July 25, 2024
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Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich on Appeal: Asking Poles for Religious Rights

Warsaw—Embroiled in strategizing appeals to the constitutional courts in Poland regarding the banning of schechita, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the American-born Chief Rabbi of Poland, told JLBC that, contrary to press reports and the demands of The European Jewish Association headed by Chabad Rabbi Menachem Margolin, he has no intention of resigning his post.

According to reliable sources inside the Polish Jewish community, the EJA is a marginal group of Chabad rabbis who have decided to step in without consulting with the leadership of the Polish Jewish community. When the Polish parliament failed to pass a new law allowing schechita in Poland, the group of Chabadniks demanded Rabbi Schudrich’s resignation.

“Rabbi Margolin said I didn’t want to speak to them…but he never contacted me in the first place!” Rabbi Schudrich told JLBC.

Michael Berenbaum, Holocaust historian and regular JLBC contributor, who is well-versed in Polish-Jewish issues, said that this was an attempt by Chabad to take over the chief rabbinate of Poland. “They have been trying to take over these posts in all the European countries, and Schudrich is aware of that.”

According to Schudrich, “We have been working together with all the major American and European Jewish organizations on the schechita issue, from the European Jewish Congress to the OU, to the American Jewish Committee to the Wiesenthal Center in LA, and all the mainstream organizations. These guys are off doing their own thing, and it’s not helpful.”

The current strategy is to appeal the legislation in the constitutional courts, where the judges will have to decide if religious rights supersede the legislation passed in 2002. The law that passed then demanded that animals be stunned before slaughter, with the Polish minister of agriculture making exceptions in cases of religious ritual slaughter for hallal and kosher communities.

The kosher and hallal slaughter houses in Poland were a major agribusiness, doing approximately 250 million Euros annually. Poland was one of the main providers of kosher meat to Europe and Israel, but 90 percent of the business affected is hallal. Only 10 percent of the meat was slaughtered for kosher communities.As a result of the legislation, however, Poland has taken an economic hit when it banned schechita.

Berenbaum also said that in the United States, as well as in Poland, it is interesting to note that the political battles for schechita and circumcision are a unique opportunity for Muslims and Jews to work together for the benefit of both populations. He also surmised that the banning wasn’t directed at the Jewish population, as non-commerical schechita for Poland’s Jews is still continuing until the courts resolve the issue. “This was probably a move that was more directed at the Muslims than the Jews,” he said.

The challenge to the religious ritual exceptions was pushed by animal rights activists nine months ago. Three weeks ago, the court, in this case, decided that the minister of agriculture was out of his jurisdiction and had crossed the line of separation of powers in Poland.

Said Schudrich, “It then became the job of the Polish parliament to pass a law to allow schechita, and that law failed to pass. Now we are going to appeal to the constitutional courts.”

According to The Times of Israel, Roman Giertych, the lawyer hired by Margolin, is the former chair of the League of Polish Families, a far-right party that received eight percent of the vote in the early naughts, but later collapsed. Giertych himself says he is not an antisemite, but he was strongly affiliated with the party, which did not hide its anti-Jewish views, and when he was Minister of Education in Poland, the then-Israeli ambassador to Poland, David Peleg, refused to shake his hand or work with him on Holocaust issues.

Philip Carmel, a spokesman for the European Jewish Congress, called the Giertych appointment “ill-advised” and “misconceived.”

“It looks extremely weird that of all the lawyers in Poland, they picked one who was a leader on the far-right,” he says. “I wouldn’t say he is personally antisemitic, but the League of Polish Families is not the kind of political group known for its closeness to the Jewish community.”

Margolin said he chose Giertych because he is “an excellent lawyer and has good contacts in the corridors of power where this decision will be made.”He told The Times of Israel, “Some of our best friends in the European Parliament are former antisemites who want to fix the past and help us. I don’t see what the sin is in trying to reach a solution. If he has the right connections, not to take him on would be ridiculous. The exact same organizations [which are critical of EJA] would speak to any antisemite in order to reach a solution.”

Said Schudrich, “With the exception of Margolin, everyone is coordinated with us, because it is essential that in times of crisis we have Jewish unity. And we do.”

Schudrich is hopeful that the constitutional tribunal will vote in favor of religious rights over animal rights.

By Jeanette Friedman Exclusive to JLBC

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