Poland Says No To Kosher Meat
Matteo Tacconi 16 September 2013

The Polish Jewish community rebelled against this ruling, judging it as shocking, and Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who even threatened to resign, explained that this “infringes  the basic rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities” in the country. The Constitutional Court has also forbidden halal slaughtering established by Islamic law and identical in every way to the kosher rules.

Some have even stated that the Constitutional Court’s decision was influenced by prejudice against Jews, which inevitable led to the very sensitive issue of the Holocaust, before which over three million Jews lived in Poland (nowadays there are about 20,000) when Warsaw had the largest Jewish community in Europe. Although the extermination of the Jews was planned and implemented by the Third Reich which built the worst concentration camps in Poland, first among them Auschwitz, historians have often emphasised that in a number of marginal but no less important cases, the Poles were co-responsible for the persecution. The most  resounding case occurred in the Polish north-eastern town of Jedwabne, where in 1941 locals were responsible for the murder of 340 Jews. In 2001, on the 60th anniversary of the massacre, the former President of the Republic Alekander Kwasniewski condemned the crime, describing it has having offended not only the Jews but also Poland’s dignity.

To all this one must add the fact that attacks against the Jews also occurred during the Communist era. In 1946 in Kielce, the authorities planned a pogrom that resulted in the death of 40 people, while in 1968 the regime’s internal crisis was resolved by using a diversion of a Jewish plot, sparking a wave of hatred in the country and obliging 11,000 Jews to leave the country over a two year period.

The Polish Jews’ opposition to the ruling on the kosher slaughtering ritual has been supported by Israel, where the foreign minister described the ban as “unacceptable” and described it as a “cruel blow to the Jewish people’s religious traditions.” Following reservations expressed by Jews in Poland, Israel made it known that this controversy risks preventing the Slav country from pursuing the process of rediscovering its Jewish roots, a process that had made significant progress in recent years. The most recent step forward had been the creation of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, inaugurated last August on the 70th anniversary of the 1943 ghetto uprising. On that occasion the Warsaw Jews bravely and desperately fought against the Nazis and were massacred without mercy.

Faced with pressure applied by the Jewish community and by Israel, the Polish Prime Minister, centrist Donald Tusk, attempted to remedy the situation with a decree aimed at allowing exceptions  – as implemented in other European countries including Italy and France –  allowing slaughtering on condition the animal’s suffering is alleviated. In addition to avoiding a clash with Israel, Tusk also intended to reduce the economic consequences arising from the Constitutional Court’s ruling which effectively annulled the export of 90,000 and 4,000 tons of halal and kosher meat every year, a business worth over 300 million euro. Slaughtering takes place in about twenty special plants employing 6,000 people and both jobs and money are at stake.

The problem is that in July, parliament rejected the cabinet decree, thereby obstructing the prime minister’s efforts. Paradoxically, the last card played will be an appeal the government presented in recent days to the same judges who ruled against Jewish and Islamic slaughtering processes. One will have to wait and see what happens.

In the meantime, there have been unexpected reports that the Vatican is allegedly closely following the controversy. The World Jewish Congress, whose leaders met with Pope Francis on September 2, reported that the Pontiff is thought to have appointed Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Vatican Commission for Relations with Jewish Communities, to study the situation in detail. Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, has not confirmed this report, but said, however, that Cardinal  Koch is following the matter closely.

But why should the Vatican be interested in a controversy about kosher meat? The answer may be found in Jasienica, a small town with 2,000 inhabitants close to Warsaw. Until just a few weeks ago, the Catholic church there was run by Father Wojciech Lemanski. The priest was, however, removed from his position by Catholic authorities in Warsaw following an extremely harsh attack on a Curia paper addressing ethical issues which Father Lemanski liquidated as retrograde. It seems that this was not the point, and according to some of the press, the priest, known as being very independent, was removed because of divisions lacerating the Polish ecclesiastic hierarchy on relations with the Jewish community and the country’s history during the 20th century. The Polish church’s conservative wing has always attempted to sweep under the carpet all critical issues, for example expressing profound concern when in 2001 the Polish-American historian Jan Gross published a crude and detailed reconstruction of the pogrom in Jedwabne. One should also bear in mind the Anti-Semitic opinions expressed on various occasions by Radio Maryja, founded in 1991 by redemptorist Tadeusz Rydzyk, director of a profitable Catholic media network.

On the other hand there is a dialoguing branch of the Church, wishing to establish stronger relations with the Jewish religion, and one that does not fear a debate about the past, nor does it shirk the Catholic majority’s responsibilities regarding the Jewish minority. Wojciech Lemanski is a member of this school of thought and some say that the Jewish issue was becoming too important. Sometime ago he had placed two Jewish headstones found in an abandoned cemetery next to the altar in his former church, attracting intense criticism, with some accusing him of wanting to convert. The Vatican’s interest may be based of fear that tension over kosher meat may have repercussions on the dialogue between Polish Catholics and Jews,  and on the church’s internal equilibrium.

Translated by Francesca Simmons



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