The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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24 March 1933

Circular letter on ritual slaughter issued by the Association of Traditional Orthodox Rabbis in Germany

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Jews in Germany and other European countries were confronted with efforts to ban the slaughter of animals under Jewish religious law, a practice known as shechita. Among other things, Jewish religious law calls for animals to be slaughtered without prior stunning. In Germany, representatives of all branches of Judaism, from liberal to orthodox, successfully fought for the right to practice kosher slaughter, arguing that it was protected by religious freedom and guaranteed under the constitution.

On the pretext of protecting animals, the NSDAP mounted a campaign against ritual slaughter in the 1920s. Due to the party‘s influence in Bavaria, the first government ban was passed there in 1930. After the Nazis took power nationally, it was only a matter of time before they enacted general legislation against the slaughter of animals according to Jewish law.

Against this backdrop, the Association of Traditional Orthodox Rabbis in Germany sent a circular letter to all the rabbis in the country on 24 March. In it Joseph Carlebach (1882–1942), secretary of the association and the chief rabbi of Altona, assured his colleagues that all efforts were being made "to represent and defend our religious requirements." But he also hinted that there was little room for maneuver since stunning animals using methods such as electrical shocks was incompatible with Jewish law.

The association surely must have known that, despite its efforts, it had no chance of preventing the ban. Just two days earlier, Saxony had prohibited shechita and on 6 April Baden and other states followed suit. Two weeks later, on 21 April, the Reich government passed a law banning ritual slaughter throughout the country. It went into effect on 1 May and marked the start of substantial government intervention into the religious practices of the Jewish communities.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): religious life
Circular letter on ritual slaughter issued by the Association of Traditional Orthodox Rabbis in Germany, Altona, 24 March 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Emil Schorsch Collection, AR 25103