Regarding religious freedom and hypocrisy

According to a new Belgian law, animals may now be slaughtered only after being stunned excludes Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter.

A DEMONSTRATION IN Jerusalem last year against legislation that would have strengthened the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversion in Israel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A DEMONSTRATION IN Jerusalem last year against legislation that would have strengthened the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversion in Israel
According to a new Belgian law, animals may now be slaughtered only after being stunned excludes Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter. 
This issue has been raised and dropped for years, partially because of successful lobbying. The European ultra-Orthodox leadership has exhibited great strength in opposing these initiatives, enlisting support both from Israeli and American political circles raising the flag of religious freedom. How genuine is their embrace of the laudable principle of religious freedom?
Hiddush unequivocally supports religious freedom for all people everywhere. Restrictions on religious freedom should be rare and under exceptional conditions, when they counter public interest and order. This is not the case with ritual slaughter. Jews and Muslims must be allowed to practice it according to their religious laws wherever they may live.
When the lobbying efforts failed and the restrictive law was passed, the ultra-Orthodox opponents appealed to the Belgian Constitutional Court. The hearing of their petition took place on January 24. The judges heard arguments from lawyers representing Jewish umbrella organizations, Muslim groups and others challenging the law. 
The Jewish and Muslim groups argued before the court that the law violates freedom of religion. They claimed that it violates both Belgium’s constitution and the European Union’s Charter of Rights. They also argued that it discriminates against Jews and Muslims and ruins the livelihoods of ritual slaughterers and butchers. 
In the past, kosher and halal slaughter received exemptions in Belgium, but the new law has ended these, making it impossible to produce kosher and halal meat throughout most of Belgium. Religious slaughter methods do remain legal in the country’s semi-autonomous capital of Brussels, but in Flanders the ban took effect on January 1, 2019. While the community’s main slaughterhouse continues to operate in Brussels, other facilities have been forced to move out. 
The law clearly violates the religious freedom of observant Jews and Muslims, but the argument for religious freedom, when coming from Europe’s ultra-Orthodox leadership and their counterparts in Israel and the US, represents a very relative and limited application of this principle. 
Contrary to the strong protestation made to the Court, these Jewish groups are only invoking religious freedom when it comes to Orthodox religious practices but don’t hesitate to trample upon the religious freedom of fellow Jews. Their concerns are limited to their own religious rights, not the rights of secular Jews and Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal communities in Israel where these same Orthodox circles enjoy political clout. A recent well-known example is their dictate to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to revoke the Kotel agreement allowing non-Orthodox and women’s prayer groups the right to pray at the Kotel because hurts their religious sensibilities, they claimed and should therefore not be tolerated.
THIS HAS played out repeatedly over the years throughout the world. For example, Agudath Israel of America pontificated in support of the USA’s 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, declaring “religious liberty a fundamental freedom of the highest order”! But these same groups deny, through political extortion, non-Orthodox and secular Israeli Jews their freedoms of religion and from religion. They block recognition of modern Orthodox conversions or kashrut; They prevent hundreds of thousands of Israelis the right to marry, and disallow free choice of marriage and divorce; They prohibit public transportation on Shabbat, undermine gender equality, block haredi women from participating in public life, repeatedly attempt to exclude non-Orthodox converts to Judaism, threaten hotels that their kashrut certification will be revoked if they allow Reform and Conservative groups to hold services and more. Unfortunately, the leadership of the world Jewish community and Israel’s leaders have never challenged them. Instead, they accommodate this hypocritical abuse of the cherished principle of religious freedom and acquiesce to these groups’ demands. It should be stressed that with regard to all these examples and many more – the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are on the side of pluralism and religious freedom!
People often ask whether Diaspora Jewish leadership has the right to weigh in on claims of discrimination and violations of religious freedom in Israel. “After all,” they say, “these are internal Israeli matters that should be decided by democratically elected Israeli officials.” However, these reservations never phase the ultra-Orthodox advocates when it comes to challenges posed by democratically elected governments in their respective Diaspora communities. Nor do they stand in the way of Israeli officials and Diaspora leadership weighing in on these infringements of religious freedom and lobbying the respective governments to retract from such policies. They see no reason to hold back from involving American senators and congressmen and Israeli ministers and MKs in pressuring their respective European governments, demanding religious freedom.
It’s time we follow the lead of the ultra-Orthodox advocates and apply it across the board. This, of course, assumes that we take Jewish mutual responsibility and commitment to such virtues as religious freedom seriously. Mere lip service and occasional expressions of sympathy won’t bring about the necessary change. These phenomena deny not only the non-Orthodox and the secular (who comprise the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews) their rights, but increasingly the Modern Orthodox community as well. It impacts adversely on world Jewry, as we can see, for instance, in a recent INSS special report on Israel-US Jewry relations, and a landmark 2014 JPPI Report on Diaspora views regarding Israel as a Jewish and democratic State. 
My call is further validated by Hiddush’s recent 2018 Israel Religion and State Index, which indicated that 68% of the Israeli adult Jewish population favors Diaspora Jewish organizations engaging in strengthening religious freedom and pluralism in Israel, such as: freedom of marriage and ending the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on matters such as conversion. Not surprisingly, 94% of ultra-Orthodox and 80% of Zionist Orthodox Israeli Jews oppose this. As noted, religious freedom is a virtue in their eyes only when it serves their religious needs, but is an anathema if it helps Reform, Conservative, secular, Modern Orthodox and others. When that is the case, it’s not about religious freedom but rather about sheer hypocrisy. 
The writer heads Hiddush – Freedom of Religion in Israel.