The Dutch Jewish community was hurt and dejected after the parliament on Tuesday approved in an initial vote a ban on ritual slaughter – shechita – of animals.

The bill sponsored by the tiny Animal Rights Party, the first such group in Europe to win seats in a national parliament, passed the lower house of parliament and must be approved by the upper house before becoming law.

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It stipulates that livestock must be stunned before being slaughtered, contrary to the Jewish kashrut laws and Muslim halal laws that specify that animals killed for their meat must be unwounded at the time of slaughtering. Stunning damages the nervous system.

“This way of killing causes unnecessary pain to animals. Religious freedom cannot be unlimited,” Marianne Thieme, head of Animal Rights Party, said before the vote. “For us religious freedom stops where human or animal suffering begins.”

Esther Voet, editor-in-chief of the Jewish-Dutch newspaper Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad, spoke of the great efforts from the Jewish community to prevent the bill, which on Tuesday passed 116-30. She noted the efforts of a group of men from the community “who fought like lions” lobbying the parliamentarians.

Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands Provinces Biyomin Jacobs also issued, alongside other local rabbis, a letter to the lawmakers titled “a cry from the heart,” and the community flew in UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who is also a member of the House of Lords.

“But all this didn’t help, we knew it wouldn’t,” Voet said.

Other members of the community reacting in Tweets reflecting their hard feelings, such as the Rabbi and shochet Lody van de Kamp, who wrote, “This is the reward we get from parliament for trying to rebuild our community over the last 65 years,” and attorney Joel Ertweman, who said, “I am happy to be reminded of the fact that I am only a visitor in this country.”

“Has the freedom of religion already been ritually slaughtered?” wondered a tweeter named ‘Bozoc.’ The Netherlands’ Muslim and Jewish communities – about 1 million and 40,000, respectively, in a total population of 16 million – have condemned the proposed ban as a violation of their religious freedom. But as Jacobs pointed out on Tuesday, “only the most observant Muslims – some 30 percent of the total – are against stunning animals.”

“Emotionally, this is very difficult,” he said. “When the Germans occupied the Netherlands in World War II, one of the first laws they made was a prohibition of shechita. And there are already people in the parliament speaking about circumcision.

“I don’t mind if I wouldn’t do shechita in the Netherlands, it’s a very small industry, and the import would be fresh. But only if it would be my decision. For them to prohibit it is different, and very difficult for the Holocaust survivors,” Jacobs said. “But youngsters too are wondering if they can live here any more.

“What is next? Circumcision? We can import meat from Belgium, but what would happen if we’d have to take our babies there for circumcision. Then we’d return to the Netherlands, but a doctor would be obliged to call police because I would have hurt a child,” Jacobs said.

“The Jewish people who don’t eat kosher are as hurt as much as those who do,” he continued. “People feel this legislation is not against ritual slaughter, rather against freedom of religion and the freedom to be Jewish.”

But Jacobs’ still has hope.

“I’m optimistic by nature,” he said, noting the loophole in the bill, which determines that the general lifelong conditions of animals – not just the moment of slaughter – will be taken into account in determining its suffering. In addition, the bill still could be voted down in the upper house, where law-makers will have to take into account the constitutional rights of Jews and Muslims, and their freedom of religion.

Uca Octay of Rotterdam’s Islamic University said: “We will have to import halal meat from neighboring countries or find another way to meet the needs of the Muslim population.

“We’re fighting, but the ‘we’ is a very small group, only some 30,000 Jews. Of them, only 500 families eat kosher.

The amount of animals slaughtered according to Jewish law is 2,500 a year, while the numbers for general slaughtering are 447,000,000 animals annually.

Take into account that between 10% and 20% of the stunning on those animals goes wrong,” he said.


Voet also challenged the veracity of a studies commissioned by the Agriculture Ministry on the topic, saying that one of the reports was a pilot research, and not based on scientific proof.

Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland ban ritual slaughter. Swiss animal rights groups and far-right politicians have called for a ban on imported halal and kosher meat.

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