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Slaughter Makes for Strange Bedfellows

Dutch ban brings together Orthodox Jews and Muslims

What could bring Orthodox Jews and Muslims together against the government of a nation that’s known for its centuries-old tradition of protecting religious and social minorities?

The government of the Netherlands is preparing to pass a law that will ban the ritual slaughter of animals. Kosher and Halal slaughter requires that animals be killed by slitting their throats in a way that drains the blood from the body. It has its origins in Biblical laws that derive from ancient Middle East customs that predate the separation of people into Jews, Muslims and other religions.

Animal protection groups have long argued that this method of slaughter is a form of cruelty, and are lobbying in many countries for it to be banned – as it already is in several countries including the Scandinavian and Baltic nations and New Zealand, where a study that monitored calf brain waves during ritual slaughter concluded the animals probably were aware of their pain.

In the Netherlands, the move is bringing together some unlikely bedfellows. On the side of banning ritual slaughter are animal rights organizations — often viewed as politically left leaning — and the far right Freedom Party, which is notorious for its anti-immigration policies. Fighting the ban are orthodox Jews and Muslims, who are not otherwise known for making common cause. The Royal Dutch Veterinary Association has also come out in favor of banning the practice.

As in most western countries, Dutch law dictates that animals must be stunned into unconsciousness before being killed, in order to reduce pain and fear. But Kosher and Halal butchers have been exempt from the law, since Biblical and Koranic laws both require that animals be slaughtered while still awake.

The debate has, not surprisingly, taken on some of the usual claims of prejudice and discrimination. Orthodox Jews are reminding people that Nazi Germany banned kosher slaughter – a comparison that’s odious to Dutch people who are known for having stood up most strongly to the Nazis in protecting their Jewish countrymen from being deported to death camps. And Abdulfatteh Ali-Salah, director of a certification body for Dutch halal meat, has argued that Dutch society is more interested in animal welfare than fair treatment of its Muslim citizens.

Muslims in the Netherlands number roughly 1 million, and Jews about 50,000, in a nation of 16 million people. Two million animals are slaughtered according to Kosher and Halal tradition each year.

What do you say? Should religious or cultural traditions trump the cause of animal protection? Let us know in the Comments section below or on Facebook.

What you can do: Several Jewish organizations are opposed to the kosher laws regarding slaughter. Most of them are also pro-vegetarian. They include Jewish Vegetarians of North America and Jews for Animal Rights. Islamic organizations promoting an animal-friendly view of Halal laws include Islamic Concern and Muslim Bridges.