The chief rabbi of Poland has threatened to quit amid a row over religious freedom triggered by a parliamentary vote to ban the ritual slaughter of animals.
Michael Schudrich said he could not imagine “continuing as chief rabbi in a country where Jews are not complete”.
He said: “I’m broken. It is the worst decision in the history of the parliament against Jews and Muslims. It is very painful.”
Poland follows in the footsteps of Holland and becomes only the second EU state to ban the ritual slaughter process when an animal has its throat slit and bleeds to death without it being stunned first.
In a free vote, the Polish parliament on Friday, rejected by an overwhelming majority, a government-sponsored bill that would have permitted the killing of animals according to religious ritual. The rejection tied in with a ruling by Poland’s supreme court in December which found the killing of animals for kosher and halal meat in contravention of animal welfare laws.
Rabbi Schudrich added that Jews would now either have to buy expensive imported kosher meat or have to adopt “enforced vegetarianism”.
The ban on ritual slaughter in Poland is set against a sensitive historical backdrop. The country’s Jewish community – once Europe’s biggest – was all but wiped out by the Nazis, and incidents of anti-Semitism have blighted Polish post-war history fuelling the widespread belief that the country still harbours anti-Jewish feelings.
The Israeli government was quick to claim the ban threatened a Jewish renaissance in Poland that has breathed new life into a community of about 8,000 people.
“Poland’s history is intertwined with the history of the Jewish people,” the Israeli foreign office said. “This decision seriously harms the process of restoring Jewish life in Poland.”
“We call on the parliament to reassess its decision and expect the relevant authorities to find the way to prevent a crude blow to the religious tradition of the Jewish people,” it continued, adding that the vote was “completely unacceptable”.
Raising the suspicion that anti-Semitism may have influenced the outcome, David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish committee, said the vote was partly affected by the “anti-Jewish sentiment of some MPs”.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, described the ban as a “slap in the face of Jews and Muslims alike” and asked “what sort of message those who voted in favour of the ban wanted to send to their non-Christian citizens?”
Polish farmers and the meat industry also opposed the ban. Poland is one of Europe’s leading exporters of kosher and halal meat, with a trade worth several million pounds tapping into demand from Turkey, Egypt and Iran. The industry has warned that 6,000 jobs could go as a result of the vote.
The government appears reluctant to make another attempt to change the law.
“After the vote, my mind was sad but my heart rejoiced,” said Donald Tusk, the prime minister, adding that he acknowledged concerns about the inhumane treatment of animals.