LONDON – Days after an attempt to overturn a ban on shechita in Poland ended in failure, the Polish Jewish leadership has been criticized for attempting to handle the political battle on its own.
Three officials in Jewish organizations with experience combatting shechita bans elsewhere told The Times of Israel that they repeatedly offered to support the Polish Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, and President of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, Piotr Kadlcik, but were rebuffed.
“I’ve been crying, pleading and shouting to try and persuade [Schudrich and Kadlcik] to allow us to help,” said one official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity because they still hoped to work on the Polish shechita issue. “We were told, ‘We don’t need your interference.’ We were all told to go away. They completely handled it themselves.”
According to another, “We came to [Schudrich] and told him, we want to help you. He said I’ll do it all myself. They refused outside help.”
And the third said, “We offered advice and help. They thought it was all under control, it happened to be it wasn’t… the legislative initiative took us by surprise, they calmed us down and said [a ban] won’t happen and that they would update us. When they did, it was already post-mortem.”
Ritual slaughter has been banned in Poland since January. A bill sponsored by the government, aiming in re-instating it, fell on Friday by 222 votes to 178, after 38 members of the ruling Civic Platform party voted with the opposition.
‘Could someone else have won? I didn’t. I tried and failed. It’s very clear’
Speaking to The Times of Israel, American-born Rabbi Schudrich said he took some personal responsibility for the bill’s defeat, which he tried to prevent by working with all parties in the Parliament to explain that shechita was humane and a religious right.
“I failed,” he said. “Could someone else have won? I didn’t. I tried and failed. It’s very clear.”
He rejected the notion that the Polish Jewish leadership had not cooperated with outside Jewish organizations, saying it “worked very closely” with the Conference of European Rabbis and European Jewish Congress, for example on drawing up talking points, and that he “did consult with others and did receive help… I treasure any contact I can have with any Jewish organization outside Poland.”
However, a Jewish-Polish activist who also requested anonymity said that Polish parliamentarians had made it clear that they did not want to deal with foreign rabbis, and that the Polish Jewish leadership had, with the best of intentions, taken them at their word.
‘Until 24 hours before the vote it looked like it was going well, but then the [Parliamentary] speaker came out against the Prime Minister’
Asked how the bill failed to pass, given that it was sponsored by the government, the activist blamed internal politics rather than anti-Semitism or a particular concern for animal rights.
“It would appear, far more than any other issue, that it was about the relationship of the [ruling] party to the prime minister, who is unpopular right now. It doesn’t appear that he has a chance to win again. People are jumping ship,” he said. “Until 24 hours before the vote it looked like it was going well, but then the [Parliamentary] speaker came out against the prime minister,” saying she was going to vote against, and more members of the ruling party than expected voted with the opposition.
The Polish-Jewish leadership “hadn’t planned for the internal politics of the ruling party. It happened in the last week or so and we became an unintended victim.”
Jewish leaders worry that the Polish ban will serve as a precedent for other countries in Europe and that if Polish ritual slaughter ended, there could be price hikes in France, the UK and Israel, all of which import kosher meat from Poland.
There is now a concerted international Jewish effort to examine the legal and political possibilities for another attempt at getting shechita re-instated, with a delegation from CER and EJC flying into Poland on Thursday to consult with the local Jewish community.
According to Schudrich, however, there is still a possibility that shechita will continue in Poland, at least for local Jews if not for export, as another law, the 1997 Act on the Relation of the State to the Jewish Communities in Poland, protects religious slaughter for the local Jewish community.
“The question is, which law is stronger? Hopefully it will be clarified in the very near future.”