The Polish parliament is preparing to vote on a bill that proposes to limit the export of kosher meat and which could make the performance of kosher slaughter difficult, if not impossible, the European Jewish Association said.
The 48-page bill on animal welfare is neither focused on the ritual slaughter of animals – which was banned in Poland in 2013 but legalized again due to a high court ruling in 2014 – nor does it propose to ban the custom anew. Instead, it proposes “restrictions on exporting kosher meat from Poland, which would affect a very large part of the Jewish communities in Europe,” the EJA said in a statement Monday.
Polish kosher and halal abattoirs are a major source of meat for retailers across the European Union and beyond.
Violation of the restrictions, which the EJA did not specify, may lead to four years in jail. The Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, is scheduled to vote on the bill this week, according to EJA.
The bill would also prohibit slaughtering animals when they are “in an unnatural state,” a stipulation which is thought to mean when they are in any position but standing up.
“[This] makes it very difficult to perform kosher slaughter due to some kashrut laws that forbid to apply any pressure on the knife to protect the animal from unnecessary pain,” EJA chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin said. Preventing this pressure “is not possible when the animal is standing, and its head is leaning heavily on the knife.”
Opponents of ritual slaughter of animals say that the kosher and halal methods are cruel, though advocates of the methods reject this. Both in Judaism and in Islam, animals must be conscious when their necks are cut according to religious law.
“These restrictions on kosher slaughter are in complete contradiction to the principle of freedom of religion of the European Union,” Margolin said. “The situation in Poland is unacceptable.”
Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, however, remarked that the bill, which seeks to limit kosher slaughter only to the needs of the community, has not yet been formulated.
“I am in negotiations with the initiator of the proposal, [chairman of the National Media Council] Krzysztof Czabaski,” he said in a statement released by the Conference of European Rabbis of which he is a member of the standing committee.
“Three years ago, following a petition we filed, the Supreme Court of Poland ruled that ‘Freedom of religion is a supreme value according to the Constitution of Poland and it stands above any other law and cannot be restricted,’” he added.
Schudrich met with President Andrzej Duda over the weekend, who told him that “Poland has great sensitivity and a national interest in safeguarding Jewish religious rights.”
Schudrich said the meeting was successful and the president showed great concern and support for the Jewish community’s position in preserving the religious rights to kosher slaughter.
Several Israeli MKs were quick to respond to reports on the bill, coming on the heels of the contentious Holocaust-related legislation recently signed into law in the country.
Shas MK Rabbi Yoav Ben-Tzur said: “It is outrageous to hear that elements in the Polish government have not internalized history, are shooting themselves in the foot, and continue to submit to dark and antisemitic laws that endanger the security of the enlightened public in Poland and throughout Europe.”
Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova also commented on the reports, saying: “We are witnessing a trend that is getting worse, with a sharp smell of hatred of Jews. I expect the Polish government to renounce the law if it wants good and close relations with the State of Israel.”
Yisrael Beiteinu MK Robert Ilatov said: “After the law which blurs Polish war crimes against the Jews during World War II, comes another unnecessary law created by the Polish parliament, which seeks to impose restrictions on kosher slaughter in the country.”
“We are witnessing a very disturbing trend of a series of antisemitic laws in Poland, a country on whose land more than three million Jews were murdered, 300,000 of whom were murdered by the Poles,” he continued.
He said that while the Polish prime minister tried to convey a message of friendship in interviews to the Israeli media, “We see that not only is the Polish government unwilling to discuss any change in the Holocaust denial law, it continues to promote antisemitic laws.”