LONDON/NEW YORK - Following a vote in Poland’s parliament last Friday that rejected a government-backed bill that would have allowed slaughterhouses to produce kosher meat, leaders of European Jewish Organizations have scheduled urgent talks on how best to respond to this serious threat to religious liberties.
Representatives of Jewish community in Poland, Shechitah UK, the Conference of European Rabbis and the European Jewish Congress will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss what the broader European Jewish community can do to support their Polish counterparts at this time, and weigh the available legal options on this issue.
Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich, who along with Piotr Kadlcik, the President of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, will be attending the meeting in Brussels, says that the position of the Jewish community is that shechitah is still legal in Poland, protected under a 1997 law regulating Poland’s relationship with the Jewish community.
In 2004, the parliament passed a law requiring livestock to be stunned before slaughter, but the Agriculture ministry granted an exemption for religious reasons. Eight months ago, a constitutional tribunal ruled that the minister didn’t have the right to grant exemptions to a law.
The Jewish community then made a strategic decision to try to get the exemption passed by Parliament, an attempt that failed on Friday.
“Our position is that we have the right to do shechitah in any case,” Rabbi Schudrich told Hamodia. “The purpose of the law rejected by parliament on Friday was to clarify the issue.”
While he remained hopeful that the matter would be resolved, Schudrich minced no words about the seriousness of the matter.
“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 my coreligionists,” Rabbi Schudrich declared.
Lawmakers rejected the bill in a 222-178 vote that saw 38 members of the ruling Civic Platform party joined the opposition to vote against it. Another 37 members of the ruling party abstained.
Opposition party members have indicated that they weren’t necessarily opposed to shechitah taking place on behalf of the Jewish community in Poland, but were opposed to the considerable amount of meat being exported. While most of the exports are halal meat to Muslim countries, a significant portion was kosher meat being sent to Israel and other countries.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was disappointed by the parliamentary vote,
which it called “totally unacceptable.”
“We call on the parliament to reassess its decision and expect the relevant authorities to find the way to prevent a crude blow to the religious tradition of the Jewish people,” the statement said.
“The result of the vote in the Sejm is extremely disappointing. It represents the lowest point in the campaign to protect shechita in Europe,” a spokesman for Shechita UK said, “Shechita UK will work together with Chief Rabbi Schudrich in Poland and with the Conference of European Rabbis to offer whatever assistance we can as the campaign to deal with this latest setback is adapted.”
A Jewish activist with close ties to the ruling party, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that he doesn’t think that anti-Semitism played a role in the vote.
“This is about internal Polish politics. The opposition voted against it because this was a bill introduced by the ruling party. Within the ruling party there are many members who showed their unhappiness with the Prime Minister by dissenting
or abstaining,” he explained.
“They are playing politics with our religious rights,” he added.”