Top EU official backs freedom of religion amid calls against Jewish rituals in Europe

Brussels chief rabbi calls on Timmermans to aid Jewish community in battle.

A man putting on a kippa as part of a solidarity campaign with European Jews (photo credit: screenshot)
A man putting on a kippa as part of a solidarity campaign with European Jews
(photo credit: screenshot)
AMSTERDAM – “You don’t get to say how someone else worships, and they don’t tell you how to worship,” European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans told some 250 rabbis in the Dutch capital on Tuesday night.
“I will defend that principle and this also applies to religious practices,” the guest of honor said, speaking at the Conference of European Rabbi’s 60th Anniversary Gala Dinner.
“These are not practices you can simply drop if they are an integral part of what you see as your religion, and if religious slaughter is done according to the rules by certified people, that should never be a problem in any society,” he said, added that the same principle applies to circumcision.
“Freedom of religion is essential and we will defend the principle that one should not be questioned on how they practice religion,” Timmermans added, emphasizing the need to respect and celebrate the differences between the different communities that make up society.
His remarks followed a public plea to him by Brussels Chief Rabbi Avraham Guigui to assist the Jewish community in its battle over the issues of religious slaughter and circumcision.
“We ask you as our friend and ally to join this fight which is a fight for religious freedom,” Guigui appealed to Timmermans.
In Belgium on Friday, the Walloon Parliament’s environment committee voted unanimously to ban the slaughter of unstunned animals, which would outlaw shechita (slaughter) according to Jewish law as well as Muslim Halal practice.
Both require that butchers swiftly slaughter the animal by slitting its throat and draining the blood, but most animal rights campaigners say it is more humane to stun animals electrically before killing them. Guigui told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that professors had found that shechita causes less stress to the animals, but that activists had chosen to ignore such studies.
The Walloon Parliament’s plenary will debate the issue later this month. This, alongside the recent vote by Norway’s Progress Party in favor of a ban on circumcision for boys under the age of 16, were central issues of discussion over the course of the threeday Conference of European Rabbi.
European Union President Antonio Tajani, in a video message played to guests at the Gala Dinner, said: “Europe would not be Europe without Jews. Any attack against Jewish communities in Europe is an attack against Europe. We have to act together reaffirming the values at the center of the European integration. Religions are part of the solution for peace and tolerance.”
Thanking Timmermans and Tajani for their words of support, President of the Conference of European Rabbis Pinchas Goldschmidt described “a new, very scary environment in which negative forces are taking advantage of globalization and abusing the Internet to spread their hate.”
He also took issue with members of Jewish communities who vote for far-right parties and spoke of “infiltration” of Jewish communal leadership by representatives of “racist, populist parties” that lead the battle against shechita and brit mila. Talking to the Post after the event, he pointed at the Netherlands and Austria as examples of countries where this is happening.
“We rabbis have to provide to our community and to the world a tent, a spiritual tent, which will provide clarity, charity and love, sanctity and tolerance, where respect to every human being who has been created in the image of God is demonstrated,” he told his audience.