With great chutzpah and an undercurrent of antisemitism the Polish Parliament has rejected a bill proposed by the government to permit Kosher and Halal ritual slaughter. As has been the case in other European countries that have banned kosher slaughter, the process is deemed “inhumane”.
All this has happened during the saddest days on the Jewish calendar and has led to Poland’s esteemed Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, the architect of post-Communist Jewish revival and a lifelong vegetarian, to threaten resignation. Having helped Rabbi Schudrich to reestablish kosher slaughter in Poland and in the 1990’s through the importation of a ritual slaughterer form Hungry, and personally supervising kosher meat production, this ban is particularly personal.
As with most Jewish communities, the vast majority of Polish Jews do not keep kosher. Yet, the news that the ban on Kosher meat production in Poland will continue indefinitely is of profound symbolic importance. For a country that is trying to revive its image as being hopelessly anti-Semitic, where a small, nascent Jewish community is rebuilding itself, the renewal of the ban on kosher slaughter is just the latest sign that perhaps Poland has not really changed.
Ironically, Poland is a major supplier of kosher food around the world, including a growing export of kosher meat to Israel. The OU, the largest supervisory agency for kosher products worldwide, certifies production in over two dozen Polish factories. Products under supervision include, bakeries, vegetables, fish and milk and more.
The Polish parliament for its part is going against the obvious economic benefits pertaining to the production of Kosher food, and especially meat. A constitutional court has upheld the ban on kosher slaughter which echoes back to the days during pre-war Poland when a full-blown economic assault was waged against its Jewish citizens. The ruling by most accounts goes counter to the Polish constitution. With this one move Poland’s parliment undermines its relations with the world-wide Jewish community.
Polish Prime Minister Tusk’s enemies are capitalizing on a right-wing shift in the countries political climate. The unpopular Prime-Minister is being hounded by the opposition who have seized upon his weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is his pro-Jewish stance. In addition, the opposition have decried the export of Polish meat which should stay in Poland and not be exported to Israel and to Muslim countries. With unabashed chutzpah, Tusk’s opposition is using the issue of Kosher and Halal slaughter as part of their campaign to wrest control of a government.
Not all of Poland’s politicians are bending. Poland’s agricultural minister for example has decried the decision in sharply worded term calling the ban unconstitutional infringement on the rights of minorities in Poland. However, the Prime Minister stated that the government will not attempt to introduce new legislation making kosher and halal slaughter permitted.
The decision of the Polish Parliament coincides with the days of sorrow for the Jewish communities. This period of national mourning called the “Nine Days” leads up to the largest day of national mourning, Tisha B’Av. These days are known for sorrow and persecution. From the times of the destruction of the Second Temple until today, many tragedies befell the Jewish people during this time including the expulsion of Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492), World War I (1914), and the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942).
While the decision to ban kosher meat production and ritual slaughter are not on the scale of these tragedies, its timing could not be more profound. At a milestone in Polish Jewish and Christian rapprochement, the completion of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in the heart of Warsaw, Poland has found itself once again a flashpoint of intolerance. This is not to lessen the intolerance and racism found in other European countries that have enacted a similar bans on kosher and halal slaughter. Yet, because of Poland’s unique history as having the largest Jewish community in the world prior to WWII, and the country that suffered the largest percentage of annihilation of its Jewish community during the war, this turn of events is highly unfortunate.
In the early 1990’s, when we were able to resume the production of kosher meat in Poland, it was sign that Poland’s Jewish community had a future. In a country that prides itself on meat dishes, the availability of Kosher meat to the Jewish community was another step in the direction of communal rebirth. While a vegetarian at the time, I was keenly aware that a lack of readily available kosher meat was critical to a sense of self-sufficiency that is part of the Polish psyche. No longer was it necessary to import canned meat from Israel for use in the Jewish soup kitchens. No longer did families have to settle for un-kosher meat to create Friday Night Dinners, Passover seders, and holiday meals.
With the resurgence of Polish anti-semitism, the reemergence of Polish Jewish life has been dealt another serious setback. On these days of introspection and mourning, the Jewish world has been dealt another blow. We should not look at this as an isolated infringement on Jewish religious practice on a small Jewish community, but as a global Jewish community issue and a harbinger of the winds of change.