Last year, an EU court upheld a Belgian law banning the kosher and halal slaughter of animals. Such regulations, note Baruch Sterman and Judy Taubes Sterman, have a long history in Europe, going back to a Swiss ban from 1893 that remains in effect. In 1934, the Irish senate considered forbidding sh’ḥitah—as the practice is known in Hebrew—leading the country’s chief rabbi, Isaac Halevy Herzog, to address the body and urge it to reconsider. A sympathizer with Irish nationalism, a friend of the Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera, and a participant in the drafting of the Irish constitution, Herzog was also a renowned halakhist who would go on to be Israel’s first chief rabbi. The Stermans describe Herzog’s case:
Herzog’s presentation [was] a masterful display of [his] unique capacity, evident throughout his career, to combine various disciplines, secular and Jewish, scientific, political, and philosophic, to make his case. . . . According to Herzog, the clear purpose of [kosher slaughter’s] detailed precepts is to prevent, or reduce significantly, any possible suffering or pain for the animal. “The charges of inhumaneness leveled against sh’ḥitah are either due to the lack of knowledge of physiology, to imperfect information, or to blind anti-Semitic prejudice,” he declared.
As support for this assertion, he submitted into evidence the opinions of no fewer than 457 “continental scientists and veterinary surgeons, mostly Gentile Christians.”
His . . . remarks highlighted a position Herzog would passionately champion again and again throughout his life. Not only did he maintain that Jewish law is inherently just and moral, but Herzog’s unwavering conviction that the Torah and its laws were given by a benevolent and compassionate God meant that, comparatively, it is indeed the most righteous and the most ethical of any legal system that has ever existed from ancient times to the present.
The Stermans quote Herzog’s “chilling” and “prescient” closing:
Lastly may I say how painful it is to the Jew to see and hear his religion charged with cruelty to animals. To those anti-sh’ḥitah humanists, whoever they may be, who charge Judaism with cruelty to dumb creatures, but who are themselves so ominously dumb in the face of the suffering, the cruelty and the agony inflicted upon Jews in Christian lands, I would say that centuries before the Aryans had any idea of humaneness towards human beings, let alone animals, . . . Israel’s Divine law commanded us to help the animal that has fallen down to rise up.