Blogging the Omer Days 34 & 35: an update and more

Week Five, Day Six
Yesod of Hod

Week Five, Day Seven
Malchut of Hod

First I want to repost this comment by Rabbi Morris Allen (one of the spearheads of the Hekhsher Tzedek, you can read his blog about it here)from the comments section of my last post on the Rubashkin travesty, so that those who aren’t necessarily following the comments can see it:

… Th[e] statement [of the Conservative Movement on asking people to evaluate whether they should continue to purchase Rubashkin's meat] came out from the leadership of the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue. Hekhsher Tzedek remains very committed to affixing a hekhsher on products certifying that both ritual and ethical standards have been met in the production of kosher food. On Tuesday we will be reviewing our objective and verifiable standards which have been produced for us by KLD analytics. When these are in place, we will then have the opportunity to clearly begin identifying producers and products that meet our standards. While it is easy to condemn the “mild” nature of this statement, the Conservative movement is alone in the Jewish community publicly calling for the avoidance of products that might be produced in Jewishly unethical ways. I hope that informed Jews begin to demand that a Hekhsher Tzedek appear on the products we are to consume, and that Jews regardless of organizational or theological orientation wholeheartedly support the one effort that has been working tirelessly to address these issues in a thorough and thoughtful fashion. For additional information please go to rabbimorrisallen2.blogspot.com Shabbat shalom

I want to offer kudos to those working on the problem, both in general (hekhsher tzedek) and in specific (the leaders of the Conservative Movement in offering this statement). As one commenter has pointed out, this is the only movement from which we are hearing anything, however substantial: the Reconstructionists have been silent, presumably for the same reason offered by the Reform (They don’t encourage their followers to keep kashrut). The Orthodox have also been -except for notable individuals- silent as well, or worse (it is, after all, Orthodox institutions offering hasgachah to Rubashkin to start with).

And I want to say that I continue to have hopes that the Conservative Movement will move itself forward and do great things. It is, nonetheless, difficult for me to see how slowly things are proceeding. In some ways, this parallels the brouhaha of not very long ago, in which the Conservative movement dragged itself through a painful process of dealing with homosexuality, More »

Conservative Rubashkin update

My bad, the Conservative movement has come out with a new statement that, um, well, I’m not sure exactly what it suggests: I think it says that I might perhaps maybe consider taking into account the halachot on obligations to workers, treatment of other human beings, dina d’malchuta dina and the like and consider maybe perhaps possibly not buying Rubashkin’s. If I want to.

Seriously:

In a joint statement released Thursday evening, the movement’s Rabbinical Association and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism declared themselves “shocked and appalled” at working conditions at AgriProcessors, which is under federal investigation for employing illegal aliens. The groups asked their members “to evaluate whether it is appropriate to consume Rubashkin products until this situation is addressed.”

Well, I am being a little harsh.

I had such high hopes for Hekhsher Tzedek, and even though we haven’t really seen much on that happen in the last year and a half I still do. I just really want to see the Conservative movement stand up and do something to show their seriousness. Of course, specific rabbis are absolutely taking stands on this, including advising their congregants not to buy Rubashkin’s brands and not allowing it in their synagogues. And this is true for both Conservative and Orthodox rabbis.

So maybe the truth is that the boycott will have to be, for the institutions, puk chazei; go out and see – that the movement will have to be grassroots, led by local leaders who really deserve the name by showing their communities what it means to take a serious moral stand on something. It may simply be that institutions aren’t really set up to make moral stands.

So perhaps it’s time for the leaders of movements simply to follow. So I’m going to echo Josh Frankel‘s excellent suggestions (Please read for yourself) and repeat this part myself: don’t buy from Rubashkin brands until they straighten up their act. I want to see them put standards in place to protect their workers: find a way to make legal all those people whom they’ve brought in illegally, since they deliberately sought out illegal workers so that they could be treated with less care and paid less; unionize their entire operation – no arguments; fire the abusers and replace them with people who receive training in the ethical halachot and to understand that if it isn’t all followed the meat is no good – and this should absolutely include the mashgichim.

When they’ve done tshuvah (repented) by apologizing to both their consumers and their employees, made reparation to their employees, and fixed the problems that led to the abuse in the first place, then we should forgive them and go back to buying from them. But not until then.

Here is the full text of the Conservative movement’s statement: More »

Rubashkin’s: Update and Next Steps

Since our call for donations, St. Bridget’s has received approximately forty thousand dollars. That’s real money. That’s real money that is making sure people have food, that their rent is paid, that they are getting legal representation, and that is reuniting families. Also, Rubashkin’s has responded to our lead. They have given meat (what else?) to the workers’ families, and are negotiating a way to pay the families at least part of their lost wages.

Bottom line – Yasher Koach. Thank you for donating and thank you for spreading the message. Our little campaign has made a difference. Now it’s time to move on, to figure out what the next steps are. Here are some ideas.
More »

Blogging the Omer Days 31 & 32: Shame on You!

Week Five, Day Three
Tiferet of Hod

Week Five, Day Four
Netzach of Hod

So much for Hekhsher Tzedek. Apparently politics wins out over justice.
In a not very surprising move, the Conservative Movement has decided not to boycott Rubashkin.

Calls this week by activist rabbis for a limited boycott have been muted out of concern that a boycott could be actionable and might discourage Jews from keeping kosher because kosher meat would be harder to access.

Actionable? Are you kidding? Seriously, what would be pure enough to get something started? Let’s see, we have major violations of Dina d’malchuta dina, loads of other, amazingly varied halachic violations that have now gone on for years – and in theory have actually spurred the Conservative movement to the unusual action of attempting to actually do something (follow-through apparently being a little slow, ahem). The moral and halachic violations range from abuse of workers’ labor to sexual abuse; apparently there are allegations of the drug methamphetamine being produced at the site, and that rabbinic supervisors, specifically have abused plant workers. Not to mention child labor violations, identity theft, illegal weapons sales, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

So, what would be enough to get the Jewish world to move? Can anyone possibly believe that they are totally innocent? That poor old Rubashkin’s is being railroaded? I mean, reality check: When is the Jewish community going to get off its collective Butt?

If for no other reason, we should be boycotting because this will make people look at us and say, if that’s what Jews do, I want no part of it. Note to the Conservative movement: This includes your followers whom you are trying so valiantly to get to keep kosher. IMO, more people will quit keeping kosher over your spinelessness than over the lack of available kosher meat. The folks who keep kosher now aren’t going to stop for this reason. Not to mention that all those young folks you’re trying to attract: they’re leaving because they look and see that something is seriously wrong here. As a Jew, I am embarrassed and ashamed about the lack of response from all the movements, but CJ, your Hekhsher Tzedek plans give you a special responsibility. Live up to it. Stand up for something, already.
And, Hey, Orthodoxy, you have a chance here to outmoral the left: get up and do something, will you? Somebody? Anybody? Before all the holiness drains out of the world?

Blogging the Omer, Day 30: yes, more….

Week Five, Day two
Gevurah of Hod

According to the latest news, yes, there’s more, if you can stand it. The Des Moines Register reports that there was sexual abuse and an expectation of sexual favors, according to the workers,

If a worker wanted, say, a promotion or a shift change, “they’d be brought into a room with three or four men and it was like, ‘Which one do you want? Which one are you going to serve?’” said McCauley in an interview today with Des Moines Register editors and reporters.

To be fair, it should have been obvious that somethignlike this would be revealed – with all the other garbage going on behindthe scenes, this particular form of abusing the powerless should have been an obvious add-on feature.

RadioIowa mentions that America’s Voice, a group pushing for immigration reform, is asking Congress to investigate the owners of the Postville plant.

Mark Lauritsen, international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) says reading the information on the Postville raid shows “shameful” action by the plant’s owners. Lauritsen says what’s ultimately shameful is that nearly 400 “hardworking men and women” are in detention, while the people who exploited them are free to roam the streets and start the cycle over again.

Lauriston says Agriproccessors has gotten away with the labor violations for too long. Lauritsen says: “There is not one other meatpacker operator in this country that has the same sustained long record of law violations as Agriprocessors, not one. They’re acting like a renegade in an already tough industry. It’s not good for the industry, it’s not good for the workers who work in it.” Sharry and Lauritson say the national strategy of ‘attrition through enforcement’ remains an ineffective solution to the immigration issue.

I hope they’re successful, but after all this time, who knows – it’s not like there haven’t already been tons of investigation worthy crimes over the past several years, with a pattern of disregard for the law. Again, our only quesiotn should be, where the hell is the Jewish community, and why didn’t we insist on OU’s hashgachah (supervision) being pulled with much greater force. Our lack of courage and refusal to go without meat is a chillul hashem – an embarrassment to God’s name.

Blogging the Omer, Day 29: and you shall eat and be satisfied

Week Five, Day One
Chesed of Hod

Since the most recent debacle at Rubashkin’s, documented widely, with a focus on the huge immigration raid detaining nearly 400 of the slaughterhouse’s 968 employees and sending many of the remaining into hiding (and not to mention so many other violations of so many varieties of American law and halachah that the mind boggles), the Postville Plant has reopened on essentially a skeleton crew.
SInce, according to the Forward, it is producing less than half its usual output, and Agriprocessors produces more than half of glatt kosher beef in the USA and the greatest share of glatt kosher poultry, and Postville produces 85% of that beef, instead of American Jews wondering how we’ve come to such a pass; that after several years of people reporting violation after violation of Jewish law, human rights, and American law, how is it that the Orthodox Union hasn’t revoked its supervision; how is it that there isn’t an outcry against such practices, against the kosher meat industry from within the Jewish community – and for that matter – why haven’t we been more carefully examining the actual kashrut of let us say, the organization behind the meat (cf. Rabbi David Berger, author of The Rebbe the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference)?

How is it that we are actually even thinking about whether or not we’ll get enough meat?
At the Hazon food conference late last year, Rabbi Yehuda ben Chemhoun, a prominent shochet of 27 years, and Rabbi Seth Mandel, the senior mashgiach at the Orthodox Union, both spoke of how they limited their own intake of meat, and Rabbi Mandel said plainly that he felt that the kosher meat industry in this country was broken, at least in part because people were expecting to eat too much meat. Instead of meat being something to have occasionally, for shabbat and holidays, people -because of its easy availability- are eating meat every day, sometimes at every meal. And this is sick: it is sick beause it leads us to an industry of waste and cruelty, and to health problems from over indulgence and also to health problems from eating the flesh of animals being treated badly throughout their lives – and through their deaths.

Although I rarely eat meat, I am not a veg. But how can we continue to support an industry that causes this much pain not only to animals, but to human beings. Our sages argue about what the purpose of our kashrut restrictions of meat and shechita are: some say it is because animals feel emotionally as we do, and it is wrong to be cruel to them; some say that it is because we are to learn from the example of our care with animals that all the more so we need to take care of other human beings, to teach compassion.
What Rubashkin’s has revealed is that it cares about neither. So, the only question left is: how long will we allow it to continue, and what will we decide to do now?

It’s Our Turn to Help

The Rubashkin’s raid made big news earlier in the week, and we were angry. We were furious, filled with righteous indignation, ready to destroy the kosher meat industry, to throw out kashrut, to bash Orthodoxy until the last black hat disappeared from Iowa. But, now, it’s time to help. With hundreds of worker’s arrested, thousands of their family members are now in limbo. They have no money, no income, and no resources. They are frightened to apply for work, frightened to go shopping, and their kids aren’t going to school. Charities in Postville are pitching and do what they can to help these people, and unfortunately not-surprisingly, Agriprocessors isn’t helping out. I don’t often ask people to give tzedakah, and if I do, it’s a casual request. This is different. Anyone who has ever eaten kosher meat in this country has benefited from the hard, poorly compensated work these people have done, and now that they are in desperate need it is our turn to help.

Ari Hart, one of the leaders of Uri L’Tzedek, has been in contact with people on the ground, and he found this church, St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, which is working very hard with the families in town. However, the church’s resources are stretched thin, and they need donations.

Please, send money to:
St. Bridget’s Hispanic Fund
c/o Sister Mary McCauley
POB 369
Postville, IA 52162

Agriprocessors might be a large, unscrupulous company, but to these people, it represents one thing – Judaism. Please give. Please write a letter thanking them. Please let them know that you care.

Agriprocessing gets raided by ICE

Looking down at my “No Person is Illegal” shirt and getting angry and sad. While I’m here, anyone got any news about that Tsedek Hekhsher? Good thing I’m only eating Wise Organic these days:

Postville, Ia. – At least 300 people were arrested today at the Agriprocessors, Inc. meat packing plant, federal officials said. The operation, which targeted people who illegally used other persons Social Security numbers and were in the U.S. illegally, was the largest of its kind in Iowa, Claude Arnold, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Four Homeland Security buses with U.S. Immigration and Customs tags on them were a the plant this morning.

–snip–

Immigration officials told aides to U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley that they expect 600 to 700 arrests. About 1,000 to 1,050 people work at the plant, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

and snip again

The Agriprocessors plant, known as the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, is northeast Iowa’s largest employer.

Hat tip Des Moines Register. It doesn’t take a slide rule to do the math here. My frustration is that it will be the folks who risked life and limb to support themselves and their families will take the blame, and not the people exploiting the labor. Is it too much to hope for that Jews who are so machmir about some commandments actually check out all of them?

As documented here and elsewhere, these are not Rubashkin’s first problems. And I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of them.

Rubashkin Loses NLRB Case: Failed Messiah reports

As usual, Failed Messiah has scooped an interesting tidbit on Rubashkin. Seems that a few days ago, NLRB heard an appeal from Rubashkin and found against them that if one’s employees vote to unionize, one cannot claim that undocumented aliens are prohibited from unionizing because they do not qualify as “employees” protected by the National Labor Relations Act, and thus refuse to bargain with them or recognize the vote.
Since the NLRB under the recent administrations has acted more and more partisanly – i.e. finding almost uniformly against labor, or handing out slaps on the wrists so light the companies have to scratch after because the contact tickles, I can only say, the case must have been unbelievably chutzpadik, which a few words from Circuit Judge Tatel seems to confirm, “Because the company’s argument ignores both the Act’s plain language and binding Supreme Court precedent, we deny its petition for review.…”

See FM for more: good work, dude!
Every day in every way, Rubashkin finds new ways to improve! Congrats on your award for Worst Ongoing Scandal; it’s nothing if not well deserved!

More trouble for Lubavitch

schneerson
Earlier this week, we posted a little American trouble for the Lubavitch (or perhaps it’s the end of the trouble, hard to know how to frame it).
Now, there’s more. Apparently this is their fifteen minutes. Or something.

First, England’s Jewish Chronicle notes that England’s Lubavitch movement is in some serious economic trouble: apparently because of pouring an enormous amount of money into a new club for young Jews that they opened this year. Apparently nearly all the donations they received this year went into said club, “including ‘almost all’ of this year’s £750,000 yield,” leaving them £1.5 million (that’s 2,959,951 dollars American) in debt – and of course, they’ve had to close the club, in addition to leaving their teachers unpaid since April (although donors have now stepped in to pay the teachers’ wages).

In Israel, though, they’ve got different problems. Or, perhaps it’s the same problems that they’ve got here. Apparently it’s just gotten out that there may be problems with the beliefs of some Lubavitchers regarding their former (or not) rebbe. The Jerusalem Post reports that a former FSU immigrant who was not Jewish , but was eligible under the law of return, had become interested in converting and studied in a meshichist Jerusalem ChABAD yeshiva.

About two weeks ago, he appeared before a beit din (rabbinic court) for his conversion. He had nearly finished, when one of the rabbis asked him if he believed that the rebbe was the messiah. He answered yes, that that was what he had been taught, and the court refused to convert him.
The JPost says, ”

… a source in the State Conversion Authority said that at least two leading religious Zionist rabbis ruled that messianic Chabad was beyond the pale of normative Jewish belief.

“They [messianic Chabad Hassidim] attribute to him supernatural powers years after he passed away. That is not Judaism. It’s something else.”

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar will be asked to decide this weighty theological question and in the process pass judgment on thousands of members of the messianic stream within Chabad Hassidism who believe that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who passed away in 1994, is the messiah.

This according to the article; I have heard an (unsubstantiated as of yet) rumour that, in fact, Rabbi Amar has ruled against the conversion applicant, and thus, essentially declared meshichist Lubavitch treif. I am curious as to what effect will this have on ChABAD: Is this a recognition that some beliefs are outside the pale, even if the holder of said beliefs has the outer appearance of Orthodox praxis? What effect will this have on the yeshivot that are still er, offering this perspective, either in Israel or the USA?

By the way, speaking of treif, Rubashkin (who is owned by the ChABAD Lubavitch Rubashkin family just to be on topic), has apparently had its teudat kashrut yanked by KAJ (HT to Failedmessiah)

Jewschool’s Picks for Best of 2007

new_year_2_wideweb__470x3050.jpg

Since we’ve now completed another year, it’s time for our annual, highly idiosyncratic, completely unscientific, best–of round up. Happy (secular) new year from all of us here at Jewschool! More »

Chad Gadya

…Also, the goats.

goat3

We all have a huge amount to say about the goats. I’m not sure that this was planned, but in some ways, this topic has nearly taken over the Hazon Food Conference. And I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing. The questions that have arisen throughout the past years, regarding the ethics of eating meat – especially kosher meat produced in factory farms, slaughtered in places like Agriprocessors, where the heart of kashrut seems to have bled right out are questions which are just right for the people of this new Jewish sustainable food movement to address.

And while there is a lot going on at this conference, your intrepid livebloggers (YehuditBrachah, KungFu Jew and KRG) have set aside an entire post to talk about the shchita and the conversations surrounding it.

Thursday night, the first night of the conference, Nigel Savage of Hazon started out by explaining how it came about that it was decided to shecht a goat this year at the food conference. Last year during the conference, Nigel asked meat eaters if they would still eat meat if they had to participate in the death of the animal: some said yes, others: no; he then asked the veggies if they would eat meat if they were part of its slaughtering: again, some said no, but others, yes. From this arose the idea to try to humanely schecht a goat at the Hazon Food conference.
That is how Nigel introduced the first panel of the conference: a panel including a shochet, Rabbi Yehuda ben Chemhoun, Rabbi Seth Mandel of the Orthodox Union, who oversees all American slaughterhouses, the shepherd who raised the goats Aitan Mizrahi, the woman who continued to shepherd them when the shepherd separated them from their dams (he is a dairy farmer, and this is how female goats are kept giving milk) Rachel Gall, Dr. Shamu Sadeh of Adamah and Simon Feil.
More »

Chew on this: Nathan Cummings funds Hechsher Tzedek initiative

Apropos of Kol Ra’ash Gadol’s recent post, here’s a little update on Rabbi Morris Allen and the exciting Heksher Tzedek initiative, which was prompted by Allen’s investigation of the Rubashkin’s plants. (Again, see Jewschool coverage of Heksher Tzedek here.)

The Nathan Cummings Foundation has just awarded Heksher Tzedek a major one-year grant, which means that the dream of having food justice in the Jewish community (and far beyond it) is that much closer to becoming a reality.

The horrible conditions in the Rubashkin plants in 2006 prompted Allen to try to do something about the seeming contradiction between kosher food and justice — a contradiction that shouldn’t exist, according to Allen. He writes on his blog,

We need to be in a world where we can say that keeping kosher is the way in which I demonstrate not only a concern for my relationship to God and Torah but the Jewish concern for our relationship to the world in which we live. That’s what I really want to get across to people.

Heksher Tzedek aims to award hekshers to companies that follow a (in-development) set of justice requirements about worker rights, safety, animal treatment, etc for food products. I had the pleasure of hearing from Rabbi Allen a few weeks ago at Hebrew College, and he is probably one of the most inspiring and brave rabbis working today, for taking on the massively powerful kashrut industry that really does have the power to ruin a person if they want to. He said,

Kosher food should be the kind of food that elevates a sense of kedushah, and when you discover that things are the very opposite of that, you have to respond. …Something is wrong when the smoothness of an animal’s lung is more important that the condition of the workers.

When Rabbi Allen was investigating, he spoke with a number of workers at the Rubashkin plants. One story was particularly moving. He sat down with a man who worked the line and asked him, “What is it like to work in a plant that produces our food?” The man was visibly startled at the question, and then touched.

“You know,” he said, “I have sat next to a rabbi [monitoring the line] for over ten years, and this is the first time any rabbi has asked me what it’s like for me to work here.”

These are the kind of efforts in the Jewish community that I want to be part of. From strength to strength, Heksher Tzedek.

Rubashkin’s: will it never end?

The latest from the Forward: United Food and Commercial Workers are now entering the fray over Rubashkin’s skeezy practices in their plants. As the Forward reported, “Activists with United Food and Commercial Workers stood outside kosher supermarkets and Trader Joe’s stores around the country last Wednesday, distributing fliers that purported to be a ‘Kosher Food Safety Alert.’ The fliers cited controversial reports — many of them published in the Forward — about food-safety issues at the Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse.” They also made automated phone calls to households in Orthodox neighborhoods and placed full-page advertisements in Jewish newspapers.

Most of these will be violations that if you read Jewschool or Failed Messiah’s excellent coverage, you will already know about – the bribery, the unsafe food handling practices, and of course the mistreatment of non-Jewish workers, prompting the Conservative Movement’s creation (at least in theory) of the Hechsher Tzedek. I want to emphasize a citation from Failed Messiah’s post on the topic which comes from the USDA’s inspector:

There were also at least five instances in which AgriProcessors was cited for not taking the required measures to fend off Mad Cow disease. In one instance, an inspector says he asked for a suspicious cow to be taken off the line and later discovered that the cow had been slaughtered with the rest of the animals. The inspector says he informed someone at the company of the “very serious noncompliance that had occurred.”

I emphasize these words because, of course, Agriprocessor’s response, published on its Web site and in Yeshiva World News, was simply to deny, deny deny. “Concerns about Mad Cow disease are simply wrong,” the letter said. “We have never had product from any suspect animals leave our plant.” they claim.

Astonishingly, according to KosherToday,a trade publication that has defended AgriProcessors, none of this has hurt Agriprocessor sales. In fact, they claim that to the contrary, “The net effect of the onslaught against Agri was that sales of its products in some stores have risen by as much as 30% and it has opened an unprecedented number of new accounts.” More »

Rubashkin Arrest

Just in case anyone missed it, it seems that Moshe and Sholom Rubashkin were arrested last week, believe it or not, NOT for violations at their AgriProcessors slaughterhouses, but after being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges stemming from incidents at a closed textile plant they own.

According to JTA

The U.S. attorney in Philadelphia charged Moshe Rubashkin with leaving hazardous waste at the Montex textile plant in Allentown, Pa., and charged his son Sholom with misleading an investigation into a fire at the plant, according to the Forward. …The current charge is that he left drums of hazardous waste in the mill after it closed in 2001. A fire broke out there in 2005 that allegedly was exacerbated by the hazardous waste.

Granted, this is technically not a kosher slaughter house story, but it seems to me that what we’re looking at now is a matter of time. The JTA artcle refers to him as a “community leader” in Crown Heights, so it is unsurprising to me that the community continues to support him and make him out to be a victim, but this is now clearly a matter of someone who engages in unethical practices across the board. He had even served 15 months in prison for writing bad checks from the Montex plant.

There is nothing good in supporting someone in their criminal and unethical behavior, Jew or not; and if the commandments of our law aren’t enough to separate ourselves from such behavior, then surely we should be considering that someone who engages in these kinds of practices considers themselves better than others, and is not going to be limited by practicing on non-Jews. After all, as Failed Messiah points out in his excellent ongiong expose of this saga, the last major problem at AgriProcessors was the Rubashkins’ failure to follow food-safety procedures, including safeguards against Mad Cow disease – at lest five incidents of this, where food safety inspectors asked cows to be removed, only to find out later that they were slaughtered anyway. In other words, they don’t care if their customers get sick and die. So much for loving your fellow.

chabad arrest
For a full story on the arrest see here

Sheesh. It’s getting to the point that Rubashkin needs its own category.
For a history see:
See: öÄéÌåÉï áÌÀîÄùÑÀôÌÈè úÌÄôÌÈãÆä åÀùÑÈáÆéäÈ áÌÄöÀãÈ÷Èä, Where’s the beef now? Kashrut update on Rubashkin’s, Another beef with kashrut in the news, and Kashrut Brouhaha Has Legs; Agriprocessors: Still trayfin’ it up,
and Failed Messiah

AgriProcessors: When abusing people and animals isn’t enough

What? Again? Can’t these people get it together?
Believe it or not, AgriProcessors is in the news again.

nomeat.jpg

According to the Forward, in March and September of 2006 the USDA sent the AgriProcessors plant manager a “Letter of Warning” reviewing a series of problems, including: receiving 250 non-compliance records from the United States Department of Agriculture during 2006, five of them for inadequate safeguards against Mad Cow disease, and at least 18 records for fecal matter in the food production area (Including one, on December 26, in which the inspector wrote that during multiple checks of 10 chickens “fecal contamination varied between 70 and 80%.” and another, similar, citation a day later).
Oh, yeah! MMM. Take that, all you folks who buy kosher “because it’s healthier.” Granted, IMO, this is not a place whose products I would be easily able to call kosher, as we’ve seen reported here on Jewschool several rounds of violations of actual kashrut, as well as violations of other halachic obligations, including the acceptable treatment of workers. See: öÄéÌåÉï áÌÀîÄùÑÀôÌÈè úÌÄôÌÈãÆä åÀùÑÈáÆéäÈ áÌÄöÀãÈ÷Èä, Where’s the beef now? Kashrut update on Rubashkin’s, Another beef with kashrut in the news, and Kashrut Brouhaha Has Legs; just one month ago, Mobius added this gem to the treasury: Agriprocessors: Still trayfin’ it up,
and Failed Messiah continues to do a wonderful job documenting this unbelieveable, interminable scandal.

In case that all hasn’t turned you veggie yet, just compare: the entire beef, poultry and egg industry had 34 recalls in 2006, AgriProcessors had two during the last eight months, both of them Class I, the highest risk level.

In case there’s any doubt, I’d like to note that these items are not disconnected. As the Forward reports,

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has been attempting to unionize the workers at the Postville plant. The documents all stem from incidents between January 1, 2006 and January 24, 2007. They are being released to the public by the UFCW at a press conference later today…
Jim Blau, assistant director of strategic resources at the United Food and Commercial Workers, said that workers at the plant tipped the union off to food safety problems. Blau said his organization, which represents close to 300,000 food production workers, was interested in dealing with the issues at AgriProcessors as a matter of protecting the industry.

“When you see things like this — it’s not good for the industry that there is a company that’s out there behaving like this,” Blau said.

Way back when, I spent some time working to organize workers in another industry. I want to emphasize that one of the reasons that it’s so important to do so is because unions don’t just protect the workers themselves. Unionized workers are able to report problems with lesser fear of reprisal. I myself know of several individuals who after whistle blowing, were protected by unions when their employer tried to fire them. It’s not just a matter of some people you didn’t really care about all that much who you’ll never meet, and maybe who don’t even speak your language.
That’s pretty important according to Jewish law: they are to be protected, and paid honestly, and treated with respect. It’s a Jewish obligation, and one which a kosher slaughterhouse ought to be obliged to meet before it can call itself in compliance with Jewish law. And let’s not even review the problems of the slaughter itself, which fails to follow the law it claims to follow in order to make its ginormous profit off the wallets of jews who are, essentially a captive audience (just try to find an independant shochet these days. I know of one, I’m sure there must be a few others – is there one in your city?). But since self-interest is the cornerstone of progress, let’s just say what’s really going on: these folks have no qualms about doing whatever they want to increase profit. The limitations don’t seem to be laws of kashrut directly pertaining to the meat itself, nor to the laws pertaining to the treatment of workers. Now it’s apparent, they don’t even care about the safety of the people eating the meat. It’s in the best interest of the Jewish community to make sure that workers are safe and able to report on what’s going on behind the scenes without threat of reprisal.
I don’t know when the Tzedek Hechsher will be making its now long-promised appearance, but Baruch Hashem, it couldn’t be too soon.
But don’t worry, I’m sure this will all be brushed off as a plot by the liberal Jews or the anti-semites to harm Orthodoxy.

Whoa. I think steam is coming out of my eyeballs. Wait, I need to go have some sweet tea or something. Hold the burger, willya?

hattip to Arieh Lebowitz at the JLC
Cross-posted to Kol Ra’ash Gadol

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The Forward reported yesterday that the Conservative movement is beginning the process of creating a new ethical certification system for kosher food. The ongoing shenanigans in some of the country’s largest slaughterhouses last year (and previously) prompted the movement to set up a special commission to investigate working conditions at the AgriProcessorsInc slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa (See previous posts: Where’s the beef now? Kashrut update on Rubashkin’s; Another beef with kashrut in the news; Kashrut Brouhaha Has Legs all from earlier this year). Starting with PETA’s allegations of improper slaughter, following with federal subpoenas in connection with a criminal antitrust investigation and rounding up with allegations of improper treatment of workers, such an investigation has been long overdue.

According to the Forward,

The five-person commission, formed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, was created following an investigative report in the Forward, which detailed a series of allegations about the treatment of workers at the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa. Members of the Conservative panel, who visited the Iowa plant in August and September, recently issued a report stating that “there are significant issues of concern at the plant, including issues of health and safety.”

The goal of the committee is to establish a “tsedek hekhsher,” or a oversight that includes justice as a guideline, to ensure that kosher food producers “have met a set of standards that determine the social responsibility of kosher food producers, particularly in the area of workers rights.”

This is the first time that any Jewish denomination has attempted to use labor as a guideline for certifying food and is also the first time that the Conservative movement would be involved in overseeing food nationally.

According to the Rabbinical Assembly Press release,

According to the Rabbinical AsThe commission intends to continue working with these and other kosher food manufacturers to ensure adherence to Jewish values in the production of kosher food and will be conducting other site visits.

As the humane treatment of animals is at the heart of the laws surrounding kosher slaughter, further visits may include assessments of the conditions and treatment of animals. Additional study may also include an assessment of the effects of their products on the environment by these same and other food processors.

The idea of this committee most likely sprang from ongoing conversations within the movement which called into question exactly what it means to certify something as kosher. As we have seen, the laws of kashrut (just for one example) have recently been taken to be exclusively about following certain ritual requirements, and have had less attention paid to other related laws which guide us as Jews to have respect for animals and their comfort, let alone to paying attention to business practices of Jewish organizations and businesses. It has been profoundly disturbing to those of us who take halakhah seriously, to see that Jewish organizations and businesspeople have selectively focused on certain halakhot and felt it within their their rights to ignore others, and still to call themselves observant.
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Where’s the beef now? Kashrut update on Rubashkin’s

Check out Failed Messiah who has been covering this story very efficiently. You can see the most recent post here updating that Dr. Temple Grandin has taken a tour of Postville and given her tentative okay to what she saw. For full coverage click here.