June 30th, 2011
04:00 AM ET
Editor's note: Since 2004, Shmuel Herzfeld has been the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue, the oldest and largest Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C. His first book will be published within a year, titled: The Relevance of the Torah for our Modern Lives.
By Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Special to CNN
The lower house of the Dutch parliament recently passed legislation that would ban ritual slaughter in accordance with both Jewish law, known as shechita, and Muslim law, known as halal. The legislation would require the stunning of animals before their slaughter, an act that is forbidden by Jewish law.
For Jews, this is a very emotional issue that cuts at the core of who we are.
In our history, we have seen unfriendly governments attack our sacred rituals as a way of sending a message to their citizens that our religion is alien and barbaric.
We know that it often masquerades as a concern for a more humane treatment of animals, but in reality, it is just a smokescreen for old-fashioned bigotry.
Indeed, in 1933, one of the first edicts of Nazi Germany was to ban shechita as inhumane. We know that banning a fundamental ritual of our religion sends the message that our entire religion is unwelcome in that country.
By saying that the food that one is required to eat may not be prepared in the country, the Dutch parliament is in effect saying to the Jewish people that we Jews are not welcome in their country.
As Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Conference of European Rabbis said, the ban is an “outrage” and will “prevent Jews from living a Jewish life in The Netherlands.” He continued, “We have passed the stage of arguing the nuances of intention of anti-Semitism. The practical effects of this bill mean that Jews are no longer welcome in The Netherlands. This has not happened for 70 years.”
For me as a rabbi and certified kosher slaughterer, it is especially painful to witness this, as I know that Jewish law requires shechita on animals because we believe that it is the most humane manner of killing the animal.
The laws of shechita are designed precisely to minimize the pain and suffering of the animal. The canard that we would all be more humane if we stunned the animals before slaughtering flies in the face of the Jewish teaching that the animals cannot be stunned, because we need to make certain that the animals are healthy enough to walk before we kill them. In fact, the act of stunning the animal can be a much more painful process than the ritual slaughter of the animal.
Jewish law requires the animals to be treated in a humane manner while they are alive and prohibits any act that would cause unnecessary pain to an animal.
Further, every ritual slaughter requires a preinspection of the blade to make certain that there are no nicks, which might somehow cause extra pain to the animal. By Jewish law, the animal must be killed in a swift, precise movement that is specifically designed to limit pain.
If the slaughterer pauses, presses too hard on the animal or uses the knife in a tearing fashion, then the animal is deemed to be nonkosher and cannot be eaten by a Jew. And as soon as a fowl is slaughtered, its blood must be covered with earth in order to respect the blood of the animal.
The reason for all of these laws - and there are many more - is to limit the pain of the animal, to treat the animal with dignity and to make certain that eating the meat becomes a spiritual process that respects God’s creatures.
Perhaps in response to this hypercritical and bigoted act by the Dutch legislature, some good may arise. Perhaps Jews and Muslims can draw closer together and recognize that when the ugly face of persecution rears its head, it often does not distinguish between the Quran and the Torah.
If Jews and Muslims can successfully work together in opposing this legislation, then maybe it will be the start of a new alliance that recognizes that we are brothers and sisters who have so much in common.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.