Regev Responds

Who deserves to have religious freedom? Those who keep kosher?

Kosher slaughter now illegal in Belgium

With the turn of 2019, kosher slaughter in the northern Flanders region of Belgium, home to half of the country’s Jewish population and a major supplier of meat for European Jewish communities, became officially illegal.

A cow (a kosher animal), source: WikipediaA cow (a kosher animal), source: Wikipedia

According to Belgian law, animals may now only be slaughtered after being stunned, which excludes Jewish ritual slaughter. In truth, this issue has been coming up and then getting dropped for years, partially because of the successful lobbying by Europe’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish leadership. The European ultra-Orthodox community has exhibited great strength in rallying support for the cause both from Israeli and American political circles. There is global Jewish concern that the prohibition against kosher slaughter in Europe may also lead to a prohibition against circumcision. You may read more about this story at the Times of Israel.

The ramifications of such restrictions are troubling indeed. Hiddush supports religious freedom for all people everywhere. Jews must be allowed to perform ritual slaughter and circumcision according to Jewish law wherever they may live.

However, we must stress how relative the ultra-Orthodox advocates’ notion of ‘religious freedom’ actually is, and how limited it is to defending only Orthodox religious practices. Consistently, a key argument raised both in public rhetoric and in legal action to counter such legislation is the protection of the principle of religious freedom. However, none of these ultra-Orthodox advocates who speak so forcefully in its defense are truly committed to religious freedom. Their concerns are limited to their own rights and privileges, certainly not those of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal congregations and rabbis when it comes to Israel where these ultra-Orthodox circles enjoy political clout, enabling them to shape the laws in this arena. Let alone when it comes to freedom from religion for secular Jews.

They accommodate this hypocritical abuse of the cherished principle of religious freedom, and they acquiesce to their demands.

We’ve seen this manifested repeatedly over the years and have written about it, highlighting the gratuitous pontification by the leadership of Agudat Yisrael of America in support of religious freedom as the core principle behind the USA’s 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is the same group that denies both non-Orthodox and secular Israeli Jews their freedoms of religion and from religion. What is unfortunate is that the leadership of the world Jewish community and Israeli political figures have never dared to call them out on this. Rather, they accommodate this hypocritical abuse of the cherished principle of religious freedom, and they acquiesce to their demands.

Moreover, we are often asked whether North American Jewish leadership or that of other countries has the right to weigh in regarding claims of discrimination and violations of religious freedom in Israel. “After all,” they say, “these are internal Israeli matters, which should be decided by democratically elected Israeli officials.” Of course, none of these reservations phase the ultra-Orthodox advocates when it comes to challenges posed by democratically elected legislatures and governments in their respective diaspora communities. These lobbyists see no reason to refrain from involving both American Senators and Congressmen and Israeli Ministers and MKs in applying pressure upon their respective European governments.

Surely, they have a point, assuming that we take Jewish mutual responsibility seriously, as well as our commitment to such virtues as religious freedom. What I find impossible to explain is why that stops when it comes to any assertive rallying of support beyond mere lip service and occasional expressions of sympathy regarding religious freedom and diversity in Israel. These phenomena deny not only the non-Orthodox and the secular (which comprise the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews) their rights, but increasingly the Modern Orthodox community as well – in Israel and abroad.

Our view is further validated by the recent 2018 Israel Religion and State Index, which indicated that 68% of the Israeli adult Jewish population favors Diaspora Jewish organizations engaging in strengthening religious freedom and pluralism in Israel, such as: freedom of marriage and ending the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on matters such as conversion. Not surprisingly, 94% of the ultra-Orthodox Jews and 80% of Orthodox Jews oppose this. As we said, religious freedom is a virtue in their eyes only when it fits their religious views.

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