The Jewish community in Belgium is struggling to deal with the repercussions of a de facto ban on kosher slaughter in the country that was recently reaffirmed by the EU’s highest court.
Belgium’s law against slaughtering animals without pre-stunning was passed in 2017. With Jewish and Muslim religious practice not allowing stunning before slaughter, the law effectively makes kosher and halal slaughter illegal in Belgium.
This month, Belgium’s constitutional court rejected a final appeal that argued a ban on ritual slaughter curtailed religious freedom.
Politico Europe reported that the kosher ban is having an extremely detrimental effect the Jewish community, and is especially noticeable at Jewish butcher shops and kosher restaurants.
Moishy Hoffman of Hoffy’s kosher restaurant said that he was “ashamed” of the lack of kosher meat he had available.
“You go to the butcher here and see empty, empty, empty counters,” Hoffman told Politico. “Sometimes they give me 10 steaks. I need 60 or 70, and I have 10. What is 10? Nothing. I need a filet de canard, I don't have it. Lamb, we don't have it.”
The chair of the Coordination Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium (CCOJB) Yohan Benizri doesn’t believe the ban was initiated to specifically target the Jewish community. But he said that the harm it is doing to the community does not seem to be of concern to anyone either.
“You do something like that and your intention is probably just animal welfare or political gain, but you’re sending a signal. ‘We don’t really care about Jews. We don’t care about their customs, we don’t care about their traditions,’” he said to the news outlet.
The community of 42,000 – with half living in Antwerp – has been getting by with imported kosher meat from other countries. However, Benizri said that he is worried that bans will spread to the rest of the EU.
Currently, for instance, the UK government is examining whether to implement new animal welfare meat labelling laws that would have the outcome of targeting kosher products with labelling – as “non-stunned meat” – that would make is appear that kosher slaughter does not take animal welfare into consideration.
Ari Mandel, the owner of Kosher4u.eu, a Belgian kosher food supplier, cited the fact that 90 percent of meat is now sold frozen, not fresh. The lack of fresh meat is costing him customers. He added that two kosher butchers have already closed their doors, with others barely hanging on.
Bans on religious slaughter spreading to the rest of Europe are a real worry for the community.
“It's not a theoretical issue, it's something that's spreading like cancer,” Benizri said. “You already have enough to worry about as a Jew in Europe."