The European Union Parliament on Wednesday voted to legalize kosher slaughtering, which has been outlawed by six countries -- but a critical vote next month will determine if EU countries can effectively get around the approval by demanding pre-stunning, which violates Jewish dietary laws.
The European Jewish Congress and conference of European Jewish Rabbis lobbied heavily for the bill and defeated efforts by animal rights groups to ban kosher slaughtering, which demands swift death to the animal by use of a sharp knife at the throat.
Animal rights groups have claimed the method is cruel and have succeeded in banning kosher slaughtering in Latvia, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania. Switzerland allows the method for poultry but not for other animals.
Rabbi Michael Melchior, former chief rabbi of Norway and a former Israeli Knesset Member, has said that kosher slaughter is actually more humane than the practices in slaughterhouses. "The Torah forbids cruelty to animals, and the shechitah [slaughter] process ensures that the animal loses consciousness immediately," he explained. "We have been dealing with this issue for many years, and there are many scientific studies that back us up."
The EU vote “represents the first time that ‘shechita’ has been recognized as a legitimate form of animal slaughter by any European institution," said Henry Grunwald, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Chairman of Shechita EU, which also fought for the new legislation.
The crucial vote on pre-stunning worries European Jews. "The [proposed] regulation must not be drafted to allow governments in Europe to threaten our culture and our freedom to observe our religion," said Philip Carmel of the Conference of European Rabbis. Serge Cwajgenbaum, Secretary General of the European Jewish Congress, added that “the Jewish community takes seriously the issues of human rights and the humane treatment of animals.”
The anti-kosher slaughtering bills have been viewed as anti-Semitic by many Jews in Europe, where Hitler banned the method as one of his first steps against Jews.
When Holland called kosher slaughtering "cruel" in 2003 but allowed Jews to continue using the method, Rabbi Melchior responded, "They simply don't want foreigners, and they don't want Jews. I won't say this is the only motivation, but it's certainly no coincidence that one of the first things Nazi Germany forbade was kosher slaughter.”
Attempts by Swiss Jews to lift its 100-year-old ban on kosher slaughtering caused an anti-Semitic backlash. In Sweden, there have been attempts to forbid circumcision, a Jewish law that has bound Jews for 3,500 years.
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League, has said that anti-Semitic politicians “aid and abet” animal right activists. “What other issues of animal rights have they engaged in to prohibit cruelty? When they begin and end with kosher slaughter, that's when it becomes suspect,” he stated.