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Europe’s New Jewish Question

In March 1936, Poland’s lower house of parliament almost succeeded in outlawing ritual slaughter according to Jewish law. A few days ago, the ghosts of the past returned, when deputies rejected a government bill intended to keep religious slaughter legal.

NEW YORK – In March 1936, Poland’s Sejm (the lower house of parliament) almost succeeded in outlawing shechita (slaughter according to Jewish law). Only the Polish Constitution prevented an outright ban. Had the majority of legislators gotten their way, many of Poland’s 3.2 million Jews would have gone meatless.

A few days ago, the ghosts of the past returned to the Sejm, when deputies rejected a government bill intended to keep religious slaughter legal. Even many of the bill’s supporters (including Prime Minister Donald Tusk) were concerned not with defending the rights of religious minorities, but rather with protecting meatpacking jobs.

The vote was an assault on freedom of religion that flies in the face of Article 53 of the Polish Constitution, which states that “Freedom of conscience and religion shall be ensured to everyone” and specifies that the “performing of rites” is protected. It was also a slap in the face for Poland’s Jewish community, which has been part of the country’s social landscape for more than a thousand years, and which, despite the Holocaust, has witnessed a remarkable renaissance over the past two decades. Indeed, Poland, with its rich Jewish heritage and history, was believed to be among the most fertile environments for a Jewish revival after the fall of communism.

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