Bans on Shechita

Mar 10, 2017

The following is an article written by Campaign Director Shimon Cohen for Synagogue Magazines:

I think it is important to understand the politics of shechita and underlie many of the discussions we have on this issue.

When I say politics of shechita, people often assume that I am going to talk about why there are so many Kashrus authorities or why some won’t eat from certain Shechitas. But having served as the Campaign Director for Shechita UK for 13 years, what I am interested in is why governments going back to the 19th century have enacted legislation against Shechita and why, today, the animal welfare lobby cares.

Shechita, the Jewish religious humane method of animal slaughter for food, stuns, dispatches and exsanguinates the animal in one action. It is a humane and efficient method of slaughter and it respects the rights of animals.

Animal welfare has been the focus of political attention since the middle of the 19th Century, with people beginning to ask more questions about animal sentience and ethics. This followed the research of Charles Darwin, who was redefining the way we saw the natural world in relation to ourselves and animal welfare legislation was born.

Shortly afterwards, due to the need for mass production, slaughter was slowly moving from farms into abattoirs. Mechanical stunning was introduced as a method of speeding up production. Without mechanical stunning muscle spasms will cause the animal to flay around even though it is not conscious. This would slow the process making it uneconomical.

At that time, there were no well organised Jewish communities. Today, Shechita operates under a specific exemption from the law for the Jewish community. When this exemption was instituted in the 1930s it happened because the community was irrelevant to the debate. Small quantities of animals were being slaughtered in small level operations – it had nothing to do with animal welfare.

So why has there been opposition? Sadly it has always been about population control.  In Switzerland in 1892 a ban was introduced on the back of migration across Europe. Pogroms were causing Jews to flee Eastern Europe and migrate to central European countries. Banning religious slaughter was seen as a way of deterring Jews from coming to the country. Every ban since can be put down to the same reason. Even Denmark in 2014, where there was an anti-Muslim mood in the lead up to the European elections.

By realising the real motives, we are better placed to fight for our cause. I would ask everyone to get involved and make sure we are informed so that when the debate arises we can advance a case in favour of shechita