A furious row has broken out between Shechita UK and rabbis from Reform Judaism after a report from the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors suggested that pre-stunning before kosher slaughter of animals had become acceptable.
In a blistering response, Shechita UK’s director, Shimon Cohen, described the Reform report as “woefully ignorant”, a “potentially dangerous interference and “a reckless disgrace”.
Cohen said that the Reform report attempted “to take a definitive stance on a complex and conflicting body of scientific evidence”.
But he accused the rabbis and cantors’ working group, chaired by Maidenhead rabbi Jonathan Romain, of having made “no meaningful attempt to engage with experts, to study the science or understand the political landscape in order to understand any of these issues”.
Calling for the report’s withdrawal, Cohen described it as “a cheap and destructive media gimmick or at best a shocking display of ignorance and political pandering. In no way is it a serious engagement around animal slaughter or freedom of religious practice.”
But the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors insisted its position on shechita had not changed.
In a statement to Jewish News, Rabbi Kathleen Middleton and Rabbi James Baaden said: “The Assembly talks through a wide range of topics throughout the year and the Reform report referred to was but one of a number of discussion documents we review from time to time.
“We do not plan to change our current position on shechita.
“The notion that animals should be stunned before shechita is in no sense a reflection of Reform policy.”
Earlier Rabbi Romain said the report was merely laying out options, not definitively changing policy on kosher slaughter.
He also praised Shechita UK, saying the group had been “very helpful in responding to our enquiries” and had given the working party assurances that no caged animals are shechted (subjected to kosher slaughter) and that shechita boards only use those from grade-one farms.
The Reform inquiry began after it was suggested that some Jews might feel conflicted between eating meat from an animal that had been organically reared and stunned before slaughter and one that had undergone shechita without being stunned first.
Rabbi Romain said that the working party had concluded that “on balance, pre-stunning is better — but we are really only talking about a few seconds. We are not calling for government action.”
Muslims and Jews remain exempt from UK requirements for the pre-stunning of animals.
Defenders of shechita say that the swift cut made by shochtim results in an almost immediate loss of consciousness for the animal.
But stunning methods would cause damage to the animal, rendering it non-kosher.
Rabbi Romain said that shechita practice had adjusted throughout the years, giving as an example early resistance to a government ruling 30 years ago that animals should not be slaughtered upside down, even though this gave the shochet better access to the neck.
Jewish authorities had given way on this, he said, asking “Is it time to reconsider pre-stunning too”.
He claimed that “most British imams” had begun to allow pre-stunning for halal meat, showing “religious flexibility”.
He was unhappy at the idea that “advocates of pre-stunning” would be able to say that Muslims accepted change and were accommodating, but Jews would not.