(Post appearing in The Times of Israel Blog, March 11th, 2024)

As an opening gambit in their war against the Jews, in the early 1930s the Nazis ended shechitah, Jewish ritual slaughter. At a time when antisemitic incidents reminiscent of pre-war Germany are exploding across Canada— vandalism of Jewish owned businesses, attacks on Jewish students, firings on Jewish institutions—the Canadian government is putting forth measures that will effectively end shechitah in Canada.  This devastating milestone in Canadian Jewish history has attracted no media attention and is being lost in the fog of the greater war being waged here against the Jewish people.

This past Friday, a legal Notice of Application was filed on behalf of the kashrut organizations of Canada against the Attorney General in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the implementation of new standards that will end shechitah in Canada within the next two months. The process is well underway and already one-third of abattoirs in Canada have stopped producing kosher meat.  The kosher certifiers and their representatives had been working with the Canadian government to find a solution, including a recent meeting in Ottawa, but according to the application, “…those efforts have proven fruitless.”

The application asserts that ending shechitah violates the rights of Canadian Jews to practice their faith as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  As such, this new policy is one of the most severe blows ever dealt to the Canadian Jewish community, which has lived in this land for over two hundred years.

Speaking of blows, seal clubbing remains legal in Canada. The new regulations ending shechitah are, ostensibly, being put forward as a measure protecting animal welfare, however, selectively singling out Jewish slaughter as an odious treatment of animals has a long and ugly history, intimately intermingled with international antisemitism. As Jews, it is difficult not to feel targeted when governments go to great lengths to rationalize brutal practices of other groups but determine Jewish praxis to be barbaric. So, while the Government of Canada imposes new restrictions on how its Jewish citizens must treat animals, its website describes the sanctioned practice of sealing in Canada thus: “…the seal harvesters must shoot or strike animals on the top of the cranium, with either a firearm or a hakapik or club.” The section that contains this guideline is entitled, “Ensuring the seal harvest is humane.”

This hypocrisy, too, has a storied history. When shechitah was outlawed in Denmark in 2014, the ban came within days of the killing of 2-year-old Marius, a healthy giraffe that was deemed superfluous by the Copenhagen Zoo and consequently quelled by a bolt gun to the head, dissected publicly in front of a crowd of children, then fed to the lions.

Leading up to the Shoah, a ban on shechitah was always the first law enacted by the Germans when they conquered and occupied a new country. As noted by Prof. Dan Michman, head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, “The Nazis perceived ritual slaughter not as a religious matter but… as a manifestation of Jews’ cruel nature.” One hardly needs to highlight the bitter irony that the Nazis banned Jewish slaughter at the same time as they were preparing their slaughter of the Jews. Beyond the ironic, it speaks to a deeper pathology of projection that continues to characterize Europe’s attitude towards the Jewish people, manifest at this moment in its post October 7 accusations of genocide against Israel.

Modern European antisemitism was, and continues to be, associated with bans on shechitah. As reported in the Times of Israel, last month the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban on shechitah in Belgium. In reaction, Ariel Muzikant, head of the European Jewish Congress lamented: “Restrictions on fundamental aspects of Jewish religious freedom of expression, coupled with a background of massive increases in antisemitic attacks on Jewish communities, lead us to seriously consider whether Jews have a future in Europe.”

Growing up Jewish in Canada, it was never a question whether we had a future here. But the recent rise of openly antisemitic demonstrations and violence in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal is frighteningly evocative of the past and present experience of Europe’s Jews, a phenomenon Canadians never expected to see on this side of the Atlantic, at least not north of the forty-ninth parallel.  Among the many incidents that occurred last week alone, anti-Israel protestors descended upon Jewish neighbourhoods in Toronto and Montreal, and angry mobs intimidated attendees of synagogues in both cities. Demonstrators surrounded the Jewish Federation building in Montreal and blocked participants attending a pro-Israel event from getting in or out for hours. Poignantly, the besieged Federation building houses Quebec’s Holocaust museum; pro-Palestinian protestors in Ontario shouted, “Go back to Europe.”

And while the Canadian government’s current actions against shechitah began over a year and a half ago and may not have been rooted in overt antisemitism, the symbolic significance of shechitah ending during the worst era of anti-Jewish activism in the country cannot be overlooked.

Beyond the symbolic meaning of an end to shechitah in Canada, there is a practical aspect to the case that should be of grave concern to Jews around the world. What is happening with shechitah in Canada cannot actually be called a ban because, technically, shechitah cannot be banned in Canada; its practice is protected by Canadian law. The new federal regulations are, therefore, an attempt to circumvent this protection by imposing restrictions that will make shechitah de facto impossible, while still legal de jure. This is an important and insidious precedent that will allow countries that seek to cloak their antisemitism—think Europe again—to eliminate shechitah while maintaining that it is still perfectly legal in their lands.

The Canadian shechitah issue is also different in practice from European iterations in that it does not affect Muslims. In Europe, a ban on shechitah is almost always accompanied by a concomitant ban on Halal, which uses a similar technique in ending an animal’s life. This dual ban has allowed Europe to claim that its various proscriptions of shechitah are not anti-Jewish.  It is likely that many of these bans are, in fact, anti-Islamic, or combine aspects of European antipathy towards both Jews and Muslims. Either way, the Muslim community has been a bulwark whenever there have been threats to end shechitah. The Canadian regulations, however, offer an additional loophole in that they mandate methods that make shechitah impossible, but allow Muslim ritual slaughter to continue unabated.

The greatest disconnect in the war against shechitah is that the methodology of Jewish halachic slaughter is precisely designed to prevent pain and suffering to the animals involved in the process. It should be a mark of pride that Jewish law took up the cause of animal welfare thousands of years before it became fashionable in liberal society and, at the same time, it is fair to question whether practices that were promulgated millennia ago are still at the cutting edge of creature care. Here, the lawyers for the Canadian kashrut organizations argue that shechitah remains the most moral way of ending animal life for the purpose of meat production. Drawing upon respected scientific studies and contrasting Jewish slaughter with the imprecise process of stunning that characterizes non-kosher killing, they present a compelling case that shechitah can still be held up as the superior standard.

With shechitah, as with the current war in Israel, Jews strive to act in accordance with the highest code of ethics, only to be accused of being needlessly cruel.

When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) first began imposing restrictions on shechitah in 2018, the Canadian Jewish community’s advocacy agency declared that “…at no point was this issue a result of any antipathy on the part of the CFIA towards Jewish ritual slaughter and [we] discerned no evidence at all of the kind of tension that has motivated some European agencies and countries to challenge the legitimacy of shechitah.”  One can hope that CFIA is not motivated by the same forces that have been working to end shechitah in Europe for a century.  But regardless of their motive, the ending of shechitah will make being a Jew in Canada increasingly difficult, will resurface antisemitic tropes, and will embolden those who seek our destruction and have little concern for the welfare of others, human or animal.