Belgian Region Vote to Ban Shechitah Sparks Outrage in Jewish Community

Religious communities in Belgium expressed grave concern over proposed legislation that would make stunning a requirement even for kosher and halal meat production. The bill, which would affect the country’s French-speaking Wallonia region, is the latest of several attempts to limit religious slaughter methods.

In February, a similar attempt by the Walloon parliament met with disapproval from the nation’s Council of State, a constitutional court, saying that it would “contradict basic human rights laws and religious rights in Belgium.” The present proposal includes some minor changes that its sponsors claim have moved some elements of the Muslim community to accept the legislation. Last Friday, the parliament’s Environmental Committee unanimously voted to advance the reworked bill.

“It’s definitely a very serious threat, and we are doing whatever we can to stop it,” Pinchos Kornfeld, president of Antwerp’s Machzikei Hadas Kehillah and vice chairman of the Belgian Jewish Consistoire and chairman of its Shechitah Committee, told Hamodia. “But the discussion is far from over; there are a lot more steps to go through.”

Mr. Kornfeld added that the changes made to the bill were “insignificant” and did not make it any more acceptable to the Jewish community. According to Jewish law, stunning renders animals unfit for kosher slaughter.

The bill is set to advance to debate before the full parliament and could come to a vote as early as next week. If it finds sufficient backing, the measure could then be granted a second hearing before the constitutional council. Should it become law, all slaughter without stunning would become illegal by 2019.

“I have no way of knowing if the Council of State would say the same thing again,” said Mr. Kornfeld. “I hope that they would if they see that we would have no way to slaughter if this became law, but nothing is certain.”

Mr. Kornfeld and other activists are in the process of meeting with legal experts and government officials to develop plans to defend religious slaughter methods.

Wallonia is one of three semi-independent regions in Belgium. The others are the mostly Flemish-speaking Flanders, and Brussels, which has large populations of both Flemish and French speakers.

There have been several attempts to introduce similar legislation in Flanders, whose capital city, Antwerp, is home to one of Europe’s largest Orthodox communities.

In late March, a proposal was introduced recommending government regulations on kosher and halal slaughter: Small animals such as chickens and sheep would have to be non-lethally stunned before they are killed. Cows would receive “irreversible stunning” within seconds after slaughter. This plan had yet to be introduced as a formal bill.

Wallonia has a very small Jewish population. Much of the meat used in Belgium is imported from abroad, but a good deal is produced in a slaughterhouse located in the Brussels region.

As in many European countries, religious slaughter in Belgium has been under attack for decades, a struggle historically led by left-wing politicians and activists on the grounds of animal rights.

Slaughter without pre-stunning is presently illegal in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

News of the Walloon Parliament vote drew condemnations from several Jewish European groups, who labeled it the latest example of increasing persecution of religious minorities on the continent, largely a backlash against its growing Muslim population and increasing incidents of terrorism. Some drew parallels to a vote on Monday by the Norwegian Progress Party to ban religious methods of circumcision.

The present wave of legislative attempts represents an increasing trend in recent years by nationalist elements in Europe to seek a ban on religious slaughter as a means of curbing the size and influence of Muslim communities on the continent. Many have commented that Jewish communities, and particularly shechitah, have become “collateral damage.”


Updated Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 4:07 pm