Gosia SzymaÅ„ska Weiss/JNS.org
The 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.
Caption: The office of Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich (pictured), has received an unprecedented number of anti-Semitic letters, emails, and phone calls due to the ritual slaughter controversy. Credit: Slav via Wikimedia Commons.
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 …read more