Rabbi Romain’s shechitah views risk calamity

Like those Jews who gave succour to Corbyn, his attack on the practice is a gift to its enemies

July 25, 2022 14:31

During the Corbyn years, the mainstream Jewish community despaired at the well-meaning but misguided Jews who urged us to give the Labour leader the benefit of the doubt over antisemitism. By inviting him to participate in religious events and insisting that some of his best friends were Jewish, they gave him plausible deniability which had no bearing in reality.

These Jews were — in Lenin’s famous phrase — useful idiots.

I’m wondering now whether one of the most prominent leaders of the Jewish community, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, is not fulfilling a similar function, and will similarly end up harming the community he cares for.

Last week, Rabbi Romain announced the publication of a report by the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors, discussing the future of kashrut and, in particular, of the halachic requirement that animals are not stunned before ritual slaughter. Whilst emphasising that the Reform movement was not changing its policy, Rabbi Romain – who chaired the working group that produced the report – argued that “the vast majority of scientific opinion has no doubt that animals suffer less if they are pre-stunned. Shechitah — involving the use of a razor sharp knife by a trained expert — is certainly very good, but not as good.”

And he wondered out loud: “Is it time to reconsider pre-stunning?”

Now, Reform rabbis — like all Jews — are entitled to their opinions on shechitah. Indeed, a great many traditional and Orthodox Jews share Rabbi Roman’s general concerns about animal welfare, the quality of life of the animals we slaughter and the need to uphold the highest standards of shechitah. Many have sworn off eating meat altogether, including in more modern Orthodox circles, where vegetarians, vegans and pescatarians are increasingly fashionable.

But for a rabbi of any denomination to publicly contemplate the effective end of shechitah as we know it is naïve at best, dangerous at worst.

Jewish life depends on the easy availability of kosher food. If Jews cannot easily access kosher basics, community life here will become unviable long term. And it makes no difference that we will still be able to import kosher meat. The political message that will be sent to Jews, if shechitah were no longer available to us, is clear: “Jews and their way of life are no longer welcome here.”

For the vast majority of Jews who care about kashrut, shechitah and stunning cannot co-exist. Insist on stunning, and Anglo-Jewry is thrown into an existential crisis.

This is no idle threat. Across Europe, shechitah has already been banned in countries ranging from Denmark to Switzerland. The Brussels parliament recently voted to keep shechitah legal following bans in Wallonia and Flanders. Of course it could happen here too, pushed both by animal rights groups, whose motives are honourable even if we believe they are insensitive to the effects on local Jewish life; and by some of those on the fringes of these groups and their fellow-travellers, who exhibit worrying symptoms of antisemitism.

Rabbi Romain has played straight into their hands. The gift – or rather, ammunition – he’s given is already being used, for example by the National Secular Society, whose website reported immediately that a Jewish group recommends stunning animals before kosher slaughter. And it will doubtless be used against us in future, in aid of a cause that brings grievous harm to Anglo-Jewry.

Others in the Reform movement must realise this. To their credit, Rabbi Kathleen Middleton and Rabbi James Baaden, co-chairs of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors, rushed to distance the movement from Rabbi Romain, clarifying that pre-stunning does not represent Reform policy.

So why float this dangerous idea so publicly instead of allowing a minor discussion document to languish? It comes across as virtue-signalling, a convenient way of tapping into a fashionable cause and distancing oneself from Orthodox co-religionists, without having to take any practical action.

Perhaps Rabbi Romain believes that this is a discussion worth having and that there’s no harm done. Let’s hope so. Because the alternative is that this seasoned campaigner – including against faith schools, another of the Jewish community’s most precious assets – fully understands that for the rest of the community, his position on shechitah is a calamitous act of self-harm, but doesn’t care.

July 25, 2022 14:31

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