Ignoring legal and humanitarian appeals by Belgium’s Jewish community and Jewish leaders worldwide, the EU’s highest court has approved a 2017 Belgian law forbidding animal-slaughter without prior stunning, a practice that infringes on Jewish law.
With the EU’s blessing, Belgium now becomes the sixth European country to outlaw shechitah, joining Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland.
By upholding the Belgian ban, the European Union Court of Justice has effectively licensed other states within the European Union to prohibit kosher slaughter for Jews and halal slaughter for Muslims, without fear of religious discrimination lawsuits.
The threat of legal consequences has until now acted as a brake on the anti-shechitah movement. But the European Union Court of Justice (EUCJ) ruling has removed that barrier, setting the stage for a wave of restrictions on all “non-stun” slaughter by European governments.
The court’s decision, which drew sharp condemnation from Jewish and Muslim groups, revealed the growing strength of anti-Semitic parties aligned with liberals in many EU countries.
These elements have succeeded in pushing through anti-shechitah legislation in almost a dozen EU states, masked as humanitarian concern for animal welfare. The legislation mandates stunning as the only “humane” approach, despite numerous risks and humanitarian pitfalls associated with the practice.
“The EUCJ’s decision to allow the ban on religious slaughter is not only disappointing but undemocratic. No democracy can exist when its citizens are denied basic human and civil rights,” said Yohan Benizri, president of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations, and a vice president of the European Jewish Congress.
“A ban on kosher meat production sends a message to Belgian Jews that they can choose between living in Belgium and practicing their religion, but they cannot do both,” Benizri said.
Court Ruling Violates EU’s Own Laws
The EUCJ’s decision came as a rejection of an appeal brought by the Belgian Federation of Jewish Communities against a 2017 ban on kosher and halal (Muslim) slaughter in two regions of Belgium.
The appeal argued that the laws violate guarantees of religious freedom enshrined in EU law; in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; the European Convention on Human Rights; and the Belgian Constitution itself.
Bowing to pressure from liberals and parties hostile to Jews and Muslims, the EU Council in 2009 promulgated a regulation that called for animals to be stunned or sedated before being slaughtered. The law, however, explicitly allowed for Member States to provide exemptions to accommodate ritual slaughter by Jews and Muslims.
Multiple states including France, Germany, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Spain make use of that exemption.
In rejecting the Jewish community’s appeal to have the Belgium ban overturned, the EU Court responded that it was not banning religious practice, but rather regulating only “one aspect” of it.
“The interference [in ritual slaughter] meets an objective of general interest recognized by the European Union, namely the promotion of animal welfare,” the court wrote in its ruling.
Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project which supported the appeal, said that “the EUCJ has once again declared itself an enemy of religious minorities.”
“We are appalled by the court’s decision to explicitly endorse the persecution of minority communities in the EU,” she said, quoted in her organization’s website. “Religious slaughter is a sacred practice in both the Jewish and Muslim faiths. The religious freedom of millions of Europeans has been put in jeopardy by this shameful ruling.”
Why Isn’t Stunning Required for Animals Killed in Belgian Sporting Events?
The legal appeal drew attention to the discriminatory nature of the Belgian legislation, noting that hunting and killing animals in sporting events are not subject to any of the “humane” regulations that have been imposed on ritual slaughter.
On the contrary, the laws governing the popular activity of game-hunting in Belgium, whether for recreation or food consumption, make no reference whatsoever to the welfare of animals. The law’s concern instead is over environmental protections.
As a December feature article in Flanders Today makes clear, the government’s aims in regulating hunting are to ensure that the region’s wildlife supply is not significantly reduced and that no damage is done to the land.
“The wild game’s comeback every winter is a hit among hunters, butchers and consumers,” the article begins, going on to enumerate the “huntable” animals as deer, wild boar, partridge, ducks and pheasant. “This list is highly regulated to ensure that wildlife is managed sustainably and to prevent damage to land set aside for farming and nature,” the article explains.
The Jewish community’s appeal challenged the double standard inherent in these laws. It argued that since the law in Belgium permits the hunting and killing of animals at “cultural or sporting events” without prior stunning, how can the same government impose “stunning” requirements on ritual slaughter?
The court’s response was striking in its transparency, exposing the sham behind pretensions of caring about animal welfare.
“Cultural and sporting events result at most in a marginal production of meat which is not economically significant,” the court said. “Consequently, such events cannot reasonably be understood as a food production activity, which justifies their being treated differently from slaughtering.”
In other words, imposing humanitarian restrictions on game-hunting will make no “significant economic” dent on Jewish or Muslim meat-production industries, so we can treat these animals “differently.” (Kill them however you please.)
The ruling has laid bare the Court’s cynicism, robbing its opinion of any moral authority, say critics.
‘A Dark Day for All of Europe’
Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Transatlantic Institute, denounced the ruling as “nothing less than a frontal assault on the basic rights and religious freedoms of Jews and Muslims in Europe.”
“Within living memory of the Holocaust, a European court not only bans a core Jewish ritual but potentially Jewish life altogether in Europe,” he said.
“This is a dark day for the Jewish communities in Belgium and across Europe, which have already been living over the past years in a constant state of emergency due to the rise in anti-Semitism and murderous terror attacks,” said Schwammenthal. “But this is also a dark day for all of Europe when fundamental religious rights are no longer respected.”
Israeli Ambassador to Belgium Emmanuel Nahshon said the ruling is “a catastrophic decision, a blow to Jewish life in Europe,” according to a Jerusalem Post article. “Apparently, tolerance and diversity are empty words in the eyes of some Europeans.”
Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich criticized the decision, noting that the ruling “leaves Jews and Muslims in an impossible situation and harms the fabric of life in Europe.”
The EUCJ’s ruling came just weeks after the EU Council issued a ringing six-page declaration against anti-Semitism, noted JNS. The declaration stated that anti-Semitism “in any form must remain unacceptable and all steps must be taken to counteract it, including…through legal measures at European level.”
The document went on to underline that “the member states of the European Union support policy initiatives that aim to combat incitement to anti-Semitic hatred and acts of violence, as well as the dissemination of anti-Semitic conspiracy myths online.”
How incongruous to hear such lofty, noble sentiments from the European Council at the same time the EU’s highest court panders to anti-Semitic hostility towards ritual slaughter.
Anti-Shechitah Movements Flourished for Centuries
The hostility to shechitah endorsed by the EU’s highest court does not come as a shock. These sentiments are deeply rooted in a legacy of Jew-hatred that has flourished throughout European history. Blood libels have fed off of malicious depictions of shechitah down the ages. Grotesque carvings on countless medieval church facades depicting Jews in obscene acts with pigs, on display to this very day, continue the tradition of mocking Jewish dietary restrictions.
Several European countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries oppressed their Jewish populations with bans against shechitah. Switzerland did so in 1893, Poland in 1936, Sweden in 1937. It is no coincidence that one of first anti-Semitic edicts promulgated by the Nazi regime in Germany was a ban on kosher slaughter, in an early effort at driving Jews to emigrate
The EUCJ ruling of 2020 is thus lifting a page from an earlier playbook, although in language that avoids the obscene ravings of Nazi rhetoric.
In addition to shechitah-bans, proposals to outlaw circumcision are also being considered in several European countries, making Halacha-abiding Jews feel increasingly under attack.“Claiming that our customs, circumcision and kosher slaughter are unenlightened is an alibi,” European Jewish Conference president Rabbi Pinchos Goldschmidt told reporters. “We have highly competent mohelim and kosher slaughterers. It’s obvious this is not about ritual slaughter or circumcision, but an attempt to control [Jewish] population growth by stifling Judaism.”
Rabbi Goldschmidt, who has served as the chief rabbi of Russia for the past three decades, believes that fear of Muslim infiltration is driving the mounting opposition to circumcision in some European countries. “Suddenly, 40 million Muslims who perform circumcision at a later age [than 8 days] arrived in Europe in recent years, and they are performed by non-professionals, which leads to accidents. The concern over Muslim immigration brought about the bans on circumcision and kosher slaughter. They do it so that Muslims will leave Europe, but on the way, they harm Jews as well.”
“The European Court of Justice’s decision to enforce the ban on ritual slaughter in the Flanders and Wallonia regions of Belgium will be felt by Jewish communities across the continent,” Goldschmidt said.
“The bans have already had a devastating impact on the Belgian Jewish community, causing supply shortages. And we are all very aware of the precedent this sets in challenging our rights to practice our religion.”
Russia’s chief rabbi said bans on religious slaughter as a means to limit a country’s population can be traced back to the 1800s, when Switzerland attempted to stop Jews fleeing pogroms from entering their country. In 2012, politicians in the Netherlands attempted to ban ritual slaughter to stop the spread of Islam, he said.
“We are told by European leaders that they want Jewish communities to live and be successful in Europe, but they provide no safeguards for our way of life,” Goldschmidt pointed out. “Europe needs to reflect on the type of continent it wants to be. If values like freedom of religion and true diversity are integral, then the current system of law does not reflect that and needs to be urgently reviewed.”
Rise in Anti-Semitism Cloaked in Hatred of Israel
The court’s ruling comes amid a reportedly steady increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Belgium, including vandalism, Holocaust denial and verbal abuse.
Five years after a terrorist atrocity in Belgium, when a jihadi gunman shot dead four people in the Jewish Museum, organizations monitoring anti-Semitism have found that apart from France, Jews experience more hostility on the streets in Belgium than in any other EU country.
“People cannot walk in the streets of Brussels with a kippa,” said Ariella Woitchik, the director of legal and public affairs at the European Jewish Congress, based in Brussels. “In the public schools in Belgium, the biggest, most widespread insult is ‘Jew.’”
In the face of growing hostility, more parents are moving their children into Jewish schools, she said in an interview with the Guardian.
Jewish buildings are tightly secured, with cameras and double doors that can only be opened from the inside. Soldiers patrol outside Jewish schools.
The rise in anti-Semitism is cloaked in hatred of Israel—including denial of Israel’s right to exist, a complete disregard of the deadly threats it faces, and brazen lies about its actions.
Brussles, capital of Belgium, considered the de facto capital of the European Union, has taken recent steps to hurt Israel. Caving into pro-Palestinian pressure and BDS advocates, the EU in November 2019 issued binding rules calling for Israeli “settlement” products to be labeled as produced in settlements occupied by Israel.
This law took aim at Jewish-owned companies over the Green Line, boosting BDS boycotters and deterring international companies from doing business there. The Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Human Rights followed in the EU’s discriminatory footsteps soon after.
Hungary Calls EU Court Ruling ‘A Disgrace’
Hungary’s deputy prime minister called Thursday’s ruling by the European Union’s highest court in favor of banning kosher slaughter a “disgrace,” launching the first public international clash over the inflammatory decision, reported JTA.
“Yesterday’s ruling by the European Court of Justice upholding a ban on kosher ritual slaughter in Belgium is a disgrace to the religious freedom and security of the European Jewish community, said Zsolt Semjén, the head of the Christian Democratic People’s Party, a coalition ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling party. Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, welcomed Semjen’s intervention, saying “Hungary has consistently shown action to match its words.”The ban, enacted in 2019, had already “taken a devastating toll on the Belgian Jewish community, leading to food shortages which the pandemic has made even worse,” said Rabbi Shlomo Koves, leader of the EMIH federation of Jewish communities in Hungary. A slaughterhouse owned by EMIH in Hungary has sought to mitigate the shortages in Belgium.Jewish community leaders and organizations have sharply protested the ban. European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor has called it “tragic” and said it tells Jews “that our practices are no longer welcome,” and therefore it is “a short step from telling Jews that we are no longer welcome.”The ruling by the EU court, which is based in Luxembourg, is likely to encourage other European courts to enact similar bans, warned Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs in his remarks to JTA.The Netherlands’ parliament outlawed ritual slaughter in 2011, but the Dutch senate reversed the ban the following year, citing the need to observe freedom of worship for minorities.
If the ban is reintroduced in the Netherlands, Rabbi Jacobs said, “Orthodox Jews will leave.”
Pitfalls of Stunning An Animal
“Stunning” refers to the methods of rendering an animal or bird unconscious prior to slaughter.
The main methods used for stunning cattle and sheep are by captive bolt gun, in which a steel bolt is shot into the skull at the front of the animal’s brain, and by electric shock, whereby electrodes are clamped to the animal’s head/heart, electrocuting it.
These methods are contrary to Jewish law which stipulates an animal intended for food must be healthy and uninjured at the time of shechitah. Stunning injures and sometimes kills the animal, in either case rendering it forbidden for Jews to eat.
Apart from the halachic prohibition, there are other objections to stunning, say experts. Many believe that, despite the rhetoric from animal rights activists, there is no conclusive evidence that stunning an animal renders it insensible to pain. Some scientists claim evidence to the contrary, that the animal is often only paralyzed—not fully sedated—and thus prevented only from displaying its pain.
In addition, when the captive bolt method fails, as happens not infrequently, it inflicts considerable suffering and distress on the animal. The conscious animal is left in acute pain as the captive bolt gun is reloaded and reapplied, or the electrical tongs reapplied to re-stun it.
Shechitah avoids all the technical risks and humanitarian pitfalls of faulty stunning. Performed efficiently by a competent shochet, it minimizes animal suffering more than all the other supposedly humane approaches to slaughtering.
Do You Have a Bag Packed?
Due to escalating harassment, violent attacks and abuse, the number of Jews living in several European countries has decreased dramatically in recent years. Studies show a reduction of roughly 15 percent of Europe’s overall Jewish population (of 1.4 million as of 2015), as a result of tens of thousands packing their bags in search of a safer life.
Most of the Jewish exodus has been from France. Sale Juif—“dirty Jew”—has become a ubiquitous expletive heard in the streets, as is “Death to the Jews!,” and “Jews to the gas!”
The old Jewish question, “Do you have a bag packed?” is posed with increasing frequency today in European countries, particularly in France.
From the expulsion of Jews in 1306 to the Dreyfus Affair of 1894 to the Vichy government’s cooperation with the Nazi extermination of 75,000 French Jews, France has a long history of anti-Semitism. Today’s Jew-hatred comes from both the far right and far left.
The current wave of Jewish emigration from France took off after the 2012 Toulouse massacre, in which a French-born Islamic terrorist opened fire at a Jewish day school. He killed Rabbi Yonatan Sandler who was shielding his three-and six-year-old sons, Gavriel and Aryeh, then shot the two boys. He chased down an 8-year-old girl named Miriam Monsonego, catching her by the hair and shooting her.
The sound of gunfire had brought the school’s principal racing to the school yard. Rabbi Yaacov Monsonego reached the area in time to witness the terrorist murder his daughter.
The terrorist escaped on a motorbike and was later killed by police.
Three years later, an ISIS terrorist killed four customers at a kosher supermarket in Paris. In the days after that, the Jewish Agency in Paris received thousands of calls from people saying they wanted to leave. Of the four people murdered at Hyper Casher, three of the families moved to Israel.Nearly every year since has seen another deadly anti-Semitic attack, from the savage murder of 65-year-old Sarah Halimi in 2017 to the gruesome killing of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in 2018.
These dreadful attacks compounded by “ordinary” everyday incidents such as the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and memorials, verbal abuse of Jews in the streets and attacks on yarmulke-attired boys, have driven thousands of Jews to leave France.
“Things will only get worse,” predicted Samuel Sandler, the father of Rabbi Yonatan Sandler who was killed in Toulouse. Yonatan’s wife and sister have both since moved to Jerusalem, where Jonathan and his sons are buried.
In an interview with National Geographic, the brokenhearted man grieved over his slain son and grandchildren, recalling how his parents fled Nazi Germany seeking a better future for their children in France. His grandmother, cousin, aunts, and uncles were killed in Auschwitz.
“I used to think to myself, the war is finished. We are in France now…we are safe.”