Special to the JTA Jews and Moslems Have Become Involuntary Allies on Shehita Issue
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Special to the JTA Jews and Moslems Have Become Involuntary Allies on Shehita Issue

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Britain’s Jews and Moslems, deeply divided over Mideast politics, have become involuntary allies in the face of threats to outlaw their respective methods of religious slaughter.

Both the Jewish practice of shehita and its Moslem equivalent would be barred under proposals, currently being considered by the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, that animals should be stunned before they are killed.

Both communities have protested that the proposals, by the Ministry’s Farm Animal Welfare Council, would be incompatible with their religious principles and deprive them of fresh meat. They utterly repudiate the claims by the Council, a governmental body, that their methods of slaughter are more cruel than others used in British abbatoirs, and even argue that the reverse is true.

Together with the Council’s recommendations, the Jewish and Moslem objections are currently being considered by the government prior to a decision on whether or not to submit the proposals to Parliament.

Both communities are hopeful that, in line with this country’s long tradition of religious toleration, politicans will finally decide to put human freedom before animal welfare, whatever conclusions are reached over the suffering involved in their slaughter methods.

In defending its sacred traditions, each community is speaking only for itself. Nevertheless, in the course of the past few months they have become aware of their mutual interest in defeating the proposed reforms.


The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Islamic Cultural Center have sent each other copies of their reports to the government. There have also been isolated personal contacts between Jewish and Moslem religious dignitaries.

Rabbi Berl Berkovich, Registrar of the London Beth Din, whose president is Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that although there was a world of differences between Jewish and Moslem slaughter methods, there was common ground between the two faiths whose beliefs were under attack.

He said that, as an observant Jew, he felt far less in common with Christians than with Moslems, whose religion, like Judaism, embodied a precise and detailed system of law, both written and oral.

Although Jews shun halal meat, Moslems find kosher food religiously acceptable. In other areas too, there are points of contact. Berkovich cites cases of Moslem fathers in Britain arranging circumcision of their sons by Jewish mohelim. He himself has recently been asked by a Moslem lawyer for advice on reconciling Moslem divorce — known as talak — with the British legal system.

But it is not a one-way relationship. On the political level, the Jews gain much from the large Moslem presence in Britain. There are no Moslem British members of Parliament — compared with 30 or so Jewish MPs and a handful of Jewish Cabinet ministers. But the 2.3 million Moslems in this country, outnumbering the declining Jewish community 7 to 1, have a formidable voting power.

Internationally, too, Moslems have impressive influence, which overshadows the discussions here about religious methods of slaughter. An assault on a central tenet of their faith in Britain would have very widespread international repercussions which no government in its right senses would care to arouse.

It is a reminder, too, of what Jews and Moslems could achieve together if, instead of the present strife over territory, they were allies in defence of their common interests.

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