Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash90
Chief slaughterer Rabbi Yitzchak Eliezer Yakav, June 12, 2011.

Is there a way for European Jewish communities to practice kosher shechitah despite the new ban? Apparently, the notion that the continent that gave us Auschwitz is once again trying to eradicate Jewish life there has brought up feelings of deep hurt and rage among Jews. But now, a week later, we should explore the new reality.

Let’s start with the facts: the Luxembourg-based EU Court last week supported a regulation issued by the Flemish and Walloon regions of Belgium which effectively ban the kosher slaughter of livestock by requiring that the animals be “reversibly” stunned before being slaughtered (Kosher Meat Shortages Ahead as EU Court Permits Shechitah Ban).

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This created a backlash in the Jewish communities of Europe and elsewhere, which accused the court of anti-Semitism. Few Jews took comfort in the suggestion that it was the Muslims the Belgians were targeting, since the result was the same for Jews as well, a kind of two birds with one stun gun.

Many in the EU were taken aback by the fierce reactions: Eric Mamer, head of the EU Commission spokesperson service, said he doesn’t “believe that the Court ruling has to do with a ban.” He believes the decision was merely an opinion given to the Belgian Constitutional Court regarding the decree.

Christian Wigand, another EU commission spokesperson, argued that while the “respects the judgment of the European Court of Justice… Let me make one thing very clear as you put this in the context of religious freedom for the Jewish communities. Jewish communities are and always will be welcome in Europe.”

Yes, but can they slaughter their cows and chickens?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a while back: “We are all part of the same community. There would be no European culture without the Jewish culture. There would be no Europe without Jewish people. Fostering Jewish life is something which I have always taken very seriously.”

Fine, we understand, you want Jews to stay, but what if these Jews want to eat a kosher burger?

To which Wigand responded that the European Commission “has a full understanding of the concerns of the Jewish and Muslim communities brought by the judgment and we remain as always open to discuss such concerns with them.”

In other words, no one in the EU is prepared to permit Belgian Jews to slaughter animals without first stunning them “reversibly,” whatever that means, but at the same time, they’re only too happy to inform the same Jews just how much they love them.

That’s, more or less, the political reality: pre-stunning is going to become the law of the land in the EU, sooner or later. To illustrate just how fast these things happen, here is a list of European states where kosher shechitah is already banned: Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Slovenia, Iceland, and Liechtenstein.

Poland banned kosher slaughter in 2012, but the ban was lifted by the courts in 2014.

In Upper Austria, kosher slaughtering was banned in 1958, based on a 1953 law requiring animal protection from cruelty. The Jewish community made great efforts to repeal the ban in the country’s Constitutional Court, claiming it violates the federal law guaranteeing freedom of religion. But these efforts have failed, and the ban still exists there.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, major European rabbis debated whether stunning disqualified the animal from being properly shechted. Dr. Shlomo Menachem Liban from Prague in the 1860s devoted great efforts to finding a way to topple the animal with an electric shock that would not cause it lethal damage. The definition of a treifa is a living being, including humans, that sustained an injury from which they are expected to die within a year. If an animal sustained such an injury, then the kosher slaughter by the knife did not cause it’s death, since it was already dying. It’s like shooting a man who jumped off a tall building – the bullet killed him, but he would have died anyway.

After many experiments, Dr. Liban concluded that it was not possible to use an electric shocker on an animal without causing its death, which meant that the requirement to pre-stun the animal was tantamount to a ban on kosher shechitah. An experiment conducted in some European countries to test the possibility of anesthetizing the animal by chemical means was also unsuccessful.

A statement issued by rabbis and representatives of the Orthodox German Jewish communities in 1887 and a declaration of 250 rabbis in 1894 decreed that under no circumstances can a stunned animal be considered kosher. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, issued a similar statement on August 7, 1944. The US Rabbinical Association followed suit on December 20, 1944. The Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi J. Hertz, banned stunning on March 27, 1945.

In Finland and Sweden, some Jewish communities allow stunning with the long-refuted argument that the animal would not die as a result of the electric shock. This was also practiced in Switzerland until the local rabbis protested the practice.

And now for something completely different:

A paper titled “A Review of Legal Regulation of Religious Slaughter in Australia: Failure to Regulate or a Regulatory Fail?” published in Europe PubMed Central, an open-access repository which contains millions of biomedical research works, reported that “since the 1980s, a range of Islamic authorities globally have accepted pre-slaughter stunning, provided it meets pre-requisite conditions based on the interpretation of Islamic law.

These prerequisites include:

  • Stunning equipment must be under the control of a Muslim supervisor and should be monitored by a halal certification authority or Islamic authority
  • The stunning must be reversible or temporary so as not to kill or cause permanent injury to the animals
  • Stunning equipment has not been in contact with pigs or other haram (forbidden) ingredients, such as alcohol.

Still, based on the need for the stun to be reversible, only a few recognized stun methods are likely to be halal compliant.

According to the paper, “non-penetrative stunners used in mechanical stunning produce a blow to the animal’s skull and result in a reversible stun, and are acceptable to Islamic authorities, provided the skull is confirmed to be intact following skinning. Electrical stunning leads to an unconscious state by generating an epileptiform seizure, which renders the animal insensible to pain.”

The same paper also reported that “different electrode placement results in varied stun outcomes: placement on the body (rather than the head) will induce cardiac fibrillation and immediate cardiac arrest, which means that this stunning method does not meet the halal criteria of a reversible stun. However, the alternate placement of electrodes for a head-only stun, resulting in seizure activity, may be acceptable.”

The paper added that “gaseous stunning methods are mainly used for pigs and poultry, and are controversial. In spite of the potentially reversible nature of these methods, they are not permitted for the halal slaughter of poultry (pork, of course, being declared haram as part of Islamic law). The World Halal Council cites gaseous methods as cruel, with the aim being only to kill the animal. Consequently, since Islam forbids the eating of carrion, the method is regarded as non-Islamic.”

As to the original Jewish assertion, that this entire brouhaha is not about preventing cruelty to animals but instead about the prevention of Jews – the jury is no longer out on that one.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.