Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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 SzymaÅ„ska 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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Jewish actor Jonah Hill revealed on Wednesday morning that he had officiated the wedding of good friend and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. The “War Dogs” actor, 32, was a guest on Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show when the conversation turned to Levine’s July 2014 wedding to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo. Hill said that after he was asked to officiate the nuptials, he started getting worried about the type of speech he was going to deliver. “I’m writing all these things, and then I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish indie singer Ezra Furman released a song on Wednesday that he said was dedicated to his grandfather, who escaped Nazi persecution. Furman told the website Consequence of Sound that the new track, called “The Refugee,” is his “first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis, as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.” He added, “May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Uncanny Toy Replica of Israeli ‘Wonder Woman’ Gal Gadot Auctioning on eBay for Over $1,600

    Uncanny Toy Replica of Israeli ‘Wonder Woman’ Gal Gadot Auctioning on eBay for Over $1,600

    An artist is auctioning on eBay a Wonder Woman doll he purchased and repainted to create an uncanny replica of Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who will play the superhero in an upcoming 2017 spin-off film. Noel Cruz purchased a 19-inch action figure of the Batman v Superman star and replaced its plastic hair with a new wig, and added a material belt and Princess Diana’s lasso, according to the blog Io9, which first reported on Cruz’s work. He then painted the doll to make it look like the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture British Jewish Star Daniel Radcliffe Hopes New Movie About Neo-Nazis Will Spark Dialogue to Defeat Antisemitic Rhetoric

    British Jewish Star Daniel Radcliffe Hopes New Movie About Neo-Nazis Will Spark Dialogue to Defeat Antisemitic Rhetoric

    Racist and antisemitic rhetoric supported by white supremacists can be defeated by opening channels for meaningful dialogue, British-Jewish actor Daniel Radcliffe said, ahead of the release of his new film, in which he plays an undercover FBI agent infiltrating a neo-Nazi group. “[White supremacist ideologies] have more power the less we talk about them. So hopefully this does start a kind of conversation, which would be a tiny part of a much larger conversation that needs to happen,” the actor, 27, told The […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas Reveals She Can Read, Speak Hebrew

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas Reveals She Can Read, Speak Hebrew

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas knows how to read and speak “a little” Hebrew, she revealed in the Aug. 15 issue of Us Weekly. The 20-year-old gymnast, who told the magazine that her favorite book is the Bible, was featured in a spread about the USA gymnastics team — which was awarded the gold medal in the women’s all-around finals at the Olympics in Rio on Aug. 9. In her 2012 memoir, In Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith, Douglas wrote that her […]

    Read more →
  • Features Ben-Gurion University Institute Tackles Water Shortages, Hygiene in Developing Countries

    Ben-Gurion University Institute Tackles Water Shortages, Hygiene in Developing Countries

    JNS.org – Israeli water experts believe that by 2050, almost half of the world’s population will live in countries with a chronic water shortage. What’s causing the shortfall is population growth, which leads to a greater demand for food, increased pollution and climate instability, according to Prof. Noam Weisbrod, director of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR) in the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In Israel’s Negev Desert, which has long been plagued […]

    Read more →