Today, Denmark joins a growing list of European countries which have effectively banned Kosher slaughter. A regulation, signed Thursday but came into effect Monday, requires animals to be stunned prior to slaughter, thus rendering them unfit for Kosher certification. Denmark is preceded by Poland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland in banning unstunned slaughter. The ban affects both Jews and Muslims.
Dutch Agriculture Minister Dan Jørgensen told reporters, ““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.”
Karen Hækkerup, Jørgensen’s predecessor, initiated the regulation, stating she was opposed to all slaughter which did not include pre-stunning the animal. Previously, the law allowed for the animal to be stunned either before or immediately after its throat was cut. Muslim leaders had petitioned to be allowed to slaughter animals without any stunning.
Although local Jewish leader Finn Schwartz insists the move was not motivated by anti-Semitism, he criticized the minister for pushing the regulation through without going through parliament.
“When you have religious minorities in a society you should also respect the religious minority even if you really don’t like some of the things [they] are doing. If you want to change fundamental rules that concern the religious minorities then you should have an open discussion,” he said.
Rabbi Yair Melchior of Copenhagen agrees with Schwartz’s assessment. “It is definitely not anti-Semitism. This minister is known for his animal rights activism,” he said.
“To say ‘anti-Semitism’ is not only inaccurate, it hurts the cause,” he added. He also went on to criticize Jørgensen for going ahead with the ban without meeting religious leaders who had asked to see him.
European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy Tonio Borg told Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the European Jewish Association that the ban “contradicts European law.”
Currently, the 6,000-strong Jewish community in Denmark imports Kosher meat from elsewhere, and there are no Kosher slaughterhouses in Denmark itself, so the impact of the ban right now is mostly symbolic. The community is concerned, however, that should imported meat become unavailable at some point in the future, the ban would affect the community quite heavily. Rabbi Margolin wrote in a letter to Danish officials that Kosher slaughter is the “bare minimum necessary for the survival of a Jewish community anywhere. Shechita bans in Denmark are hurtful to Jews in the country, in Europe, and throughout the world.” There is some worry, too, that this is “part of an increasing domino effect in some parts of Europe,” former Israeli ambassador to Denmark Yitzhak Eldan told the Jerusalem Post.
“This attack on basic Jewish religious practice in Denmark puts into question the continuance of community life in the country and follows strongly on the heels of persistent attacks on Jewish circumcision,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said. He cynically expressed his hope that the ban was not motivated by a desire to “placate or mollify animal rights activists in light of the international criticism” Denmark received last week after euthanizing a healthy giraffe in the zoo and feeding it to the lions, tigers and leopards in front of small children. The execution, which took place despite petitions against it, was done for reasons of population control.
Jørgensen rejected the criticism levelled at the regulation, saying, “when [Jews and Muslims] are upset about the ban, even though they have not taken advantage of the exemptions available, it can only be because in the future they would like to carry out slaughter without stunning.”
There may be a way around the ban, however. In 1998, in consultation with the British Chief Rabbi’s office, it was deemed acceptable to stun the animal with a non-penetrative captive bolt pistol. It would render the animal insensible, meeting the Danish legal requirements, without injuring the animal, making it unfit for Kosher certification. When this method is used, the slaughter must occur immediately after knocking the animal on the head.
Currently, both the Jewish and Muslim communities are fighting the regulation.