Belgian Jews sue to overturn ban on ritual slaughter

The umbrella group representing French-speaking Jewish communities in Belgium filed an appeal with a federal court against a regional ban on the production of kosher and halal meat.

The Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations, or CCOJB, filed the motion with the Constitutional Court of Belgium earlier this week seeking an injunction against the ban passed in May by the parliament of Belgium’s Wallonia region – one of the binational kingdom’s three autonomous regions, CCOJB’s president, Yohan Benizri, told JTA on Tuesday.

Both the Wallonia region and Belgium’s largest, the Flemish region, passed laws earlier this year that as of 2019 outlaw any slaughter that is not preceded by stunning. Both halacha, the Jewish religious Orthodox law, and Muslim religious laws forbid the consumption of animals that are not fully conscious when their necks are cut. If the animals are stunned at the time of the slaughter, the meat is not considered kosher by Jewish standards or halal by Muslim standards.

In recent years, ritual slaughter has come under attack from anti-Muslim activists and animal welfare lobbyists who view it as cruel or foreign to European culture.

“If the legislation is not annulled prior to coming into force in 2019, it would undermine the ability of minority faith communities to practice central tenets of their religions in Belgium,” CCOJB said of its lawsuit, which is being supported by The Lawfare Project, a legal think tank combating what it regards as anti-Jewish discrimination.

The bans in Belgium “violate harmonized EU law on this issue, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Belgian Constitution itself, all of which guarantee freedom of religion,” CCOJB added.

“Irrespective of its justification,” Benizri said, “a ban on kosher meat production sends a message to Belgian Jews that they can choose between living in Belgium and practicing their religion, but they cannot do both.”

CCOJB has said it may challenge the ban in the Flemish region as well. Pinchas Kornfeld, a senior communal leader in Antwerp, the region’s capital, told JTA on Monday that Jewish organizations in his community also are contemplating a lawsuit.

The Dutch lower house banned ritual slaughter in 2010, but the upper house overturned the ban in 2012. The following year in Poland, a constitutional court overturned a lower court’s ban on kosher slaughter.

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