Leading rabbi warns of battle to safeguard shechita in Europe after court ruling

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt calls for concerted political efforts in defence of religious freedom


Rabbi Dayan Goldschmidt

The president of the Conference of European Rabbis has warned that the continent’s Jewish communities are facing a battle to protect shechita after a legal decision last month.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who was visiting London this week for Book Week 24, told the JC, “We are going to have to fight now in the trenches in every country.”

His warning follows a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights that a ban on religious slaughter without pre-stunning imposed by two of Belgian’s three districts, Flanders and Wallonia, in 2019, did not infringe human rights.

The ban has meant that one of Europe’s most significant Orthodox communities, Antwerp, has had to import kosher meat for several years.

The court’s decision was “going to give a lot of impetus to anti-shechita forces all over Europe to try to push legislation in different countries against shechita,” Rabbi Goldschmidt said.

Already, in recent days, a petition has been launched in the UK calling for a ban on “non-stun slaughter”.

Jewish and many Muslim communities believe that compulsory stunning before slaughter would invalidate their religious practices.

Shechita defence campaigners have argued that the shechita cut swiftly renders the animal unconscious.

Jewish and Muslim communities in Belgium appealed initially to the country’s courts, which referred the issue to the European Union Court of Justice, but that court in effect ruled that what it saw as animal rights took precedence over religious freedom.

Now the European Court of Human Rights has stymied a further legal challenge.

Rabbi Goldschmidt said the CER had advised the Belgian community not to go down the legal route as previous precedents on court decisions involving religious freedom indicated there would be little hope.

“The road ahead is political.,” he said. “We are going to have to work with governments and legislators on all different levels… to respond to this threat.”

But he believed that Europe’s Jewish communities were yet to grasp the potential fallout of the court decision.

As for ban in Belgium, he said, “We’ll fight it, it’s not going to be easy but I think we are going to be able to push through an exception for slaughter for religious communities.”

But he added caustically that the European Court of Human Rights should be renamed “the Court of Animal Rights”

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