Again angering Jews, Polish government eyes bill to limit kosher slaughter

Animal rights legislation would severely restrict methods used by Jewish abattoirs, as well as export of the meat, impacting supplies across Europe and in Israel

Illustrative: Kosher meat slaughtered in Poland  bears the symbol of the Warsaw rabbinate. (JTA)
Illustrative: Kosher meat slaughtered in Poland bears the symbol of the Warsaw rabbinate. (JTA)

Amid ongoing outcry from Jewish organizations and the Israeli government over a recently passed law that criminalizes attributing blame for the Holocaust to the Polish nation, Poland’s ruling party has proposed a bill that would place severe limitations on kosher slaughter in the country as on the export of meat produced using the method, the European Jewish Association said in a statement Monday.

The 48-page bill on animal welfare does not entirely outlaw ritual slaughter of animals — which in 2013 was banned in Poland but legalized again due to a high court ruling in 2014 – but it does impose significant limits on the practice and “restrictions on exporting kosher meat from Poland, which would affect a very large part of the Jewish communities in Europe,” the EJA said.

A shutdown of the Polish kosher meat industry would impact Jewish communities across Europe, as well as in Israel, which imports Polish meat.

The Polish government wants the animal rights bill to be debated this week, EJA said.

It would prohibit slaughtering animals when they are “in an unnatural state,” i.e., not standing up, and impose a four-year jail sentence for offenders.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin (courtesy European Jewish Association)

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,” he added.

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; otherwise, their meat is not allowed for consumption for observant individuals following those faiths. Judaism has a greater number of restrictions than does Islam on who may slaughter animals and how.

Margolin said that banning kosher slaughter would impact the basic rights of the Jewish community.

“These restrictions on kosher slaughter are in complete contradiction to the principle of freedom of religion of the European Union,” he said. “I call on the Polish government to not legislate this shameful law and to take into consideration that the Jewish people’s trust in the Polish leadership is deteriorating. I don’t want to imagine what the next stage will be after legislating the Holocaust Law and putting limits on kosher slaughter in the country.”

Margolin urged the Israeli government to include changing the bill as part of any discussion between the two countries over the Holocaust law.

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Monday that ending kosher slaughter in Poland could impact the meat market in Israel where Polish meat sold. If the Polish production ends it could lead to a rise in meat prices in Israel, the paper warned.

The so-called Polish Holocaust bill, which was signed into law last week by President Andrzej Duda but has yet to receive final approval from the country’s constitutional court, has sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel.

Senators attend an overnight session at the Polish Senate in Warsaw, on February 1, 2018. (PAP/Radek Pietruszka/AFP)

Jerusalem says the legislation, which criminalizes accusing the Polish nation or state for the crimes of the Holocaust, will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

The Polish government says the main aim of the law is to prevent people from erroneously describing Nazi German death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau as Polish, simply because they were set up on Polish soil.

In Israel, Holocaust survivors and others with roots in Poland fear it will allow the government to whitewash the role some Poles had in killing Jews during WWII.

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