Nearly two years ago, Agudath Israel of America expressed its grave concern over laws passed in the Flanders and Wallonia regions of Belgium that effectively prohibited the slaughter of animals according to kosher ritual requirements (shechita). The law, Agudath Israel asserted, placed a substantial burden on religious liberty and on Jewish life in Belgium, as well as on those dependent on Belgian shechita living in other affected European countries. At the time of the ban, Agudath Israel expressed its hope that the judicial system would recognize this serious infringement on the rights of the Jewish community and strike down the grievous statute.
Unfortunately, this past Thursday, December 17, 2020, the European Union Court of Justice, located in Luxembourg, issued its decision to uphold the ban.
Jewish law scrupulously safeguards the humane treatment of animals, and its rules regarding kosher slaughter require a swift and painless kill. There is no need to require – as the Belgian laws do – prior stunning, a practice which compromises Jewish law and makes kosher certification impossible. Many countries, including the United States, recognize in their law the humane nature of the millennia-old practice of kosher slaughter and have exempted it from further religiously-problematic regulation.
Leaders of the Belgian Jewish community have indicated that the laws in Flanders and Wallonia already have had a clear negative impact on the kosher food industry and on the availability and accessibility of kosher meat and poultry. Moreover, the necessary relocation of facilities will be disruptive to companies, workers and consumers and result in possible shortages, and an attendant rise in costs, that will be detrimental to those wishing to live in line with Jewish belief and practice.
Muslim leaders have also condemned the ban, which effectively prohibited halal slaughter as well, as an infringement of their religious rights and religious life.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President of Government Affairs and Washington Director, said, “Since its European origins, Agudath Israel has always spoken out against bans on ritual slaughter as a serious blow to Jewish life and religious rights. But it is even more than that. The outlawing of ritual slaughter – and circumcision – have become ominous precursors to the darkest times of Jewish history. And that is what makes this ban and this decision so chilling.”