Critics of Islamic fundamentalism – or extremism, call it what you will – deplore the way in which its adherents follow the instructions and guidance spelt out in the Koran, a text written between 610AD and 632AD – let’s say, roughly 1,400 years ago. Oddly, however, UKIP’s agriculture spokesman, Stuart Agnew, when scraping the barrel for reasons not to abolish the exemptions for Muslims and Jews that permit non-stun animal slaughter, makes an exception for people who adhere to some of the rules decreed in a text written, let’s say, roughly 2,400 years ago: the Hebrew bible, also known as the Old Testament.
In a recent paper on ritual slaughter and in a speech at this year’s UKIP conference Mr Agnew says, rightly, that there can’t be one law for observant Muslims, and quite another for devout Jews. But he wrongly, in my view, concludes that the current exemptions for both should be retained because otherwise it would be a problem for a group in our society, the members of which are thoroughly assimilated, law-abiding, and tax-paying.
I’m far from being an expert on the dietary laws followed by Britain’s observant Orthodox Jews; it looks as if Mr Agnew knows much more about them than I do. My mother and uncle were classed as ‘full’ Jews by the Third Reich in Austria, because they had three Jewish (as defined by race, and decreed in the 1935 Nuremberg Laws) grandparents. This surprised them, because they’d been raised as nominal Roman Catholics, as were a great many fully-assimilated ‘racial’ Jews in Germany and Austria. My uncle and mother had never been in the synagogue in Linz, Upper Austria, though they recalled seeing it burning on Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. I’ve been to only three synagogue services, I read the Jewish Chronicle once in a blue moon, and I like bacon sandwiches. I know the dietary laws of observant Jews forbid the mixing of meat and dairy foods, and the consumption of shellfish and pork. Many Jews, secular and Orthodox, cannot resist, along with adultery, bacon sandwiches, observing the 11th Commandment: Do not get found out. What I’ve read in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy suggests to me that it’s a mix of nonsense and dietary rules that would have made common sense in a Middle Eastern country without fridges and freezers 2,000 years ago.
To those of us raised in a culture based on the Judeo-Christian scriptures and refined by the 18th century Enlightenment, Islamic non-stun slaughter is without question vile. As Mr Agnew explains: ‘Muslims are primarily concerned that the last sound the animal hears before it dies are the prayers intoned over it, as the throat is cut.’ The creatures must find this deeply comforting.
Observant Jews are not concerned about the sound the animal hears before its throat is slit. They are, of course, concerned, to keep the pain inflicted to the minimum possible. The procedure – shechita – is performed by highly-trained slaughterers using an extremely sharp blade to sever swiftly the trachea and esophagus, the aim being to get a rapid drop in blood pressure in the brain and loss of consciousness, rendering the animal, so the theory goes, insensitive to pain. Mr Agnew buys this case. ‘The Jews,’ he says, ‘also have non-stun religious slaughter. But their attitude to this is very, very different. They say that God says it’s alright to kill one of my creatures as long as there is no suffering involved … They kill an animal without any pain at all.’ This assertion has been challenged by Compassion in World Farming, the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council, and the British Veterinary Association, all of which, I assume, know what they’re talking about, and none of which can be said to be tainted by anti-Semitism.
A crucial point Mr Agnew ignores is that nowhere in the five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – are the methods of slaughter prescribed. They’ve emerged from Judaism’s traditional Oral Torah; stuff, in other words, not set in stone. They can be changed, in the same way that most of the teachings in the Hebrew – and Christian – bible have been reformed or just put aside over the centuries.
Part Two of “Agnew’s agony on ritual slaughter”, including how Jewish attitudes to non-stun slaughter may change, will be published on UKIP Daily tomorrow…