Jewish communities around the world this week rounded on the Danish government after the country outlawed the slaughter of animals which is not preceded by stunning.
Speaking about the new legislation, which took effect from Monday, Agriculture Minister Dan Jorgensen said: “Animal rights come before religion.”
European regulations require animals to be stunned before they are slaughtered, but exemptions have been granted on religious grounds. For meat to be considered kosher under Jewish law or halal under Islamic law, the animal must be conscious when killed.
“This is a serious and severe blow to the Jewish faith and to the Jews of Denmark” said Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi David Lau.
Similarly, Deputy Minister of Religious Services Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan said it was “European anti-Semitism showing its true colours”.
But in a stinging rebuke, Denmark’s Ambassador to Israel Jesper Vahr blasted Dahan’s allegation, saying: “I not only reject that but also hold it to be very insulting.”
He added: “During WWII Danish citizens stood up for their Jewish countrymen and helped Jews in Nazi-occupied Denmark escape to Sweden, the result of which was that 99 percent of Jews in Denmark survived the war.”
Similarly Rabbi Yair Melchior, based in Copenhagen, said calling the slaughter ban “anti-Semitic” was inaccurate and would not help in the effort to repeal the law.
Denmark has previously allowed animals to be slaughtered without pre-stunning, on the condition that they are stunned immediately after their throats were cut.
But in practice shechita was last performed in Denmark over ten years ago, which Vahr recognised when he said the new regulations “will not introduce any change compared to present practices”.
Denmark’s sizeable Muslim community is likely to be more significantly affected by the ruling than the country’s small Jewish community of 6,000, which already imports its kosher meat from abroad.
Danish Jewish community head Finn Schwarz said Danish Jews had agreed in 1998 to the certification as kosher of meat from cattle stunned with non-penetrative captive bolt pistols, a decision he said was made in consultation with the British Chief Rabbi’s office.
The new regulation announced by Jorgensen will not ban the slaughter of animals after stunning with non-penetrative captive bolts, Schwarz said.
Nevertheless, Jewish groups across Europe say there is a worrying trend, with kosher slaughter now outlawed in Poland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
“This attack on basic Jewish religious practice in Denmark puts into question the continuance of community life in the country and follows strongly on the heels of persistent attacks on Jewish circumcision,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said.