Jewish communities in Europe are galvanizing their political clout and reaching
out to whoever might help to prevent looming legislation that could seriously
harm their right to conduct ritual slaughter of animals.
The Dutch parliament is set to debate next week a bill prohibiting slaughtering animals in the Netherlands that have not been stunned, which would include Jewish shechita
and the Muslim halal methods. The European Parliament is set to debate a number
of new amendments to the EU’s draft Food Information Regulation next week, which
will raise the possibility of labeling all meat slaughtered using the Jewish or
Muslim methods. Such labeling, it is feared, would have devastating effects on
the kosher meat industry.
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Jewish law dictates that an animal about to be
slaughtered “has to be fit and healthy and capable of independent life,” as Dr.
Stuart Rosen wrote in a 2004 article defending shechita – defined there as “a
perfectly clean incision through the structures at the front of the neck” – that
appeared in the British Veterinary Association’s The Veterinary Record. Stunning
– which can be done mechanically by dealing a blow to the animal’s head with a
captive bolt pistol; with a large electrical discharge to the head; or through
narcosis induced by making the creatures breathe carbon dioxide- enriched air –
directly damages the animal’s nervous system.
As such, it would become
“unfit for Shechita because of an existing injury or abnormality,” Rosen
While killing animals to consume their meat is permitted in
Europe, the EU’s directive “European Convention for the Protection of Animals
for Slaughter” generally requires stunning before slaughter. Still, it lets
member states allow exemptions for religious slaughter in light of Article 9 of
the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for the right to freedom
of thought, conscience and religion.
The only member of the EU to ban
shechita to date is Sweden; Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, which are not part
of the EU, have banned it as well, as per data provided by the Rabbinical Centre
The potential shechita crisis was one of the central topics on
the itinerary of the European Jewish Congress’s General Assembly, held Sunday in
Budapest. Last week, EJC President Moshe Kantor expressed his concern over the
Dutch bill in a letter to The Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The Dutch
bill, put forth by a proanimal rights party and supported by politician Geert
Wilders, who is not considered hostile to the local Jewish community, would also
affect the widely unregulated halal practice in the country.
proposed law suggests that two million animals are slaughtered according to
religious tradition every year in Holland, our records indicate that Jewish
slaughter rarely exceeds a couple of thousand animals annually. So this law
would only infringe on and single out the rights of a very small minority and
have little effect on the vast majority of religious slaughter in The
Netherlands,” Kantor wrote.
The EJC also appealed to every Dutch
parliamentarian and ambassador in Europe.
Kantor met Sunday with
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is also the current president of the
Council of the European Union.
“Orban said he’d appeal to the president
of the EU Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, to do what he could to prevent harming the
Jewish community of Europe by prohibiting shechita,” Kantor told The Jerusalem
, noting that while the volume of Jewish slaughter in the Netherlands was
small, such a law could create a dangerous precedent.
stressed the importance of joint action on the topic.
“The joint efforts
of the Jewish communities from around Europe are crucial here,” Kantor said.
“There are not many Jews in Europe, and our strength comes from synchronized
Joël Mergui, president of the Consistoire Central – the union of
Jewish communities in France – who has been concentrating European efforts to
protect shechita, explained in his address to the GA on the topic the financial
ramifications of labeling meat taken from the bodies of animals that were not
“Most of the meat from animals slaughtered according to Jewish
law – some 75 percent – does not end up being kosher, either because of the part
of the livestock it is, or because health blemishes were discovered in the
animal post-slaughtering, which disqualifies it,” he said.
That kind of
meat ends up in the general market, and labeling would encourage its boycott,
which would lead to a dramatic rise in the prices of kosher meat, he
Mergui also said that Jewish slaughtering causes the animal’s
relatively swift loss of consciousness due to the lack of oxygen to the brain,
while various methods of stunning have their faults and do not always succeed on
the first attempt.
Pro-stunning advocates contend that beginning the
killing process this way is far more humane than simply cutting the animal’s
throat with a very sharp blade.
Sources involved in countering the Dutch
bill believe that anti-Semitism is not at the root of it; however, Shimon Cohen
of Shechita UK outrightly compared the notion of marking kosher meat, as per the
proposal facing the European Parliament, to the Nazi methods of setting Jews
“Mr. Stevenson is picking on Jews and Muslims by saying that only
their slaughter methods should be labeled. He is blatantly discriminating
against our communities,” said Cohen, referring to Scottish Conservative MEP
Struan Stevenson, who is behind the recent proposal.
“It is the
21st-century equivalent of the yellow star, but on our food. We have our own
labels for kosher meat, but we do not want the law to discriminate against us by
singling us out in this way,” continued Cohen, whose organization advocates
Jewish ritual slaughter.
“Mr. Stevenson is a known opponent of shechita,
and he is doing all he can to sow doubts in the minds of consumers about our
slaughter methods, which are in fact both legal and humane – far more humane
than the electrocution, clubbing, shooting and gassing that takes place in
secular slaughter,” he contended.
The question of shechita’s humaneness
in comparison to other methods of killing animals seems as yet
Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado
State University who is considered one of the world’s leading experts on
handling and welfare of livestock in slaughter plants, defended appropriately
conducted shechita in an article published in the journal Meat & Poultry
“I have observed that cattle held in an upright restraint
device had almost no reaction to correctly done Kosher slaughter that was
performed with a special long knife,” she wrote.
“The cut with the
special knife appeared to not cause pain.”
In some kosher
slaughterhouses, however, the animals, still conscious, are hoisted with
shackles before being killed, which greatly increases their anxiety and
suffering. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger informed kosher slaughterhouses in
South America last year that he would no longer permit the import of meat
produced in such an inhumane manner to Israel. An alternate method, involving
large brackets that hold the animal from both sides and then flip it over, is
being gradually introduced instead of the shackles.
observations, it appears that when good practices are used, the steer or lamb
will stay still and not react to the cut,” she wrote. “For religious slaughter
it is important to use a knife that is long enough to fully span the neck; keep
the tip of the knife outside the neck during the cut; use a very sharp knife;
and hold the wound open during the cut.”
Addressing findings of a team of
New Zealand researchers that showed how slaughter without stunning causes pain,
Grandin stated that the knives used in that study to kill the animals were
neither as long nor as sharp as Jewish slaughter practice dictates. Additionally
Grandin noted that “in properly done kosher slaughter, the wound is held open
during the cut,” an action that apparently diminishes the animal’s pain, while
“the methods section of the [New Zealand] paper did not contain sufficient
detail to determine if the wound was held open during the cut.”
Zealand has also recently outlawed shechita in its limits.
himself a medical professional, there is no doubt as to the humaneness of the
ancient Jewish ritual slaughter practices. He has asked various Israeli
ministers, as well as Metzger, to help the Jewish European efforts by finding a
major Israeli university to conduct a comparative study of the Jewish and
European animal-killing methods.
“It is now time that Israel helps the
Diaspora, too,” he told the Post
Margui’s efforts to counter the
European legislation include urging the various Jewish communities into action
in every country, in line with the Jewish principal of mutual responsibility and
the belief that the passing of one law prohibiting or hindering shechita could
create a broader phenomenon.
He also is coordinating with the other group
that stands to be affected by such legislation: the local Muslim
“We are working closely with the Muslim community of France on
this, and I am in contact with my Muslim counterpart, who sees the issue eye to
eye with me,” he said.