What’s up with Poland?

As JTA’s Cnaan Liphshiz reported last week, the Polish legislature’s decision not to overturn a ban on kosher slaughter has stirred up a stew of anti-Semitic commentary and led to a sense of unease among some Polish Jews.

But was the vote the product of a young democracy’s clumsy efforts to balance competing interests? Or of a wellspring of Polish anti-Semitism simmering just beneath the country’s philo-Semitic surface?

Two JTA op-eds this week stake out opposite sides of this issue. Arguing for the prosecution is Lawrence Grossman of the American Jewish Committee, who describes the views of Polish Jews thus:

From their perspective, the Sejm’s action stigmatizing kosher slaughter as inhumane blatantly contradicts Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski’s pledge to make Jews “safe, welcome and respected.” They point out that kosher slaughter — whereby the animal is rendered immediately unconscious by severing the carotid artery — is humane, and that the continued legality of hunting in Poland, which results in far greater and more indiscriminate pain to animals, suggests there may in fact be another, unstated reason for outlawing kosher slaughter: anti-Semitism.


In the wake of the Sejm vote, pejorative comments about Jews in some of the Polish media and online give some credence to these fears.

Taking the opposing position is Tad Taube, a San Francisco philanthropist and Poland’s honorary consul in the Bay Area.

This month’s legislative decision prohibiting ritual slaughter for large-scale commercial and export use has raised questions about Jewish and Muslim rights to maintain access to kosher meat. As the chief rabbi of Poland has assured us, and as the Polish press is reporting, the parliamentarians’ vote was not driven by anti-Semitism. The vote was made both to support animal rights and to eliminate large-scale commercial and export sales, not to infringe upon the right of Poland’s Jewish citizens to have kosher meat or of its Muslim citizens to have halal meat.

Ben Harris is JTA’s news editor. In his seven years with JTA, he has reported from more than 15 countries. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, New York magazine, among other publications.