July 14, 2024
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Head of European Rabbis: On Shechita and Other European Bans

Last month, five healthy, rare animals—four lions and a giraffe—were slaughtered at the Copenhagen Zoo. A zoo spokesman claimed it was done to make room for other animals and prevent inbreeding. Denmark’s Minister of Agriculture, Dan Jorgensen, the same official who that same week banned the slaughter of animals according to kosher and Halal practice, was the person who authorized the killings.

Marius, the giraffe, was 18 months old when he was killed and, in full view of the public, his flesh was fed to the zoo’s lions. Why didn’t the zoo consider selling or donating the animals to a place that would have appreciated and nurtured these exotic creatures? Animal welfare, Jorgenson’s reason for the ban on religious ritual slaughter, does not seem to have been a consideration when these five healthy animals were put down.

Denmark joined several other European countries that have made it illegal to slaughter animals without stunning—most notably Poland, where the matter is still sitting in front of a government tribunal that has to determine if both Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter—shechita and hallal—fall under the rubric of religious freedom. While shechita is permitted during the determination of judgment, there have been issues in Poland that cropped up when a leader in the community said Jews were stunning cattle, when in fact, they were not, and trust was compromised.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, said the killings “make it more apparent that the shechita ban is not about animal welfare, but rather much more about the politics of immigration and integration. Until recently shechita, was legal in Denmark, yet the small Jewish community preferred to import meat. Pinchas Goldschmidt, CER president, statedsince the Jewish community does not perform such slaughter in Denmark, the law must have a secondary impetus aside from the minister’s stated reasons.

In an exclusive interview with JLBC, Rabbi Goldschmidt was asked to analyze the effect of both shechita ban and the criminalization of Brit Milah—Jewish ritual circumcision of infant boys—on Jewish communities in Europe. The Rabbi suggested that the promulgation of these laws in several European countries represents “a general movement against religious minorities in Europe and against freedom of religion in general.” He called the Danish government’s claim that the ban on ritual slaughter is within the framework of animal welfare considerations “false… a fig leaf intended to cover the country’s woeful record on animal welfare.”

He said that “as the media continues to report stories about perfectly healthy animals being slaughtered for no good reason, it becomes ever more apparent that this is less about animal welfare and much more about the politics of immigration and integration.”

According to the CER website, Denmark has a “poor record” on animal-welfare issues, especially regarding “the welfare of pigs at the point of slaughter.” According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the United Kingdom (PETA UK), Denmark’s military sometimes uses live pigs for target practice, in order to simulate wounds that may be encountered in battle. They wrote: “During these exercises, animals may be shot by a firing squad with high-velocity bullets, stabbed, dismembered and sometimes sewn back together.”

The rabbi said the only accomplishment of the shechita ban was “offending faith communities.” Goldschmidt says the regulations are a European reaction to the influx of millions of Muslims. “We are collateral damage. The movement against shechita and Brit Mila has to be seen in this context.”

It is a doctrine that “is gaining strength. There is a big risk that extreme right wing parties in Europe, as exemplified by their success in the recent Hungarian elections, are “generally gathering momentum against shechita and Brit milah.” JLBC asked the Moscow based rabbi what he considered to be the most visible, moment to moment implication where such regulations are implemented. “This causes much uncertainty and a lot of discomfort. Many see it as an end to the Jewish community in those places.”

He noted that a family who would make a Brit Milah in a place where it was permissible, would be subject to criminal prosecution “if a child is taken to another place to be circumcised.”

JLBC asked the Rabbi about the situation in Germany where a parliamentary attempt to ban Brit Milah was stymied by the veto of Chancellor Angela Merkel. “If it had been forbidden, it would have changed the nature of the community… There are tens of thousands Jews and Israelis already working in Germany.” He stressed that “Israel’s biggest friend in Europe is Angela Merkel.” A similar opinion was expressed by former Chief Rabbi Lau to JLBC last month in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik is Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis. JLBC spoke with him about the Danish government’s ban on ritual slaughter. He agrees with the position of Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who believes the ban is a result of antisemitisim.

“Europe today has become a homeland for antisemtism and anti-Islam,” said Potasnik. “In France and Belgium for example, there are different expressions against Jews. The Danish ban against shechita is another manifestation of a government seeking to remove a core principle of Jewish life.”

He decried the “new European normal” where shechita can be banned, but healthy non-kosher animals can be murdered. “It’s another antisemitic slap in the face.” The rabbi said that the ban was announced on the anniversary of the deadly terrorist attack that took four lives at The Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in Toulouse, France.

“Where are all of the people of conscience?” asked Potasnik. “Many will demonstrate to protect animals—giraffes, carriage horses and other animal rights issues. Is anyone marching to protect Jewish rights? Where are the groups? Where are the protestors?”

Rabbi Potasnik waxed philosophic, saying “sometimes it’s easier to talk about hatred and demonstrate against displays of hatred. It’s harder to define the hate mongers and stop the spread of their evil.”

He offered the example of the Presbyterian church which has made anti-Israel, anti-Zionist positions part of its official doctrine. “Jews have to defend themselves to Presbyterians, and respond to Presbyterian challenges questioning why Zionism is a legitimate movement. Presbyterians now equate Zionism with Nazism.”

“Jews,” said Rabbi Potasnik, should “form a coalition with those who respect us and not spend time justifying our existence.”

In a further discussion about Crimea, Goldschmidt, who is based in Russia, said that one should not be confused by the number of Ukrainian Jews who are making aliyah. It is not 70% of Ukranian Jews who are leaving. The number of people who make aliyah increased 70% this year over last. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

By Maxine Dovere

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