The Dutch Parliament is poised to accomplish what Nazi Germany thankfully could not: destroy Jewish life in Holland and, possibly, beyond.
The Jewish community in Holland arguably can trace itself back for nearly 1,000 years. Many who moved there during that time did so to escape anti-Semitism, such as during the Inquisition (meaning between 400 and 500 years ago).
The Netherlands were never completely free of officially sanctioned religious discrimination and anti-Semitism, but for much of its history there also existed a tacit sense of religious freedom. In modern times, that sense became the dominant one and worked itself even into law. Now, this freedom may be eroding, as a central component of Jewish life is on the brink of banishment.
The Dutch Parliament recently passed a bill that prohibits slaughtering an animal without prior sedation. The bill would remove an exemption that allows Jews and Muslims to slaughter animals for food according to ritual law, which prohibits stunning. If the nation’s Senate also approves the measure, the effects on the centuries-old Jewish life in Holland, and perhaps all of Europe, may be incalculable.
By banning Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter, Holland may be violating Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says that freedom of religion may be restricted only when practices compromise other laws. The convention was drafted in 1950 to prevent a recurrence of the atrocities and human rights violations of the Shoah. Europe wanted religious minorities to feel safe and free to practice their way of life unfettered and unhindered within Europe’s borders.
One of the first enactments of the Nazis against the Jews of Europe was to proscribe shechitah, Jewish ritual slaughter.
The proposed Dutch legislation is based on the flawed premise that shechitah and its Islamic counterpart dhabiha cause more pain to the animal than does stunned slaughter. The premise was “supported” by a supposed scientific study that has now been shown to be unscientific and deliberately deceptive.
The charge that animals suffer under ritual slaughter is an oft-repeated one, but the reality is that there is no scientific evidence to support it. In fact, studies have shown the opposite – that shechitah is more animal friendly than many other types of slaughter.
The Jewish slaughterer must undergo extremely rigorous training that results in an expert slaughter with minimum pain for the animal. Good treatment of animals is an ancient guiding principle in Jewish law and tradition, and everything surrounding this principle is adhered to during the slaughter.
The matter is in the hands of the Dutch Senate. If this bill becomes law, it could result in a dangerous domino effect that could spread to other parts of Europe.
If the Netherlands, with its reputation as a tolerant and open society, circumscribes a major facet of religious life, then surely we are on a downward spiral of intolerance and narrow-mindedness.
If other nations in Europe, or the European Union itself, were to follow suit, it would further compromise a Jewish community already suffering from renewed anti-Semitism and discrimination.
The Jews of Europe have endured millennia of slavery, expulsions, inquisitions and attempted genocides, but a ban on a central tenet of Jewish life, even if well meaning, could spell disaster for the Jewish community. If the oldest minority community in Europe is shaken in such a way, it would bode extremely poorly for other minorities, some not yet acclimatized to the European way of life.
Nothing less than the integral fabric of European life could be compromised.