Polish Jews Fight Ban on Religious Slaughter ; Constitutional Court Gets Appeal from Chief Rabbi over Right to Kosher Meat

By Bilefsky, Dan | International Herald Tribune, September 5, 2013 | Go to article overview

Polish Jews Fight Ban on Religious Slaughter ; Constitutional Court Gets Appeal from Chief Rabbi over Right to Kosher Meat


Bilefsky, Dan, International Herald Tribune


The country's chief rabbi, saying that a 2002 ban threatens to undermind Jewish life in the country, said the constitutional court had been asked to resolve the matter.

The chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, said Wednesday that the Jewish community there had appealed to the country's highest court to overturn an effective ban on religious slaughter that he said threatened to undermine Jewish life in a nation where the community was all but wiped out during the Holocaust.

In a country where memories of the past run deep, the prohibition of kosher and halal slaughter has polarized Poland and spawned an angry outcry from human rights activists, Jews around the world, Israel and Muslims who say the ban impinges upon minority rights. Polish farmers also complain that they stand to lose as much as EUR 700 million, or $924 million, annually in exports of halal meat to Muslim countries like Turkey and Iran and kosher meat to Israel and Western Europe.

Supporters of the ban, which include a mix of animal activists, leftists and right-wing nationalists, say it safeguards animals against what they characterize as a barbaric ritual. Legal experts say that until recently religious slaughter has operated in a legal gray zone, with overlapping laws both allowing and prohibiting the practice. In July, the lower house of Parliament voted 222-178 against legislation that would have ensured the right to religious slaughter.

Rabbi Schudrich said the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland on Friday appealed the prohibition at the constitutional court on the ground that it impinged upon religious freedoms guaranteed under the Polish Constitution. He said by phone from Warsaw on Wednesday that he had considered resigning his post since a ban on shechitah, or Jewish ritual slaughter, prevented him from fulfilling his duties.

"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," he wrote on his Facebook page on July 14 after the proposed law allowing ritual slaughter was rejected by Parliament.

The Jewish community's consternation was relayed to Pope Francis on Monday when he met with members of the World Jewish Congress, which represents Jewish communities outside Israel, the group said. The group said Wednesday that the pope specifically expressed concern about the ban, but he has not made any public comments on the issue.

As Jews across Poland prepared to celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, on Wednesday evening, Rabbi Schudrich said there was a sufficient supply of kosher meat because it had been stored in anticipation.

Jewish officials added that kosher meat was being imported from Vienna and Budapest and that in any case ritual slaughter in Poland was continuing in clandestine slaughterhouses in defiance of the ban. …

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