Rabbinical Council of America Issues Statement on Agriprocessors

Yesterday the RCA issued a statement including their holdings on principles of halakhah, public interest, kashrut supervision and the rights and responsibilities of consumers.  Their conclusion reads:

In the matter of recent allegations against Agriprocessors and its company policies, the RCA is certainly concerned at news reports published to date. But both Jewish Law (Halacha) and civil law require a presumption of innocence by all parties, including the concerned public, as well as an understanding of the broad implications involved on all sides, until the facts will have been clarified, especially in a case that is as complex as the one at hand.

It’s clear that the RCA is trying to protect their own hold in the heksher-for-profit industry and keep a middle ground.   Reading their statement I was a little taken aback by their rationale in needing to protect the Jewish public:

Without necessarily impugning the current motives of various parties involved in any given dispute, we must keep in mind lessons learned during the course of the long history of unwarranted attacks on kosher slaughter practices in Europe and elsewhere, carried out by groups with agendas of their own.

In this connection one can raise for consideration whether or not the laws of the land, in themselves entirely legal and proper, have been consistently enforced, or whether a particular group or company has been singled out for such enforcement or legal action.

So is the RCA suspecting that the media is out to get Agriprocessors because they are Jews?  Am I reading this correctly?  Since we had problems in Europe with people spreading lies about the practice of kosher slaughter (read blood libel and Nazi propaganda films, perhaps?), then maybe we’re experiencing the same thing in America?  Singled out because they’re kosher?  What reality do these rabbis live in?  It seems to me most of the flack they’re taking right now is coming from Jews, no?

In the United States of America, it is believed that just over 20% of the population specifically purchases kosher food in the grocery store.  There are around 6 million Jews in America, out of 303,824,646, that makes us a little more than 1.5%  We all know that the math just doesn’t work.  There aren’t enough Jews who specifically purchase kosher food to sustain the corporations that lend their emblems and symbols to our packaged products.  80% of the kosher food market is not purchased by Jews.  Some are probably Muslim, or perhaps even vegetarians or vegans.  Most, for whatever reason, seem to be Americans who actually think that kosher food is healthier.

The statement calls that only after improper practices are found

“the kashrus agencies should review their relationship to the businesses involved. Such review should consider, and balance, all of the relevant factors, including

a. The nature, severity, and frequency of the infractions involved. Who was responsible for them – ownership, management, a failure in oversight by government or other supervisory agencies?

b. The likely impact on kosher consumers of continuation or discontinuation of supervision, including the availability and cost of the products in question.

c. The likelihood of continued improper activity by the company, versus its willingness to improve its record going forward in verifiable fashion.

These rabbis recognize that an overwhelming percentage of this market has no dedication to the kosher industry short of their marketability.  The statement warns consumers to

be wary of any group that would seek to exploit the kosher food industry, or any particular company, based on ulterior motives of an economic, philosophical, or even religious, nature. Here the principle of caveat emptor, in its broadest meaning, applies.

Emphasis is my own.  BTW, do you think they mean Jews?

And in more important news: while workers get sentenced in the immigration case that transpired from the raid on the Rubashkin plant, execs walk free (surprise, surprise).

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9 Responses to “Rabbinical Council of America Issues Statement on Agriprocessors”

  1. The pro Agri forces are trying to mount a counter offensive. We now have this missive from the RCA. We also have the JTA article with the interview of Aaron Rubashkin where he says every charge against Agri is a lie. And over at Voz Iz Neias we have the article -Postville, IA – Deceptive Jewish Rabbis, And Their “hechsher tzedek” Crap


    Kishkeman · June 5th, 2008 at 6:31 am
  2. What is this? A war? Talk of a “counter offensive”?? I hope we have a more constructive discourse then that might suggest.


    WanderingJ · June 5th, 2008 at 8:33 am
  3. Part of the RCA statement said: “Extending kosher supervision to the full gamut of business practices raises many difficult questions. For instance, do we want ethical certification of practices involved in the production and distribution anywhere in the world of clothing, appliances, and furniture? This type of certification requires very different skills, and a very different arena of activity, from that involved in kosher certification. It requires looking at the company’s books, human resources practices, suppliers and distributors, all by experts in the field – at significant cost to the consumers who, even if such broad-ranging review is possible, will end up paying for such investigations.”

    On the one hand I would like every item or service I have in the past or that I will ever in the future purchase to be an item that has taken as many ethical and social issues into account. True.

    But what I think really motivates a lot of people like myself who are emphasizing boycotting Agri products and not emphasizing whether or not my toilet paper or my new wood flooring, or lots of other things I use were made in an ethical way is that a strong case can be made to say that using Agri products makes me truly question if I am upholding the simplelist definiton of what many in traditional Jewish life consider to be the quickest assessment tool of who is in the community of traditional Judaism and who is not. That question remains whether or not you eat kosher. Furthermore we have grown up to believe that the atmosphere of where and how kosher food is prepared does matter. Growing up in Brooklyn I remember the nightclub on Kings Highway that served kosher food but also had belly dancers. That hechsher was taken away. The nightclub closed. Later on it was Glatt Yacht where the food was glatt but the mixed dancing on the boat put pressure on the hecsher agency to take away that hecsher. The Glatt Yacht was shut down. The whole issue of kosher resturants open on Shabbat where a few renegade rabbis do provide their own personal Hechser but the major kosher hecshers don’t. We could go on how atmosphere does play a role in even if the food was slaughtered correctly and got to our plate without someone sabatoging the kashrut of the product that hecshers were still taken away due to some external factor.

    Well before May 12, 2008 there were many external factors regarding Agri products which made the most important hechser on earth, myself, feel that the using Agri products could no longer be justified because of the gamut of problems, and as I think about it, the atmosphere of problems associated with the company and the horrific business dealings of at least some in the Rubashkin family themselves outside of Agri. I can’t pick up a product associated with that family’s name and think that I am doing Gods’ will to be involved in everyday holiness.

    I think most people involved in tradtional Jewish life are encouraged by their rabbis to keep doing introspection in how they can do mitzvahs better. So for me right now and I think for a lot of others have chosen to pick up this fight for a more ethical beef and poultry supplier as a way to be involved in improving my actions that are involved with the simplest definition of being a traditional Jew – eating kosher. As time goes on hopefully I will have the strength to find the most ethical toliet paper and wood flooring company and purchase their products and not others. For now its finding food products not made by Agri. And I feel I am doing the Holy One’s will by doing that and encouraging others to do the same.


    Kishkeman · June 5th, 2008 at 9:00 am
  4. I question the stat that 20% of the population “specifically purchases kosher food”. The source linked leaves off “specifically”, which changes the force of the statement a lot. Maybe people are accidentally buying common products that are hechshered. Though even if we’re talking about deliberate purchases, the math doesn’t work. If Jews are 1.5% of America, and if 20%-25% of hechshered-food purchases (or perhaps deliberate hechshered-food purchases) are made by Jews who keep kosher, then even if every Jew in the country keeps kosher, that means that less than 8% of the population buys hechshered food. (Unless there’s a large segment of non-Jews who deliberately buy a little bit of hechshered food and a whole bunch of non-hechshered food, or something like that.)

    Of course, over 90% of the grocery shoppers worldwide buy food that’s kosher: fresh produce and unprocessed grains, for example. We should be clearer about what we mean. If we mean hechshered, we should say that.


    Desh · June 5th, 2008 at 9:20 am
  5. the long history of unwarranted attacks on kosher slaughter practices in Europe and elsewhere, carried out by groups with agendas of their own.
    Could mean the demand for killing unconscious animals only – but might it also mean the hassidische shechita debate?


    Amit · June 5th, 2008 at 9:47 am
  6. I don’t think the agenda they’re talking about is anti-Semitic non-Jews vs. Jews. I think they are defensive about other Jews, especially those involved with Hekhsher Tzedek who are, in my opinion, correctly exposing Agri as indicative of the need to take ethical standards into account in determining kashrut. RCA’s position is to get behind the barricade of “presumed innocence” to ward off those that they see as their ideological competitors.


    Michael Bernstein · June 5th, 2008 at 10:15 am
  7. I don’t know – the KKK is taking credit for the immigration raid, and that may or may not be what the RCA are referring to. It would have been nice if they’d been more explicit.


    Melinda · June 5th, 2008 at 10:50 am
  8. the fact remains that if you think there is a single meat processor or fruit /vegetable farm in the us that is any better you are wrong. Aggri hired workers with working papers/ social security numbers etc. The workers obtained the ss#’s on the black market, \ most of the aggri workers actually owned homes in Postville, pay taxes, send their kids to the local public schools…members of the landed gentry, something most the slackers on this board are not. I am not defending aggri per se. this is something far bigger than them. We have a very serious labor issue in this country and anyone who is in industrial or repetitive assembly line related industry will attest to the need for illegals to man the lines.


    grubness · June 5th, 2008 at 7:10 pm
  9. According to the front page of today’s WSJ, meatpackers are finding alternatives to using illegal workers. But even if Agriprocessors was forced to use illegal workers (which they weren’t), there is absolutely no excuse for the kind of abuses that were allegedly occurring.


    themicah · June 6th, 2008 at 9:58 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik