Polish Kosher Slaughter Ban Has Jews Feeling Uneasy

Anti-Semitism Bubbles Below Surface Despite Progress

Read Between the Lines: Animal rights advocates demonstrate in favor of a ban on kosher slaughter in Poland. Many Jews see the campaign as a sign that anti-Semitism is still a potent force.
Read Between the Lines: Animal rights advocates demonstrate in favor of a ban on kosher slaughter in Poland. Many Jews see the campaign as a sign that anti-Semitism is still a potent force.

By Cnaan Liphshiz

Published July 21, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(JTA) — In their Krakow home, Anna Makowka Kwapisiewicz and her husband, Piotr, skim through an online article about Poland’s recent ban on kosher slaughter.

What they find even more disturbing than the actual news are the comments posted by other readers.

Hundreds of comments calling on Jews to leave Poland have appeared beneath news articles in the days since the country’s parliament defeated a bill that would have reversed a ban on kosher slaughter, or shechitah, first imposed in January.

“The ban is bad enough because it’s the result of disinformation, but it opened the door to anti-Semitism that’s very evident in these comments,” said Piotr, who with his wife is a founding member of Czulent, an association of young Krakow Jews.

The shechitah ban and ensuing anti-Semitic outbursts come as painful reminders that despite years of government-led projects celebrating Jewish tradition, Poland still has a a long way to go to become a place “where minorities feel at home and not just guests,” as Anna put it.

“There’s a view that Poland is a paradise for Jews,” Anna said. “But now everyone sees there’s no paradise and Poland is a country like all others. It needs to work on tolerance during difficult times, when populism and nationalism flourish throughout Europe.”

In January, a constitutional court, responding to a petition filed by animal welfare activists, outlawed religious slaughter in Poland. A law that would have reinstated shechitah was rejected by the Sjem, the Polish parliament, on July 12 by a vote of 222-178.

On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he had no plans to reintroduce legislation to lift the ban. The Polish ban is not the first time a European country has put animal welfare concerns above the religious freedom of its Jewish and Muslim minorities.

In 2011, a large majority of the lower house of the Dutch parliament passed a bill banning the practice, but it was scrapped by the Dutch Senate. Laws banning kosher slaughter also are on the books in Norway, Switzerland, Latvia, Sweden and Iceland.

European Jewish Association director Rabbi Menachem Margolin, seen at a European Parliament discussion on religious freedom issues in November 2012, called on Poland’s chief rabbi to resign following the Polish parliament’s vote upholding the ban on kosher slaughter. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

The view of Poland as something of a Jewish paradise has been bolstered by initiatives such as Warsaw’s ambitious $100 million Museum of the History of Polish Jews and Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival, a weeklong affair that attracts tens of thousands of participants — projects carried out with significant government support.

Poland also is seen as a robust Israeli ally.

But the government has lagged on other issues of Jewish concern, like Holocaust restitution. It is the sole European country that does not offer private property restitution to survivors and their heirs.

Poland has also of late shown an indifference to instances of anti-Semitism that has worried Polish Jews.

Last month, a prosecutor in the northern city of Bialystok called swastikas “symbols of prosperity” in explaining the refusal to investigate the painting of Nazi symbols on municipal property. Earlier that month, a Polish official said the courts were “powerless” to stop a declaredly anti-Semitic political party from running in elections.

In April, a survey found that 44 percent of 1,250 Warsaw teenagers polled said they would rather not have Jewish neighbors. More than 60 percent said they did not want Jewish spouses.

A year ago, Jonathan Orenstein, director of the Krakow Jewish Community Center, told JTA that “there’s no better place to be Jewish” than Poland. Interviewed again this week, the New York-born Orenstein sounded less upbeat. “For the first time in my 11 years in Poland, I feel that things are going backwards,” he said.

Poland is home to some 25,000 Muslims, according to a 2010 U.S. government estimate, and a Jewish population of approximately 40,000, according to Michael Schudrich, the country’s American-born chief rabbi.

But Jews and Muslims are not the only ones affected by the ban, which has shut down the country’s robust export industry of kosher and halal meat. Estimates place the value of the ritual slaughter industry at more than $500 million.

“Yet the talk in media and online was about how the Jews should not be allowed to make money off the misery of animals,” said Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland. “This kind of talk created a very uncomfortable feeling.”

The ban has created a rift as well within the Jewish community. In the wake of the parliamentary vote last week, the director of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, called on Schudrich to resign. Representatives of two other European Jewish groups also told JTA that they were dissatisfied with Schudrich’s performance in connection with the July 12 vote.

Schudrich told JTA that Margolin’s words constituted “unwarranted hate,” adding that he had been in contact with the European Jewish Congress and the Conference of European Rabbis about the issue. Schudrich has said he would resign if the bill is not reversed.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, the Chabad movement’s emissary to Warsaw, told JTA he believes this will happen because “there is enormous interest and good will toward Jews in Poland.”

Back in Krakow, Anna and Piotr are less certain.

“We are certainly working to make this happen through education and the struggle against intolerance, but there are no guarantees,” Anna Makowka Kwapisiewicz said. “Not in Poland or anywhere else.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.