Polish parliament upholds kosher slaughter ban

Lawmakers argue that kosher slaughter is cruel to animals; Polish Jewish community leaders: Decision harms Jews, Muslims.

DO NOT USE shechita ritual_311 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Vosizneias.com)
DO NOT USE shechita ritual_311
(photo credit: Nati Shohat/Vosizneias.com)
Kosher slaughter cannot be legalized, the Polish parliament decided on Friday. A government sponsored bill aimed at legalizing the practice of shechita, Hebrew for ritual slaughter, was shot down in the Sejm in a vote of 222 to 178.
A ban on shechita went into effect in January. Combined with a decline in meat exports due to Poland’s implication in the European-wide horse meat scandal, the end of local ritual slaughter has caused harm to the eastern European country’s cattle ranchers and exporters.
Meat producers and animal breeders have been protesting in front of the Polish Parliament demanding the reinstatement of kosher slaughter.
They claim that they have suffered losses of hundreds of millions of zlotys due to the ban.
Until January, Poland was one of the largest exporters of kosher meat to Israel and a few Muslim countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Iran.
Poland’s revenue from kosher meat exports were estimated at half a billion euro per year.
Opponents of the practice said that was no justification.
“Even if we were talking about significant losses – and we’re not – there is no permission for animal cruelty in the name of money,” said Andrzej Rozenek, a leader of the leftist Palikot Movement.
In 2012, Poland’s supreme court ruled that an exemption for religious Muslims and Jews in a law requiring the stunning of animals prior to slaughter was “unconstitutional.”
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 ilicited strong responses from the community world wide.
“The completely untrue idea that such slaughter is cruel, or even intentionally cruel, has triumphed,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, and Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich said in a statement.
“This idea gained popularity in Europe in the 1930s, when Norway and Sweden, under the influence of Nazi propaganda, banned ritual slaughter,” the statement continued.
The Polish ban, they lamented, is now the first in the European Union that is not the direct result of “Nazi-era regulations.”
Calling the ban a direct infringement on the religious liberties of Muslims and Jews, Schudrich and Kadlcik said that followers of these two faiths will now “be forced to either buy more expensive imported meat, or endorse an enforced vegetarianism.”
“This decision is a slap in the face of Jews and Muslims alike,” Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress said in a statement Friday. “It is a bitter blow for all those who undertook great strides to bring about a renaissance of Jewish life in Poland. I am wondering what sort of message those who voted in favor of the ban wanted to send to their non- Christian citizens.”
“Today, the country that once had the largest Jewish community in the world has become the first European country since World War II to ban religious slaughter.”
Severyn Ashkenazy, the founder of the Progressive Jewish community of Poland, had an opposite opinion.
“Some of our leaders are confused.... Kosher slaughter has been subject to too many documented scandals. We, Jews, must behave honorably and lead in kindness to animals,” he said. “We used to take the kosher slaughter seriously and the shohet [ritual slaughterer] was a respected member of the community.
We live in the greatest scientific century, would we not rather trust a doctor in veterinary medicine than a mashgiah [kashrut inspector]?” The Conference of European Rabbis announced they will ask for an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Donald Tusk and review their legal options for challenging the decision. In a statement condemning the decision, the conference said it was “a very sad day for Polish Jews and for all European Jewry.
“We urge Poland’s legislative and judicial authorities to move expeditiously to recognize by law the Jewish community’s right to prepare kosher meat according to Jewish tradition,” David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement.
“It would be beyond shocking if a democratic Poland prevented kosher slaughter, which is so integral to Jewish life in the country,” Harris added.
Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti- Defamation League, said that in regular polling, Polish attitudes showed “a consistently high level of anti-Semitism with almost half of Poles harboring multiple anti-Semitic prejudices.”Nissan Tzur and Reuters contributed to this report.