Representatives of Europe’s Jewish communities gathered in Brussels on Wednesday to formulate a coordinated strategy for combating Poland’s ban on ritual slaughter.
The emergency summit between senior Polish communal leaders, the European Jewish Congress (EJC) and the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) was called following the Polish parliament’s decision on Friday to uphold a ban on shechita.
According to the EJC, the talks were aimed at formulating a response to what the Jewish communal umbrella organization termed the “failure of the Polish government to push through legislation which would have protected the rights of faith communities.”
riday’s vote struck down a government-sponsored bill that would overturn the ban, which came into effect in January after Poland’s constitutional court ruled in 2012 that religious slaughter was not exempt from a law requiring the stunning of animals prior to slaughter. The court ruled that such an exemption was “unconstitutional.”
The Brussels meeting was convened because European Jewry had arrived “at a position which is simply untenable for the Jewish community in Poland and we must now act quickly to rectify this,” said CER president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt.
The Kosher and hallal meat industry is substantial in Poland, generating hundreds of millions of euros in profit for the country’s cattle industry.
Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, Polish Agriculture Minister Stanislaw Kalemba stated that there were “constitutional doubts” regarding the ban and that the Jewish and Muslim communities are free to approach the constitutional court regarding the matter, Polish Radio reported.
“Now the right belongs to the religious minorities which, in accordance with the constitution, have the right to submit a complaint for non-compliance with the constitution,” Kalemba stated. He added that since the ban came into effect, Polish meat exports to Israel and the Muslim world fell 70 percent.
Subsequently, EJC secretarygeneral Serge Cwajgenbaum said that his organization will “utilize all legal means to fight this ban.”
A continuing moratorium on kosher slaughter “will have an immediate and direct bearing on the future of a thriving and unmolested Jewish community in Europe and by extension a tolerant and broad-minded Europe,” he said.
In a statement to the press, the EJC, CER and Union of Jewish Communities of Poland announced that at the meeting “a number of options were discussed, including political and legal responses. It was unanimously agreed that every legal option would be explored in order to challenge the ban on shechita in Poland.”
“This decision puts into question the ability to maintain normative Jewish life in the Republic of Poland, and its ability to confirm with the basic norms of freedom of religious expression as a member of the European Union,” EJC president Moshe Kantor said.
“For a country which saw the annihilation of virtually the totality of its Jewish population, within living memory, to now say that Jewish life is to be constrained, that Jews are being prevented from practicing their religion, is shocking in the extreme.”
Several other European Jewish organizations that were not present at the meeting also announced their intentions to contest the ban.
European Jewish Association president Rabbi Menachem Margolin called upon all Jewish organizations in Europe “to stand together in the fight against [the] kosher butchering ban in Poland,” which he said can only mean the “exclusion of Jewish communities in Poland.”
Margolin stated that the Rabbinical Center of Europe had “already mobilized” and that starting on Monday morning, “rabbis all across Europe were arranging meetings with the Polish ambassadors in their countries in order to protest.”
Joel Rubinfeld, the co-chairman of the European Jewish Parliament, a recently established group, said that he has been working on this issue for several months, since the ban initially went into effect and that the EJP is “ pursuing [its] contact with members of parliament and Polish members of the European Parliament on this issue.”
The EJP is analyzing Polish and European law to see what legal options are available, he told The Jerusalem Post.
Rubinfeld also said that Poland has experienced a revival of Jewish life, which is endangered by the ban.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews met with Polish Ambassador Witold Sobków to the UK on Wednesday, and in a statement announced that he had told them that “the ruling coalition was now taking legal advice on a possible challenge to the decision in the constitutional court” and that “initial opinions had proved favorable to the concerns of the Jewish and Muslim communities that this represents a challenge to religious freedom.”