Jewish leaders concerned over Poland's proposed banning of kosher exports

The Polish Parliament began debate on the legislation back in September, after a bill was introduced to make kosher and halal meat permissible for Poles but not for export.

Cow illustrative (photo credit: KIM HANSEN/WIKIPEDIA)
Cow illustrative
(photo credit: KIM HANSEN/WIKIPEDIA)
European Jewish politicians and community leaders, from MPs and MEPs to rabbis, are calling on the Polish Parliament to remove parts of the animal welfare bill that encompasses the export of kosher meat from Poland.
The parliament began debate on the legislation back in September, after a bill was introduced to make kosher and halal meat permissible for Poles but not for export.
Animal welfare activists oppose the slaughter of animals for kosher and halal meat because it precludes stunning before the animals’ throats are cut. Proponents of the practice reject claims that it is cruel and claim instead that it induces a quick and humane death for the animal.
The European Jewish leaders believe that the move would "severely impact" Jewish communities across the country as well as other countries that rely on Poland for kosher meat. They also note that it sets the precedent that animal welfare is "clearly" put above the right to religious freedom within the country.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the Chairman of the European Jewish Association who instigated the letter, said in a statement that “what appears to be a national polish political issue is nothing of the sort. The ramifications of this Bill are potentially devastating and profound to Jews eveywhere in Europe, and also to the many who value the liberty to practice freedom of religion.
“The Bill, if passed, will be seen as a declaration that it is open season to anyone who objects to aspects of Jewish law, faith and practice. It must be stopped," Margolin added. 
"We are extremely humbled and touched that so many distinguished politicians – from the French Senate to the Greek Parliament and everywhere in between, and so many Jewish community leaders – agree with us and are backing our call for this aspect of the law to be scrapped," he said.
In their letter, the signatories wrote to the Polish government that "by prohibiting the export of products that represents a central tenet of Jewish faith and practice for many, you are sending a strong message that laws which effectively hinder Jewish life in Europe are acceptable."
"It is for these reasons – and on behalf of the many thousands of Jews that we as Community Leaders and Parliamentarians represent – that we urge the Polish government, its Parliament and its senators to stop this aspect of the Bill,"  the letter stated.
The legal status of Poland’s kosher and halal meat industry – the country is a major exporter – became unclear in 2013 when the Parliament banned the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. But the following year, the Constitutional Court ruled the ban to be unconstitutional. Its decision, however, said only that the ban on ritual slaughter “for the needs of religious minorities in Poland” was unconstitutional.
Proponents of the practice argued the ruling applied to the entire industry, while opponents said for-export slaughter without stunning was illegal.
Throughout the debate, export has continued. In 2017, over 50,000 tons of kosher and halal meat were exported from Poland, mainly to Israel (11,700 tons) and Turkey (16,100 tons).
Legislation spelling out the limitations of kosher and halal slaughter may be the death of the industry while allowing small-scale slaughter for the several thousand observant Muslims and Jews who live in Poland.
The bill includes a ban on breeding animals for fur, enabling police assistance in rescuing abused animals, empowering veterinary inspectors to hand out fines and a ban on keeping animals on short tethers.
Katarzyna Markusz/JTA and Cnaan Lipshiz/JTA contributed to this report.