Polish Jews will resume practicing shechita (ritual slaughter) “immediately,” Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, following a decision by that country’s Constitutional Court to overturn a ban on the biblical practice.
Wednesday’s decision, supported by nine of 14 justices, ends a nearly two-year moratorium on ritual slaughter that forced Poland’s Jewish and Muslim religious minorities to import religiously approved meat in a country that had previously been a major exporter.
The ban, which went into effect in January 2013, was the result of a 2012 Constitutional Court ruling that deemed a 2004 exemption for Muslims and Jews from an animal protection statute requiring pre-stunning unconstitutional. Neither Judaism nor Islam sanctions slaughter of stunned animals.
Despite government support as well as heavy lobbying by the Jewish community and the cattle industry – whose members claimed losses of hundreds of millions of zlotys due to the ban – parliament failed to pass a bill legalizing the practice last year.
Wednesday’s reversal of the ban was immediately welcomed by the local Jewish leadership, which asserted that it stood as a rebuttal to those who would critique contemporary Poland as anti-Semitic or intolerant.
The ruling was a “clear signal” that discrimination against a minority will not be accepted, Piotr Kadlcík, the immediate past president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland and one of the leaders of the community’s campaign told the Post.
Ritual slaughter will be reintroduced to Poland without delay, Schudrich said, adding that he interprets the ruling as permitting both kosher and hallal slaughter, both for domestic consumption and for export.
Both local leaders were intensely critical of Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the outspoken Brussels-based head of both the European Jewish Association and the Rabbinical Center of Europe.
Following the court’s decision, the EJA sent out a release stating that the court had “ruled in favor of EJA’s petition to reverse a ban on ritual slaughter in the country” and quoting Margolin as asserting that “we were able to prevent a dangerous precedent that would have affected all European Jewry.”
Asked about the EJA’s role in the matter, given that the organization was not a party to the suit, Margolin stated that they had “worked on many levels” to reverse the ban and that “success has many fathers.”
Margolin cited support by members of the Catholic clergy and the government ombudsman for legalization as the fruits of his organization’s lobbying, fruits also claimed by the local community, with which Margolin has long been at odds.
After the failure to pass a bill legalizing shechita last year, Margolin publicly called on the chief rabbi to resign and took a radically different approach to the issue from that held by the local community.
While Schudrich and Kadlcík decided to appeal to the legal system, believing that any limits of slaughter constituted an illegal infringement on religious liberty, Margolin appealed directly to the European Union, as well as appealing directly to the prime minister to declare shechita legal by fiat and submitting an opinion to the Ministry of Agriculture asserting that the ban was contravened EU regulations.
The EJA’s argument revolved around a European Council regulation that 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.
Both Schudrich and Polish government officials panned efforts to solve the impasse outside of the Polish legal system.
In July, Margolin retained Roman Giertych, a local attorney and the former leader of now-defunct League of Polish Families, a far-right parliamentary group that has been accused of anti-Semitism, with the intention of petitioning the court himself, bypassing the local community’s legal effort.
In response to Margolin’s statement on Wednesday, Schudrich said that he was grateful that Margolin was appreciative of the all of the work that the local community had done but that “we did not receive any assistance from the RCE nor did they play any role in this decision.”
“Rather than doing what certain Jewish organizations tend to do, which is shout and scream and to insult people and to accuse people of anti-Semitism…the strategy which was employed here was a professional strategy which combined lobbying activity and legal activity and it was extremely important that official jewish community in Poland lodged an official complaint within the legal system,” said Shimon Cohen of Shechita UK, which provided consultation services to the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.
European Jewish leaders were quick to position the decision as a precedent which would serve to ease the battle over shechita in other countries in which the matter is either banned or being seriously debated.
“This should send a clear signal to all governments across the European Union that our communities will not allow their basic religious rights to be trampled on in contravention of the letter and intention of EU law,” said European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor.
“We are extremely pleased that Shechita can continue in Poland as it has done for generations. Europe is a community and the repercussions of this ban would have had a far reaching impact across Europe. Poland has today set a precedent for other countries on matters of religious freedom,” agreed Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis.
Speaking to the Post from Copenhagen, where shechita is currently prohibited, Yitzi Loewenthal, the local Chabad emissary, said that he believes that “It would behoove the danish courts and legislature to take this example and recognize that freedom of religion is a basic human right.”
The World Jewish Congress pledged to oppose such restrictions throughout the continent in a statement on Wednesday which decried the “lie that kosher slaughter, if performed by a trained person, is more cruel to an animal than methods involving pre-stunning.”
Following the decision, both Schudrich and Leslaw Piszewski, who recently succeeded Kadlcík as president of the Union, stated their intention to dispel the “many myths and misunderstandings that have arisen recently around religious slaughter.”