Court Upholds Ritual Slaughter in Belgium

NEW YORK - The leaders of Belgium’s Jewish community cautiously celebrated a High Court decision that dismissed a proposed ban on ritual slaughter as unconstitutional. Pro-shechitah advocates had been on edge since May, when the law was first introduced, as it seemed to be gaining wide support.

Rabbi Pinchos Kornfeld, president of Antwerp’s Machzikei Hadas kehillah and part of the leadership of the Belgian Jewish Consistoire, told Hamodia that while the ruling was very significant, a caveat instructing the government to seek with the Jewish and Muslim communities a “solution that would satisfy animal rights concerns” could still be problematic.

“This was definitely a victory; if there would be a Beis Hamikdash we would have to bring a korban todah for it, but it’s not clear that we won the war yet,” said Rabbi Kornfeld.

This past May, Ben Weyts, Animal Welfare Minister for Belgium’s Flemish region (Flanders), introduced a total ban on all slaughter without electric stunning. The proposal was a result of the government’s efforts to regulate temporary slaughterhouses set up by the country’s large Muslim community as part of one of their yearly celebrations. Citing a lack of willingness on the part of the Muslim community to accept “any sort of compromise,” Weyts said it had become necessary to outlaw the practice of ritual slaughter altogether.

The proposal would have become law in Flanders, one of the three major provinces of Belgium, whose capital, Antwerp, is home to one of Europe’s largest Orthodox communities.

Through the lobbying efforts of the Muslim and Jewish communities, member of the Flemish Parliament Sonia Claes recommended that the legislation be reviewed by Belgium’s Constitutional Court. On Wednesday, the Court handed down a decision saying that such a ban would violate laws protecting religious freedom.

Rabbi Kornfeld expressed his concern that the caveat mentioned above regarding animal welfare would embolden opponents of ritual slaughter to push for the implementation of alternative methods of stunning before slaughtering.

Rabbi Albert Guigi, Belgium’s Chief Rabbi, also expressed gratitude, but was restrained in his reaction to the ruling.

“Unfortunately, this is not definitive,” he told Hamodia. “For decades, we have been conducting a struggle in defense of shechitah. The key is to never give up.’’ Nevertheless, Rabbi Guigi was hopeful that the ruling would serve as a useful precedent to protect shechitah in other countries on the Continent.

As in many European countries, ritual slaughter in Belgium has been under attack for decades, an attack historically led by left-wing politicians and activists propounding “animal rights.” The ban proposed by Weyts, a member of a center-right party, represents an increasing trend in recent years by nationalist elements to seek the elimination of ritual slaughter as a means of curbing the size and influence of Muslim communities on the Continent. Rabbi Kornfeld said that the Jewish community has sustained “collateral damage” from this goal.

Ritual slaughter is at present illegal in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.