have been advanced were both jewish, that the area of London where the murders occurred was heavily populated by recent jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire and that none of the Ripper’s victims were themselves jewish.
These facts alone should make us closely scrutinise any purported link between the jewish community and the Jack the Ripper killings, because it is quite possible and even I dare say probable that some kind link or association did exist.
When we examine the autopsy reports of the canonical victims of Jack the Ripper then we note the following details.
In the case of Mary Ann Nichols (Victim #1) her neck was sliced open with a knife.
The first incision was relatively superficial and four inches in length, while the second of eight inches had severed all the tissue back to the vertebrae. (13)
In addition there were several incisions across and down as well as and one jagged deep cut on the left side of the abdomen. All the injuries were caused by the same knife. (14)
In the case of Mary Ann Chapman (Victim #2); the incision in the neck was made by two distinct cuts on the left side of the spine that were parallel to each other and about half an inch apart. (15)
The abdomen had been entirely laid open and the intensives severed from their attachments then placed on her shoulder plus the bladder had been entirely removed as had the uterus and the upper part of the vagina. (16)
In the case of Elizabeth Stride (Victim #3); there was a clean cut incision on the neck. This was six inches in length and commenced two and a half inches in a straight line below the angle of the jaw. The main artery was cut through. (17)
In the case of Catherine Eddowes (Victim #4); her throat was cut across to the extent of seven to eight inches. A superficial cut of about two and half inches was below. The right carotid artery had been opened and the left cut. (18)
The intestines were drawn out to a large extent and placed over the right shoulder. They were smeared with some faecal matter. The right ear was sliced through sideways. A piece of the ear dropped from her clothing during the examination in the mortuary. (19)
Eddowes’ face was heavily mutilated. There was a cut about a quarter of an inch through the lower left eyelid near to the nose. There was also a scratch on the upper left hand side of this eyelid, while the right eyelid was cut through about half an inch. In addition there was a deep cut over the bridge of the nose on the right side. (20)
The tip of the nose had been detached by a sideways cut from the bottom of the nasal bone to the wings of the nose. This joined on to a cut on the face, which went through the gum of her upper jaw. There was also a cut on the right angle of the mouth made ‘as with the cut of a point of the knife’. (21)
There were triangular cuts on both cheeks which allowed a flap of skin to be pulled back. There were in addition two abrasions under the left ear. (22)
Her torso was open upwards from the pubes to the sternum. The liver had been stabbed as if by the point of a sharp instrument, plus had a cut of two and half inches and the left lobe of the liver had been split through by a vertical cut. (23)
There was a stab of about an inch on the left groin. Her thigh was cut. The intestines had been largely detached. Two feet of colon had also been cut away. Her pancreas was cut slightly. Meanwhile the left kidney had been carefully removed and so had the womb. (24)
In the case of Mary Kelly (Victim #5); the neck had been severed to the bone. (25)
The whole surface of her thighs and abdomen had been removed. The abdominal cavity had been emptied of viscera. Her breasts had been cut off. Both her arms mutilated and face hacked beyond all recognition. (26)
The lower part of lower right lung was broken and torn away but still somewhat adherent, while the left lung was adherent and intact. (27)
Her kidneys, uterus and one breast were under her head. The other breast was by the right foot. Her liver was between the feet with the intestines to the right side and the spleen to the left. Her ears were partly removed and the heart was absent. (28)
Now granted this is quite a lot of data, but we can easily simplify it by pointing out, as McDermid has, that the signature of Jack the Ripper killings is the throat of the victim being cut and the guts removed. (29)
We can see that in all cases, except that of Elizabeth Stride, the throat of the woman was cut and the viscera removed (or an attempt made). The reason that this pattern is broken by Stride is because the Ripper was disturbed and we must always remember that these killings were occurring on public streets in the early hours of the morning. Thus the murderer was liable to discovery at any time and therefore had to be quick about their work.
When we turn our attention to the details of the killings; we should note that in the cases of Nichols, Chapman and Stride (i.e. Victims #1-3). There was also significant bruising around the neck and/or shoulders (30) suggesting that the killer used to force to hold the women in place, while he cut their necks.
The lack of bruising reports by the autopsies on the bodies of Eddowes and Kelly is quite possibly caused by the large amount of mutilation on their bodies, which would render such marks difficult to isolate in the context of the mess of mutilated organs, limbs and skin. This could also have been be caused by Eddowes and Kelly being taken by surprise by the Ripper or the natural improvement of the latter’s killing technique.
This is a common practice in Kashruth, because of the requirement of severing the trachea, jugular, carotid arteries and the esophagus of the animal in one continuous perfectly smooth stroke. (31)
Hence it is necessary to hold the animal in place so that the precise area of the neck to be cut (Zevichah) (32) and this Jack the Ripper did.
Edwards’ assertion that the murderer asphyxiated their victims before he slit their throats (33) just isn’t realistic (it forgets the time constraints, prolongs the killing process and renders the slitting of the throat relatively pointless as anything other than ritual behaviour) and would by its very nature place the Ripper at an increased risk of being discovered (since it takes longer to asphyxiate a victim rather than slit her throat).
When we look at the slitting of the throats of the victims we also note an interesting habit exhibited by the Ripper. That is in the cases of Nichols, Chapman, Stride and Eddowes (Victims #1-4) all had a failed and often superficial incision in their neck that was separate from the deeper incision that likely killed them.
This caught my eye, because one of the more or less unique aspects of shechita - outside of Halal that is - is that, as previously stated, it is important to sever the trachea, jugular, carotid arteries and the oesophagus of the animal in one continuous perfectly smooth stroke.
In other words: in order for the kill to be judged kosher (‘fit’) not treif (‘unfit’) then the cut has to be made as described.
Why did Jack the Ripper make two cuts (the first one usually too shallow)?
It is difficult to put it down to ritual as there is nothing to indicate that it is such (hence the fact that Kelly only had one knife cut across her throat and didn’t have this second shallow cut) and had the killer not had a reason for doing so; then they surely would have just sliced the victim’s neck as hard as they could in order to make the kill as quick and noiseless as possible.
Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that the murderer was more likely than not using shechita as his guide in how he needed to kill the victims.
This is also indicated in the other element of the ‘signature’ of Jack the Ripper, as McDermid styles it, the viscera being removed.
Traditionally this is just put down to the ritual fascination of the killer with disembowelling women, a hatred of women and/or the desire to cut out the uterus as quickly as possible (a-la the theory placing Francis Tumblety as the Ripper).
However this to me has always seemed like a lazy explanation. Precisely because it would be rather odd if there wasn’t some kind of distinct purpose behind the mutilations rather than some nebulous hatred of women or sexual fascination with disembowelling people.
These could be true of course, but I think we have to look a bit deeper here because the Ripper must have had something that he was using as his model even he significantly modified it to suit his needs.
When we note that in the cases of Chapman and Eddowes (Victims #2 and 4) – the cases of Nichols and Stride (Victims #1 and #3) being incomplete attacks where the Ripper is widely believed to have been surprised before he could carry out much of his ritual - the intestines were peculiarly arranged over the shoulders along with other organs. While in the case of Kelly (Victim #5) the intestines among other organs were arranged around the room, while the heart was missing. (34)
There are very few potential explanations for this, but one can easily be found in shechita; in the practice of inspecting the organs and innards of the slaughtered animal for defects. These inspections are called b’dikas p’nim (internal inspection) and b’dikas chutz (external inspection). (35)
The purpose of the inspection process is to ensure that the slaughtered animal is free from blemishes and broken bones. (36) This ensures that the animal died from the process of shechita alone and not from any other cause. (37)
The areas checked by the inspector (bodek) also correspond nicely to the organs and apparent interests of Jack the Ripper.
These are the brain, heart, spinal column, jaw, esophagus, lungs, trachea, liver, gall bladder, spleen, kidney, womb, intestines, omasum, abomasum, rumen, reticulum, legs, ribs, and hide/skin. (38)
In the most complete Ripper murder (i.e. that of Mary Kelly [Victim #5]) all these are either removed or exposed with the exception of the brain, which was likely just hard to get to and was not, as far as I am aware, often checked by pre-twentieth century kashruth inspectors.
Interesting: isn’t it?
We have a clear and close similarity between the killing method (cutting the victim’s throat with a very peculiar timidity in making said cut) as well as the post-death ritual of opening up the victim to take out the viscera and the practice of shechita, which was in widespread use at the time in the specific area of London where the killings occurred.
Is that just a coincidence?
I don’t think it can reasonably be argued to be.
Indeed one can also suggest that the famous claim in the ‘From Hell’ letter – in which the writer claims to have fried and eaten a piece of Catherine Eddowes’ (Victim #4) liver – if real (and this author doubts it) is consistent with this link to shechita. After all liver if kashered is kosher (39) as is a heart (which was missing from Mary Kelly’s corpse and may have also been similarly eaten). (40)
To suggest that Jack the Ripper was a cannibal is certainly difficult to prove or even speculate based upon the evidence, but what is reasonably certain is that he was practising his own personal form of shechita on his victims.
That hasn’t stopped people like Sandor Gilman writing about how accusations that shechita was linked to the Jack the Ripper killings were a ‘fantasy’ linked to an alleged obsession of Western Europeans with ‘diseased and mutilated jewish genitalia’ however. (41)
Oh well… I guess it pays to fact check rather than pathologise an argument.
- Russell Edwards, 2014, ‘Naming Jack the Ripper’, 1st Edition, Sidgwick & Jackson: Basingstoke, pp. 55-56
- Judith Flanders, 2011, ‘The Invention of Murder’, 1st Edition, Harper Collins: London, pp. 441-442
- Ibid, p. 441
- For example see Bruce Paley, 1996, ‘Jack the Ripper: The Simple Truth’, 1st Edition, Headline: London, pp. 218-219; Martin Fido, 1999, ‘David Cohen and the Polish Jew Theory’ in Nathan Braund, Maxim Jakubowski (Eds.), 1999, ‘The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper’, 1st Edition, Robinson: London
- Paul Harrison, 1991, ‘Jack the Ripper: The Mystery Solved’, 1st Edition, Robert Hale: London, p. 142
- Ibid, p. 143
- Ibid, p. 144
- Ibid, p. 16
- Edwards, Op. Cit., p. 28
- John Eddleston, 2010, ‘Jack the Ripper: An Encyclopaedia’, 2nd Edition, Metro: London, pp. 170-171
- Edwards, Op. Cit., pp. 226-227
- For example: http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/routine-emergencies/.premium-1.614952; http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/news/1.614536; http://forward.com/articles/209121/jack-the-ripper-one-of-us-no-thanks/
- Nathan Braund, Maxim Jakubowski, 1999, ‘The Autopsies’, p. 70 in Braund, Maxim Jakubowski, Op. Cit.
- Ibid, p. 71
- Ibid, p. 73
- Ibid, p. 75
- Ibid, pp. 78-79
- Ibid, pp. 77-78
- Ibid, p. 78
- Ibid, p. 79
- Ibid, pp. 80-81
- Ibid, p. 84
- Ibid, p. 85
- Ibid, pp. 84-85; Val McDermid, 2014, ‘Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime’, 1st Edition, Profile: London, p. 240
- McDermid, Op. Cit., p. 240
- Braund, Jakubowski, Op. Cit., pp. 70-72, 75 in Braund, Maxim Jakubowski, Op. Cit.
- Nathan Gross, Alexander Rosenberg, Berel Wein, 1972, ‘Kashruth: Handbook for Home and School’, Rabbinical Council of America: New York, p. 2; Yacov Lipschutz, 1988, ‘Kashruth: A Comprehensive Background and Reference Guide to The Principles of Kashruth’, 1st Edition, Mesorah: New York, p. 20; Solomon David Sassoon, 1956, ‘A Critical Study of Electrical Stunning and the Jewish Method of Slaughter (Schechita)’, 3rd Edition, Self-Published: Letchworth, pp. 4; 23
- Lipschutz, Op. Cit., p. 20
- Edwards, Op. Cit., pp. 54-55
- McDermid, Op. Cit., p. 240
- Lipschutz, Op. Cit., pp. 23-24
- Sassoon, Op. Cit., p. 23
- Lipschutz, Op. Cit., p. 22
- Ibid, p. 21
- Victor Geller, Irwin Gordon, n.d., ‘Kashruth’, Rabbinical Council of America: New York, p. 15; Gross, Rosenberg and Wein, Op. Cit., p. 4; Lipschutz, Op. Cit., p. 37
- Gross, Rosenberg and Wein, Op. Cit., p. 5; Lipschutz, Op. Cit., pp. 31-32
- Sandor Gilman, 1991, ‘The Jew’s Body’, 1st Edition, Routledge: New York, p. 191