Shechitah in Poland: Caught Between Two Laws

The very notion that in 2013, Jews would have to fight for the right to perform shechitah in Poland is outrageous.

As of this writing, Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and a group of dedicated askanim continue their valiant battle to ensure that shechitah continues in Poland.

Currently, this fundamental religious right is caught between two conflicting Polish laws.

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.

Pressured by Rabbi Schudrich, the ruling party agreed to get the exemption passed by Parliament. But when 38 members of the ruling Civic Platform party joined the opposition to vote against it, and another 37 members abstained, the bill was defeated.

While analysts say that internal politics, rather than anti-Semitism, was the primary reason for the defections, the vote was nonetheless a slap in the face to Polish Jewry.

Anyone with a modicum of historical knowledge is well aware of the rivers of Jewish blood that were shed on Polish property throughout the generations. Though Jews lived in Poland for at least 1,000 years and contributed much to the country, they endured repeated pogroms and enormous amounts of persecution and discrimination.

The very least contemporary Poles can do is try to respect the religious rights of Jews.

It is noteworthy that hunting, which causes far more physical and psychological pain to animals, remains legal in Poland. Yet it is shechitah, one of the most humane ways to kill an animal, that they seek to ban.

It now appears that the constitutional tribunal will take up the question of whether the 1997 law protecting Jewish rights or the 2004 law banning shechitah is stronger.

The fact that this is even an arguable matter is a tragedy, but now that it is, we can only daven and hope that this basic religious right will prevail.