Poland: Catholic Church Defends Ritual Slaughter
The Body representing the Catholic Church in Poland has said the right of Jews and Muslims to carry out their religious practices must not be infringed.
The Presidium of the Polish Episcopal Conference issued a statement in relation to the ban saying that the practice of slaughter without the stunning of the animal, known in Hebrew as shekhita, is "an expression of religious faith and embodies religious freedom."
Ritual slaughter, including traditional Jewish kosher and Muslim halal practices, has been banned in Poland since January 1, after the country's Constitutional Court deemed it incompatible with animal-rights law. The Polish ban over-rides an exemption for religious groups to stun animals before slaughter.
In July, the Sjem, the Polish parliament, rejected a government-sponsored bill to legalize shechita.
The statement by spokesman of the Polish Episcopate, Father Józef Kloch, said:
"While analyzing the situation, emphasis was given to Poland's long tradition of religious freedom... the most important issue is the fact that for centuries in Polish history the right to religious freedom was never questioned. Part of the freedom of religion is to preserve the tradition and custom of ritual slaughter. This custom had never before been undermined."
He added, "By issuing the statement of the Presidium, the Polish Episcopate expresses its hope that ritual slaughter will be allowed to continue. This is important to followers of Judaism and Islam in the spirit of liberties pertaining to religion.”
The Jewish and Muslim communities each number around 20,000 to 30,000 people in Poland, a country of some 38 million people.
In response to the announcement, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Director General of the European Jewish Association said, “I am glad that the Catholic Church, which is important to the people of Poland, has supported the legalization of ritual slaughter. I hope that this opinion will have an important meaning to those public figures who refer to the teachings of the church.”
In a recent letter to the Polish parliament, Rabbi Margolin called the ban against shekhita, ‘’devastating to Jewish welfare and freedom of religion.’’
His letter continued: "kosher butchering that has been proven scientifically as not crueler than any other method, is essential for sustenance of Jewish life and its ban hurts Jews not only in Poland but across Europe and all over the world."
Last month, President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder met with Pope Francis, who also expressed his concern over the Polish ban as well as other limitations on religious freedom in Europe.
Shechita has also been outlawed in Switzerland and Norway. Meanwhile in Sweden, where ritual slaughter is permitted, a far-right political party is seeking a ban on circumcision, another practice integral to Jewish life.