Poland’s constitutional court has overturned a 2013 decision by the country’s parliament, the Sejm, to ban kosher slaughtering in the country, with European and world Jewish organisations immediately welcoming the constitutional tribunal’s ruling.
The Polish constitutional tribunal ruled that eliminating the exemption amounted to religious discrimination, as Judaism and Islam require the animal to be conscious at the time of slaughter, the European Jewish Press reports.
“The constitution guarantees the freedom of religion which includes the carrying out of all activities, practices, rites and rituals which have a religious character,” Judge Maria Gintowt-Jankowicz said in the constitutional tribunal’s verdict.
“The same constitutional protection also extends to religious activities which differ from conventional behavior which prevails in the country – including activities that are perhaps unpopular among the majority of society.” Five of the 14 judges issued dissenting opinions.
Slaughter of animals without prior stunning was made illegal from January 1 2013. Before the ban, Poland had been a major exporter of kosher and halal meat and poultry to the Middle East. The reversal of the ban does not allow for exportation to begin again and only applies to Jewish communities.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Director General of the European Jewish Association, whose organisation petitioned against the parliament’s decision, praised the Polish court’s ruling. ‘’This is a very important day, not only to the Jewish community in Poland but for all European Jews,’’ he said.
‘’We were able to prevent a dangerous precedent that would have affected all European Jewry” Margolin said, adding : ‘’In the last few years, the European Jewish community has been under attack by a series of anti-Jewish laws that if passed would hurt the ability of many Jews who wish to lead a Jewish life.”
It is expected that the country’s parliament will now act on legislation explicitly legalizing kosher and halal slaughter.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder welcomed the ruling: “Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has come down unequivocally in favor of religious freedom. It has spoken loud and clear: Banning religious slaughter is unconstitutional; it infringes the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which has been signed by 47 European countries.
“This marks a major victory for the Polish Jewish community which had been adversely affected by the ban and the failure of the Sejm to adopt a law in 2013 which would have kept kosher and halal slaughter legal in the country.
“I thank the leaders of the Union of Polish Jewish Communities, in particular immediate past President Piotr Kadlcik and Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, for all their hard work in securing the lifting of the ban. Clearly, their efforts paid off,” Lauder said.
“The decision also sends a clear signal: Jews, Jewish life and Jewish traditions are welcome in Poland.”
The president of the Union of Polish Jewish Communities, Lesław Piszewski, and Poland’s Chief Rabbi MichaelSchudrich also welcomed the court decision.
“We are grateful to the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal for their decision, which is fundamental for us. The ruling of the court will allow us to fully implement the obligations of the various Jewish communities in Poland. The rights of the Jewish community in our country are not any more in the realm of risk,” they said.
Lauder expressed hope that the ruling will prevent other European countries from pressing ahead with plans to ban religious slaughter. “The World Jewish Congress will continue to oppose attempts, in whatever guise, to restrict religious freedom in Europe.
“Jewish rites such as shechita have been performed in Europe for many centuries. It is a lie that kosher slaughter, if performed by a trained person, is more cruel to an animal than methods involving pre-stunning.
“The on-going campaign in many European countries which pretends that Jews are deliberately inflicting harm on animals is slanderous, and it must be stopped,” Lauder said.
In April 2014, the Sejm, said that shechita, the kosher slaughter of animals, is permitted in Poland if performed for the needs of Jewish communities while still forbidding the slaughter for economic and commercial purposes.
The statement appeared in a position paper by the Sejm sent to the country’s constitutional tribunal.
In November 2012, the tribunal had ruled that the government was acting unconstitutionally by allowing Jews and Muslims to slaughter animals without stunning, as their faiths require, imposing a de facto ban on shechita.
(Photo: Marecheth Ho’eElohuth)