(JTA) After a Polish court tossed out a government regulation permitting kosher slaughter in 2012, Poland’s $500 million ritual slaughter industry was expected to be brought to its knees.
Evidence shows, however, that not only was kosher slaughter still being performed in Poland as recently as this month, but also that kosher meat producers had help in skirting the law from a high-ranking official in the office of Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.
JTA has obtained two letters signed by Michael Alper, a top aide to Schudrich, informing Polish officials that several hundred cattle would be slaughtered after being stunned with electric current – a requirement of Polish law that is inconsistent with kosher slaughter, which mandates that animals be killed without prior stunning.
Meat from the slaughterhouse where Alper said stunning would be used was subsequently certified as kosher by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and several European certifiers before being exported abroad. The European certifiers declined JTA’s request for comment, but several knowledgeable insiders confirmed that the animals were not in fact stunned and that the meat was indeed kosher.
“If there were a kosher concern regarding one of our labels, we would have acted,” Maor Ziv, a spokesman for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, told JTA.
Under a 2002 amendment to the 1997 law on animal welfare, Poland required that all animals be stunned prior to slaughter. The law appeared to conflict with another measure passed that year guaranteeing religious minorities the right to perform ritual slaughter.
In 2004, the government issued a regulation that aimed to resolve the apparent conflict by exempting Jews and Muslims from the animal welfare law. But in 2012, a constitutional court scrapped the 2004 exemption, effectively banning what had been a $500 million ritual slaughter industry.
Several businesses registered heavy losses and laid off employees as they scrambled to convert their operations or reconfigure themselves as middlemen, purchasing kosher meat produced outside Poland and reselling it for export. But the Alper letters show that some businesses continued to produce kosher meat in Poland and had assistance from inside Schudrich’s office in concealing the operation from authorities.
Schudrich has denied prior knowledge of Alper’s activities and suspended his aide. Alper declined to comment.
In July, Alper sent a letter to a district veterinary inspector requesting permission to slaughter 250 heads of cattle after stunning them with electric current, a formality meant to inform authorities of slaughter activities. A second letter in November requested permission to slaughter an additional 310 cows. The letter is signed “rabbinate coordinator for kosher products in Poland.”