The Polish Parliament rejected a draft law that would have legalized Jewish ritual slaughter, or shechitah, in Poland.
The bill, defeated 222-178 on Friday, would have allowed shechitah provided it is done in a slaughterhouse. It also excluded certain forms of immobilizing the animal.
Until this year, Poland allowed shechitah, making about $650 million annually by exporting kosher and halal meat to Israel and Muslim-majority countries like Egypt and Iran. But the business practically ground to a halt in January after a constitutional court ruled that the country has no right to allow religious slaughter. The ruling was made after a petition filed by animals’ rights groups.
Dozens of Polish farmers marched in Warsaw on Wednesday in a rally in support of allowing shechitah.
On Friday, Jewish groups bemoaned the failure to pass a law allowing ritual slaughter.
“The majority of Polish MPs gave the Polish Jewish community three choices: don’t practice your religion, don’t eat meat, or don’t live among us,” said Abraham H. Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
“For a country still struggling to come to terms with its past treatment of Jews, it is outrageous to strike such a blow to the future of Jews in Poland. This vote was a clear violation of religious freedom, supported by the ignorance of some and the bigotry of others.
“The debate demonstrated acceptance of the false premise that kosher slaughter, which involves a single cut with a razor-sharp knife to minimize pain, is less humane than slaughter with pre-stunning by electrocution, gassing or a bolt shot to the animal’s forehead.”
“Populism, superstition and political interests won out,” said Piotr Kadlcik, President of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland. “It looks like we’ve made a full circle and are heading back to what happened in Poland and Germany in the 1930s.”
“Jewish communities across Europe will be incredibly distressed that the Polish Parliament has voted not to protect the religious freedom of its Jewish and Muslim citizens,” Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said in statement.
“The result of today’s vote in the Sejm is extremely disappointing,” a spokesperson for Shechitah UK, a non-profit working to repeal efforts to ban the practice, told JTA. “It represents the lowest point in the campaign to protect shechitah in Europe.”
The group said that it will work with Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and the Conference of European Rabbis to offer assistance in the campaign to overcome this setback.
The Conference of European Rabbis also said it was “alarmed by the level of disinformation that has characterized the parliamentary debates” on the issue.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Polish prime minister,” the conference said. “We will also be exploring what our legal options at E.U. level might be at this stage. This is very sad day for the Polish Jewish community and indeed for all of European Jewry.”
In a joint statement, Schudrich and Kadlcik said the result of the vote was “a shock.” The de-facto ban infringes on freedom of religion, they added. Noting that hunting for sport is legal in Poland, they said the vote against shechitah reflects “sinister hypocrisy which usually masks the discrimination against a part of the citizenry.”
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