Jewish Journal

Good relations slaughtered?

Pavel Pustelnik

July 16, 2013 | 10:55 am

The decision to ban ritual slaughter in Poland threats causes upheaval both domestically and abroad. The fragile relations between the Polish Jews and Poles are again put to trial.

Poland has been one of the last countries in the European Union where ritual slaughter was widely allowed. This has changed at the beginning of 2013 when the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Poland ruled that slaughter without a prior stun is illegal. The need to implement the ruling caused a highly polarized debate in the Polish Sejm. On Friday the ritual slaughter became illegal in Poland.

Political coalitions created were as sharp as during discussions on the most controversial issues. This time even the ruling coalition split and presented different views on the issue. Strikingly, the religious argument was one of the most recurring in the whole debate. Suddenly the some of the politicians became extraordinarily sensitive towards the needs of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Poland. The walls of the Polish Sejm have probably never heard that many references to the religious freedom. What brings that change? Quite obviously, the religious needs are not at stake. The economy, stupid: Over thirty percent of all Polish beef and a tenth poultry exported comes from ritual slaughter, which sums up to approximately 500 mln euro annually. Until the beginning of 2013, Poland was one of the biggest exporters of kosher meat to Israel and also Muslim countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Iran.

- Both Jewish and Muslim communities are legitimately concerned. They have the right to follow their customs. Fortunately, there is no dramatic contradiction. The most important issue is to block the vulgar business that is based on industrial killing of animals in the rotating cages. During the debate in Sejm, some of the politicians were advancing economic arguments for keeping the ritual slaughter – this is a crying shame. Making money on cruelty cannot be accepted - says professor Jan Hartman, the chair of the Department of Philosophy and Bioethics,  Jagiellonian University, Cracow.

The Polish society seems to be quite convinced by the humanitarian approach to the problem – according to the recent survey conducted by the Polish Public Opinion Research Center over 65% of the population is against ritual slaughter. Many scientists, artists and celebrities signed a letter to the MPs stating that the slaughter should be prohibited.

- There are two issues on two different levels. The first and more important concerns rendering illegal the business of sophisticated cruelty inflicted on animals. The second issue that needs to wait is to satisfy the needs of religious communities who live in Poland – the right for ritual slaughter. Unfortunately, these two levels met here in the atmosphere filled with exceptional hypocrisy – says prof. Hartman.

The debate has been fuelled also from outside and the decision of the Polish MPs was given a lot of attention by the Jews world-wide. - We urge Poland’s legislative and judicial authorities to move expeditiously to recognize by law the Jewish community’s right to prepare kosher meat according to Jewish tradition – said David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee. It would be beyond shocking if a democratic Poland prevented kosher slaughter, which is so integral to Jewish life in the country – he added.

- I think that the AJC just waits for a pretext to accuse Poland of anti-Semitism. They are very anti-Polish. These types of statements are absolutely inappropriate. Although I believe that these organizations have a full right to demand from the Polish government to provide access to kosher meat, they should do it upon request of the Polish Jews. In this case I do not know if that was a case – says prof. Hartman. He believes that interpreting the decision to prohibit ritual slaughter in the context of attitudes towards Judaism are unjustified. – They [American Jews] have a right to demand recognition of the Jew’s rights but they cannot announce their anti-Semiotic interpretations. There is no evidence, it is an insinuation and unfair imputation that come out of anti-Polish bias of these milieus. These statements are very detrimental for the relations between Poles and Jews.

A similar view is presented by Klaudia Klimek, head of the Krakow Department of the Social Cultural Association of Jews in Poland: - Interference of American Jewish organizations in Polish affairs and unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism of our politicians or comparing this situation to 1930' is not only an exaggeration but it means that they are taking an active part in the deterioration of Polish-Jewish relations in Poland. This unwarranted hysteria of third parties creates only unnecessary confusion. This will affect the Jews of Polish origin living in Poland. - I am absolutely convinced that the decision to ban ritual slaughter was motivated by the sympathy for animals – summarizes prof. Hartman.

The voices opposing the vote in the Polish Parliament came also from Europe. - Jewish communities across Europe will be incredibly distressed that the Polish parliament has voted not to protect the religious freedom of its Jewish and Muslim citizens - adds Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, head of the Conference of European Rabbis. The Polish Jewish organizations did not remain silent either. – It was shocking for us to learn about the result of today’s vote in Sejm. The untrue view that ritual slaughter is cruel or even intentionally cruel has won. This opinion became popular in Europe in 1930’ when Norway and Sweden influenced by the Nazi propaganda prohibited ritual slaughter. From now on, Poland will be the first EU member state where there is a ban of this kind that does not stem from the Nazi regulations. It menaces directly the basic rights of the rights of Jews and Muslims living in Poland that will be pushed to buy more expensive, imported meat or switch to forced vegetarianism. (…) It is hard not to make an assumption that the decision of Polish Sejm was motivated by sinister hypocrisy, which usually is used to mask discrimination of some citizens – reads a statement signed by Piotr Kadlčik, head of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland and Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland. The latter enforced the statement by his Facebook update: “I cannot imagine serving as chief rabbi in a country in which the rights of the Jewish religion are curtailed, as I would not be able then to serve properly my coreligionists. This obviously is not a threat, for whom would I threaten, but a statement of an obvious fact. If the legality of ritual slaughter will not be reinstituted in a legitimate way, I will be obliged to resign from my function.” The response of Polish Muslims was just as dramatic: “The prohibition of the ritual slaughter results in restrictions in lives and everyday practices of the Muslim community. It prevents us from celebrating Eid al-Adha (The Feast of Sacrifice) when a sacrifice of an animal is done and the meat is offered to the community. It is a sine qua non condition – reads the statement of the head of the Muslim Religious Association in the Republic of Poland.

Prof. Hartman disapproves of the statements by the Jewish leaders. – I don’t understand this attitude. Schudrich perhaps does not feel quite safe, he does not understand all the subtleties whereas Kadlčik disappointed me. If they are people of religion they should distance themselves from cruelty – he comments. - In Poland there not more than couple of hundreds of people who obey kosher rules to the extent that eat only certified beef and obviously Jewish communities have a right to demand regulations that will allow them to produce meat for their own needs. This should be said instead of tearing hairs out and shout that there is harm happening to Jewish communities. The Jews cannot secure their kosher meat supply at expense of industrial ritual slaughter that is export-oriented – adds prof. Hartman. 

Today the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has joined the debate by issuing a statement in which it expresses its disappointment. - Poland's history is intertwined with the history of the Jewish people. This decision seriously harms the process of restoring Jewish life in Poland – it reads. The Ministry called also for revisions - We call on the parliament to reassess its decision and expect the relevant authorities to find the way to prevent a crude blow to the religious tradition of the Jewish people. The Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk limited his comments only to saying that the statement was inappropriate. 

With a strong opposition of animal rights activists, quite vocal elites who are against the ritual slaughter the changes are not likely to be introduced with regards to industrial ritual slaughter for export. However, there are chances that special provisions may be introduced to accommodate the needs of the religious communities. After all, the decision to ban ritual slaughter was motivated by the sympathy to the animals, not anti-Semiotic or anti-Muslim feelings in the Parliament. - It is a great day for the Polish ethics and public morality. Now we need to think how to provide Jews and Muslims who live in Poland with halal and kosher meats. The needs of these domestic communities are very limited and therefore the size of the ritual slaughter industry can be almost non-commercial. I believe that this can be dealt with in the next couple of months – concludes prof. Hartman.

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