Dear Rabbi Klass,
It has been a while now that several countries where Jews reside have outlawed shechita – Jewish ritual slaughter. Especially disturbing is what is happening now in Greece and Belgium, since they portray shechita as being cruel. What are we as Jews to do? Is there any recourse for us in this matter so fundamental to our people?
Answer: Indeed, Now the most recent country to prohibit kosher slaughter is Greece, and before that both the Flanders and the Wallonia regions of Belgium. While Greece has a very small Jewish population, as most of its prewar Jewish population was exterminated by Hitler and his willing allies, Antwerp in Flanders, Belgium, as well as Brussels, have a Jewish population of about 45,000.
Earlier, Poland aimed at outlawing kosher slaughter but wound up with a ban that might not be implemented until 2025. Poland has a long history of vacillation regarding the Jewish people. There were periods of tolerance of Jews, a stateless people who sought refuge in Poland and flourished there. Yet there were also long periods of persecution, whereby the Jew remained a second-class citizen sans any rights and at the mercy of a local nobleman [poretz]. Yet before the Holocaust, there emerged a renaissance of both Chasidic and Mitnagdic Jewry. Cities such as Warsaw and Krakow evolved into major centers of Torah and Jewish practice. It is well known that in Warsaw alone there were scores of batei midrash (shtibelach) that were branches of the Mizrachi and Agudah movements, where the sounds of Torah and tefillah were heard day and night.
All of this came to an abrupt end with the onset of the Holocaust, where vast numbers of the local populace became willing participants in the persecution and eventual slaughter of the country’s large Jewish population. All that has remained in Poland is a minuscule Jewish population, and most by now are very elderly. Surprising as it seems, there is little shame or guilt on the part of a parliament that, post-Holocaust, has approved such a harsh measure regarding shechita, even though on a technicality is not currently being enforced. This is the cause of such an enormous strain on a population that is trying to rebuild itself – how to plan ahead when a ban seems destined to be enforced in the very near future.
Politically, today Poland has seemed to prove itself, post the collapse of the Soviet Union and its own Warsaw Pact communist regime, to be a reliable ally to both America as well as Israel, a member of NATO. Additionally, much has been accomplished in the area of restoration of hallowed Jewish cemeteries in Poland that were destroyed during the Holocaust. However, on the other hand Poland has instituted a law that punishes one for attributing Nazi past complicity to any Pole. Poland has also signed into law non-compensation to individuals [Jews] whose property and assets were seized by the Poles. Notwithstanding one would still view Poland as an ally of Israel and America.
Thus why attack shechita, the most humane method of animal slaughter? The answer is that in their view, to kill animals in this manner is barbaric. Instead they advocate several other methods, including stunning and killing with an electrical charge, or stunning as a prep to slaughter, either of which is halachically unacceptable.
To blame all on anti-Semitism might not be the core reason. There is a movement geared to equating animals to humans that is utterly foolish. All of the animal kingdom we find explicitly that the Torah specifically placed them under the dominion of man (Genesis 9:2) “U’mora’achm v’chitchem yihyeh al kol chayat ha’aretz v’al kol of ha’shomayim b’chol asher tirmos ha’adamah u’v’chol dgei ha’yam b’yedchem nitnu – And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird that flies the skies, all that moves upon the land and all the fish in the seas are given to you. The verse that follows allows every living thing as food for the sons of Noah, whereas the Jewish people were later restricted to eat only of those animals considered tahor – clean and forbidden to eat of those considered tamei – unclean (Leviticus 11:1-47, Deuteronomy 14:3-21) and even then we can only consume our meat after Kosher slaughter (Mishna, Chullin 31a, based upon Deuteronomy 12:21).
Thus we see that it is our religious practice that they seek to dismiss, under the guise of humane practice. Whereas we are the ones who are specifically commanded to avoid tza’ar bal Chai – unnecessary pain to animals. R. Yehudah in the name of Rab rules that this is a biblical precept (Shabbos 128b) even though the Gemara cites no scriptural source many of the commentators refer to the following verse as its source (Exodus 23:5) “Ki tir’eh chamor son’acha rovetz tachat masao v’chdalta me’azov lo azov ta’azov imo – If you see the donkey of the one who hates you straining under its burden, and would seek to avoid aiding it of its burden, you are surely to aid it and unload with him.”
Thus our means of slaughter is the one that is both the most humane as well as the only means that complies with Torah law.
To be continued