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Jews Cry Foul As British Group to Advise Ban on Kosher Slaughter

May 7, 2003
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An animal welfare body in Britain is planning to make recommendations that would outlaw kosher slaughter in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council is scheduled to present a report next month to the British government that, among other proposals, will recommend that all animals be stunned before being slaughtered.

Jewish authorities have ruled unanimously that such a move is unacceptable, and a group of Jewish leaders walked out of a meeting with the council in March when discussions broke down.

“A meeting that was scheduled to last for a full hour lasted only 20 minutes,” Michael Kester, executive director of Britain’s National Council of Shechita Boards, told JTA.

“Since we couldn’t compromise halachically,” or in terms of Jewish law, “we felt there was nothing more to talk about,” he said.

Rabbi Jeremy Conway, head of the kashrut division of the London Beit Din, or rabbinic court, said Jewish authorities have ruled that stunning an animal before killing it renders its meat not kosher.

“The animal has to be entirely healthy and well before shechitah,” or kosher slaughter,” he said.

“From a halachic point of view it is absolutely clear that stunning is damage,” he said, adding that a book of rabbinic opinion collected by Rabbi Yechiel Weinberg in the mid-20th century found “not even one opinion that stunning would be valid.”

The Farm Animal Welfare Council refused to comment on its forthcoming report, but said that its recommendations would be “similar” to the ones it made in an earlier report on religious slaughter.

That report, in 1985, recommended that the government “require that the Jewish and Muslim communities review their methods of slaughter so as to develop alternatives which permit effective stunning.”

While admitting that prohibitions against causing unnecessary suffering are an integral part of the laws governing kosher slaughter, the report argued that the Torah itself did not mandate a particular method for killing animals.

The authors of the report did not seem to be aware that later rabbinic interpretation — the Oral Law of the Talmud — carries the same legal weight as the Torah.

They added that they did not believe their conclusions “carry inherently anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim views or restrict religious freedom.”

The National Council of Shechita Boards’ Kester said he does not believe the council is anti-Semitic.

“I believe that they are genuinely concerned about animal rights,” he said.

“But the question is where the rights of humans and animals conflict,” he said, pointing out that the council permitted many practices that cause some suffering to animals.

“Animals are tagged at birth. That’s painful. Veterinary examinations are painful. Shearing sheep is a traumatic experience.

“But they say that microsecond of suffering at slaughter is unnecessary. I find that unbelievable,” he said.

He added that Jewish authorities had made every effort to make sure the members of the council understood both the practice and significance of kosher slaughter.

They demonstrated the killing of both a cow and a lamb and presented reports by a kosher slaughterer, a veterinarian and a cardiac surgeon specializing in pain “who had an interest in shechitah.”

A spokesman for the council said its members understood the importance of ritual slaughter to religious communities.

But, he added, “our remit is to look at these issues from the animal welfare point of view.”

The council’s recommendations do not have the force of law.

The government rejected its proposals in 1985, and a group of legislators is already pressing the government to do so again this year.

At least 10 members of Parliament have signed a motion in support of kosher slaughter, saying the council’s recommendations would place “unacceptable restrictions” on religious freedom.

Kester hopes the government will agree.

He said the governing Labor Party’s manifesto supports the right of Jews to practice kosher slaughter.

“Of course we will remind them of it. The Jewish community would fight tooth and nail against banning kosher slaughter. There’s a lot at stake here,” he said.

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