The beginning of the end for kosher meat?

By Jessica Elgot, June 24, 2010
Follow Jessica on Twitter

Shechita UK this week warned that animal welfare groups with deep pockets have "the wind in their sails" and pose a renewed threat to the continuance of kosher slaughter in the UK.

In the wake of the New Zealand ban and the European Parliament vote in support of singling out kosher and halal meat for special labelling, Shechita UK's campaign director, Shimon Cohen, warned that the Jewish community must organise to defend the practice.

Mr Cohen said: "Organisations such as the RSPCA, the Humane Slaughter Association and Compassion in World Farming have a lot of funding to fight against shechitah.

"Our funding comes entirely from the shechitah levy on kosher butchers in London. Just in London." With these new threats, he said, the fight to preserve shechitah needed greater funding. "We have to go to the community if we need more money and that could mean a voluntary levy on kosher butchers or on meat in kosher restaurants.

"Within the Jewish community, people have not taken us seriously. They think we are playing around. If anyone thinks we are obsessive then they should take a look at New Zealand. Let's be clear that there is no question of any UK government in the foreseeable future banning shechitah. But what we are concerned about is legislation through the back door, like the EU labelling, which singles out kosher meat.

"Labelling is not a problem for us, but let's be serious about it. If we have to label everything, why should kosher meat be singled out as 'not stunned'? Why not put on a piece of pork 'This animal was gassed'? I don't think that the farming lobby, or the retail lobby, would be very pleased about that."

Jacky Lipowicz, chair of the Licensed Kosher Meat Traders' Association, agreed that the community needed to speak out to protect religious freedom. He said: "It should not fall on butchers alone to defend shechitah. This should be a communal levy. It is the responsibility of every single Jew, and on this we should be absolutely united.

"Synagogues, community organisations and every person buying meat should contribute. It is about religious freedom, and anything could be next."

But Chanoch Kesselman, executive co-ordinator of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, the umbrella organisation for the Kedassia supervising authority, was cautious about endorsing a levy.

He said that kosher consumers needed more information about the cause for which they would be paying. He added: "The Anglo-Jewish community already pays an exorbitant price for kosher meat. If there is a short-term levy, people will say that this is just another way of getting money from them. So perhaps they will put 50p in a box and think that is enough. Education is what we need first."

Mr Kesselman warned that much of the evocative language used to describe shechitah, like "slitting the throat", was malicious. He said: "It is covert antisemitism. That kind of language conjures up an image of criminality in people's minds."

Richard Hyman, owner of Manchester kosher superstore Titanics, called the concept of a voluntary levy "ludicrous". He added: "Every time you order a kosher steak or go to a kosher butcher, then you are showing your support. If every Jewish and Muslim person in the country wrote to their MP about the issue then that would have a greater effect."

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, agreed that members of the community should take the fight to their representatives.

He said: "The developments in Europe could potentially have a serious impact on shechitah and the supply of kosher meat, and there may well be a role in the coming months for members of the community to lobby MEPs, alongside the efforts of Shechita UK."

    Last updated: 8:43am, June 25 2010