Danish ban on ritual animal slaughter unites Jews and Muslims

When Jews in Denmark want meat that's kosher, or ritually slaughtered according to tradition, they turn to imported products certified to have been processed by a "shochet," an observant Jew trained in the procedure. Similarly, the country's Muslim population must also look to imports for meat that is halal, or ritually permissible.

Neither Danish religious community is a large enough economic force to support local kosher or halal slaughterhouses. But that apparently mattered little to Dan Jørgensen, Danish minister for Agriculture and Food, who issued a Feb. 17 ban on both religious groups' ritual slaughter practices, saying, "Animal rights come before religion," according to the Al Bawaba English-language website. The Jordanian media outlet resorted to Shakespeare to headline its distress: "Something's rotten in the state of Denmark as Halal and Kosher meat are slashed off the menu."

Al Bawaba noted, "The ban has divided opinions in Denmark, which recently made headlines for animal welfare policy after (the) Copenhagen Zoo slaughtered the 'surplus' young male giraffe Marius. ... Danish Justice Minister Karen Hækkerup acknowledged that Muslims and Jews were upset by the new measures, but vowed that the ministry would not change its policy."

Others are criticizing Jørgensen and his countrymen for neglecting what they consider more important animal rights issues: "It seems to me obvious that the slaughter of animals at the end of their lives is of far less ethical importance than the way they are treated beforehand. The cruelties of factory farming extend over an animal's whole lifetime whereas the cruelty of ritual slaughter lasts minutes at most," declared Andrew Brown, a writer and blogger for Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The ritual slaughter of animals to which he referred involves the procedure, as Wikipedia explains, stipulated in Jewish law in which the animal is dispatched by "severing the trachea, esophagus, carotid arteries, jugular veins and vagus nerve in a swift action using an extremely sharp blade." The Islamic procedure of ritual slaughter, Dhabihah, is virtually identical, according to the same online reference.

New York's Daily News editorialized against the Danish move, which it called "a taste for prejudice," noting, "Jews and Muslims who seek to prepare food in a manner consistent with their faith will have to choose between their beliefs and going hungry."

And while that may be a bit of hyperbole — again, both communities are free to import ritually slaughtered meat — some see troubling motivations nonetheless. Yitzhak Eldan, Israel's former ambassador to Denmark, told the Jerusalem Post that attempts in some jurisdictions to ban circumcision — a rite important to Jews and Muslims — as well as ritual slaughter of meat, could be seen as "part of an increasing domino effect in some parts of Europe."

Adds Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow in Middle Eastern studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, "This assault on Judaism is, of course, part of a broader assault on religion, all religions, including Christianity, and the biblical understanding of life. The basic idea is that religion is primitive and ignorant and must be repressed. This is a militant form of secularism and while Muslims and Jews are today’s victims, there will be many more tomorrow."