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Holland Bans Kosher, Halal Slaughter

Law arguably contradicts humane, moral considerations

Marc Tracy
June 28, 2011
A kosher butcher knife.(PhotoMatti/Flickr)
A kosher butcher knife.(PhotoMatti/Flickr)

After today’s vote, all animals butchered in Holland must be stunned before being killed, in violation of both Jewish and Muslim practice. Indeed, the country’s Jewish and Muslim communities had joined forces to oppose the bill, which was proposed by the small Animal Rights Party: The chief Dutch rabbi noted that kosher butcheries were closed soon after the Nazi occupation of Holland, and Dutch Muslims cast the law as of a piece with the rising power of the xenophobic, anti-Muslim Dutch right, as personified by the charismatic politician Geert Wilders. Britain’s chief rabbi also vocally opposed the law, which is more draconian than the European Union’s ban on the slaughtering of non-stunned animals, which provides religious exemptions.

In a fabulous essay today, popular Asia Times columnist Spengler–who in person, I’m told, bears a more than passing resemblance to frequent Tablet Magazine contributor David P. Goldman—counts the ways in which this new law is bad:

• As Goldman explained in Tablet, kosher slaughter, in which an extremely sharp (and sanctified) blade wielded by a skilled butcher slices several crucial arteries at once in order to quickly eliminate the animal’s life (and therefore pain), is thought to be the most humane method there is, and was designed to be just that.

• Banning this type of slaughter is hypocritical, given that hunting and eating of wild game, which is far crueler to animals, is permitted.

• The law shames the memories of Holland’s historic tolerance to Jews—it was a haven for many who fled the Inquisition—and of the three-quarters of Dutch Jews who died in the Holocaust.

• The law is of course a blow to observant Dutch Jews. But really, it is properly seen as an assault on the general moral fiber, Spengler argues:

Those who reject religious arguments—as do the majority of today’s European—should nonetheless ask by what measure they gauge the value of animal suffering. Jews observe the ancient dietary laws because they believe that God asked them to do so. Whether or not the Hebrew Bible was given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God, the rules it set forth for kindness towards animals had no precedent in human affairs. And the influence upon ethics of this innovation cannot be overstated. If we must respect animal life—not only physical suffering, but even the emotional sensibility of animals—then we must respect human life and dignity all the more.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.