New Zealand and shechita

New Zealand - Jewish communities in New Zealand and Australia have expressed outrage at a new animal welfare code in New Zealand that makes it a crime to kill livestock using kosher slaughter, or “shechita.”

The code went into effect on Friday, May 21, 2010 and specifically requires cattle and other animals to be stunned before slaughter, in order to ensure humane treatment of the animal. Jewish halachic law forbids stunning before slaughter because it inflicts a wound on the animal, and because the animal can regain consciousness during the slaughter and experience pain as a consequence. Halachic law, which is addressed in the Talmud, maintains strict oversight regarding the slaughter of livestock that is used for human consumption. Proponents of shechita also maintain that it is a more humane means of slaughter because of the technique that is used by the shochet, the trained slaughterer.

Acting President of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, expressed dismay toward the new ruling, which he referred to as a “blatantly discriminatory action.” Rabbi Gutnick said that every effort would be made by Jewish groups to reverse the ban.

According to the Australasian Internet news service, j-wire, he has also disagreed with a recent statement by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry that the kosher slaughter of poultry had not received very much interest in recent years. As the Rabbinic Administrator of the Kashrut Authority of Australia and New Zealand, Rabbi Gutnick has been responsible for supervising shechita of poultry in New Zealand.

The code also prohibits the importation of live chickens or uncooked poultry, which can carry disease. Unless reversed, the two rulings are expected to have wide impact on the ability of observant Jews to keep kosher. The prohibition on uncooked kosher poultry would mean that ethnic dishes such as freshly prepared chicken soup with matzo balls at Passover may become a thing of the past in New Zealand.

New Zealand is one of several countries to ban shechita in the last 100 years. Norway, Sweden and Iceland have banned the practice for many years. Anti-Semitic attitudes are believed to have influenced the outcome of the rulings in Norway, which has banned kosher slaughter since 1927. A number of other regions and countries have also maintained partial bans on shechita over the years, including Estonia, Latvia and Switzerland.

The consequence of the Code is that, effectively, it makes it impossible to produce kosher meat or poultry in New Zealand, as the stunning of an animal prior to slaughter is not permissible under Jewish law. Meat killed in this way cannot be made kosher. Jews in New Zealand have thus had their right to practise their religion totally compromised.

While kosher beef can be imported, Jewish people will have to completely miss out on having chicken in their diet if they want to observe their religion. Due to quarantine restrictions, chickens cannot be brought into New Zealand, meaning that the Code effectively eliminates chicken meat from New Zealand’s observant Jewish family tables.

The New Zealand authorities are demonstrating a hostile lack of understanding of Jewish culture, and of kosher slaughter practices in particular.

The original purpose of the Code was to set minimum standards to be met by persons in charge of the slaughtering of animals. The Code is given legal force by the relevant provisions of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NZ) (the Act). The Act states that its guiding principles are to ensure that owners of animals and persons in charge of animals attend properly to the welfare of those animals, including taking all reasonable steps to ensure that the physical, health, and behavioural needs of the animals are met in accordance with both (i) good practice; and (ii) scientific knowledge.

The report on the Code, also issued by NAWAC, specifically recommended that the special dispensation previously given to kosher producers be removed. The Agriculture Minister went ahead and removed the dispensation without further consultation.

How can a piece of legislation, aimed at protecting animal welfare, detract from the human right to freely practise religion? Was this an unintended consequence - just a significant oversight on the part of the Government? I believe it was deliberate, and very unfortunate, and needs to be reviewed if the government is not to follow dangerous precedents.

Section 13 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (Bill of Rights Act) expressly states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and hold opinions without inference”, while Section 14 expressly states that “everyone has the right to manifest that person’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private”. By making animal slaughter practices that are unacceptable to adherents of the Jewish religion mandatory, the Code could well breach their human rights under these provisions.

New Zealand’s Agriculture Minister, David Carter, a cattle breeder with more than 30 years farming experience, has previously been a vocal advocate on animal welfare issues, as expressed in a speech last year.

The timing of this move to put kosher meat out of business in New Zealand comes, ironically, only a couple of months since the opening of New Zealand’s first religious orthodox restaurant in downtown Christchurch, a short ride down State Highway 75 from the NZ Agriculture Minister’s electoral office. While the Kosher Kitchen restaurant, operated by distinctively-bearded members of the orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement, has specialised in a non-meat menu, the ban obviously puts out off any prospect for future expansion of the small Jewish community’s new restaurant by its effective dismissing the possibilities to venture into meat-based meals.

The New Zealand authorities are demonstrating a hostile lack of understanding of Jewish culture, and of kosher slaughter practices in particular. This is a slippery slope for any government, as it follows a historical pattern of oppressive anti-semitic regulation. The effect will be to place pressures on observant New Zealand Jews to leave their country. Forget any Jewish jokes about chicken soup - Jewish people are simply to be banned from their religious practices, under the guise of protecting animal rights. What about human rights?

This article was published first on (Vos iz neias (Yiddish for “What’s news?”) is a highly popular, rapidly-growing blog that meets the demanding media needs of the Orthodox Jewish community in New York, across the United States, and around the world.


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