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 First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →