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An essay donated by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Muslims & Jews unite to preserve religious traditions.

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Muslims and Jews in Holland and in California united in 2011 in opposing two political attacks on their joint religious traditions of circumcision, and their religious ways of killing of animals for food.

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Criminalizing circumcision in San Francisco, CA:

In San Francisco anti circumcision forces were seeking to made it illegal to "circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years." Under that law, any person who performed circumcisions would face a misdemeanor charge and have to pay a fine of up to $1,000, or serve a maximum of one year in prison.

The ban on circumcisions was opposed by a coalition of Jewish and Muslim organizations as well as many Christian groups that support religious freedom and toleration. They were victorious when a Superior Court Judge ruled in 2011-JUL that the measure to criminalize circumcision must be withdrawn from the November ballot because it would violate a California law that makes regulating medical procedures a state -- not a city -- matter. The judge then ordered San Francisco's election director to remove the measure from city ballots.

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Preserving traditional slaughtering practices:

In Holland, a bill that would effectively ban the traditional religious way both Muslims and Jews slaughter animals, sponsored by the Party for Animals, was approved in the Dutch lower house. It was backed by the anti-Islamic Freedom Party, and opposed only by Christian parties that took a stand in de fence of religious freedom. In 2012-JAN it goes to the upper house of the Dutch parliament, where most observers expect it to become law.

Positions on religious slaughter vary around the world - in the US, for instance, it is specifically defined as a humane method in the Humane Slaughter Act (1958) - but elsewhere several countries have already restricted or banned slaughtering unstunned animals.

Stunning of livestock:

  • Introduced in England in 1929 with mechanically operated humane stunner device.

  • Mandatory in EU since 1979, but member states can grant exemptions for religious slaughter.

  • Method enables abattoirs to process animals more quickly at lower cost.

  • Mis-stuns involving captive bolt occur "relatively frequently", according to 2004 European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) report - which leaves the animal conscious and in pain.

  • Animals can also regain consciousness after being stunned.

Animal rights groups see the Dutch bill as a stepping stone towards further bans on religious slaughter. Dr Michel Courat of Eurogroup for Animals, a federation of animal protection groups said:

"The Netherlands is a very important example, but for us it's just a battle, not the war. We need to win lots of other battles after this one to make sure more countries stop this practice."

If the Dutch bill becomes law, Jewish and Muslim leaders say they will fight it in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that it is a violation of the right to freedom of religion. Rabbi Jacobs said:

"If the Party for Animals proposed a law which said there shouldn't be any slaughtering of animals any more, and everyone should be vegetarian, I could understand it better. But it's a vote against religion."

A Dutch Muslim umbrella group, the Contact Body for Muslims and the Government (CMO), accused the Party for Animals of leading an "emotional" campaign based on misleading information. Mr Altuntas from CMO said that this:

"... wrongly created the impression that Muslim and Jewish methods of slaughter are barbaric and outdated. We're afraid that other countries in Western Europe will follow the Dutch example. Jewish and Muslim leaders see a worrying global trend, with the Netherlands a critical test case. They are fighting a battle on two fronts - to dispel the idea there is anything inhumane about their traditional methods of slaughter, and to defend their right to live according to their religious beliefs.

Both faiths put great emphasis on animal welfare, and adhere to a one-cut method of slaughter, intended to ensure the animal's rapid death. Under Jewish and Islamic law, animals for slaughter must be healthy and uninjured at the time of death, which prohibits driving a bolt into the animal's brain - though some Muslim authorities accept forms of stunning that can be guaranteed not to kill the animal. Under Orthodox Jewish law, or "shechita," the animal's neck is cut with a surgically sharp knife, severing its major arteries, causing a massive drop in blood pressure followed by death from loss of blood. Supporters say unconsciousness comes instantaneously -- the cut itself stunning the animal. A similar procedure is used in Islamic slaughter, or "dhabiha."

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Rabbi Allen Maller's web site is at

First posted: 2011-DEC-31.

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