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Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community before the outbreak of war in 1939, but the Holocaust all but wiped it out. Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz and Treblinka were located on Polish soil.
The Jewish community in Poland now numbers about 8,000, according to official figures, though community leaders say the real number is higher. Poland’s population stands at 37 million.
Small quantities of kosher or halal meat are produced for Poland’s Jewish and Muslim communities. In addition, Polish slaughterhouses have begun exporting to countries such as Turkey and Israel, and so have increased the quantities of livestock killed in accordance with religious rules.
Jewish groups say the kosher method of slaughtering meat does not cause unnecessary suffering to the animal.
Poland has for years had a law requiring that vertebrate animals are stunned before they are killed in abattoirs. The agriculture ministry issued a decree waiving this requirement in cases where it clashed with religious rules.
The constitutional court, in its ruling this week, which cannot be appealed, said that the ministry’s waiver was unlawful and would cease to apply from the beginning of next year.
European Union legislation does allow for slaughter according to Jewish and Muslim rites, but there is uncertainty over whether, in this case, the Polish or EU legislation takes precedence.
Piotr Kadlcik, head of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, said that besides the substance of the court’s ruling, he was troubled by the tone of the debate surrounding it.
“The outrageous atmosphere in the Polish media surrounding shechitah reminds me precisely of the similar situation in Poland and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s,” he told Reuters.
“The style of these media reports was really similar: the (allegations of) disgusting practices and big business for a certain group of people. The tribunal may have felt obliged to react more promptly given this kind of hue and cry.”