Once a month I get my big white box. All the way from Belgium, shipped overnight, comes enough meat to sustain me and my children for the weeks to come. I always feel like a criminal. And I guess in a way, I am, because I insist on keeping kosher in Sweden.
Under legal protection, the Sami minority of Sweden are allowed to slaughter their reindeer without any prior stunning. The keeping and handling of the reindeer is a far cry from the romantic tales of old; using helicopters to herd them, keeping them in close quarters, causing panic and injury to the animals. It is far from humane, and far from the rigorous rules surrounding shehita.
So how come that kosher slaughter has been banned in Sweden since 1937, but reindeer slaughter remains legal? The slaughter of reindeer, technically a mirror of shehita, is not only legal but furiously protected, receiving tens of millions in government subsidies every year. It is said this protection is due to the fact that the Sami people are a protected minority under the national minorities act, and that it is crucial to help them sustain their cultural identity.
Guess what? The Jews are also a national minority, protected under that very law, but that protection remains an empty promise. Where are our subsidies? Where are the activists fighting for the right to our cultural identity?
As I have previously reported, Sweden has one of the most liberal hunting laws in the world. It is a national pastime, and during hunting season the country grinds to a halt. These hunters, ordinary citizens without training, slaughter their animals in the wild, no questions asked. So it is not merely a Jew VS Sami-situation. It is a Sweden VS Hypocrisy-situation. I am not demanding an end to reindeer slaughter, I am demanding an end to bigotry and anti-religious statutes.
Whenever I discuss this issue I get the answer that the ban on kosher slaughter has to do with animal rights, that shehita is somehow brutal and inhumane. Have any of the people using that argument seen an industrial slaughterhouse, I wonder? Do they know what state the animal is in, how it is kept, how it has suffered? But, that doesn’t matter, does it? The fact that our religious laws create more protection against animal cruelty than the Swedish legal system, allowing everything from animal testing to dog racing and factory fur farming, has little bearing on the debate.
The ban was issued in 1937. Anyone who knows anything about Swedish history knows that this is no coincidence, but a remnant of a shameful past. We must now, finally, expose that shame for what it is. The ban on kosher slaughter is not about protecting the rights of animals, it is about stripping the rights of Jews. When Jews want to preserve their identity it is called a barbaric practice, when the Sami do it’s called culture. When the technique is used by Jews it is penalized, but when done by the Sami it is subsidized. It is a blatant hypocrisy and it must end now; by overturning this ban and maybe, finally, owning up to its origin.
Not that long ago, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Great synagogue of Stockholm was filled with politicians pledging allegiance to the Jews. It is time to put verbs in those sentences and act on the promises made. Don’t praise us in death, but help us in life, by protecting our right to stay Jewish.
Annika Hernroth-Rothstein is a political adviser, writer and activist. An alumni of the Young Jewish diplomatic seminar (organized by the Mizrad Hahutz) and Tikvah seminars in NYC. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her two children. Follow her on Twitter.