A new Polish bill proposes to limit kosher slaughter, in a move that has been internationally interpreted by Jews as anti-Semitic.
But kosher slaughter is evil, you protest. Surely the world is better off free from the scourge of cruel, old-fashioned, unnecessary ruthless murder and torment that haunts Eastern Europe? Not so fast.
Poland has an antagonistic history with kosher slaughter. In 2013 it banned the practice, a decision that was overturned by the high court in 2014. Now the matter is being publicly re-litigated again.
As per the European Jewish Association, the bill would be set on creating “restrictions on exporting kosher meat from Poland, which would affect a very large part of the Jewish communities in Europe.”
This new law would prohibit the killing of animals when they are “in an unnatural state.” Those breaking this law would find themselves potentially facing four years in jail.
“The Jewish people’s trust in the Polish leadership is deteriorating,” said EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin. “I don’t want to imagine what the next stage will be after legislating the Holocaust Law and putting limits on kosher slaughter in the country.”
After engaging in some heavy Holocaust revisionism with its newest bill that criminalizes blaming Poland for the Holocaust, Poland’s quest to utterly alienate its minority populations continues.
Kosher is a complicated subject that comes replete with its own mythology and urban legends. Many of these are rife with anti-Semitism, a way of enforcing the anti-Semitic notion that Jews are separate, insular and inhuman. A common misconception about kosher slaughter is that the animal is not stunned before it is killed. People are left to picture cattle hanging upside down, shackled by their hooves, throat slit, left to bleed out. Picture poultry with broken wings, covered in dried blood, suffering through excruciating pains before the sweet relief of death, just to make it to someone’s Shabbat table. Now picture an anti-Semitic canard.
There is a rabbinic concept which is native to Judaism of “tza’ar ba’aeli chayim”, which bans causing animals unnecessary suffering. It is a specifically Jewish value which mandates the ethical treatment of defenseless creatures. According to tradition, Jews are only permitted to kill animals when they are needed for food. Under Jewish law, animals are afforded many of the same rights as people. They rest on Shabbat, just like Jews do. They cannot be muzzled in a field. They cannot be killed on the same day as their young.
The idea that Jews are unusually cruel to animals when it comes to slaughter is inherently anti-Semitic, furthering the notion that Jews are foreign, inhuman, other, and unable to comprehend the pain of those who aren’t Jews.
So what does kosher slaughter, the kind that Poland wants to ban, actually entail? “Shehitah must be done by means of a swift, smooth cut of a sharp knife whose blade is free of any dent or imperfection,” according to MyJewishLearning.com. The sharpness of the knife is to make the animal’s death as quick and painless as possible.
According to the Mishna, Jewish oral law, the slaughterer must sever the trachea and the esophagus, avoiding five techniques that would render the meat non-kosher. “They are (a) hesitation or delay while drawing the knife, (b) excessive pressure or chopping, (c) burrowing the knife between the trachea and the esophagus or under the skin, (d) making the incision outside the specified area, and (e) laceration or tearing of the trachea or esophagus, which would result from an imperfect blade.” This is all designed to limit the animal’s suffering.
The meat industry does terrible things to animals. And Jews are not exempt from this, but nor are they the only people guilty of this. To pin mistreatment of animals entirely on Jews reeks of anti-Semitism; kosher is a complex, constantly changing issue that has evolved and developed with the times. And many people are doing incredible things to end inhumane practices in kosher meat manufacturers: Here’s an ever-expanding list of humanely sourced kosher poultry and meat manufacturers. Here’s Chabad’s opinion. Here’s PETA admitting Jews are no more or less guilty for animal mistreatment than any other factory farm, kosher or not (not exactly encouraging, but still worthy of note).
Poland’s new law is a blow to its diminishing minority populations. Many Muslims rely on kosher meat to keep the laws of halal, while Jews rely on kosher meat to keep the laws of kosher. It’s hard to feel safe in a country that is doing everything in its power to curtail its residents’ religious freedoms.
To limit kosher slaughter, a practice that is entirely humane in its ideal practice, is to limit the freedom of Jews, Muslims, and anyone else concerned with growing spread of fascism in the world.
Shira Feder is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org