LONDON (Oct. 1)
A British vegetarian group is planning to launch a new campaign against kosher slaughter, known as shechita, on Yom Kippur.
Emboldened by this summer’s recommendation by the British Farm Animal Welfare Council that all animals in the country be stunned before being slaughtered, Vegetarians International Voice for Animals is relaunching an anti- shechita effort begun several years ago.
“We want to raise the public profile of the issue, to say this is a thing we should be talking about,” said the head of the campaign, Alistair Currie.
The group’s campaign will include dissemination of a leaflet, the results of a public opinion survey and the Welfare Council’s semiofficial report on Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter.
Britain’s government has not yet responded to the Welfare Council report, according to Currie.
Stunning an animal before its throat is cut is forbidden according to Jewish law. Muslims also forbid stunning an animal before slaughter.
Currie said Vegetarians International is aware that defenders of shechita consider it a humane method of killing animals, but said that nowadays there are more humane ways of doing things.
“Our understanding of shechita is that it was an animal welfare issue, and we celebrate that. But times have moved on,” he said.
Before the Welfare Council’s report was released, Britain’s representative Jewish group, the Board of Deputies, issued a statement on behalf of the National Council of Shechita Boards and three British Orthodox groups defending ritual slaughter.
“Many scientific experts have confirmed that the Jewish method of religious slaughter is at least as humane as any other method of slaughter,” the statement said. “The right to practice shechita is fundamental to religious observance and entirely consistent with the requirements of humaneness.”
Currie said his group did not intend to offend Jews by launching its campaign on Yom Kippur.
“As we understand it, it’s a day of compassion. Our aim is not to alienate Jewish people,” Currie said.
But Jewish community leaders called the selection of the date cynical.
“They know the Jewish community can’t respond” on Yom Kippur, said Michael Kester, executive director of the National Council of Shechita Boards.
He said Vegetarians International had not responded to a written offer to discuss kosher slaughter.
“They’ve taken the view that ‘We’ve made up our minds, don’t confuse me with facts,’ ” Kester said.
Currie said Vegetarians International received no offer in the past year from the schechita group for talks.
The executive director of Britain’s Board of Deputies, Neville Nagler, said it’s ironic that the anti-shechita campaign will be launched on Yom Kippur.
“It’s a day when no kosher slaughter will take place and no one will eat kosher meat,” he said.
The director of the Labour Friends of Israel lobbying group said Britain’s governing party is committed to keeping kosher slaughter legal.
“The prime minister gave a commitment before the last election that there would be no change to shechita,” David Mencer said.
Currie argues that British law is inconsistent regarding slaughter. The law requires that all animals be stunned before they are killed — except for those slaughtered by Jewish or Muslim ritual methods.
“We are a secular nation. The exception for religious slaughter is not justified. If we believe that killing without stunning is not justified, it is not justified in all circumstances,” Currie said.
Jewish authorities have ruled unanimously that stunning an animal before killing renders its meat not kosher, said Rabbi Jeremy Conway, the head of the kashrut division of the London Beit Din, or rabbinic court.
“The animal has to be entirely healthy and well before shechita,” he explained. “From a halachic point of view it is absolutely clear that stunning is damage.”