Poland is the latest country to ban kosher slaughter on the spurious grounds of humane treatment of animals. Last Friday, the Polish parliament rejected legislation from the Polish government that would have permitted kosher slaughter. New regulations from the European Community requiring animals to be stunned electronically before slaughter made it necessary for national governments to create an exception for religious practice. To its disgrace, Polish legislators refused to do so. This elicited condemnation by Jewish organizations and protests from the Israeli government.
No English-language media–and none of Jewish blogs–reported that the Polish Catholic Church defended the right of Jews to practice kosher slaughter — as did the Dutch Catholic Church when the same issue came up last year in the Netherlands. A friend in Poland sent me the statement of Bishop Mieczyslaw Cislo, President of the Polish Episcopate’ Committee for Dialogue with Judaism, defending the Jewish position: “Ritual slaughter in accordance with centuries-old religious Jewish tradition does not have to be in conflict with the principle of humane treatment of animals. [...] In case of conflict between modern sensibility to the rights of animals to be treated with dignity and the right to freedom of religion, you have to opt for the priority right to religious freedom because of its fundamental character.”
The Catholic Church as well as the Polish government are defending Jewish religious freedom. The persecutors of Jewish religious practice are the Polish left-wing parties. Commentary’s blog got that part of the story right:
The two main Polish political parties that opposed the government bill are not, as might reasonably be expected, populated by snarling right-wing skinheads. One of them, the Democratic Left Party, or SLD, was co-founded by Alexander Kwasniewski, who served as Poland’s president from 1995-2005. Throughout his time in office, Kwasniewski was feted by Jewish groups, particularly in the United States, for his strong stand against anti-Semitism; after leaving office, he was one of the backers of the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation, an organization that is unlikely to share the SLD’s revulsion for shechita.
The other party, the Palikot Movement (named for its founder, Janusz Palikot), is variously described as liberal, even libertarian. The party’s support for gay civil unions and the legalization of soft drugs are noteworthy in a country that remains socially conservative and devoutly Catholic. Yet one of Palikot’s leaders, Andrzej Rozenek, sounded like a traditional anti-Semite when he declared that “there is no permission for animal cruelty in the name of money”–the implication being that what really worries Jewish defenders of shechita is the loss of a $400 million dollar regional market for kosher goods produced in Poland.
Once again, it is the secular left that wants to forbid a fundamental aspect of Jewish religious observance. That was the case when the Dutch parliament tried to ban kosher slaughter in 2011, and again when a German court tried to ban circumcision in 2012. In both cases, the Catholic bishops of Holland and Germany respectively supported Jewish religious freedom. How long will it take American Jews to understand that the secular left are our worst enemies, and the Catholic Church is our best friend? In several posts on this site last year, I deplored the failure of the major American Jewish organizations (with the notable exception of Agudath Israel, the Haredi umbrella group) to oppose the Obama administration’s persecution of the Catholic Church, by forcing Church institutions to offer abortifacient drugs as well as birth control, contrary to Catholic religious doctrine. The Catholic Church is now the canary in the coal mine. If the religious freedom of the largest Christian denomination in the US is impaired, we Jews will be next.
Jews have long memories. Yesterday, observant Jews fasted on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, and chanted liturgical poems mourning the mass murder of Rhineland Jews by marauding Crusaders in 1096. We do not need to forget past injuries by Christians in order to understand that we are now in the same foxhole with our Christian friends on the fundamental issue of religious freedom. It is not only shameful but self-damaging for Jews to turn their backs on the Church as it battles the worst assault on religious freedom in American history. Before World War II, the European right-wing parties tended to be anti-Semitic (and right-wing American isolationism was generally anti-Semitic as well). Things have changed. Militant secularism is now the greatest danger to freedom of religious observance.
Two postscripts for non-Jewish readers are in order.
First: Observance of dietary laws is so fundamental to Jewish practice that the greatest Modern Orthodox sage of the 20th century, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, emphasized that it is more important than prayer: Dietary laws were given to us at Mount Sinai, while the thrice-daily prayer services were instituted by the rabbis of antiquity after the fall of the Temple. Judaism brings eternity into everyday life, and the holiness of the body (through the dietary laws and the laws of family purity) are both a sine qua non of Jewish observance. To ban kosher slaughter is to ban the practice of Judaism.
Second: As I wrote in June 2011 (in Asia Times and the Dutch daily De Volksrant), the allegation that kosher slaughter is cruel to animals is a vicious lie.
Evidence is overwhelming that kosher slaughter is just as humane as any modern method of killing animals, and more humane as a matter of practice. The standard method in today’s slaughterhouses – shooting a bolt into the animal’s forehead – has a high failure rate, and animals frequently are shot several times before losing consciousness.
Temple Grandin, America’s foremost expert on humane treatment of cattle, published the definitive study on the subject in the May 2006 issue of the journal Anthropology of Food. Professor Grandin was the subject of an eponymous 2010 feature film.
Observing the slaughter of animals by a trained Jewish specialist, she reported: “I was relieved and surprised to discover that the animals don’t even feel the super-sharp place as it touches their skin. They made no attempt to pull away. I felt peaceful and calm.” More skill is required for humane slaughter without stunning, Grandin observes, but Jewish religious law requires special implements and a very high level of skill. Muslim halalslaughter, according to Grandin, has no such safeguards.
The Polish leftists who rejected the Polish government’s well-intended efforts to project Jewish religious freedom did so not because they care about animals (Poland allows hunting, and no-one has proposed to ban that), but because they hate religion in general and Jews in particular.