Two people with knowledge of contemporary Polish Jewry— from Philadelphia and Princeton, N.J. — say that while the recent ban on kosher slaughter in Poland should not be overlooked, the legislation is also not cause for panic about growing anti-Semitism in the country.
Since the Polish parliament decided earlier this month to uphold the ban — which prohibits the killing of animals without first stunning them and thus also affects Muslim religious slaughter — a number of European Jewish organizations have started pushing the Polish government to reverse the decision.
The government’s action at least slightly distracts attention from the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which partially opened last spring in Warsaw and will open its core exhibition early next year.
Michael Steinlauf, a professor at Gratz College who was involved in planning the museum, said he is confident that kosher slaughter will continue to be allowed for the Jewish community in Poland, but he doubts that the production of kosher meat for export to other countries will continue.
Steinlauf, who is also the author of Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust, said he thinks that the large majority of Polish legislators voted to uphold the ban out of concern for animal welfare without any anti-Semitic motivations.
“Is there politics going on here?” Steinlauf said. “Is there an undercurrent of, ‘Oh, lets get the Jews again?’ Probably on some level it’s there, but I don’t think you can call anti-Semitism a major player in this business.”
Steinlauf said the opening of the museum next year will stand as an “important milestone for improving Polish-Jewish relations.”
But he said the timing of the ban “is an example of Poles shooting themselves in the foot," in regards to positive publicity generated from the museum.
Eric Silberman, a recent graduate of Princeton University, will work at the museum in Warsaw next school year as a Fulbright Scholar and plans to write fiction and non-fiction about the contemporary Jewish experience in the country.
All of Silberman’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors from Poland. One of his grandmothers always talked about the nice life she and other Jews had in Poland before the war, and that sparked his interest. He has made two trips to the country.
Growing up at a Jewish day school in Chicago, he said he always heard that “Poles are all anti-Semitic.” But living there, he experienced minimal anti-Semitism and met a number of non-Jews “who were genuinely interested in Jewish culture.”
Silberman, who studied molecular biology and plans to apply for medical school when he returns from his year abroad, also sees the ban on kosher slaughter as part of a battle between animal welfare activists and the industry trying to export the meat rather than as an indication of anti-Semitism.
“There’s a tendency to blow these things out of proportion in the media because it’s a juicy story,” he said.
Some Jewish groups have likened the recent ban to ones that occurred throughout Europe during the 1930s under Nazi influence.
“I don’t think it’s the same because at that time Jews were also being banned from universities,” Silberman said.
The museum held a panel discussion July 22 on the ban featuring academics and Jewish and Muslim leaders. Silberman said such an event “means there’s a lot of dialogue happening.”
The ban, Silberman said, “shows that the story of Polish-Jewish relations — even after the Holocaust, even after communism — is not fully complete.”