Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission (EC), said on Tuesday that Europe would not tolerate any harm to fundamental religious Jewish rights.
Barroso’s comments were made during a meeting with a delegation of leading European Rabbis, headed by Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the President of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER).
Rabbi Goldschmidt was accompanied by Boris Mintz, the CER's chairman, Chief Rabbi Guggenheim of Paris, Chief Rabbi Eisenberg of Austria, Chief Rabbi Guigui of Brussels, Chief Rabbi Schudrich of Poland, the CER's Executive Director Rabbi Moche Lewin and Shimon Cohen.
The meeting, announced several days ago, was held in the wake of last week’s sudden ban on the religious slaughter of animals without prior mechanical stunning in Denmark, as well as landmark research by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU, finding shocking levels of anti-Semitism reported by Jewish communities across Europe.
Commenting on the meeting, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said, “President Barroso expressed his deep concern over the challenges to religious freedoms in some Member States. He agreed that such challenges should not go unchecked and that he would be adding religious freedom to the agenda of the forthcoming meeting of Europe's religious leaders."
Barroso agreed to write immediately to the Commissioner responsible for interior security, to alert her to the importance of highlighting to member states the increasing security needs of Jewish communities, said a statement by the CER.
President Barroso expressed his concern over recent threatened bans on shechita (slaughter) in Poland and Denmark and said that the Commission was looking closely at the legality of these moves, the statement added.
Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said, "Our talks were held with warmth and understanding, respect and friendship and we are grateful to President Barroso for sharing our concerns."
In justifying the ban on kosher slaughter, Denmark’s Agriculture Minister Dan Jørgensen said last week that “animal rights come before religious rights. I am in favor of religious slaughter, but it must be done in a way that does not bring pain to the animal. This can be accomplished only by stunning.”
According to Jewish law, stunning an animal before slaughtering renders it not kosher. Stunning damages various body parts and causes the animal to hemorrhage, making removal of the blood via cutting the arteries and veins impossible.
Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, and Religious Affairs Minister and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett voiced their displeasure over the ban and promised to work with the local Jewish community to have it lifted.