Forty five per cent of Britons ready to ban shechita
Almost half the population favour a ban on religious slaughter of animals for meat and nearly a third want a ban on male circumcision, according to the results of a YouGov poll for the JC.
Asked whether they support or oppose a ban on religious slaughter, 45 per cent back a ban, 27 per cent are against and 28 per cent say they do not know.
Opinion diverges less when respondents are asked about “male circumcision for religious reasons”, with 38 per cent supporting a ban, 35 per cent against and 27 per cent undecided.
Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation Beth Din, said: “It’s worrying and it shows we need to do a lot more public relations to put our case.”
Dayan Lichtenstein is particularly concerned at the level of support for a ban on shechita among young people “because I would have expected their education to have made them more liberally-minded.”
Forty-one per cent of 18-24 year-olds would ban both shechita and circumcision.
However, the most striking difference emerges in the political inclinations of those polled. As many as 71 per cent of people who say they would vote UKIP back a ban on religious slaughter, and 51 per cent support a ban on male circumcision — the only political allegiance where more than half back bans in either case.
Dayan Pinchas Toledano, former head of the Sephardi Beth Din, now Haham of Amsterdam, said that the survey’s results “don’t surprise or shock me”.
The Dutch community recently mobilised to protect shechita after politicians wanted to introduce compulsory pre-stunning of animals before religious slaughter — which would have meant banning the Jewish method of killing animals.
Dayan Toledano, himself a retired mohel, said: “If you try to ban such practices, you have no religious freedom at all.”
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, rabbi to the Reform movement, commented: “I greatly appreciate living in a tolerant, pluralist country where key rituals of kashrut and brit milah are understood and respected. These results indicate a worrying intolerance, not only towards the specific rituals of shechita and brit milah, but possibly may indicate a more widespread intolerance towards Jews and other minorities in the UK.
“I am particularly concerned by the statistics of the UKIP voters and I assume this pattern of rejecting Jewish religious rituals would also be mirrored if a similar question were to be posed about Muslim rituals.”
The German government recently passed legislation to protect religious circumcision after a mohel was arrested last year.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, senior rabbi of the Masorti movement, was also not surprised by the figures because “there has been a lot of discussion across Europe”.
Rabbi Wittenberg, who does not eat meat himself, said that there had not been proven to be “a kinder method” to kill animals than shechita.
“The real issue is the frequent cruelty within the meat industry generally and the question of how animals live their lives, not only how they die.”
Brit milah is “an ancient ritual of identity and a significant commandment,” he said. “It is essential it is always practised with maximum skill, scrupulous hygiene and a minimisation of pain and careful aftercare.
“Having witnessed many circumcisions, I believe overwhelmingly that the pain quickly passes and I don’t believe that it causes lasting trauma.”
But David Graham, senior research fellow of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, cautioned against reading too much into the figures.
“While this may be indicative of a general negative attitude towards these Jewish traditions, that conclusion cannot be drawn from this YouGov poll,” he said.
If people are asked are whether they support or oppose a ban on an issue, he said, “the seed of doubt is already sown in the respondent’s mind, before he or she has had a chance to consider what they are being asked. It is hardly surprising a majority opts for a ban.”
A spokesman for Jewish defence organisations Shechita UK and Milah UK refused to comment.