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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.