The fight to preserve shechitah in Belgium has taken a new turn, and the rabbonim of Europe are now locked in conflict with more modern elements who are advocating a new method of stunning animals before slaughter. Rabbi Moshe Lebel tells Yated Ne’eman, “We reject any attempt at compromise. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman has already paskened that we should not give in.” Rabbi Avrohom Gigi of Brussels adds that the Belgian government’s decision is a threat to freedom of religion for Jews throughout Europe.
The battle for shechitah in Europe is growing steadily more complex, as a group of liberal elements are attempting to advance a “halachic compromise.” European rabbonim are incensed by this effort to distort the halacha, and they insist on continuing the struggle until the ban on Jewish shechitah is repealed. They view it as their duty to preserve halacha; they are aware that even a seemingly trivial compromise may lead to a demand for further leniencies in many areas.
This Sunday, Rav Moshe Lebel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Chaim in Moscow and rabbinic director of the Conference of European Rabbis, issued a sharply worded statement against the proposed compromise. Rav Pinchos Goldschmidt, the rov of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbis, that the 700 rabbonim of the organization are vehemently opposed to the very idea of a compromise. “The rabbonim of Europe firmly reject any effort to deviate from the mesorah of shechitah by stunning the animals,” he declared. “We regret that we must fight against the people promoting compromise, whose sole interest is in changing everything in Jewish tradition that is sacred and precious to us.”
As the Yated has reported, the assault on kosher shechitah in Europe began in Belgium about two years ago, with the passage of laws in the regions of Flanders and Wallonia that required animals to be stunned before slaughter. This effectively made kosher shechitah illegal. The new laws caused dramatic harm to the lives of Jews in Belgium, as well as Jews in other European countries dependent on Belgian shechitah. The Jewish community expected the court system to recognize the harm to their communal rights and to overturn the laws. Two weeks ago, the court upheld the ban.
According to the law upheld by the European Court of Justice, an animal must be given an electric shock before it is slaughtered. This requirement, of course, is in violation of halacha. But the court ruled that individual countries within the European Union have the right to outlaw kosher shechitah, and that those laws are not considered a violation of the freedom of religion that is one of the basic rights of all European citizens.
The Belgian government’s real target is Muslim slaughter; the harm to kosher shechitah, grievous as it is, is merely collateral damage. Rabbi Avrohom Gigi, the chief rabbi of Belgium, tells us, “The push for this misguided decision may have come from the ‘old Europe’ that is trying to make life difficult for the 40 million Muslims in the countries of Europe, but it is affecting us, the Jews. This is a serious threat to the future of the 1.5 million Jews, 90 percent of whom are Orthodox, who live on this continent.
“The European Union’s decision not only gave a green light to other European countries to prohibit Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter, but it was also a major and unprecedented breach of the concept of freedom of religion in general,” Rabbi Gigi added. “The clear and immediate danger, and the most infuriating part of it, is the clause in the ruling where the judges have the temerity to tell us, the Jews, how to slaughter animals. That is an intolerable and illegal intrusion into the realm of religion by a secular court. This court has embarked on a slippery slope of meddling in our way of life.”
The Hungarian Prime Minister Responds
The State of Israel is trying to help the Jews of Europe contend with this situation. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has begun coordinating talks with the Jewish communities of Europe in an effort to have the court’s decision overturned, while the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs organized a team to evaluate possible responses. As a first step, Omer Yankelevich, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, held an emergency meeting over Zoom with the Portuguese foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva. As of this year, Portugal has taken over the presidency of the European Union, and a statement emanating from Portugal on this subject will therefore carry significant weight. Other options on the table include promoting specific legislation in favor of kosher shechitah in certain European countries, launching a public relations campaign to preserve Jewish life in Europe, and collaborating with Muslim communities that have also been affected by the decision. Hamutal Rogel Fox, the director of the Jewish Communities Division of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon that Israel agrees with the rabbonim of Europe that the Luxembourg court’s decision is mistaken and imbalanced, and that it may become a threat to Jewish life on the continent. She also claimed that the Foreign Ministry is coordinating its diplomatic efforts with relevant authorities in Jewish communities abroad and in Israel.
Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, sent a letter this week to Yitzchok Herzog, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, expressing his vehement opposition to the European court’s ruling. Orban was responding to a request made by Herzog to the European heads of state in which he asked for their responses; Herzog obliquely drew a comparison between the court’s decision and certain developments that preceded the Holocaust. “I was very disappointed to read about the recent ruling of the European High Court of Justice, which permitted the member states of the European Union to ban kosher slaughter,” Orban wrote. “I believe that this decision is not only a violation of the freedom of religion but also an assault on Judeo-Christian tradition and on the Jewish communities of Europe. My government has therefore been quick to condemn this offensive ruling. We will do everything in our power to make our voices heard in every possible international forum.”
Reversible Stunning Firmly Rejected
Tzvi Klein, a correspondent for Makor Rishon, is known to have reliable sources. He was the first to report on the efforts made by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency to address this issue, and he also discovered the recent efforts by more modern elements to reach a compromise with the European authorities. “In Europe, the possibility of a halachic compromise that would allow reversible stunning is being quietly examined,” he wrote. “This is an electric shock that would stun the animal for a short time but would not harm it and certainly wouldn’t kill it. According to the experts with whom we spoke, reversible stunning would allow the animals to regain consciousness completely, and therefore it does not pose a halachic problem.” Of course, this evaluation carries no halachic weight. Klein added that the effort is being led by a number of prominent European and Jewish political figures.
The people leading this effort have tried to attribute their position to some well-known poskim, which has elicited the fierce condemnation of European rabbonim. The rabbonim have announced that any rabbi who permits the stunning of animals in any way, even reversible stunning, will be ostracized. An expert on shechitah pointed out, “Even if an animal can recover from the shock, who knows what sort of damage it causes? This would make it a safek treifah even before it is slaughtered. There is no halachic dispensation for this process, and any rabbi who endorses it has no understanding of shechitah.”
Rav Lebel told Yated Neeman, “I consulted with Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman several years ago, and he instructed me not to make even the slightest concession, not to deviate from our tradition, and not to give up this struggle even if it appears to be possible to import meat from other countries. Rav Shteinman had two reasons. First, it would be a chillul Hashem if we accepted the non-Jews’ claim that the Torah’s process of shechitah causes pain to animals. We have a Torah of chesed, and if it instructs us to slaughter animals in a certain way, then it is clearly a form of slaughter that does not cause them to suffer. Furthermore, if this law is accepted in one country, it might lead other countries to enact similar prohibitions.”
Rabbi Lebel added that the gedolim with whom he has consulted in the past have always instructed him to resist even the tiniest change or compromise on the halachos of shechitah, including stunning the animals in any way.
Rabbi Pinchos Goldschmidt addressed a meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and asked for their help and that of the Agudah in galvanizing support in fighting to overturn the shechitah ban.