Polish chief rabbi suspicious of claims of ‘breakthrough’ in reinstating shechita

Michael Schudrich questions EJA assertion that constitutional court can be sidelined.

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September 25, 2013 12:51
3 minute read.
Polich Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich

Polich Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Jewish leaders in Poland this week dismissed calls by the Brussels-based European Jewish Association for the government of Poland to immediately reinstate shechita, ritual slaughter, without waiting for a ruling from the country’s Constitutional Court.

Last week, EJA directorgeneral Rabbi Menachem Margolin announced that his organization had submitted a legal opinion to the Agriculture Ministry asserting that “the ritual slaughter ban was adopted in violation of the European law that requires formal notification of the EU Commission for a legislation that contravenes EU regulation.”

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As such, Margolin told the European Jewish Press he is hopeful the government will “now adopt the legal opinion formulation and cancel the Polish parliament decision.”

Ritual slaughter in Poland ceased following a 2012 ruling that a 2004 exemption for Muslims and Jews from an animal protection statute law requiring that animals be stunned before slaughter was “unconstitutional.”

The EJA’s argument revolves around European Council regulation 1099/2009, a set of guidelines for slaughter that came into effect across Europe on the first of the year. EC 1099/2009 requires pre-stunning before slaughter but provides an exemption for religious slaughter. European Union member states observing “national rules aimed at ensuring more extensive protection of animals at the time of killing” were permitted to maintain such local laws, provided that they informed the EC before the new regulations took effect.

“The EU laws [and] regulations allow exemptions for religious reasons,” Margolin told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. To gain an exemption a state must “ask in advance in a specific way, which was not done [properly] by the Polish, which means the Polish parliament cannot take independent decisions against the EU regulations.”

While an official from the Polish Agriculture Ministry did inform the EC of his country’s derogation before the end of December 2012, the EJA maintains that the letter was not sufficient and thus that European law overrides local Polish regulations.

For a more stringent local law to become the basis of a national derogation, EJA spokesman Asher Gold said, it must either be in effect prior to the new European rules coming into effect or be subsequently enacted.

However, he said, as parliament had not amended the law to allow for religious slaughter without prior stunning by January 1 as mandated by the Constitutional Court, the Polish law banning ritual slaughter only truly came into effect on the same day as 1099/2009, making it ineligible for consideration under the EC regulation’s derogation clause.

Jewish activists in Poland involved in legal efforts to overturn the ban reacted incredulously to Margolin’s assertion that the government will accept his arguments and very soon “reinstate ritual slaughter immediately, without the need for a further discussion in the Polish Parliament nor a ruling from the Constitutional Tribunal on whether the ban violates religious freedom in the country.”

“I approached a member of the government around eight months ago to check to see if the letter sent by the Ministry of Agriculture in December to the EU was in fact sent correctly,” Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told the Post. “The answer I received... is that the letter was valid.”

“What is now being said is nothing new. If the letter is invalid, this must be declared by the EU,” he stated.

“One would imagine that even if a prime minister would attempt [to strike down a law passed by the legislature], he would be immediately be given a vote of no confidence and lose the prime ministership,” the American-born chief rabbi added, noting that “in a democracy, the government cannot cancel a decision of the parliament.”

“Three weeks ago, we submitted a petition to the Constitutional Tribunal to confirm the religious rights guaranteed by the Polish constitution. We have full confidence that the tribunal will positively resolve this issue,” said Schudrich.

Jewish activists from the Polish Jewish community believe that while the 2004 exemption granting an exemption from the requirement for prior stunning was struck down, that did not mean that Poland’s animal welfare statute did not hold the force of law until 2013.

The government doesn’t have the power to overturn a law,”Jonathan Ornstein, the executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, told the Post. “In a democracy you can’t just say we don’t like this law, so we will ignore it. That’s why there is a court.”

Margolin just “doesn’t understand parliamentary” governance, he said.

The Polish Agriculture Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.


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