Pope wishes Jews sweet new year, pledges to ‘investigate’ Polish shechita ban

Pope Francis says religious leaders need to reduce tensions and build bridges as Polish Jewish, Muslim heads complain over ban.

Pope Francis I 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Pope Francis I 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Pope Francis on Monday assigned a senior church official to investigate the current ban on Jewish and Muslim religious slaughter in Poland, where these practices have been illegal since January.
After being appraised of the situation by World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder during a meeting held in his private office in the Vatican yesterday, the pope turned to Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as well as the Vatican’s Commission for Relations with the Jews, to take responsibility for the matter.
According to the WJC, a follow- up meeting with Koch may be scheduled for “as early as next week,” although it may be pushed off due to the upcoming High Holy Days. Lauder explained to the pope that although he is personally not observant, allowing ritual slaughter is important for the continuing religious freedom of Polish Jewry.
Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich expressed gratitude for the pope’s decision to involve Koch in the ongoing debate over Kosher slaughter, telling The Jerusalem Post that “anyone who supports shechita anywhere in the world is something that is very welcome and encouraging and especially coming from the pope, it really gives us encouragement that together with the Polish government we will find a wise and quick solution.”
The Jewish community of Poland filed a lawsuit with the country’s Constitutional High Court to lift the ban on shechita, asserting that the law violates a 1997 statute granting permission for Polish Jews to slaughter according to tradition.
Lauder and the Pope discussed the developing situation in Syria and the deteriorating situation for Coptic Christians in Egypt, as well as attempts in Europe to ban circumcision.
The pope also reiterated a statement he made earlier this year that “a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite” and told the Jewish delegates that “to be good a Christian it is necessary to understand Jewish history and traditions.”
Lauder, who was accompanied by several prominent WJC officials, presented the pope with a kiddush cup and a honey cake in honor of Rosh Hashana, which falls on Wednesday evening.
In a statement following the meeting, Lauder said that the pope’s “leadership has not only reinvigorated the Catholic Church but also given a new momentum to relations with Judaism” and that “never in the past 2,000 years have relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people been so good.”
Francis, formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and then a cardinal in 2001, was selected as pope earlier this year following the resignation of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, and is known for his warm relations with the Argentinean Jewish community.
During his tenure in Argentina, Francis wrote the forward to a book by Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a Buenos Aires legislator, and referred to him as “one of my teachers.”
Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins joked with the pope that he believed him to have “achieved a miracle in Brazil” because “for Brazilians to like an Argentinean” is a “miracle.”
Speaking with the Post on Monday evening, Lauder called the meeting “extremely cordial” and said that “the pope promised to do whatever he can in finding a solution to the problem with shechita in Poland. He stressed it several times: What counts for him is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. The religious leaders need to speak with each other and find ways to reduce tensions and build bridges. The alternative is conflict and ultimately war, and that’s what we want to avoid. Pope Francis then asked me to convey on his behalf to all of the Jewish people worldwide wishes for a “Shana tova and a very sweet new year.”
On Tuesday Lauder is scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.