Analysis: NZ kosher ban sets bad precedent
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In 2003 the British government rejected a proposal to outlaw shechitah after the Animal Welfare Council claimed the practice was in breach of laws against animal cruelty. Last week the New Zealand government was not so tolerant; it banned the kosher slaughtering of animals.
At face value, the practical implications may not be too far-reaching: there are only about 7,000 Jews in New Zealand and only a small percentage of them are Orthodox. Furthermore, kosher meat can still be imported from nearby Australia, although poultry - the sine qua non of kosher chicken soup - cannot be imported.
Nonetheless, the decision does have some serious ramifications, according to Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, the acting president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia.
"It's not just about New Zealand," he says. "When other countries are wavering and see New Zealand's decision, that gives them the courage to go further."
The only other countries that have banned shechitah are Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
The Kiwi decision sent shock waves through the Jewish community in part because Jewish leaders were caught cold. Now they are scrambling to ascertain what, if any, submissions were made on behalf of the community and whether any consultation took place. They are hoping it was simply an administrative error that can easily be rectified. The big question is why kosher slaughter was not listed as an exemption, just as it is an exemption under the Animal Welfare Act in the UK. New Zealand law used to exempt shechitah - until last week.
Moreover, it appears to trample on New Zealand's Bill of Rights, which is supposed to protect the freedom of religious practice. It is also especially curious given the country's Prime Minister, John Key, is the son of a Jewish refugee who escaped Nazi-occupied Europe.
At its crux is the question of whether shechitah is a humane way of slaughtering animals. As British-born Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, a former rabbi of Auckland Hebrew Congregation, says: "There is a strong body of veterinary and animal welfare research which continues to confirm shechitah as a humane method of slaughter."
Dan Goldberg is the JC's correspondent in Australia and New Zealand