The Polish government last week rejected a bill that would have overturned a court decision banning shechitah, or kosher slaughter. But this isn’t the first time ritual slaughtering practices have come under fire in Poland.
In 1936, the Polish parliament passed a bill requiring all animals to be electrically stunned to death, effectively outlawing shechitah, which requires animals be killed with a knife. The law was based on the belief that stunning is a more humane way of killing. The bill made violations punishable by up to 3 months in prison and a fine of 3,000 zlotys. The Jewish community protested the bill on the basis of religious freedom, and it was eventually shelved because of the dissolution of the Polish Parliament in 1938.
Other countries have made similar moves over the years. In 1955, in Britain, various groups attempted and failed to ban ritual slaughter for it’s perceived inhumanity. In 2003, animal rights groups tried again, but that effort failed as well.
Since 1893, Switzerland has had a ban on ritual slaughter. The Swiss government allowed the import of ritually slaughtered meet to accommodate their Jewish population in 1978. In 2002, the government tried to get rid of the ban entirely. An outcry ensued that sought not only to keep the ban in place, but to eliminate the exception for imports. Ultimately, nothing changed.
The controversy here is often portrayed as a clash between religious freedom and animal rights, but others contend that anti-Semitism is the real motivation. The Nazi regime banned ritual slaughter in 1933, and enforced the ban throughout its dominion during World War Two.
In 2010, when New Zealand banned ritual slaughter, the motivation may have been in part economic. Allegations were made that the government feared Muslim countries would withdraw their investment from the country if they ban went forward, which the government denied. To appease the Jewish community, a ban on slaughtering poultry was lifted, though most kosher meat is still was imported from Australia.
In contrast to many European countries, the United States has largely been a haven of religious freedom in this regard. Recent laws now even guarantee that prisoners are provided with kosher meat in prison.