Banning kosher shechita is a direct attack on Jews - opinion

Greece joined many countries across Europe in banning kosher and halal slaughtering.

A slaughterer cuts beef carcasses into pieces in the Biernacki Meat Plant slaughterhouse in Golina near Jarocin, western Poland July 17, 2013. (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)
A slaughterer cuts beef carcasses into pieces in the Biernacki Meat Plant slaughterhouse in Golina near Jarocin, western Poland July 17, 2013.
(photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

I’m not one to search for – and then find – Jew-hatred around every corner and under every rock. But in Greece, I’ve found it right out in the open.

The recent decision by the highest court in Greece to let stand the banning of kosher and halal slaughtering of meat is an obvious and direct attack against Jews and Muslims. It is an attack on the freedom of Jews and Muslims to practice their religions.

No obfuscation of intent, no interpretation needed. The thinking is clear.

Animal rights are more important than religious freedom. The animal lobby is more powerful than the Jewish lobby. Greece is just one example. 

This deprivation of religious freedom is happening all over Europe.

A Greek national flag flutters as people visit a beach, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Athens, Greece, April 28, 2020. (credit: GORAN TOMASEVIC/REUTERS)A Greek national flag flutters as people visit a beach, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Athens, Greece, April 28, 2020. (credit: GORAN TOMASEVIC/REUTERS)

Jewish communities are dwindling. In many of these countries, there is no one left to defend the rights of the few who remain.

In this case, in Greece, the Greek Supreme Court ruled on a ministerial exception for religious slaughter. The exception was to the Greek law that required the stunning of an animal before the slaughter. Jews needed that exception. 

They relied on it because shechita as it is known, or kosher ritual slaughter, is not kosher if the animal is either stunned or anesthetized. So, too, according to halal, or ritual Islamic animal slaughter.

The original purpose of the ministerial exception was specifically to create a balance enabling kosher slaughtering while preventing animal cruelty. But now, in a turnabout, the court has ruled against that very balance and has forbidden all slaughter without stunning.

In a move that can only be described as the height of absurdity, the courts write: “The government should regulate the issue of slaughtering animals in the context of worship in such a way as to ensure both the protection of animals from any inconvenience during slaughter and the religious freedom of religious Muslims and Jews living in Greece.”

Really? They just ruled against the very compromise they called for in their decision. Greece was once a great thriving Jewish community. But today, as we all know, Greece is not the center of the world’s kosher slaughtering industry.

Salonika, also known as Thessaloniki, was the great city of Greece. Jews were a major feature of the city. In 1902 of the 126,000 residents of Salonika 62,000 were Jews. It was, once upon a time, the center of Jewish publishing. The ports of Salonika were closed on Shabbat because the entire industry was controlled by Jews. In the late 1920s and early 1930’s, the Jews of Salonika were lured to Haifa to work the port there. They were better skilled and better motivated than the locals of British Mandatory Palestine.

Before the Holocaust, Salonika was home to 55,000 Jews. Fewer than 2,000 survived the Nazi murder machine. Today there are hardly 1,000 Jews in all of Greece. Greek Jews are not slaughtering very many animals. This is not an industry. And that is why the religious exception was a good solution.

There is no reason to insist on a change in the law – just create the exception!

Unfortunately, Greece does not want an exception. It is part of a trend charging through Europe. The trend is to protect animals against cruelty above religious freedom, above the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims.

Some might argue that these trends and laws are really anti-immigrant rulings against Muslims. They might be correct. That this is really an anti-Muslim movement and tiny, powerless, Jewish communities are caught in the net.

Look at the trend. European Union countries that now ban kosher slaughter include, among others, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia and Estonia. In 2011, the Netherlands banned kosher slaughter and then, in 2012, reversed the decision. In 2013, Poland banned shechita and then revised the ban to mean that they ban only the slaughter of kosher meat for export.

These laws, these bans, are effectively preventing – certainly dissuading, Jews from moving to these countries.

An even more sinister parallel trend is emerging in many of these countries. It, too, is an attack on Jews and Muslims. I am referring to the move to ban non-surgical/medical circumcision. Those lobbying to prevent this ancient Jewish and Muslim custom assert that it is child abuse and child mutilation. And they are outspoken and persuasive.

Preventing cruelty is an important value. Certainly, for newborn Jewish babies as well as for animals, they are Jewish values. They are universal values. I think everyone will agree to that. 

But now a compromise must be reached. Accommodations must be enacted. It would do Greece well to emulate Poland. Legislate the religious exception for ritual slaughter and put a ban on the industry and export of meat. I don’t think, however, that it will happen.

I don’t think that the powers-that-be are interested in compromise because banning shechita is a ritual red herring.

The writer is a columnist and a social and political commentator.