Agriprocessors Allegations Spur Debate on What’s Kosher

26

rubashkin1.gifThe following are excerpts of an article by omaha.com:

Is it OK to eat meat from a processing plant that mistreats workers, even if the meat has your religion’s official stamp of approval for physical and spiritual cleanliness?

Should a religious organization even give its stamp of approval to food from a plant facing allegations of violating labor laws, including employing teenagers younger than 16 to handle dangerous slaughterhouse equipment?

Those are questions that have been discussed by many American Jews in the wake of a federal immigration raid on the Agriprocessors Inc. kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

The debate has reached synagogues, supermarket shelves and kitchens in Omaha, where hundreds of Jews observe kosher, a set of Jewish dietary laws.

Last week, the ante went up after Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed thousands of criminal child labor charges against Agriprocessors’ owner and managers. Then the Orthodox Union threatened to withdraw its certification, and its familiar circled-U seal, from Agriprocessors’ products — a move that would be devastating to the Iowa plant and could make it harder for consumers to find kosher meat. Agriprocessors had been the nation’s largest kosher meatpacker.

“We feel at this point they’ve lost a lot of credibility,” Orthodox Union President Steve Savitsky said Friday in Omaha, where he was visiting a growing Orthodox synagogue, Beth Israel. “We want them to bring in new management, even bring in new equity partners.”

The Agriprocessors controversy might seem like an internal Jewish debate. But it strikes universal chords that are growing louder, said William O. Stephens, a Creighton University professor of philosophy and classical and Near Eastern studies. He also teaches ethics.

It’s like not buying clothes manufactured in a sweat shop, Stephens said, or trying to buy food from farms that pollute less than others.

“That’s how people try to make their dollars speak in terms of ethical judgments,” he said.

Under the moral concept of taint, products created unethically are tainted, regardless of how pure they are physically, Stephens said.

“Spiritually, you want it to be pure meat — it’s safe, it’s wholesome, it’s been killed humanely, and then you can feel good about ingesting it,” he said.

Savitsky traveled to Omaha from Orthodox Union headquarters in New York to visit Beth Israel Synagogue. Beth Israel is a growing congregation in the Orthodox movement, the most traditional branch of Judaism.

The Agriprocessors controversy wasn’t on Savitsky’s official Omaha agenda. But it was an unavoidable topic. Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathon Gross welcomed news of the ultimatum from the Orthodox Union. He said it was consistent with Jewish religious law and with the Orthodox Union position on Agriprocessors all along.

“I am incredibly proud as a rabbi to be a member of the Orthodox Union because I think they handled this perfectly,” Gross said. “They did not act in a frenzy. They said they would take their leads from the authorities. They waited for the authorities, and then they took decisive action.”

Gross said he has had no qualms, so far, buying meat from the plant. But now, Gross said, issues of trust have arisen. If the plant managers can’t be trusted to obey state and federal laws, can they be trusted to process the meat correctly? Beyond that, he said, potential mistreatment of workers is an ethical problem in itself.

“Jewish law is not only relegated to the kitchen,” Gross said. “It also regulates how we conduct ourselves in business. . . . If a company violates these laws and mistreats people, that’s equally if not more egregious” than violating kosher processing laws.

While creating a dilemma for many individual Jews, the issue has also been a controversy between branches of Judaism.

Some leaders reacted quickly after allegations of labor abuse in the wake of a May 12 immigration raid that netted nearly 400 illegal immigrants at Agriprocessors.

The Orthodox Union’s Savitsky said Friday that the Postville plant’s meat still qualifies as kosher. But he said the mounting legal troubles have led to concerns about current managers of the family-owned plant’s ability to perform up to standards.

The charges still haven’t been proved, he said. But he said it would be in the Agriprocessors owners’ interests, as well as the Jewish community’s interest, for them to put someone else in charge and let the plant get back to providing kosher meat for the country.

(LINK to article)


26 COMMENTS

  1. Torah im Derech Eretz Says:
    Deena d’Malchusa Deena. If one disobeys one set of laws,he is not trusted to obey other laws. If one does wrong acts in order to do good with it,it is all bad. Kind deeds with stolen money is still thievery,when it happens.Using other people’s identity is fraud and hurts the one whose ID was used.
    09-15-2008 – 4:08 PM

  2. Should we, as little more than long-term guests on the margins of American society be telling the goyim how to run their affairs. And if we did, does this mean we would have to boycott companies that encourage abortions, or have “gay-friendly” policies (of course, the Conservatives would demand only giving hecksherim to companies that are pro-abortion and gay-friendly). Agriprocessors’ management skills suggest problems that might affect kashruth, but otherwise, it is for the government to enforce its own laws, and not for us to tell them what to do.

  3. “I am incredibly proud as a rabbi to be a member of the Orthodox Union because I think they handled this perfectly,” Gross said. “They did not act in a frenzy. They said they would take their leads from the authorities. They waited for the authorities, and then they took decisive action.”

    Was Gross as incredibly proud as a rabbi when the same Orthodox Union enabled Boruch Lanner to molest dozens if not hundreds of boys and girls for many years, when the OU was in clear knowledge of what was going on? I belive that THAT was a much bigger problem, in terms of affecting individuals and the Jewish community in general.

  4. I really think that we have to be exceedingly careful in writing and talking about this issue. There are many forces out there (such as PETA, and several others) that have a definite political or financial stake in seeing Rubashkin suffer. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? Especially in Ellul, I think we should resist the urge to talk Lashon HaRah, and thinking “I know the real scoop because I heard from so and so who knows first hand from so and so”. Don’t be choshaid b’k’shayreem. Especially the k’shayreem that most of US have been somaych on for OUR kashrus for many years. Lashon Harah is very easily said, but usually impossible to un-say if/when you are proven wrong.

  5. #1 While practically what you are saying makes sense, technically you are incorrect and someone who has violated one set of laws is only suspect in that area and not on other unrelated Halachos.

  6. How dare the ou that oversaw Shalit poultry that provided trefus as kosher without the drastic
    changes it is asking from rubashkin.

    Essentially Rabbi Savitsky is saying rubashkin must sell to someone else or else not get ou hechsher. What does ownership of this plant have anything to do with kashrus? Is it kosher or is it not kosher?

    I think that the ou is playing a game to be on the good side with the union as they can also be put out of business and the are playing nice to be good with the hechsher tzedek people and in the meantime they will be throwing (first Rubashkin and then) all of us and kosher companies under the bus.

  7. i think it’s time to CHICKEN OUT with comments against the kosher chickens!!!!!

    let’s not be like coservative priest morris allen who thinks he is jewish!!!!!

  8. #7 I believe t hey didn’t demand that they own the plant, they demanded professional management. The current owners ran it like a neighborhood butcher, leading to improper supervision of employees. If their non-Jewish supervisors could pass off pre-teens as adults, in how many ways might they have been pulling the wool over the Rubashkins. If the employees are acting in violation of the Rubashkins instructions, can the kashruth organization be secure in seeing that all procedures are being followed.

  9. yochi [#7] is on the right track! Please stop washing our dirty laundry in public. This is very destructive; more than one can ever imagine! This gives “bloody” food to the sharks who would rip true torah and halacha and bring it to the level to which they are comfortable. No sincere ben torah would ever justify illegal practices and IF they are guilty they should properly be punished! Why can’t we just wait and see? Why must we judge them in public? We have been golus a long time- let us not pull ourselves down to a level where we souldn’t be! It’s ELUL…

  10. The reactions of many of us to the state government’s actions, to me, are sickening.

    1. These allegations are only allegations.

    2. These allegations are not brought by people who even describe themselves as holy or lesheim Shomayim in any sense. They are certainly no better than the people they accuse. A good part of them and their motivation is most probably anti-Jewish. We bow down to them?

    3.The true rabbonim and manhigim of klal Yisroel, those who are considered to be such, don’t seem to be telling us not to use the product, as long as there is a reliable hechsher in place, as far as I can tell. The main complainers are the union, PETA, and “hechsher tzedek” do-gooders, who are not concerned about infinitely more important things involving “kosher” and/or “tzedek”.

    As I said, I am sickened.

  11. # 11 Jphone
    What were they watching as thousands of alledged child labor laws were broken?

    Keep in mind that the number is very decieving. They are talking about workers who were underage, meaning 16 years old who can easly have claimed to be 18. The “thousands” of violations is because they gave them a violation for every day the kids worked there.

  12. B”H

    Unions United. Brothers Divided
    By Getzy Markowitz

    In an imperfect world a famed man can be defamed. A practitioner of benevolence can be terrorized by malevolence. A man of refreshing candor becomes the victim of violent slander. Yet while I knew of the libel against him, I also knew that in good times and not such good times, we Jews inquire of our fellows’ welfare. In the most precarious of conditions, we will still be curious of our brethren’s well being. Resting my palm upon his arm, and with near sarcastic thoughts, I asked how he was. With his humility, integrity, and sincerity, he responded, “the grace of G-d.” A wholehearted answer from a man who walks wholeheartedly with G-d, and who with relentless goodness makes the world a home for G-dliness.

    Faced with horrific aspersion, he maintains propriety with devout assertion. With venomous assaults on his person, he continues to be a kind and different kind of person.

    But no good deed goes unpunished, and no act of charity goes unresented.

    For a politician with presidential ambitions to attack people he knows nothing about is just sad politics. For gentiles to campaign against the gentle Jew, well that’s just history. However, for Jews to conform to the same despicable standard is an abomination against the G-d who holds us to higher standards. It sickens me to the core to observe my brethren defying their own core beliefs. How people commanded to be a light unto the world choose to darken it out of their baseless resentment and reprehensible bitterness.

    That a liberal union conspired in a libelous plot is hardly shocking. However, when an Orthodox Union joins the faction promulgating heinous erroneous facts, this orthodox Rabbi cannot hold his silence and nor should any other.

    The great Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveitchik, himself a victim of trumped-up accusations, would quote his uncle Rabbi Meir Berlin. Rabbi Berlin relayed an answer that Rabbi Chaim of Brisk supplied when asked what the function of a Rabbi was: “To redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor.”

    What then are Rabbis and leaders to do for people who redress those grievances, who righteously shelter the poor, and who subdue the oppression of others?

    Mr. Aaron Rubashkin, like his biblical namesake, loves and pursues peace. For the sake of justice and the sanctification of G-d’s name, let us do the same.

  13. B”H

    Unions United. Brothers Divided

    In an imperfect world a famed man can be defamed. A practitioner of benevolence can be terrorized by malevolence. A man of refreshing candor becomes the victim of violent slander. Yet while I knew of the libel against him, I also knew that in good times and not such good times, we Jews inquire of our fellows’ welfare. In the most precarious of conditions, we will still be curious of our brethren’s well being. Resting my palm upon his arm, and with near sarcastic thoughts, I asked how he was. With his humility, integrity, and sincerity, he responded, “the grace of G-d.” A wholehearted answer from a man who walks wholeheartedly with G-d, and who with relentless goodness makes the world a home for G-dliness.

    Faced with horrific aspersion, he maintains propriety with devout assertion. With venomous assaults on his person, he continues to be a kind and different kind of person.

    But no good deed goes unpunished, and no act of charity goes unresented.

    For a politician with presidential ambitions to attack people he knows nothing about is just sad politics. For gentiles to campaign against the gentle Jew, well that’s just history. However, for Jews to conform to the same despicable standard is an abomination against the G-d who holds us to higher standards. It sickens me to the core to observe my brethren defying their own core beliefs. How people commanded to be a light unto the world choose to darken it out of their baseless resentment and reprehensible bitterness.

    That a liberal union conspired in a libelous plot is hardly shocking. However, when an Orthodox Union joins the faction promulgating heinous erroneous facts, this orthodox Rabbi cannot hold his silence and nor should any other.

    The great Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveitchik, himself a victim of trumped-up accusations, would quote his uncle Rabbi Meir Berlin. Rabbi Berlin relayed an answer that Rabbi Chaim of Brisk supplied when asked what the function of a Rabbi was: “To redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor.”

    What then are Rabbis and leaders to do for people who redress those grievances, who righteously shelter the poor, and who subdue the oppression of others?

    Mr. Aaron Rubashkin, like his biblical namesake, loves and pursues peace. For the sake of justice and the sanctification of G-d’s name, let us do the same.

  14. “KAJ WH TIDE”, please stop throwing around terms you don’t understand. Do you really think that the entire Iowa state code is incorporated by reference into the Shulchan Aruch? Even supposing the Rubashkins broke the laws of Iowa, that wouldn’t change the excellent reputation they have for erlichkeit, frumkeit, and yes, yosher. Even if they did break some man-made law (which I don’t see any reason to believe they did), they would still be trusted to keep the eternal laws of the Torah.

  15. I have yet to find any mention in Shulchan Aruch about Child Labor or Job-Related Occupational Safety. If anybody can find me a source, I’d be grateful. Why is everybody whining & complaining that the OU was negligent in not ensuring compliance with governmental regulations, when their purpose – their only purpose – is to ensure compliance with the Shulchan Aruch?

  16. It means exactly what it says. Go look at all four examples in the gemara, and see what they have in common. DMD is a chidush, and ein lecho bo yoser michidusho, especially since nobody knows Shmuel’s real reason for saying it.

    (I won’t go into the questions about whether it even applies to a country that has no right to expel you, whether it applies to new laws, etc. Let’s assume that it does apply to the USA, it still doesn’t create a positive obligation to do anything.)

  17. Hechsher “Tzedeck is pure politicking by the Conservative movement.

    There is no constancy in their argument. When it comes to the ingredients of any given food product, they are more than willing to trust the company or the restaurant chef. They find the need for mashgichim superfluous and unnecessary. But, for issues that can score them political points they go above and beyond the accepted American norm. They won’t trust government agencies responsible for these issues and require additional oversight by their rabbinate.

    This makes no sense. Kashruth is something that can be trusted only by a person who values and observes it, i.e. Halchah observing Jews and Rabbinical establishment. No offence to the less observant and non Jews, but if you don’t adhere to Halacha then you can’t be trusted with anything that is Hallachah related.

    Other issues, albeit important ones, are well looked after and overseen by the appropriate government agencies. There is no need for additional oversight.

    This is clearly opportunistic on the part of the Conservative movement.

    The sad thing is that thousands of Jews who aren’t necessarily religiously committed and have little knowledge of Judaism, but keep kosher homes, have been turned off from buying kosher meat as a result of their allegation and invalidation of traditional Halachic kosher authority. This is very unfortunate. Their more concerned with scoring political point that kosher observance. Shame one them!

  18. Deena d’Malchusa Deena.
    Simply put.

    If the government sanctions a monetary transaction, the transaction is halachicly binding. Although the transaction isn’t in accordance with hallacha, as long as it is done in accordance with local law, halachah considers the transaction binding, (unless the govermant is a “wicked” one).

  19. 27 jphone; read your referenced note. I quote

    # 11 Jphone
    What were they watching as thousands of alledged child labor laws were broken?

    Keep in mind that the number is very decieving. They are talking about workers who were underage, meaning 16 years old who can easly have claimed to be 18. The “thousands” of violations is because they gave them a violation for every day the kids worked there.

    Comment by yochi — September 15, 2008 @ 11:47 pm

  20. Charliehall, it is up to you to prove that it’s NOT OK for us to willfully break the laws. Your mention of how the country has treated us is irrelevant; if your source is DdMD, that makes no distinction between the USA and Nazi Germany. Please show me a halacha that distinguishes between the laws of different countries based on how they treat us.

  21. Jphone, IF the charges are true, then what the mashgiach didn’t see is that of the hundreds of workers there, 32 were really younger than their papers said they were. How the mashgiach was supposed to see this is a mystery to me; neither the mashgichim nor the Rubashkins themselves are psychic.

    What I want to know is how the government is so sure of the true age of these 32 alleged minors. If they admit they lied and had fake papers before, how do we know they’re not lying now, or that the new papers they produced aren’t equally fake?