There is a horrible irony in the decision by Poland’s top court to ban ritual slaughter on Polish soil. The country that was the scene of the massacre of the largest Jewish community in Europe at the time has the audacity to adopt a holier-than-thou moral stance on animal cruelty precisely at a time when the 27-member European Union is poised to adopt a sweeping affirmation of ritual slaughter.

Polish Attorney-General Andrzej Seremet, at the request of animal rights’ groups, convinced Poland’s constitutional court last week that a 2004 amendment allowing ritual slaughter on religious grounds was unconstitutional because it contravened animal rights legislation dating back to 1997.

Under the 1997 laws, slaughter should only “follow the loss of consciousness” after a farm animal is stunned.

But since the stunning of animals before slaughter is prohibited by Jewish and Islamic law, the court decision effectively bans shechita and dhabiha.

If allowed to remain in place, the ban would have a significant impact on the availability and affordability of kosher and halal meat. An investigative report conducted by the haredi weekly Mishpacha found that even in Israel kosher meat prices would rise.

Poland’s for-export industry of kosher and halal meat was worth approximately $259 million last year, according to the French news agency AFP, with kosher exports accounting for 20 percent, according to Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.

But beyond the economic ramifications, the Polish ban raises moral issues. The Nazi regime’s obsession with extensive animal protection legislation – banning production of foie gras, prohibiting the docking the ears and tails of dogs without anesthesia and, of course, forbidding shechita – is proof there is no inherent correlation between a concern for animal welfare and high moral standards.

Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado University, a renowned expert on humane treatment and slaughter of livestock, has noted that when performed properly, religious slaughter causes little, if any, suffering. Because the carotid arteries that bring blood to the brain are severed during shechita, the animal normally loses consciousness within a few seconds.

And as Grandin herself has testified, the cow often does not even seem to feel the cut of the shochet’s knife.

In contrast, stunning procedures, when performed improperly, can cause tremendous suffering. The motivation behind bans on religious slaughter often has little to with sincere moral sensitivity.

Europe’s rightist parties often target religious practices such as ritual slaughtering, circumcision or restrictions on the building of mosques as ways of discouraging Muslims from immigrating to or remaining in their countries. Switzerland’s decision at the end of the 19th century to ban shechita was motivated by a desire to keep Jews out.

In the 21st century, the Jewish community of New Zealand warned that the ban on shechita – which has since been lifted – would deal a severe blow to Jewish continuity since it would discourage rabbis, Jewish educators and other religiously committed Jews from moving there.

It would be a horrible injustice if less than seven decades after nearly all of Poland’s Jewish population of three million were murdered, a ban on shechita were to endanger the miniscule community of just 6,000 that makes up Poland’s Jewish population.

Thankfully, Polish government officials seem to be aware of the sensitivity of the situation. On January 1, 2013, Poland and nearly all of the EU’s member states are expected to implement Regulation 1099 – a set of rules drawn up to legalize ritual slaughter in the EU.

Poland’s Agriculture Minister Stanislaw Kalemba told Polish radio that the EU law took precedence, and would remove any doubt about the legality of the practice in Poland.

Using arguments of morality to bash ancient religious traditions – as evidenced by recent attacks on ritual slaughter and circumcision – is often nothing more than a tactic for disguising deep-seated bigotry.

Hopefully, Poland will make the necessary legislative amendments in its animal cruelty laws so that Jews – and Muslims – can adhere to their religious faith. Failing to do so would be moral hypocrisy.

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