How’s this for strange bed-fellows? Dutch (mostly far-left) non-human animal rights supporters are teaming with the far-right ‘Freedom Party’ (which continues to be driven by worries about the considerable Muslim influence in the Netherlands) to ban certain kinds of religiously motivated slaughter of non-human animals:
As in most western countries, Dutch law dictates that butchers must stun livestock — render it unconscious — before it can be slaughtered, to minimize the animals’ pain and fear. But an exception is made for meat that must be prepared under ancient Jewish and Muslim dietary laws and practices. These demand that animals be slaughtered while still awake, by swiftly cutting the main arteries of their necks with razor-sharp knives.
Apparently a clear majority favor the ban, but complicating factors surrounding this issue push beyond the already controversial topic of non-human animal rights/welfare–and play into a seriously-strained relationship between Dutch Muslims and secularists:
Abdulfatteh Ali-Salah, director of Halal Correct, a certification body for Dutch halal meat, said he felt the debate made Muslims in the Netherlands feel Dutch society is more interested in animal welfare than fair treatment of its Muslim citizens.
“If the law goes through now there’s nothing else to do but protest,” he said. “And that’s what we’ll do.”
This also marks an important reversal given that “Holland has proud traditions of tolerance and was one of the first countries in Europe to allow Jews to live openly with their religion in the 17th Century.”
But it is nevertheless true that:
“Religious freedom isn’t unlimited,” said Party for the Animals leader Marianne Thieme in an interview. She said the law will be “good news for the two million animals that are slaughtered (without stunning) each year in our country. It’s not a small amount.”
At this point it might be helpful to remember the shift in Jewish understanding of right relationship with God and non-human animals described in Psalm 51:
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Perhaps it is time for another shift in understanding…but this time for all the Abrahamic religions. Perhaps right relationship with God and non-human animals, understood in light of scripture’s claim that they are our kin and companions (see Genesis 2: 18-19), implies that God also does not delight in their unnecessary slaughter for food–whether via kosher, halal, or factory farming practices.
Hey Charlie– There are so many ways to respond to this “news”… especially coming from a country where the (painless!!) euthanasizing of human person is not banned.
Quite apart from the religious freedom issues raised here, there is no evidence given here that kosher/halal practices necessarily involve any more “cruelty” than practices of mass “stunning.” Joel Salatin, great hero of the small farm/local food movement, appears to kill his chickens in something like the same way, and he is willing to let anyone see this practice. (The video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4P229ArpZA&feature=related – be warned, there is chicken killing in the video) Some definition or parameters for “cruelty” seem necessary here. Of course, one may look at Salatin’s practice and say, we should all become vegetarians. But it seems to me that Salatin’s overall practice of raising the chickens, as well as killing them in this open, quick way, is as “un-cruel” as one can get.
I’m not claiming to know the details of the actual kosher/halal practices described in the article. But the Salatin example suggests to me that the issues primarily have to do with (a) whether we should eat meat, and if we accept this, then (b) how do we treat the animals overall, throughout their lifespan.
Yeah, David, lots could be said about this story…but I wonder if we would add to (a) and (b)….perhaps (c) whether killing a non-human animal (especially for a trivial reason like the fact that it tastes good…and especially if the animal prefers to live rather than die) is justified at all and (d) how an animal is killed.
Is stunning more humane that the practice showed in the video? I’m not sure. But it does appear to be more humane than grabbing a larger animal animal (like a pig or cow) and trying to get the perfect cut such that the massive loss of blood brings about immediate loss of consciousness.
And doesn’t all of this feel just light-years away from the peaceable kingdom?
If you have any extra time to read through a short article, I’m curious what you think of Jonathan Klawans’s work on evolutionist accounts of sacrifice and their implicit Christian anti-Judaism (i.e., the idea that animal sacrifice is primitive and that it evolved into better, “spiritual” forms of sacrifice, of which Christian ritual is exemplary). Klawans, who teaches at Boston U, is writing mainly to New Testament scholars, but his arguments offer real challenges to much of Christian theology in general. He fleshes this out mostly in his book _Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism_, but this short article contains many of the main points:
“Interpreting the Last Supper: Sacrifice, Spiritualization, and Anti-Sacrifice,” New Testament Studies 48 (2002): 1-17.
Hi Sonja…I’m happy to read that when I’m not on a writing deadline…but first can you prep me for in what sense this topic connects to the post? My point was simply the the Psalmist indicates a shift in understanding of what God demands of human animals in relationship to non-human animals…and now, this time for Jews, Christians and Muslims, it is time to do so again. I’m not making any point about a Christian understanding of sacrifice in relation to a Jewish one.
Sure, I should have been clearer. Klawans is writing against evolutionist accounts of sacrifice in general, and one of the particular examples he considers is the “prophetic critique of sacrifice”–a tradition which Christians especially, but Reform Jews as well, have historically seen themselves as embodying. He questions whether we really *should* read passages like the one you excerpted above as advocating the replacement of animal sacrifice with more “spiritual” things, like repentance and obedience.
He thinks that it’s too simplistic to construct a linear historical account and then plot something like Psalm 51 on it and say that this was a “turning point” from a pro- to an anti-animal sacrifice ethos (especially since sacrifice certainly did continue until it became impossible in 70 A.D.), and that to do so decontextualizes the prophets too much. Re: many of the classic anti-sacrificial prophetic verses, for instance, he argues instead that what they are actually critiquing is the sacrifice of stolen property and not the practice of sacrifice per se. In his book on sacrifice and supersessionism, he also has an interesting discussion of the modern tendency to think of sacrifice as an example of unethical treatment of animals, and how this angle obscures important (and ethical) aspects of the Jewish sacrificial system.
OK, that’s helpful…but you still bring up Christian replacement models for sacrifice which, frankly, I don’t know much about and it isn’t my concern here. And how the shift happened historically isn’t important for my point either…which is just that Judaism has, in fact, generally concluded that God no longer demands non-human animal sacrifices.
I’m aware that things like requirements for the sharpness of the blade in kosher animal slaughter can be seen as ‘ethics friendly’ (especially in historical context), but, as you can tell from my post, I think we need to go much further in realizing right relationship with non-human animals.
Bottom line: nothing I’m saying is making an argument about supersessionism or various understandings of kinds of sacrifice.
In your opinion, is any meat eating, even that done outside of the factory farm system in a very humane way, also an example of unnecessary slaughter of animals for food? given that humans really do not need to eat to be healthy (they could get their B12 from cheese), wouldn’t all meat eating be as unnecessary and therefore as unhealthy as animal sacrifice for religious purposes?
also, i think we should be careful about praising the partnership between the far-left and the far-right in holland. While it may have had a good end (I personally don’t think animal sacrifice for religious purposes should be seen as inherently unethical!), it was clearly motivated by anti-Islam prejudice. We cannot simply pretend like this was really “about” the good of animals, but the persecution of Muslims. As such, no human being, including those human beings who call themselves Christians, should support this.
in fact, you could probably make an argument that things like factory farming are less likely to take place in cultures that ritually slaughter animals than in ones that reject such practices.
not that it’s not impossible, but only that there is a stronger sense of intentionality around food and its relationship to God that is lacking in cultures like the Christian West. Or at least I would want to argue that such cultures would have better cultural resources for explaining, from within their own religious traditions, why factory farming is abhorrent; whereas, Christians in the West, if they are among the few who are really opposed to factory farming, usually do not make distinctively “Christian” arguments against it, but instead draw upon some sort of animal-rights framework.
Katie, I think all meat-eating is problematic, but factory-farming is worse by an order of magnitude.
I agree that we should be careful about praising this kind of partnership…I hope I didn’t praise it? 🙂
Charlie– So, in the interests of moral-theological precision, which we know the blog is about – when you say “problematic,” do you mean “sinful” (or, if preferable), “wrong”? And would you say that such claims should be warranted by appeals to the peaceable kingdom?
Charlie: I’ve made some comments here (http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2011/04/camosy-on-the-dutch-debate.html).
I’d say it is (most times) wrong from a secular perspective (the interests of most non-human animals in continuing to live should trump our interests in eating them), but also from a theological perspective that wishes to uphold the peaceable kingdom and right relationship with animals.