Uniting against the shechita ban

In light of the checkered past of the campaign against ritual slaughter, with its roots in Nazism and xenophobia, the Dutch would do well to reconsider the move.

cows 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cows 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The expediencies of politics sometimes make for surprising bedfellows. Left-wing lawmakers in the Dutch lower house of parliament have joined forces with their right-wing counterparts to pass a bill in a 116- 30 vote that, if ratified in another round of voting in the Senate, would effectively ban ritual slaughter – Jewish and Muslim – throughout the Netherlands.
In supporting the bill, which would obligate the stunning of all animals before they are slaughtered – a demand that goes against normative Orthodox Jewish practice and the majority opinion among Muslims – the underdog-loving Left was ostensibly motivated by concern over purported suffering caused to poultry, sheep and cattle. The xenophobic Right, meanwhile, leveled claims of “barbarism” against the Islamic dhabiha and Jewish shechita. Pitted against a common enemy, the Netherlands’ 50,000-strong Jewish community has joined forces with a Muslim population of over 1 million in a rare show of interfaith solidarity to fight the bill.
Besides the heartwarming unity galvanized by the controversy surrounding it, the bill – which will probably not be passed in the Senate before the summer recess, but which enjoys broad support among the Dutch – will do little good for animals and reveals a dismaying intolerance of religious freedoms.
The attack on ritual slaughter has an infamous history.
Switzerland first banned shechita in 1893 as part of an anti-Semitic campaign to discourage Jewish immigration and to put pressure on Swiss Jews to leave the country.
Recent attempts to reverse the ban in the country have met stringent opposition, often with strong xenophobic undertones. One of the first edicts passed under the Nazi Nuremberg laws in 1933 was a ban on shechita, unless the animal was first stunned. Norway and Iceland also insist on stunning before slaughter.
Fredrik Malm, a member of the Swedish parliament, noted in 2006, in an unsuccessful motion to allow religious slaughter in his country, “It cannot be disregarded that Swedish legislation was powerfully influenced by Hitler’s Germany and the Nazi regime.”
Could animal rights’ activists opposed to dhabiha and shechita be receiving their ethical inspiration from a regime responsible for human history’s largest genocide? At the very least the Nazi precedent teaches that purported concern for animal rights is no guarantee of good moral sense.
IF PROPONENTS of the ban on ritual slaughter were truly interested in alleviating the suffering of animals, they might focus first on, say, the wretched living conditions of industrially reared poultry, sheep and cattle. If their narrow concern is with sparing unpleasant deaths, it can hardly be said that animals slaughtered in a ritual fashion suffer seriously. According to recent studies conducted by Prof. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University’s Department of Animal Science, animals lose consciousness shortly after being slaughtered. In sheep, blood to the brain is delivered almost exclusively by the carotid arteries, which are completely severed during the shechita process. Loss of consciousness normally occurs in 2 to 14 seconds. Cattle lose consciousness within 30 seconds in 90 percent of the cases, often even quicker.
Grandin has found that if animals are kept calm before slaughter, suffering can be reduced to a minimum. And if a very sharp, long knife is used and the sides of the cut to the neck are prevented from touching immediately after slaughter, animals often do not even realize they have been cut before they lose consciousness. Under the circumstances, it hardly seems justified to curtail the religious rights of over a million Jews and Muslims in the Netherlands for the dubious goal of preventing at most just a few seconds of animal suffering. If prevention of animal suffering is the goal, let more attention be given to the treatment of animals before they are slaughtered or stunned.
The EU directive, “European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter,” requires stunning before slaughter. However, reflecting respect for freedom of religious expression and the humane nature of ritual slaughter, the EU permits member states to issue exemptions for Islamic dhabiha and Jewish shechita. Why should the Dutch go against accepted EU practice?
In light of the checkered past of the campaign against ritual slaughter, with its roots in Nazism and xenophobia, the Dutch would do well to reconsider a move that will do little good besides promoting rare unity among Muslims and Jews.