Opinion: Dutch ritual slaughter ban is bigotry
July 5th, 2011
02:15 PM ET
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Editor's note: Since 2004, Shmuel Herzfeld has been the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue, the oldest and largest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C. His first book will be published within a year, titled: The Relevance of the Torah for our Modern Lives.

The lower house of the Dutch parliament recently passed legislation that would ban ritual slaughter in accordance with both Jewish law, known as shechita, and Muslim law, known as halal. The legislation would require the stunning of animals before their slaughter, an act that is forbidden by Jewish law.

For Jews, this is a very emotional issue that cuts at the core of who we are.

In our history, we have seen unfriendly governments attack our sacred rituals as a way of sending a message to their citizens that our religion is alien and barbaric.

We know that it often masquerades as a concern for a more humane treatment of animals, but in reality, it is just a smokescreen for old-fashioned bigotry.

Indeed, in 1933, one of the first edicts of Nazi Germany was to ban shechita as inhumane. We know that banning a fundamental ritual of our religion sends the message that our entire religion is unwelcome in that country.

By saying that the food that one is required to eat may not be prepared in the country, the Dutch parliament is in effect saying to the Jewish people that we Jews are not welcome in their country.

Read My Take: Dutch ban is bigotry

Previously - Ritual slaughter explained

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Matt

    Jeeze, look how many animals are cram packed into that tiny space.

    August 15, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  2. Being Realistic

    In the article one talks about religion, Jews and Muslims...­ Why not talk about the animals we kill and their well being? Because that is the subject here. Actually many Dutch Muslism/Jews who are living actually in the Netherlands are for this ban too. They are modern believers.

    Netherland­s is not passing this law because of religion, we are tolerant, we have the most mosks in Europe. And we welcomed 1 million muslims within 60 years in our country (our population is 16 million). As well as Jews throughout centuries. The Netherlands has been allways very pro Israel for that matter and still is.

    But the question what is tolerant and are traditional ways of killing animals today not up for discussion? Why not modernise. Dutch are gouverning within reason is my impression here.

    We are passing the law because of the fact that it is not of this time any more to kill animals this way.

    Circumcisi­on of men used to be done without anaestheti­cs, and nower days it is done with... So modernisat­ion of the 'religeous rules' is allowed when it regards men.
    Why can animals not be sedated before being killed? Fact is that this 'swift' kill with one stroke (as described in all holy books) is not so swift at all in reality as we all assume. If you do some research. And please do the research in the country which this law passed. Because the are slaughtered in the Netherlands. And our meat industry will suffer from this ban. But we accept that.

    In fact many products in shops in Netherlands are halal, simply because for producers it is not efficient to produce 2 sorts of foodlines. So lot of Dutch eat halal already (allthough most are not a ware of that). Do we care? No we don't care because most Dutch are realistic. Or at least the majority is. There are allways extremist were ever you travel. Even about food.

    Just stating it has been allways this way so we should continue something sounds to me not very tolerent at all. Please some realistism and modern arguments.

    In the Netherlands there has been not much less fuss over this law, I think outside Netherlands people see it as a problem. And that says enough I think. Dutch are realistic and down to earth.


    August 15, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  3. Clyde M

    I call shenanigans.

    The mere fact that a religion has had a certain practice in the past is no protection of that practice moving forward. As times, cultures, social mores, ethics, scientific understanding, and moral norms change, "tradition" is no longer a valid defense. If that were the case some groups could claim the traditional (and religious) right to still own slaves, hold polygamous marriages, beat their children, dispose of bodies in unsanitary ways, stone people to death, and a host of other things religions have demanded from their adherents over the millennia.

    The fact is that we have grown as a society to recognize that animals DO have certain feelings and experiences and taken steps to provide more humane care for them in a universally applicable manner. This is not a shot across the bow of the Jewish faith. It is science and ethics catching up with ALL slaughtering techniques and some people being callous as to the suffering of said animals on the grounds that 4,000 years ago no one cared if animals suffered or not.

    July 10, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  4. Ann

    If your religion requires animals to be treated cruelly, it IS barbaric. Or do you also want the right to slaughter a goat on your altar?

    I'm not a vegetarian, but I think animals used for food should be treated decently. Considering some of the things I've been reading recently, I think I'll be eating less meat.

    Come to think of it, nothing in your religion requires you to eat meat, does it? So, don't eat it if you're not happy with the kind you can get. Problem solved. No one's throwing you out of the country.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  5. Lori Coleman

    Although I agree that ritual killing methods are barbaric and cause unnecessary suffering, slaughterhouse methods using stunning aren't any better. The animals waiting their turn know what's going on and panic. It isn't easy to aim a bolt or stunning device at a panicking animal. The processing begins on many animals before they are dead. Killing animals for food is gross and unnecessary and I hope that each day more people learn a little bit more about all the fantastic alternatives.

    July 7, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  6. Amy Alkon

    "We know that it often masquerades as a concern for a more humane treatment of animals, but in reality, it is just a smokescreen for old-fashioned bigotry."

    I'm Jewish and I find submitting animals to unnecessary pain and suffering inhumane. The belief, sans evidence, in god, and the adherence to primitive customs is no justification for it. The same goes for submitting babies to medically unnecessary surgery to be circumcised. There are risks of castration and even death, though small. They aren't "small" when it's your child who is maimed or killed. Calling somebody a bigot because they oppose such barbarism is the real smokescreen.

    July 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  7. Tricia

    Working in a slaughterhouse i see the procedure for killing the cows by the Rabbis and I definently am ok with the Jewish religion and rules, it doesnt affect my life, and i believe we should welcome diversity, but what needs to be done in order for the cow to be Kosher... is not humane and it is mean i defiently dont think that should continue and i believe as long as a Rabbi still cuts it throat it can still be Kosher, it being stunned first shouldnt affect the "blessing" .

    July 6, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  8. Evil Grin

    I don't know the situation with the Dutch government, they may be doing it because they have some sort of grudge with the Jewish or Muslim peoples, but honestly from this it sounds more like they are trying to make the process more humane. I think unless there is some evidence to the contrary, relating them to Hitler is a bit premature. Perhaps even manipulative – preying on people's collective hate to turn on the decision of a government.

    I'm not saying that their decision is wrong or right. I can see where the dilemna comes in. If the animals are suffering for awhile as they die, it's inhumane. But it's also religious tradition, which is not something you can lightly discount.

    So I'm not for or against this decision. I have no right to say if it is wrong or right. However, I wish you would use some different arguments than the old "the Nazis did this!" argument. It gets old, and unless it's a real threat the way the Nazis were, it kind of discredits your point.

    I'd like to hear more of the processes of shechita and halal, and why we might not consider them inhumane. You could even bring in points about your rich heritage and maybe the types of traditions that other religions still practice that seem outdated or harmful. Or maybe even a little more evidence that the government really is looking to oppress you. Something that might justify the comparison.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  9. Amanda Huggekhiss

    This, from the same cultural freaks that think genital mutilation of male children is a cultural entitlement.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  10. Ted

    The issue is not whether there is more pain in bleeding to death upside down as opposed to stunning incorrectly or correctly. The method of killing an animal for food should be quick and painless. And good grief....looking the animal in the eye and thanking it? are you mad? Would that make you feel better? An air compressed bolt from behind into the brain should suffice for cattle and instantaneous beheading for a chicken or small animal. Halal ritual? definitely inhumane! If you don't like stunning ,invent a quicker process, but the blade by hand is old and barbaric. Grow up into modern times people.

    July 5, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  11. Maggie

    oh, and by the way, I am neither Jewish nor Muslim. I am not a vegetarian either, but I have problems with the factory-farm handling of animals used for food in modern society. I do not think our modern means of slaughter are an improvement on the ancient ways.....far from it. The modern methods are not rooted in concern for the animal, but for the bottom line and for the efficient processing of animals into food as rapidly as possible. I am sure your grandparents and other ancestors probably raised and consumed chickens, pigs, goats, etc. And I am sure your grandma could wring the neck of a chicken and turn it into fricasee without a great deal of drama. Farm families did not mistake livestock for pets; they were a much-appreciated food source. However, I am equally sure that she would have been horrified to see a "modern" chicken factory farm, with the masses of debeaked hens jammed into tiny cages, living short, brutal lives. She would find that an abomination, as do we.

    July 5, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  12. Maggie

    Note: The Dutch parliament did not ban the slaughter of animals, it merely banned the ritual slaughter of them because the ritual does not require first "stunning" the animal, as required by Dutch law. Stunning was originally developed in western countries to avoid injury to the butcher, not for the sake of the animal. There are various methods of stunning, including electric shocks and having a bolt fired into the brain. Having seen videos of animals being ritually sacrificed by a sharp cut across the arteries of the neck, and videos of the "stunning process", I personally felt the stunning was more violent and less humane. The ritual slaughter is quick, clean, and done with respect for the animal as a living creature giving up its life to feed human beings. The stunning process is typical factory-farm, mass-produced way of killing things efficiently, with no regard at all for the animal as anything more than so many pounds of steak on the hoof.
    To my way of thinking, if you are going to kill an animal for food, at least do so cleanly and with respect for its life; do not frighten it with strange, noisy, terrifying machinery first. If you cannot look the animal in the eyes and say a prayer of thanks for the gift you are receiving, then perhaps you should not be killing it in the first place. Certainly you should not think that brute-force technology is an acceptable substitute for compassionate handling.

    July 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • B

      Listen to yourself. Mistreatment is mistreatment, no matter how "humane " you think the death is. This rite is not necessary because the people that do it are not dying of hunger. The animal didn't sacrifice anything. The one killing it is telling themselves that they are being "respectful" yet the ultimate act of disrespect to life is killing something unnecessarily. Just because others commit heinous acts on animals, don't hide behind religion to justify what is a "custom" to hide what this is. Not necessary, People justify many things citing religious beliefs. All the explanations in the world doesn't change that.

      July 6, 2011 at 6:08 am |
    • Tricia

      have u ever really seen a cow have its throat slit, its not clean, its not less painful. the cow feels every part of it and it cuts threw its vocal choards and it still tries to moo.. listen to that in person and then say cutting the throat is better or whatever argument your pushing. The fact is that their ritual is cruel and we are now in a new age where things are done more efficantly, stunning the cow will knock it out so they do not struggle or feel the pain. technically stunning doesnt kill they cow so the Rabbi would still be killing it without the struggle. Do u really believe that in order for the cow to be blessed it needs to feel pain and struggle and have a slow painful death? or is the rule that the Rabbi needs to initaite the kill by slitting the throat, well that would be achieved less dramatically with the stun gun.

      July 6, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Drew

      Very interesting reply. This shows there are different points of view on the subject, and since we all don't know what LIFE really is, its hard to say which way of killing animals for food is more humane. Is a "bolt shot in the brain that kills presumably instantly" more humane as part of a mechanized cold factory, without saying a prayer for the animal's life, or saying a prayer for the animal's life taken for food yet loses conciousness somewhat slower as the rabbi apologizes to it for taking its life for FOOD and says a prayer for it.

      July 23, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  13. Heather

    Nothing written in a book, nothing practiced for centuries and no person saying it is reason enough to hurt a living thing for the sake of a "process". To cause even more suffering by purposely disregarding anything that would cause it less pain is shameful. Same goes for the "tradition" of bullfighting in Spain, same goes for old-West bear traps, etc.

    July 5, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  14. Aaron Walton

    Actually there are a whole lot of people that believe in the humane treatment of animals. Its an issue of basic ethics and common sense. To discount that and immediately claim bigotry is ridiculous. You are entitled to whatever beliefs and customs you wish to pursue – so long as those beliefs and customs do not gratuitously harm other living creatures. To believe otherwise is to cast your spirituality in doubt at its most basic level.

    July 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • bobl

      I have enjoyed many visits to The Netherlands which likes to pride itself for tolerance. But look at their history more Jews were deported or turned over to the Nazis by the Dutch than any other country. Having said that The Dutch also saved more Jews from the Nazis than any other country. Catholics had to hide thier worship services and churches at one point as well. So much for Dutch tolerance.

      Tricia is absolutely correct about stunning the animal and then cutting the throat to drain the blood as a solution.

      July 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
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