Warsaw — (JTA) — A few weeks before Poland’s parliament voted last month on whether to overturn a ban on ritual slaughter, Rabbi Menachem Margolin was scheduled to meet the Polish president in an effort to find a solution to the problem.
The ban had been imposed in January, when a Polish constitutional court outlawed Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter in response to a petition filed by animal welfare activists.
But shortly before Margolin’s meeting was to take place, President Bronislaw Komorowski’s office unexpectedly canceled.
Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association and the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, both based in Brussels, saw a reason for the cancellation: Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, whom Margolin accused of “torpedoing” the meeting.
Schudrich denied the charge, and one of his associates told JTA that the meeting was canceled after the president’s office learned Schudrich would not be attending the meeting with Margolin.
When parliament followed through with its 222-178 vote to uphold the ban on Jewish ritual slaughter, known as shechitah, Margolin again blamed Schudrich, calling him incompetent and demanding that he resign. Schudrich in turn accused Margolin of meddling and jeopardizing Polish Jewry’s coordinated campaign to overturn the ban.
To outsiders, the back-and-forth accusations might seem bizarre. Why would two rabbis who ostensibly share the same goal of reinstating the legality of shechitah in Poland go at each other’s throats? The spat goes to the heart of an issue that has bedeviled communities across Eastern Europe for more than two decades, ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain: control.
Schudrich, a U.S.-born rabbi who has lived in Poland almost uninterrupted since 1992, long has ruled the roost in Poland. He was named chief rabbi in 2004 and has close ties with Polish leaders.
Perhaps because Schudrich has been around almost since the fall of communism, Poland is one of the ex-communist countries where Jewish affairs are not dominated by Chabad, the hasidic Orthodox outreach movement.
Chabad operates only two centers in the country, compared to six serving the similarly sized Jewish community in Belarus and more than 30 each in Russia and Ukraine, where Chabad rabbis have laid claim to the title of chief rabbi – to the occasional consternation of non-Chabad colleagues. Chabad is eager to expand in Poland, says Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, the movement’s emissary in Warsaw.