Kosher pubs, meat and leadership


By MatthewHarris
June 17, 2012
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Over on my personal blog (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/?m=1), I have written a piece including:

It transpires that England's only kosher pub has lost its official kosher designation, owing to its having held a function under the aegis of a licensing authority other than the one that certified it as being kosher in the first place. I should say that the Jewish Chronicle story quotes a kosher butcher as saying: "...that although there was no licence, the food at the pub remained kosher. 'I am supplying the meat,' he said." And if any of that reads sarcastically on my part, it genuinely isn't meant to, although I do not myself 'keep kosher'.

It's a bit like going into a building that appears to be safe - there's a difference between simply doing that, and going into a building that's actually been certified 'safe' by a fire officer. It's not enough for a restaurant to be kosher; it also has to be certified kosher.

A few years ago, a well-known purveyor of tinned chicken soup paid its administrative fee to the kosher licensing authority in Manchester, but not to the equivalent authority in London (or was it the other way round?). This meant that the soup concerned was certified kosher in Manchester, but not in London, sparking much entertaining speculation as to the precise geographical point at which, were one to travel on a train from London to Manchester, one could declare a can of the soup kosher and so start eating it.

So this story about the kosher pub got me thinking about a past post of mine about said pub (http://www.thejc.com/blogs/matthewharris/im-kosher-pub), in the quest for which post I found the other stuff (by the way, who is this, another Matthew Harris? What is going on? http://www.gadflyonline.com/wpblog/?p=2538 It's Paper Mask all over again).

These kosher thoughts prompted my mind to meander towards the news that James Paice - a Tory minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - has reportedly ( http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/68792/farming-minister-shechitah-be-re...) said that: "Killing an animal without stunning is not acceptable in the western world. But we need to be tolerant and understanding of religious communities who want their meat produced in that way."

I am not actually aware of any "religious communities who want their meat produced in that way (without stunning)". Religious Jews (and, by extension, Muslims) believe that it is inhumane to slaughter an animal for meat unless it loses consciousness instantaneously upon being slaughtered, and unless it is uninjured when you slaughter it, so they do not eat meat from animals that have been mechanically pre-stunned before slaughter.

They do, however, practise a method of slaughter under which the animal loses consciousness instantaneously before dying, that therefore being a method of slaughter that does, in fact, stun the animal.

Mr Paice is clearly referring not to stunning in general, but to mechanical pre-stunning in particular. It is indeed the case that the Jewish (shechitah) and Muslim (halal) methods of slaughter are, in this country, legally exempted (for freedom-of-religion reasons) from the general requirement that animals must be mechanically pre-stunned before slaughter.

I welcome Mr Paice's saying that "we need to be tolerant and understanding of religious communities who want their meat produced" without mechanical pre-stunning. His saying that chimes nicely with Deputy Prime Minister (and Lib Dem Leader) Nick Clegg having said, in November 2010: "...on 'shechitah', the Jewish humane way of slaughtering animals for meat - I have always supported its continuance in this country, and I always will. The Liberal Democrats have never adopted any policy that threatens the right to shechitah, and it is my intention that we never shall."

This is, of course, presumably a 'free vote' issue of conscience for individual MPs, rather than necessarily being an issue on which MPs are whipped on party lines, although I cannot say that for certain.

I utterly respect any Liberal Democrats whose concern for animal welfare leads them to want to ban any method of slaughter that is particularly cruel. To them, I would say not only that shechitah, as a method of slaughter, is not particularly cruel (quite the contrary, say many neurologists), but also that one cannot suddenly, now, ban a method of slaughter that has been lawful and normative in this country for hundreds of years, without expecting some opposition from the British people (Jews and Muslims, in this case) who eat the meat concerned.

As a liberal, I care at least as much about religious freedom as I do about animal welfare.

My family celebrates Christmas by eating a turkey. Is it possible that, were it not for factory farming, there would not be enough turkeys to meet the needs of the many British families who want to eat one each Christmas?

Is it also possible that factory farming can be cruel? Would it therefore be reasonable for me to say: "Factory-farming a turkey is not acceptable in the western world, so it must stop. And if that means that there are not enough turkeys for people to eat at Christmas, then people can eat something else at Christmas, as animal welfare is more important than the right to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner"? No, it would not be remotely reasonable for me to say such a thing.

As for that piece by the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, about leadership: http://www.chiefrabbi.org/2012/06/14/seven-principles-of-jewish-leadersh... - well worth reading in full, even if you are, like me, not religious. Among other things, Lord Sacks writes:

"Leaders lead because there is work to do, there are people in need, there is injustice to be fought, there is wrong to be righted, there are problems to be solved and challenges ahead. Leaders hear this as a call to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. They lead because they know that to stand idly by and expect others to do the work is the too-easy option. The responsible life is the best life there is, and is worth all the pain and frustration."

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