Poland and shechita

In the present political climate in Poland, it is unclear whether last week’s decision by lawmakers to keep in place a ban on ritual slaughter is reversible.

DO NOT USE shechita ritual_311 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Vosizneias.com)
DO NOT USE shechita ritual_311
(photo credit: Nati Shohat/Vosizneias.com)
In the present political climate in Poland, it is unclear whether last week’s decision by lawmakers to keep in place a ban on ritual slaughter is reversible. The move, however, definitely raises serious moral questions: For instance, where does a nation that just seven decades ago facilitated the massacre of the largest Jewish community in Europe find the audacity to tout a heightened moral sensitivity as justification for a policy that severely restricts the religious freedoms of a now minuscule Jewish community? This is a country, mind you, that permits sport hunting.
As Poland’s Chief Rabbi Shudrich, who might resign in protest over the ban, sardonically noted, “The right to this pleasure [of sneaking up on animals and blowing their brains out] is now, in the Polish legal system, ranked higher than the basic religious freedoms of two non-Christian confessions.”
The Polish ritual slaughter ban also pertains to dhabiha – the Muslim method of producing halal meat, since in both Jewish and Muslim law it is forbidden to stun an animal before slaughter.
Clearly, the push to ban ritual slaughter in Poland is not motivated by an overwhelming concern for animal rights. The Poles did not bother to ban hunting before they did away with ritual slaughter so that they could at least give the impression their motivation was pure.
If they had truly shown an interest in the humane treatment of animals and ethical issues of shechita – Jewish slaughter – Polish lawmakers could have consulted an expert in the field such as Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University. They would have found that when performed properly religious slaughter causes little, if any, suffering.
That is because when the shochet, or ritual slaughterer, cuts the throat of the animal he is obligated by Halacha to use an incredibly sharp knife with absolutely no nicks. The animal should not even feel the cut.
Invariably the carotid arteries, which bring blood to the brain, are severed during the slaughter process, inducing unconsciousness within a few seconds. In contrast, stunning procedures, when performed improperly, can cause tremendous suffering.
While there are many ethically minded people who are motivated to become vegetarians or to work for animal protection out of a conviction that killing animals is wrong, there is no inherent correlation between a concern for animal welfare and high moral standards.
Bizarrely, one of the first things the Nazis did when they came to power in 1933 was to pass extensive animal protection legislation. Germans were subject to up to two years in prison for neglecting an animal, using an animal for a chore that exceeded its powers or caused it pain, or using a fragile, ill, overworked or old animal for which further life was a torment. The Nazis proved that it was possible to construct a distorted, hideous society in which leaders obsessed over the suffering of lobsters in Berlin restaurants, while millions of Jews were being worked to death or gassed with rat poison.
Perhaps the Poles, rightly burdened with their legacy of cooperation with the Nazis during World War II and acts of anti-Semitic violence well after the war was over, are now clumsily searching for their moral bearings in legislation that supposedly prevents suffering to animals. A ruling by a German court against circumcision because it causes “grievous bodily harm” to the baby boy seems to be the product of the same warped morality.
Are the Poles’ memory so short that they have forgotten it was in 1939 under Nazis rule that Poland first banned ritual slaughter? Perhaps the ban on ritual slaughter is motivated by anti-Muslim sentiments. Radical right-wing parties often target religious practices as a way of discouraging Muslims from immigrating or remaining in Europe. A ban on the building of minarets in Switzerland (which also has one of the oldest bans on ritual slaughter, dating back a century) seems to be motivated by a desire to keep Muslims out, or to at least reduce their visibility.
Whatever the motivation, however, the Poles’ decision to ban ritual slaughter is not just wrongheaded. It is depressing testimony to their failure to internalize the lessons of their own recent history. The ban must be revoked!