As if it was not already difficult in some respects to be an orthodox Jew in Europe, Flanders – the northern region of Belgium – began to enforce a ban on shechita – kosher ritual slaughter of animals – on January 1.
Not everyone who adheres to Judaism’s strict dietary code is necessarily religious, but Belgium has two main centers of Judaism, Antwerp – the capital of Flanders province – with a Haredi Jewish population of about 12,000 and Brussels, the Belgian capital, home to approximately 20,000 Jews. Antwerp’s kosher slaughterhouses supplied meat across the continent, in places such as Sweden and Romania.
The regional parliament introduced prohibitions for the slaughter of animals that have not been pre-stunned – a practice explicitly forbidden according to the Torah. It states that an animal must be uninjured and in optimal health before slaughter – and if it is not, observant Jews must not conceive of using the animal for food. The practice also requires the use of an extremely sharp blade that must be smooth without any nicks in the metal, to prevent unnecessarily wounding the animal. Muslim slaughter for halal products will be similarly affected by the new regulations.
“That provinces within Belgium — the law-making capital of Europe — have passed this type of anti-religious measure is an affront to the European values we all hold so dear,” said Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis and Moscow’s chief rabbi, according to a report on JNS.org.
“Time and again, the Jewish community is told by senior European Union officials that there is no Europe without the Jews, [but] these bans undermine those statements and put Jewish life at risk,” he continued. “We urge E.U. leaders to address this directly to the governments of member states.”
Ritual slaughter of animals without prior stunning of is outlawed in several European countries, including the Nordic ones (Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Norway), Slovenia and partially in Switzerland, which allows chickens to still be ritually slaughtered.
Belgian Jews will not be prevented from importing meat from European countries in which Jewish ritual slaughter is not outlawed, such as Britain and France or Ireland.
The issue seems to an intersection of a slightly thicker part of the wedge regarding Jewish life in Europe and follows on from attempts to also ban circumcision – in some cases like Denmark, which likened it to the brutality of female genital mutilation.