French Jews, Muslims Form Joint Commission to Defend Ritual Slaughter

Recent attacks on ritual slaughter and growing security threats make some Jews want to leave France, a Jewish community leader said.

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A chicken before slaughter.
A chicken before slaughter.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

French Jews and Muslims announced the formation of a joint commission to defend against attacks on ritual slaughter that one Jewish community leader said is making some Jews question the viability of their futures in France.

The announcement about the establishment of the new body came on June 23 during a joint appearance in the National Assembly, the French parliament, by a Muslim community leader and Joel Mergui, president of the French Consistoire – the community organ responsible for providing religious services. They came to parliament to address lawmakers’ questions about ritual slaughter.

Anouar Kbibech, the president of The French Council of the Muslim Faith, said the joint committee will be “tasked with reviewing and working on the challenges common to both religions” in the face of attempts to limit the custom.

The session in parliament, which is one of several critical discussions on the subject held recently at the National Assembly, was convened at the request of lawmakers following the release of videos showing animal abuse and suffering at slaughterhouses that perform neither shechitah, Jewish ritual slaughter, nor dhabiha, the Muslim variant of the practice. In the framework of reviewing existing practices, lawmakers sought to revisit ritual slaughter at a session to which they invited Merguy and Kbibech.

Religious laws in Islam and Judaism require animals be conscious when their necks are slit, though some religious leaders from both faiths allow stunning immediately after the cut. Judaism has stricter rules on slaughter, including the length and sharpness of the knife. It is usually performed by a shochet, a qualified slaughterer with special equipment. The more liberal approach to slaughter of Muslim communities has made joint lobbying difficult in Europe.

As with the non-medical circumcision of boys, ritual slaughter of animals is facing opposition across the continent by far-right politicians who view it as a foreign element to their culture imported mainly by waves of Muslim immigrants, and by liberals who believe it is inhumane to animals.

Taking aim at the latter argument, Mergui said ritual slaughter in Judaism results statistically in less suffering to animals because, unlike regular slaughter, it is not automated and has lower fail rates.

Shechitah is performed on approximately 200,000 animals annually, constituting 2.2 percent of approximately 9 million animals slaughtered in the country in total, Merguy said.

“Fail rates in slaughter with stunning, which is actually the piercing of the skull before the actual slaughter, range between 17 percent to 20 percent, which means the animals exposed to suffering in non-ritual slaughter techniques practiced today is far greater than the total number of animals slaughtered through shechitah,” which Merguy said “conforms to our society’s concerns on animal welfare.” He said he has come to this conclusion “as a physician and man of science.”

Merguy added that the repeated questioning of the acceptability of shechitah is a relatively new phenomenon that compounds how some Jews are questioning the viability of living in France because of rising levels of anti-Semitic violence.

Defending kosher slaughter didn’t used to be a priority for the Jewish community,” Merguy said, adding that now it is the second-most important priority after providing security for members. “French Jews are questioning their future in France in light of the events that hit the Jewish community,” he said of the slaying of eight people since 2012 in two shootings by Islamists, “and the issue of religious freedoms, like the one we’re here to discuss.”

Without kosher food, Merguy said, “there is no future for a Jewish community in any given country.” The fact that French Jews know that they are “regularly questioned on this issue,” coupled with security threats, “creates certain behaviors and makes some Jews want to leave France.”

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