Jewish groups spar over representation by controversial lawyer in Poland ‘shechita’ ban

Attorney is the former leader of now-defunct League of Polish Families, a far-right parliamentary sect that has been accused of anti-Semitism.

Polich Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Polich Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich harshly criticized the European Jewish Association on Tuesday for hiring the former leader of a controversial parliamentary faction to represent the group in legal efforts to overturn a ban on ritual slaughter.
Schudrich told The Jerusalem Post last week that Poland’s Jewish community was preparing to go to the country’s Constitutional High Court to lift the ban on shechita (kosher slaughter), which has been in effect since January.
However, the EJA – a small Brussels-based organization said to be affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic sect – has hired attorney Roman Giertych and declared its intention to go to the high court on its own, the Times of Israel reported Tuesday.
Giertych is the former leader of the now-defunct League of Polish Families, a far-right parliamentary sect that has been accused of anti-Semitism.
“It is important... that when there’s concern abroad for the welfare of a Jewish community that process be coordinated with the local Jewish community. It is a foolish move, and often counterproductive, for an outside organization, even with good intentions, to come in to a local situation to even try to help the situation,” Schudrich told the Post on Tuesday.
He added that “all the other Jewish organizations, everything from the European Jewish Congress to World Jewish Congress to ADL, the American Jewish Committee… they are all coordinating… we talk to each other rather than having a Jewish organization coming in and doing what they feel like.”
In an official statement, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland said that it was “surprised to learn” of the EJA’s actions in retaining Giertych and its plans to petition the court.
“This is the same organization that called for unity on one day only for it to issue an appallingly disrespectful and inaccurate attack on Poland’s Chief Rabbi Schudrich the next day,” the UJRC stated, referring to calls for Schudrich’s resignation by EJA director Rabbi Menachem Margolin two weeks ago.
While the EJA has “every right to protest,” the Polish communal body asserted, “we find it unacceptable that any legal or political initiatives from abroad are launched without coordination, or at least consultation, with us.
Even if well-intended, such actions undertaken without an understanding of local conditions can backfire and be counterproductive.”
In response to Schudrich’s condemnation of the EJA’s actions, Margolin told the Post that the chief rabbi’s “claims are false, and they reinforce the call for him to resign from his position as soon as possible as a result of his failure to deal with the issue of shechita in Poland.”
According to Margolin, the EJA and other groups had previously approached Schudrich with offers of help and received no response.
“Most European Jewish organizations blame Schudrich for the present situation, and he is trying to fan the flames toward us out of his own egotistical motives,” the EJA director said.
Ritual slaughter in Poland ceased following a 2012 ruling that exempting religious Muslims and Jews from a law requiring that animals be stunned before slaughter was “unconstitutional.” Polish Jews maintain that kosher slaughter is legal under the 1997 Act on the Relation of the State to the Jewish Communities in Poland, which states that ritual slaughter may be performed in accordance with the needs of the local Jewish community.
Margolin vowed to “continue to battle with all of our strength for the existence of shechita for the Jews of Poland until we achieve the successful resolution of our struggle.”
At present, he continued, “we are reaching out to and calling upon all Jewish organizations, including the Polish Jewish community, to lay all political and selfish interests to one side and to work together for the sake of shechita in Poland, which is so crucial for the continuation of Jewish life in Europe.”
JTA contributed to this report.