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Xenophobia masquerding as animal welfare

You may have caught the story in last week’s IJN on Poland’s shechitah ban, and Tehilla Goldberg’s column on the irony of a country that killed millions of Jews now protecting animal rights. Poland isn’t the first country to ban ritual slaughter, and probably won’t be the last. New Zealand banned shechitah a few years ago in 2010, and in Switzerland, it has been illegal since 1893.

These tend to fall under the rubric of animal welfare, but in our opinion that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Animal welfare has simply been utilized as a useful label for more sinister motivations.

Banning ritual slaughter really has nothing to do with animal rights and has everything to do with fear of the foreigner, or xenophobia. Switzerland’s shechitah ban coincided with the late-19th century wave of Jewish migration from Eastern Europe that brought more religious (and often chasidic) Jews to Central and Western Europe. These Ostjuden, as they were pejoratively called, faced discrimination not only from gentiles, but from the ‘native’ Jews, who were often well assimilated into the local society.

Outlawing shechita was not only a demonstration of anti-Semitism, but also served to make Switzerland inhospitable to would-be frum migrants. (As an aside, the Swiss case also highlights the pitfalls of referendums; the government has never supported banning shechitah, but the issue went to popular vote. But that’s for another topic.)

Here’s a question: If these countries and animal welfare activists are so concerned with eliminating animal suffering, why does hunting remain legal, as it does in Switzerland? There’s certainly no stunning of the animal first when it comes to hunting, and it’s not like everyone wielding a gun is a top marksman.

In Europe, the current anti-shechitah and anti-circumcision movements are less about Jews as they are about Muslims. Anti-Islam sentiment is strong, and even for those who feel it isn’t politically correct to openly oppose Muslim immigration, banning the rituals essential to that community’s vitality is a handy way of shutting the door. It neatly parallels the Jewish experience in Switzerland of the late 1890s.

The upshot to all of this anti-religious agitation is that it has provided fertile ground for cooperation between Europe’s Jewish and Muslim communities. Turns out that being targeted for the same reasons has shown Jews and Muslims how much they share, despite a typically fraught relationship.

Read Part Two of our discussion on the shechitah ban: “Alleviating guilt through shechitah ban

Two more perspectives on the shechitah ban can be found in this week’s IJN (August 2) on the Lively Opinion page.




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