Israel calls Polish ban on ritual slaughter 'totally unacceptable'

Polish Chief Rabbi threatens to resign over shechita ban; Foreign Ministry summons Poland's envoy to register formal protest.

Shehita in the Netherlands (photo credit: Michael Kooren/Reuters)
Shehita in the Netherlands
(photo credit: Michael Kooren/Reuters)
Israel on Monday slammed the Polish Parliament’s decision to uphold a ban on ritual slaughter (shechita), issuing a rare statement criticizing the decision of a foreign, democratic parliament.
“Israel is disappointed in the decision of the Polish parliament to forbid an important religious ritual which has been common practice among millions of Jews since ancient times,” the statement read.
“The parliament’s decision to reject a bill allowing kosher slaughter in Poland is totally unacceptable.”
On Friday, a government sponsored bill aimed at legalizing the practice of shechita was shot down in the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, in a vote of 222 to 178. Such slaughter has been illegal in Poland since January.
The government had hoped the proposed law would allow Polish abattoirs to resume production of kosher meat. The result of the vote came as a shock to leaders of the country’s Jewish community and elicited strong responses from the community world wide.
Polish radio reported that Poland’s Jewish and Muslim minorities were not the only groups unhappy with the continued ban, with farmers protesting before last week’s vote. Prior to the cessation of shechita, Poland has served as a major exporter of Kosher and Halal meats throughout Europe, with sales estimated by some at half a billion euros annually.
Despite the furor, however, Andrzej Rozenek, an MP opposed to ritual slaughter, said that the ban was justified and that the economic concerns of the cattle industry were overblown.
“Even if we were talking about significant losses – and we’re not – there is no permission for animal cruelty in the name of money,” he was quoted as saying on the website of Polskie Radio.
To further illustrate Israel’s displeasure, the Foreign Ministry summonsed Poland’s ambassador to Jerusalem to register a formal protest about the matter.
“Poland’s history is intertwined with the history of the Jewish people,” the statement said. “This decision seriously harms the process of restoring Jewish life in Poland. We are astonished that Poland, of all EU countries, should be the one where kosher slaughter will be forbidden.”
The ministry statement said the Polish move was not “in line with the openness and modernity that democratic Poland boasts.” Israel called on the Polish parliament to review the decision, stating that it expected the “relevant parties to find a way to prevent this brazen blow to the religious tradition of the Jewish people.”
One Foreign Ministry spokesman said that while it was not Israel’s practice to interfere in the domestic policies of other countries, when it comes to restricting Jewish religious practice Israel feels it is within its right to speak out.
Asked whether Israel saw the Polish vote as a manifestation of anti-Semitism, the official said that the motivation behind the move was not important. “It is a problematic act, completely unacceptable.”
Israel, he said, worked behind the scenes a few months ago in Germany when German lawmakers approved a bill to keep circumcision legal, after a Cologne court ruled that it was illegal because it caused “grievous bodily harm.”
“There we worked behind the scenes in talking to the right people,” the spokesman said. “This time the parliament voted, and there was a need to respond publicly.”
Asked whether this issue would harm Polish-Israel ties, which are considered to be strong, the official said only that this would “certainly not contribute to them.”
Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich threatened to resign his position in protest on Sunday.
In a statement emailed to The Jerusalem Post by the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Schudrich stated that he could not imagine functioning as the chief rabbi of a country in which the rights of Jews are limited.
If the legal legitimacy of ritual slaughter is not restored, he stated, “I will be forced to give up my function” as “I would not be able to serve my coreligionists properly.”
Jonathan Ornstein, the executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, also spoke out against the ban on Saturday, telling the Post that as an atheist and a vegetarian, he finds it “hard to believe that any reasonably intelligent, thinking person can hold the opinion that ritual slaughter, as practiced by Jews, is worthy of being singled out as particularly cruel to animals and therefore should be banned.”
Saying that Jewish traditions of kindness to animals predate the animal rights movement by centuries, Ornstein declared that he cannot “accept the idea that in a country where you can go out and hunt for pleasure, also something expressly forbidden in Judaism, a country where you can take a live carp home in a plastic bag and allow it to slowly suffocate as you wait in line at the supermarket checkout before Christmas, [Parliament] should outlaw a form of killing which was devised thousands of years ago to be humane.”
“Rabbis all across Europe are arranging meetings with the Polish ambassadors in their countries in order to protest against the horrible meaning of Kosher butchering ban not only for Jews in Poland, but all over the world,” announced Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the Rabbinical center of Europe.
Jonathan Arkush, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, accused members of the Polish parliament of “ignorance” of their own history in a statement.
“The suggestion – implicit in the debate – that religious slaughter is ‘foreign’ to Poland’s history is a denial of 800 years of the significant Jewish contribution to Poland. It is also a negation of over 600 years of continuous Muslim Tatar presence in the country. The last thing we expected from Polish parliamentarians is a denial of Poland’s own history,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.