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House of Lords Starts Debate on Bill Affecting Shechita in England

The House of Lords today debated a motion introduced by Lord Somers for a second reading of a slaughter of animals bill which would affect the free practice of shechita in England. The bill, if passed, would repeal certain sections of the Slaughter of Animals Act of 1958 which contained a proviso that the Act did not apply to the Jewish method of slaughter.

Lord Somers denied that there was any motive of anti-Semitism behind the bill. He said the bill would not trespass on the rights of conscientious Jews. At the same time he asserted that, in the Jewish method of slaughter, the animal was to a certain degree conscious prior to the slaughter. He stressed that the method of killing without rendering the animal unconscious had been abolished in Switzerland and other countries, and said the “time has come for us to follow suit.”

Opposing Lord Somers’ motion for a second reading of the bill, Lord Jessel said that, if the measure became law, shechita would be illegal and upwards of 200,000 persons in England would be unable to eat meat or chicken. Stressing that it had not been proven that shechita was a cruel method of slaughter, Lord Jessel said that “the tremendous weight of authority was against Lord Somers’ arguments. While he did not believe there were anti-Semitic motives behind the bill, Lord Jessel said the measure was “misguided, sloppy and founded on ignorant prejudice.”

GOVERNMENT OPPOSES BILL; SAYS SHECHITA HAS NOT BEEN PROVEN CRUEL

Also opposing a second reading of the bill, was Lord Oswald, Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture. He said that it was the Government’s view that unless much more convincing evidence became available on whether shechita was more cruel than other forms of slaughter “and this had been proven by experiments,” it would be “wrong to impose such hardships on a racial group which we had so much reason to respect and who had been persecuted or imposed upon in so many countries but never in this.” He said he “could not advise the House to vote for a second reading” on the bill.

Lord Cohen told the House that the bill was contrary to Jewish law and would affect “Jewish consciences.” While he would not say that anti-Semitism inspired or activated Lord Somers, Lord Cohen pointed out that “there was anti-Semitism in the agitation against Jewish slaughter.”

Lord Cohen said there was scientific evidence to support the conclusion that shechita was humane and would almost immediately render an animal unconscious. He suggested that, if there were any doubts about whether shechita were humane, the Government could invite a panel of experts who would report on the purely scientific aspects of the matter.

He said the passage of the bill would plunge into deep sorrow tens of thousands of loyal Jews in this country who, for over 3,000 years, had ordered their lives by uninterrupted tradition of what they regarded as Divine truth.

Among the supporters of Lord Somers’ motion for a second reading was Lord Haddington, who described shechita as a “barbarous” method. Other supporters of the bill included Lady Summer skill and Lords Dowding and Huntingdon. The debate on the bill will continue.

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