Vote in Belgium to ban kosher shechita

The parliament in Wallonia province of Belgium scheduled to vote Tuesday to ban the shechita ritual slaughtering without prior stunning.

Michal Levy,

Rabbi Avraham Gigi
Rabbi Avraham Gigi

The parliament in the Walloon/Wallonia province of Belgium is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a measure to ban shechita, the ritual slaughtering of animals, which is performed without their being stunned first.

The measure attempts to bypass a local constitutional court ruling upholding shechita as a matter of human rights and freedom of religion. Because Tuesday is the last day of Passover outside Israel, Chief Rabbi of Belgium Abraham Gigi expressed hope before the start of the holiday that the vote would be postponed until Thursday to allow Jewish input before the vote. Others fear that the input will only be a formality before the measure is approved.

"The heads of the parties, representatives of the Belgian Consistoire and the head of the Belgian Mahzikei Hadas in Antwerp stated that they would conduct a discussion of our request to allow community members to express their position to parliament members before they vote and to postpone the vote to Thursday as today is a holiday for Jews," Gigi said.

However he added that the community is pessimistic about the outcome of the vote. "Even if our request is approved and we are allowed to express our opinion, we are pessimistic and think is will be a mere formality as they are determined to pass the law."

"They are trying to bypass a decision by the Walloon Constitutional Court authorizing shechita and are therefore demanding "repeat stunning' which is of course forbidden by halakha but is accepted by some Muslim representatives including Moroccan emigres. Even if the vote is postponed until Thursday it will have a majority in the parliament. We are determined to fight this wretched decision and we will of course petition the Constitutional Court and the European Union's High Court of Justice at the Hague," said Rabbi Gigi.

Two months ago the Walloon regional court decided that Jewish shechita is permitted according to Belgian law and will continue as before since "limiting Jewish ritual slaughter reduces in an exaggerated and unreasonable manner the freedom of religion, causes considerable harm and violates the constitutional human rights and religious rights in Belgium."

Belgium is a federation consisting of three provinces, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. The Wallonia province numbers 3.5 million people representing 33% of all Belgian citizens.

Shechita is the Hebrew word for the halakhic method of slaughtering animals. It requires they be conscious when their throats are slit with a finely honed knife, a practice that critics say is cruel but which advocates insist is more humane than mechanized methods used in non-kosher abattoirs.

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke in the British Parliament on the subject of shechita in January 2014, where he argued shechita "is designed to minimize animal pain. ...Pre-stunning by captive bolt...often fails at the first attempt. According to the European Food Safety Authority’s report in 2004, the failure of penetrating and non-penetrating captive bolts affects around 10 million animals, causing the animal grave distress."

Rabbi Genack of the US-based OU kashrut supervision, has said that shechita is categorized as humane slaughter in the USA. "The Humane Slaughter Act, passed in the late 1960s, designates kosher as a humane means of slaughter," he said. "If the animal is killed in a steady stroke, it becomes insensate almost immediately. When the animal is stunned, you can see signs of pain significantly higher."