Humane Anti-Semitism

The latest controversy in Europe labelled by Jewish organizations as “Anti-Semitic” centers around an absurd contradiction in terms: “The HUMANE Slaughter of Animals”.

Slaughter means (primarily): The Violent killing of animals, for Food. It appears that if the slaughter of animals can possibly be done in a “humane” manner, why should it be limited to animals only? Indeed, the term “slaughter” is also used for large-scale killing (of humans) during wars, even for the large number of people dying in traffic, albeit without the addition of “humane”. Does the humane killing of animals justify the killing?

When looking at the meat industry (including chickens) there is very little that is humane about any of the stages in the “production” of meat. From birth to slaughter, for cows, pigs, most sheep, chickens and turkeys, their lives are a big misery and only animal-rights organizations express their anger about this and sometimes expose the cruelty that often appears the rule. A good book to learn more about how the meat industry works is “My Year of Meats” by Ms. Ruth Ozeki, who describes in chilling detail the life of an animal as a source of food for humans. And, just to put the issue in perspective: there are almost one billion cows being raised for food, and more than twenty billion chickens. Imagine the amount of “humane” that will be required for the slaughter of all those animals.

There can be no mistake or confusion. Humans have evolved to be capable of controlling the lives (and deaths) of animals, not only of cows, pigs and chickens, but also the lion in the zoo, the dog in their yard and the mosquito that bothers them. The discussion around this has been going on for years and led animal rights organizations to raid slaughterhouses, governments to enact legislation to assure “humane” behavior towards animals, as well as many people to become vegetarian. But we still go to the zoo to admire the lion, keep our dog on a leash and slam the mosquito with our newspaper. Without passing judgment on anybody, not the meat eater, and not the animal-rights activist, it seems that the human control over animals may have originated from the need for survival. Cows are an excellent source of food, lions will kill us if they have the opportunity and mosquitos carry disease. And while there may be alternatives, in particular to the food issue, if tomorrow everybody decided to become vegetarian, the day after tomorrow people would starve to death. Any change, if change is indeed desired, needs to be controlled and controllable and sufficiently gradual to allow both people and the animals to adjust. Which would probably need to include a return of cows and chickens to a number that is sustainable. It seems doubtful that is going to happen anytime soon.

Thus, we will continue to placate ourselves with trying to be “humane” in our behavior, and slaughter, of animals. And while more and more awareness of animal suffering does create a sometimes uneasy feeling, as long as we can hide behind the word “humane”, and our governments sanction this through laws controlling the behavior towards animals (falling short of not slaughtering them of course), most people will continue to eat meat, go to the zoo, keep a dog at home and swap mosquitoes. Some cultures, like Judaism and Islam, have developed (way before modern governments) methods to make slaughter of animals more palatable(!) and even incorporated these methods in their religious edicts. And this has reached a level whereby a string of rules has to be very, very meticulously followed for the meat to be acceptable, and these practices have been followed for many hundreds of years. The rules were meant to both assure the quality of the meat as well as the humane behavior towards the animal (at least so it is claimed) but have evolved into a situation whereby very strict adherence is required, to a level that stunning an animal before cutting its throat makes in not Kosher or Halal.  And this is the center of controversy today in Europe. Slaughter practices in Europe are more and more leaning towards stunning the animal before cutting its throat for humane reasons.

It must be assumed that there are methods of killing animals that cause more suffering and ways that cause less suffering, but the word “assume” is justified here because who is going to tell if a cow suffers more when she is stunned and then has her throat cut, or when they cut her throat in one single stroke. The cow herself will not be able to because she will be dead. And the opinions of humans in this matter are too often tainted by ulterior motives, that range from the love for the cow to the financial gains to be made.

It appears that the minor differences between the different methods, and the deadly result of both, really do not justify attempting to curtail religious practices for reasons of animal rights. But the very assumption that such attempts are made for the sole purpose of hurting specific segments of the population (in this case Muslims and Jews) is also presumptuous. Animal-rights activists may be naïve and vegetarians may be fanatic, but that does not make them anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic.

This week, after the European Court ruled that in Belgium, it is allowed to demand that cows are stunned before slaughtered, the Muslim and in particular the Jewish Community went all out to condemn it.

Some of the Pearls:

The Israeli Foreign Ministry: “Apparently tolerance and diversity are empty words in the eyes of some Europeans..”

Moshe Kantor, Head of the JCE: “This ruling is a heavy blow to Jewish life in Europe and in essence tells Jews that our practices are no longer welcome. Telling Jews that their ways are not welcome is just a short step from telling Jews that we are no longer welcome,”

EJA chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin: “What today’s ruling does is put animal welfare above the fundamental right of freedom of religion. Simply put, beast takes preference over man”

“The European Court Prefers Happy Cows over Happy Jews”

And there were many more rather outrageous expressions whereby the accusation of Anti-Semitism or implied Anti-Semitism, was prominent.

It seems somewhat overkill (!) to use a small limitation of ritual slaughter to condemn a whole continent of sins of the past. Sins that are unforgivable but not to be invoked at every instance whereby things happen that the Jewish community is not happy with. And maybe, without getting involved in religious practice, it is time to look anew at the ancient rules, such as kosher slaughter. It is hard to imagine that serious harm would come to the religious experience from eating a cow that was stunned first.

And who knows, maybe Jewish vegetarians will be happy.

I hope you found this article interesting and I welcome any comments you may have.

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