Topic: Anti-Shechita"Sharon the butcher in Jenin, Gaza and Buraij," by Joha Omayya. Published in Al Hayat al-Jadida, December 9, 2002.
In recent years, the Jewish practice of shechita, or ritual animal slaughter to obtain kosher meat, has met fierce opposition and has even been banned in a handful of European countries. These debates often have anti-Semitic undertones. Some attacks come from animal rights activists who accuse Jews of cruelty because animals are not stunned before being slaughtered. Anti-Shechita critiques also tie into older stereotypes of the bloodthirsty Jew (deicide, profanation of the Host, Lex Talionis, blood libel) and to contemporary vilifying of Israeli leaders as butchers.
Origins of the Jewish law of shechita
The religious slaughterer (or 'Shochet') kills the animals by cutting the trachea, the esophagus, the jugular vein and the carotid, all in one decisive cut. The movement must be neat and precise, the knife impeccably sharp and without a trace of prior use. Death follows within a few seconds. In order to be fit for consumption or 'kosher,' the meat must no longer contain any blood, according to Jewish dietary laws.
Traditional slaughter is a religious act. Out of compassion for the animals, the professional who carries this out not only follows very strict measures, but he must constantly enhance his knowledge of the subject and prove that he has very high moral values.
This ritual is part of a long series of Biblical commandments which forbid cruelty towards animals and which incite humans to respect them. Some examples are the obligation to feed an animal before a man feeds himself, the prohibition against buying an animal if his keep cannot be ensured, the weekly rest which is imposed for beasts of labor, the obligation to leave the land fallow every seven years for the benefit of the poor and of animals, the prohibition against cutting up an animal that is still alive. Moreover, it is recommended that one should moderate one's consumption of meat, which is seen as a concession to man's appetite.
Ritual slaughter thus follows a line of respect towards animals that is considered an integral part of Creation. In the opinion of several veterinarians and physiologists, it is impossible to find scientific arguments proving that ritual slaughter causes more suffering than other slaughtering techniques.
Ban on Shechita
One of Adolf Hitler's first anti-Semitic measures, was to institute a ban on the kosher slaughtering of animals. Such a law had already been enacted in Bavaria in 1930. Significantly, the infamous Nazi "documentary" film Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew), designed to sow hatred for Jews, contained a gruesome scene that utterly distorted the way in which animals are killed in accordance with Jewish law, depicting the practice as a barbarous custom in which Jews rejoice at the suffering of animals.
In Switzerland, a ban on kosher slaughter has been enforced since 1897, when the people supported this measure through a referendum with clear anti-Semitic undertones. At the time, Jews had recently been granted full civil rights and some Swiss citizens feared an invasion of Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe, who they considered to be unassimilable, foreign and unreliable. By banning the performance of a core Jewish ritual, the Swiss people found a disguised way to limit the immigration of Jews into Switzerland. In 2002, when the Swiss government attempted to lift the century-old ban, animal rights activists, extremist political groups (on the left and the right), and unaffiliated citizens expressed violent opposition. They called shechita practice a "barbaric" and "sanguinary," an "archaic tradition from the time of the ghettos," and asked Jews to either become vegetarian or leave the country. Should a proposed ban on the import of kosher meat be accepted by the Swiss people in 2006, it will effectively force Jews who observe kashrut to abstain from the consumption of meat. Muslims will also be affected by this move.
Other adversaries of shechita have made a parallel between the Jewish treatment of animals and the Nazi treatment of Jews. Animal rights organizations in the U.S. and in Europe have repeatedly demonstrated with banners and placards equating shechita with Nazism, and slaughtered animals with Jewish Holocaust victims. [see image of demonstrators.]
For example, twenty years ago, at the height of a national debate in Great Britain regarding kosher slaughter, the following cartoon was published: cattle are seen standing outside a facility with a sign that says "kosher meats" and one cow remarks: "I understand we're just here to take a shower."
The debate over the ban of kosher and halal slaughtering methods is fierce in Great Britain. Aside from Switzerland, three other Western countries have banned shechita on their territory: Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
The association of Jews and blood is not new in the history of anti-Semitism. What is interesting is that century-old clichÃ©s and hard-to-believe accusations remain alive in our times, disseminated through new media avenues, such as television programs, caricatures, demonstrations and Internet campaigns, creating a web of hate that stretches from the time of Jesus to the election of Ariel Sharon.
Topics of Discussion:
1. In December 2004, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a complaint with the USDA against AgriProcessors (a large kosher slaughterhouse), after PETA posted graphic videos of the slaughter of cattle filmed by PETA members working undercover in the AgriProcessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa.
The counsel of AgriProcessors, Nathan Lewin, replies to PETA"s accusations and refers to centuries of anti-Semitism:
What are the benefits and limitations of undercover video and of graphic video in this case?
2. How do anti-Semitic attacks against shechita relate to older stereotypes of the bloodthirsty Jew, such as the murder of Christ, Lex Talionis ("An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"), and blood libel?
3. Why are visual material (films, paintings, caricatures) such powerful vehicles for anti-Semitic campaigns against Jews in relation to blood? See, for example, the excerpt from the Syrian-produced TV series Diaspora, or the excerpt from The Eternal Jew.
4. How is the theme of the bloodthirsty Jew extended to anti-Israeli and anti-Sharon arguments, such as in the above caricature?
5. In 1997, the highest court in Germany issued a special ordinance permitting ritual slaughter by way of exception as long as it was covered by religious obligations http://library.vetmed.fu-berlin.de/diss-abstracts/103866.html. Discuss the reconciliation of animal rights and religious freedom. Read more about Animal Advocacy and the Kosher Butchering Debates in Germany in the late 19th century.