Photo Credit: Nati Shohat / Flash 90
Rabbis in Jerusalem examine knives used for the ancient ritual slaughtering method known as "shechita."

The Hellenic Council of State – the highest court in Greece — has banned kosher and halal ritual slaughter, both central to the observance of Jews and Muslims, in favor of a petition by the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation to annul a legal exemption allowing ritual slaughter without anesthetic.

Tuesday’s ruling said the religious preparation of animal products did not outweigh those animals’ welfare, according to Greek Reporter. The court also ruled that the exemption was a violation of a law requiring slaughter of animals to take place with anesthesia.

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The court called on Greek lawmakers to find a way to balance animal rights with the needs of Jews and Muslims who require ritual slaughter for meat.

“The government should regulate the issue of slaughtering animals in the context of worship in such a way as to ensure both the protection of animals from any inconvenience during slaughter and the religious freedom of religious Muslims and Jews living in Greece,” the ruling said, according to the Greek news outlet Protothema.

The ruling follows a similar one handed down on December 17, 2020 by the European Union (EU) Court of Justice, which ruled that all member states had to “reconcile both animal welfare and freedom of religion.”

The ruling upheld a 2017 decision by the Flemish government to ban ritual slaughter without stunning – the method required by Jewish and Islamic religious laws – but urged member states to “adequately and proportionately consider freedom of religion” in determinations on ritual slaughter.

The decision came after a years-long struggle between animal rights activists and advocates for the rights of those whose faith requires ritual slaughter for meat.

In 2014, Flemish Minister for Animal Welfare Ben Weyts reversed his position on the issue in Belgium, vowing to “enforce in all aspects” Belgian law facilitating the practice of ritual slaughter. But it didn’t last.

Belgian Minister Vows to Uphold Jewish Ritual Slaughter

In December 2020, the EU Court of Justice approved a ban on kosher slaughter, citing a July 7, 2017 ruling by the Flemish Region of Belgium that prohibited slaughter without prior non-lethal stunning.

Belgium to Ban Shechita in 2019

Effective January 1, 2019, kosher slaughter was outlawed in the Flanders region of Belgium due to the 2017 ruling. A similar ruling in the Walloon region of Belgium likewise outlawed kosher slaughter, effective August 2019.

Kosher Meat Shortages Ahead as EU Court Permits Shechita Ban

Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai responded to the EU court ruling earlier this month in a letter sent to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croix, warning that a decision to ban kosher slaughter in the country is “an alarming precedent” that “deeply harms religious freedom in Europe.

“The Belgian court’s decision to uphold the ban on kosher slaughter deeply undermines the values of freedom of religion, equality and liberty advocated by the European Union,” the letter said.

Israeli Minister to Belgium: Ban on Kosher Slaughter ‘Harms Religious Freedom in Europe’

“The Government of Israel supports the rights of Jews to lead a Jewish way of life freely and with full equality of rights, wherever they choose to live in the world,” Shai wrote.

In response to the EU court ruling, European Jewish Association (EJA) chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin said in a statement, “Jewish freedom of religion is under direct attack across Europe from the very institutions that have vowed to protect our communities.”

“As early as last December we warned about the dangerous consequences of the European Court of Justice ruling, and now we are seeing the result,” Margolin said.

“It started in Belgium, moved to Poland and Cyprus and it is now Greece’s turn. These direct attacks come from many of those governments and institutions that have vowed to defend their Jewish communities.

“How can Jews live in Europe if you continue to legislate against us?” Margolin added.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.