FaithWorld

Guestview: Ritual slaughter ban reflects fights over food and faith in the Netherlands

(A halal butcher in Geneva, August 23, 2010/Denis Balibouse)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Martijn de Koning is a Dutch anthropologist in the Faculty of Religious Studies at Radboud University in Nijmegen. This is an shortened version of an analysis originally posted on his blog CLOSER.

By Martijn de Koning

The Dutch parliament has voted to ban ritual animal slaughter. In a proposal condemned by Muslim and Jewish organisations, the Party for the Animals wanted a complete ban on dhabiha and shechita — the ritual slaughtering by Muslims and Jews — in cases where the animals were not stunned before being killed. The ban will mostly affect orthodox Jews since all of the shechita slaughtering involves animals fully conscious, while in the case of dhabiba this is the case in only 25%-40%. In order to get this bill passed through the lower house of parliament (a second vote is necessary in the Senate), a compromise was established: Jewish and Muslim communities have a year to provide evidence that animals slaughtered by dhabiba and shechita (and not stunning them) do not experience more pain than those animals that are stunned before killing.

In the recent Dutch debates about ritual slaughter, food has become a field where people battle over political, religious, economic, social and animal welfare issues.  I do not think it is that speculative to say that the Animal Party has profitted from three major developments in Dutch society.

1. First of all, the animosity towards ritual slaughter is clearly related to the animosity about Islam. When the proposal for the bill was mentioned for the first time, the debate was about Islam and not about Jews.

2. Second, the proposal and parliamentary vote signal a change in the relation between the religious and the secular. With the current compromise, the burden of proof is not on the state but on religous communities that ritual slaughter does not lead to greater pain than stunning. Given the evidence on that issue right now, and the fact they have to show that something ‘is not’ (i.e. prove a negative), this will be an almost impossible endeavour.

European Jewish groups vow to fight Dutch ritual slaughter ban

(A kosher food shop in Berlin's Mitte district November 3, 2008/Fabrizio Bensch)

Two leading Jewish organizations in Europe vowed on Wednesday to fight a looming ban on ritual animal slaughter in the Netherlands approved by the lower house of the Dutch parliament in a bid to protect animal rights.

The European Jewish Congress (EJC) announced it was considering taking legal action to block the ban, which it said violated the freedom of religion enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Dutch vote to ban ritual animal slaughter, Jews and Muslims unite in protest

(Marianne Thieme, leader of the Dutch Animal Rights Party, at a goat farm in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, December 11, 2006/Koen van Weel )

The Dutch parliament voted on Tuesday to ban ritual slaughter of animals, a move strongly opposed by the country’s Muslim and Jewish minorities, but left a loophole that might let religious butchering continue. The bill by the small Animal Rights Party, the first such group in Europe to win seats in a national parliament, passed the lower house of parliament by 116 votes to 30. It must be approved by the upper house before becoming law. It stipulates that livestock must be stunned before being slaughtered, contrary to the Muslim halal and Jewish kosher laws that require animals to be fully conscious.

“This way of killing causes unnecessary pain to animals. Religious freedom cannot be unlimited,” said Marianne Thieme, head of the Animal Rights Party, said before the vote. “For us religious freedom stops where human or animal suffering begins.”

Oy Gevalt! Yiddish cell phone launches in Israel

("Kosher" cellular phones, imported and distributed by Israeli Accel Telecom, are displayed at the company's offices in Tel Aviv May 2, 2011/Nir Elias)

Israel’s “kosher” cellular phone market has a new model, a device with a Yiddish interface to help devout Jews combine tradition with modern technology.

Hundreds of thousands of mobile phones, popularly dubbed kosher because they block access to services frowned upon by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, have been operating in the Jewish state for years. Last month, Israel’s second largest mobile provider, Partner introduced what it hailed as the world’s first Yiddish cell phone, manufactured by Alcatel-Lucent.

Will Orthodox Jews say good-bye to Sabbath elevators?

jerusalem-cropped (Photo: Posters for protest in Jerusalem against parking lot open on Sabbath, 8 July 2009/Baz Ratner)

In a move that may literally take the breath away from many of the world’s Orthodox Jews, a group of Israel’s top rabbis recently ruled that riding in what for decades have been designated as “Shabbat (Sabbath) elevators,” is  against Jewish law. This decision — already been opposed by other leading rabbis – could force many Jews who live in apartment buildings to sweat their way up staircases once a week.

The Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, is meant to be a day of rest. Observant Jews refrain from working, traveling in vehicles, spending money and from using electricity.

Reuters photoIn modern times, it’s tough to imagine going 24 hours without using anything electric. So gadgets have been invented to allow the use of certain appliances without physically turning them on. Like timers for lights, called Shabbat clocks. Or special cookers for stove tops. Or elevators for Shabbat.

Wine and faith link shows on new Reuters wine page

kosher-wine1

Reuters.com now has a new page called World of Wine dedicated to our articles about the fruit of the vine. Although the page has no link to religion, wine does to some faiths — and it shows here.

Among the first few articles listed on the page is a recent feature on wine and Judaism — “Kosher wines pouring out of the religious niche.” The photo with the feature (seen above) shows Rabbi Yair Didi, who supervises production of kosher wines at the ‘Cantina di Pitigliano’ winery, sampling a glass in the Italian town of Pitigliano in Tuscany (26 March 2007/Daniele La Monaca).

And the top picture on the page shows Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presenting a six-bottle case of white wine from Down Under to Pope Benedict. Wine plays a central part in the Catholic Mass, but Rudd suggested the pontiff might drink this dessert wine “here in the Vatican on a warm summer’s night.” The photo is copied below (9 July 2009/Pier Paolo Cito).

If swine flu isn’t kosher in Israel, is it halal in the Muslim world?

Our Jerusalem bureau had this interesting little story today about the swine flu outbreak:

Swine flu not kosher in Israel
JERUSALEM, April 27 (Reuters) – Swine flu? Not in the Jewish state.

“We will call it Mexico flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a black-garbed Orthodox Jew, told a news conference on Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.

Split decision in Germany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case

Berlin’s reopened New Synagogue, 10 Oct 2005/Amanda AndersenGermany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case has ended with a partial victory for the defendant. A court in the western city of Cologne has upheld an injunction banning the prominent German-Jewish writer Henryk Broder from calling another German Jew an anti-Semite. But it said the ban only applied to his blistering personal attack on Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, daughter of the deceased former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Heinz Galinski. If it had been expressed in a more factual way, it said, the statement would have been protected as free speech.

The dispute, which the Jerusalem Post dubbed a case of “kosher anti-Semitism,” started back in May when Broder posted a letter on the website Die Achse des Guten (The Axis of Good) complaining to WDR radio in Cologne for interviewing Hecht-Galinski for a programme on Israel’s 60th anniversary. In her comments, Hecht-Galinski compared Israel’s policy towards Palestinians to Nazi policy towards Jews. Broder wrote: “Mrs EHG is an hysterical, egoistic housewife who is talking for nobody but herself and is uttering nothing but nonsense anyway. Her speciality are thoughtless anti-Semitic and anti-Zionistic statements, which are a fleeting fad once again.”

Hecht-Galinksi obtained a court injunction against him calling her an anti-Semite (which explains why the adjective “anti-Semitic” has since been xxx’ed out of Broder’s letter on the web). She argued that Broder, an active defender of Israel who has written a series of books dealing with the relationship between Germans and Jews, was trying to silence criticism of Israel. “Especially in the face of our common past, critical comments on committed injustices must be possible, also if they concern Israel,” she wrote in a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Passover debate highlights religious rift in Israel

Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray as they burn food containing leavening in Jerusalem, 18 April 2008/Gil Cohen MagenEarlier this month an Israeli court decided that stores and restaurants can sell food banned by Jewish ritual law during this week’s Passover holiday. Israeli courts are often arbiters in quarrels between Israel’s influential Orthodox community and its secular majority. This time the ruling has angered the Orthodox.

Ritual Jewish law forbids consuming leavened products known as hametz– from bread to beer– during the week of Passover. The tradition commemorates the biblical Israelites who did not have time to let their bread rise before the hasty exodus from slavery in Egypt.

My article on the Passover debate discusses the details and consequences of the April 3 court decision that overturned the convictions of two restaurant owners, a grocer and the owner of a pizza parlor who sold hametz last year. The court ruled that restaurants and stores can serve hametz because they are not “public areas.”