Greek High Court Bans Shechitah

The Supreme Administrative Court of Greece. (C messier/Wikimedia)

Greece’s highest court issued a ruling last week that voided authorization for kosher and halal slaughter methods to take place in the country. The move follows a decision by the European Court of Justice that gave member nations much leeway to give animal welfare greater deference when weighing policies on kosher and halal meat production.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece said it was “highly concerned” about the ruling.

“This Judgement — which literally forbids kosher religious slaughter — is a strike against the right of the Greek Jews to freely practice their religion and observe the traditions of Jewish faith,” the group said in a statement.

Rabbi Mendel Hendel, director of Chabad of Greece, which is headquartered in Athens, said the ruling sent an unwelcoming message to Jews and other religious minorities in the country.

“It shows that they are not interested in tolerating the beliefs of others and that the law is not interested in taking the needs of minority groups into consideration,” he told Hamodia. “There are some efforts going on to deal with the issue, and I hope they are successful.”

chabad athens, mendel hendel
Rabbi Mendel Hendel, Chabad shliach to Athens.

Greece is home to a small Jewish community numbering somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000, but it is one that has endured for centuries. Most kosher meat is imported, but some shechitah does take place in the country. Greece is home to over 100,000 Muslims, who will face a wider impact should the ban remain in place.

In December 2020, the EU’s highest court issued a ruling regarding a law enacted in two of Belgium’s three regions that rescinded an exception for Jewish and Muslim groups to slaughter meat without pre-stunning. Despite a report from the court’s own advocates general (lawyers who work for the court and offer their opinions on cases, aside from the lawyers on each side of a case) saying that the law contradicted the EU guarantees of religious freedom, the judges upheld the de facto ban. Most concerning to advocates for shechitah and halal slaughter, the Court of Justice said explicitly that the EU’s protections of such methods do not preclude member states from imposing stricter laws or banning the practices entirely. Advocates worried that it would not take long for animal-rights activists who have led anti-shechitah and halal campaigns around Europe to use the ruling to advance their cause in other countries.

That fear came to fruition in Greece, where shortly after the EU decision, the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation filed a petition against the country’s religious exemption for slaughter without pre-stunning. Last week the nation’s high court agreed with their claim and called on legislators to protect religious slaughter methods while giving more deference to animal welfare.

“The government should regulate the issue of slaughtering animals in the context of worship in such a way as to ensure both the protection of animals from any inconvenience during slaughter and the religious freedom of religious Muslims and Jews living in Greece,” the court said, according to the Greek news outlet Protothema.

Victor Eliezer,General Secretary of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. (European Jewish Congress)

It remained unclear what steps the government was willing to take on the matter or whether an approach the court was willing to endorse would allow for slaughter to continue according to Jewish or Muslim law, both of which prohibit pre-stunning.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who serves as president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said the Greek ruling sent an ominous message to Europe’s Jews.

“The decision by the highest court in Greece to ban shechitah will send a shudder down the spine of Jews throughout Europe,” he said. “They have given an exit notice to Europe’s Jews, as Greece has now followed the Brussels region of Belgium demonstrating the dangerous precedent set by the ECJ [European Court of Justice]. The EU and its member states have a decision to make: do they want Jews in Europe or will they allow their Jewish communities to be stigmatized and hounded out?”

Unlike in Belgium and other countries in Western Europe where bans on slaughter without pre-stunning enjoy wide support in the general public, in Greece the court’s ruling attracted little attention and was not widely covered by local media.

Victor Eliezer, the General Secretary of the umbrella group representing Greece’s Jewish communities, told Hamodia that while the ruling “represents a serious obstacle to kosher slaughter without stunning,” his organization held out optimism that the court’s call to protect both animal welfare and “religious freedom of Muslims and Jews living in Greece” would yield a positive result.

“Our board … intends to meet with all the competent Greek authorities, aiming at collaborating on a viable solution,” he told Hamodia. “We hope that a satisfactory solution can be reached, so as to safeguard the continuation of kosher slaughter in Greece for the needs of the Greek Jews and the Jewish visitors who observe Jewish dietary laws.”

Updated Wednesday, November 3, 2021 at 5:34 pm .