Ending Poland’s Ban on Ritual Slaughter: Jews Working Together for a Common Cause

In early December, Poland rescinded a ban on ritual slaughter that threatened Polish Jewry’s ability to freely practice their religion. The ban had meant that the traditional shechita practice, a procedure of animal slaughter according Jewish law, could not be adequately observed, denying Polish Jewry access to local meat and severely curtailing their religious freedom. Fortunately, Jewish groups from across the country, continent and world, rallied together to protect Jews’ religious expression. Together, they forced a reversal of the law through legal means and set an example for the Jewish world that even the most difficult issues facing us as a people can be fought off if we work together for a common cause.

On the 10th of December, the Polish Constitutional Court struck down a law banning animal slaughter without prior stunning of the animal. The law had held exceptions for Jewish and Muslim religious slaughter, but in January 2013, the Supreme Court struck down this measure. This effectively ended the production of kosher Polish meat, as the law prohibited the shechita practice, a form of slaughter mandated by traditional Judaism that is believed to be the most human and requires animals being healthy and uninjured at the time of their slaughter, precluding the use stunning methods. The law also endangered Poland’s nearly $400 million kosher meat exporting industry.  In a country that has been practicing schechita for centuries, Polish Jews were not about to take this infringement on their rights lightly and banded together to fight this law and the precedent it could set for other countries across the continent.

brisket

(photo via Joy of Kosher)

Representatives from the European Jewish Congress (EJC), the Polish Jewish community and the Conference of European Rabbis continuously lobbied the Polish government and MPs, expressing the concerns of the Jewish community, while the European Jewish Association EJA) launched a pan-European campaign against the ban. Petitioning the Polish Constitutional Court, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland (UJRCP), along among several entities appealed the ban, claiming it violated the European Convention on Human Rights and led to “discrimination in social and economic life of Jews in Poland”. The court agreed in a 5-4 decision, and today, shechita and the production of kosher meat in Poland can once again continue.

As countries like the UK debate banning ritual slaughter, and others, like Denmark, outlaw the practice, the Polish court’s decision comes at an opportune time. The campaign against the ban by Jewish organizations in Poland, Europe and the greater Diaspora, serve as a fine example of how threats to the Jewish way of life can be successfully combated by working together. I encourage future cooperation by Jews all across the world in all matters of Jewish life, and especially in combating the mounting existential threats that the world’s Jewish population is facing.

This should send a clear signal to all governments across the European Union that our communities will not allow their basic religious rights to be trampled on in contravention of the letter and intention of EU law

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor

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