Dutch Chief Rabbi blasts call for ritual slaughter ban

Response comes after Netherlands food administration issues report advising government to prohibit practice, known as shechita, over animal welfare concerns.

A KOSHER slaughterhouse. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A KOSHER slaughterhouse.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Orthodox religious leaders across Europe harshly censured the Netherlands’ official consumer safety watchdog this weekend after it recommended that kosher slaughter be banned in the country.
On Friday, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority issued a report advising the government to prohibit the practice, known as shechita in Hebrew, over animal welfare concerns.
The authority voiced opposition to “the killing of conscious animals” because it meant that animals may take more than 45 seconds to die, during which time they may be subjected to stress and pain. Meat from pre-stunned cattle is not kosher under Jewish law.
“I’m surprised, in a negative way, because we made an agreement” between the Jewish community and the government regarding slaughter, Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Jacobs was referring to a 2012 agreement between the country’s Agriculture minister and Jewish and Muslim leaders stipulating that animals can continue to be ritually slaughtered as long as they lose consciousness within 40 seconds of their throats being cut. After 40 seconds they must be stunned.
According to the chief rabbi, the Jewish community has made great strides in improving the general conditions of animals being slaughtered, from transport to stabling – issues that concern the entire meat industry – and he was surprised that such a recommendation came at this time.
Only around 3,000 animals are slaughtered according to Jewish law in the Netherlands annually, he continued, asserting that it is “out of proportion” to focus on the Jewish community when between 10 and 20 percent of attempts at stunning in general slaughterhouses are unsuccessful and lead to inhumane treatment.
Representatives of the organized Jewish community were slated to meet with government representatives on Sunday evening, Jacobs said.
Also on Sunday, Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich issued a harsh statement questioning the product safety authority’s motives.
“The purpose of shechita is to minimize the pain to an animal,” Schudrich wrote to the Post in an email. “The Dutch food authority is either negligent in its ignorance of shechita or willfully ignorant of the great sensitivity of shechita to minimize the pain caused to animals.”
A Polish ban on shechita was overturned late last year.
The two large pan-European rabbinical bodies likewise came out against the recommendation.
“Unfortunately, the people and organizations that are still calling for bans on kosher shechita are ignoring all issues of animal welfare in non-kosher animal raising and slaughtering, which are 99.5 percent of the slaughtering performed in Europe,” said Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the Rabbinical Center of Europe.
The latest attempt to ban shechita marks a change in tactics, said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Conference of European Rabbis.
“After failing to forbid shechita through the legislative route, the opponents of religious freedom are trying to do it through administrative measures,” he asserted. “We will stand by the Jewish Community of the Netherlands as we did in the past.”
JTA contributed to this report.