Polish-Jewish Relations Are Real Victim of Ritual Slaughter Controversy

August 16, 2013 6:29 am 0 comments

The plenary hall of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament. Photo: Boston9 via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgThe world of Polish-Jewish relations is confronting a crisis over kosher slaughter of animals. Both kosher and Muslim halal slaughtering rules forbid stunning the animal beforehand. Under Polish law, however, such stunning is mandatory. The Polish Constitutional Court recently struck down an exemption from that law for kosher and halal slaughter on a legal technicality. Last month the Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament, failed to reinstate the exemption.

Jews in the United States and Israel reacted quickly to the Sejm vote. Misinformation about the roots of the legislation as well as a negative knee-jerk reaction based on certain perceptions—or misperceptions—of Poland’s history led many to the hasty conclusion that Poland today is no different than it was in the 1930s, when anti-kosher-slaughter legislation was part of a broad assault on Jewish rights.

Poles, on the other hand, seemed surprised by the criticism, and their reactions ranged from defensiveness to outright anti-Semitic rhetoric. The office of Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, received an unprecedented number of anti-Semitic letters, emails, and phone calls. While anti-Semitism was not the root cause of the controversy over ritual slaughter, it has reared its ugly head once the Sejm vote became a matter of public debate.

The kosher slaughter issue needs to be settled in favor of religious freedom, and reports from Poland suggest that this is likely to happen. But a positive resolution may prove no more than a Pyrrhic victory, since the tenor of the discussion has reopened old wounds in Polish-Jewish relations. The bleeding needs to stop before decades of efforts to heal this important relationship unravel. All sides must realize that once this particular controversy is resolved, the relationship between Poles and Jews will continue, and everyone has an interest in strengthening it.

As a Polish Jew living in the United States, I have dedicated my work over the years to creating space between the images of horror associated with Poland’s World War II history and the bright, hope-filled scenes of modern times. I have witnessed the building of remarkable bridges of understanding through my work with the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Polish-Jewish Exchange program—work that AJC had the foresight to launch more than twenty years ago. We cannot go backward. How we conduct our dialogue now will shape the quality of the relationship moving forward.

An understanding of the facts is key to progress in Polish-Jewish relations. Poland legalized kosher slaughter in 1997 with the passage of a law regulating the relationship between the State and the Jewish community. The Animal Protection Act, also passed in 1997, rendered slaughter without stunning illegal, but included an exemption for ritual slaughter. In 2002, this exemption was removed, leaving the Animal Protection Act and the kosher slaughter law in conflict. To resolve it, the Polish Minister of Agriculture, by decree, announced an exemption for ritual slaughter. It remained in effect until 2011, when Poland’s Constitutional Court—in an action brought by the country’s strong animal rights lobby—overturned the minister’s decree, but did not resolve the underlying conflict of laws. Following the court’s ruling, the government sought to protect religious freedom and the interest of farmers who produce kosher and halal meat for export by introducing the bill that would reinstate the ritual slaughter exemption.

The Sejm voted 222-178 against the exemption, as a dissident minority faction of the governing party joined with the opposition party to defeat the government initiative. Anti-Semitic sentiments were nowhere publicly expressed in the discussions leading up to the vote. The most plausible explanation for the Parliament’s action is the political weakness of Prime Minister Donald Tusk—not anti-Semitism.

The controversy now rests again with the Polish Constitutional Court, which eventually will have to reconcile the conflict between the animal rights legislation and the law that regulates Poland’s relationship with the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, both Jews and Poles have work to do. World Jewry must remember that it is 2013: Poland is a free and democratic country, a member of the European Union, with a strong civil society, which engages in lively public discussion. It is a friend of Israel and of the Jewish people. We must not alienate Poles and harm long-term Jewish interests by insinuating that there is a serious problem of anti-Semitism in the country.

Similarly, the Polish people need to better appreciate the historical context of Jewish sensitivities to matters affecting religious freedom, and must also take the recent anti-Semitic outbursts as a wake-up call. Polish-Jewish cooperation, the protection of Jewish heritage in Poland, and the resurgence of Jewish life in Poland since the collapse of Communism, while impressive, are far from complete.

At stake is not merely ritual slaughter, but the future of Polish-Jewish relations.

Gosia Szymańska Weiss is Assistant Director, International Relations, in the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles Region.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.