Polish president, rabbis condemn Dutch anti-‘shechita' law

Community leaders from across Europe gather in Warsaw for the Conference of European Rabbis, efforts to ban 'shechita' are high on the agenda.

The Conference of European Rabbis, Warsaw (photo credit: Moshe Fridman)
The Conference of European Rabbis, Warsaw
(photo credit: Moshe Fridman)
More than 200 rabbis from across Europe have gathered in Warsaw this week for the 27th convention of the Conference of European Rabbis.
High on the agenda is the concern held by Jewish communities on the continent over continuing efforts to ban shechita, the ritual slaughter of animals for human consumption, as well as the defense of other religious practices such as ritual circumcision.
In June of this year, the Dutch lower house of parliament passed a bill outlawing shechita, although it must be approved by the upper house before becoming law.
“For those of us that remember a time when half of Europe wasn’t free and suffered under the yoke of the Soviet Union, there are literally no words to describe the irony of a liberal European country enacting a law against freedom of religion,” said Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich at a press conference on Tuesday in Warsaw’s Noz˙yk Synagogue.
The Dutch bill was proposed by the small Animal Rights Party but supported by Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, an anti-Islam, right-wing faction which holds 24 out of 150 seats in the lower house.
President of the CER and Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt condemned the Dutch bill in equally strong terms.
“The last time laws were passed in Europe against shechita was by the Nazis in 1930s Germany,” he said.
“Clearly, we’re not facing that kind of situation again but such laws seek to delegitimize the Jewish people and our traditions.”
Referencing a call by the Royal Dutch Medical Association in September of this year to end circumcision, Goldschmidt argued that it was hypocritical for European nations such as Holland to infringe religious rights in the name of liberalism, while legalizing euthanasia, drugs and prostitution.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether or not he saw a difference between such issues, based on the free choice of those choosing to engage in euthanasia, prostitution and drug use and the imposition of some religious practices on their subjects, Goldschmidt asked “Is sex slavery freedom of choice, is drug addiction freedom of choice? I don’t see that.”
President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski also sharply criticized Holland for the anti-shechita law in a meeting held on Monday with Goldschmidt, Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine Ya’acov Bleich and the President of the CER’s Bet Din Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu.
“Holland used to be a moral compass for the world for tolerance and freedom, and it is a shame that we have to criticize western European nations on these matters,” Komorowski said.“It is they who should be setting an example to the rest with regards to human rights and religious freedoms.”
Numerous dignitaries were in attendance at the opening gala dinner on Monday night at Warsaw’s Marriot Hotel, including the Mayor of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the ambassadors to Poland of France, England, Germany, Italy, Holland and Lithuania, former Polish prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and former Polish foreign minister, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski.
Bartoszewski, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz for seven months between 1940 and 1941 and was a member of the Polish underground, delivered a message from current Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
In his message to the conference, Tusk said that ties between Israel and Poland “have never been as good as they are today under my government,” and added that the EU cannot tolerate any form of xenophobia, racism, intolerance or religious prejudice.
Bartoszewski himself, who is an honorary citizen of Israel, recalled his participation in the resistance and the Warsaw uprising and noted that the 70th anniversary of the decision to implement the “Final Solution” to exterminate the European Jewish community will occur in January 2010.
“Polish and Jewish history are inextricably linked,” he said. “1942 was a moral turning point for me. I began helping those threatened with destruction, not by Poles or Communists but by Nazi Germany. Those who were indifferent to these atrocities were not moral.”
In her address, Gronkiewicz-Waltz welcomed the conference to the city and noted the “huge contribution” made by Warsaw’s Jewish residents before the Holocaust.
“My personal request is that you remember us in your prayers and leave with us the blessing of Abraham,” she concluded.
The conference ends on Wednesday.