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.
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:
A Statement by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism And the Rabbinical Assembly Regarding Rubashkin’s Meat Products
New York, NY (May 22, 2008)
In light of continuing disturbing allegations of unacceptable worker conditions at the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville, Iowa, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly are united in calling for a thorough evaluation by kosher consumers of the appropriateness of purchasing and consuming meat products produced by the Rubashkin’s label.
Rubashkin’s produces kosher meat primarily under the Aaron and David label at the Agriprocessors facility. It is a major producer of kosher meat and poultry in the United States. The allegations about the terrible treatment of workers employed by Rubashkin’s has shocked and appalled members of the Conservative Movement as well as all people of conscience. As Kashrut seeks to diminish animal suffering and offer a humane method of slaughter, it is bitterly ironic that a plant producing kosher meat be guilty of inflicting human suffering.
The Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism will immediately release an advisory to its members and constituents to evaluate the appropriateness of consuming Rubashkin products until the current situation is addressed. This advisory extends not only to products purchased on the retail level but to meat and poultry consumed in restaurants and at private functions, such as weddings and bar mitzvahs.
As the month of Sivan approaches, Jews throughout the world are mindful of the Torah’s message of the power of Kedushah, holiness as it applies to all aspects of our lives including the ethics of worker treatment and food production. It is hoped that Conservative synagogues, schools and summer camps engage in a study of this important topic in honor of the festival of Shavuot which begins on the sixth day of Sivan — commemorating the giving of the Torah.
A valuable source for such study is the paper written by Rabbi Avraham Reisner , entitled Hekshsher Tzedek Al Pi Din. This paper is a companion to the Hekhsher Tzedek Policy Statement and Working Guidelines. The paper is available on the websites of the Rabbinical Assembly (www.rabbinicalassembly.org) and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (www.uscj.org).
By releasing this advisory, the Conservative Movement endorses the vision and guidance of the Hekhsher Tzedek commission. Hekhsher Tzedek is an initiative of the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue that seeks to create an ethical certification process for kosher food. Through its work, Hekhsher Tzedek seeks to strengthen the bond between Halakha and Social Justice.
The reports of unacceptable worker conditions at the Agriprocessors plant demonstrate the pressing need for the sort of ethical oversight which might be provided by Hekhsher Tzedek.
For further information about the advisory being released by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, or to request an interview with any member of the Hekhsher Tzedek commission, the Rabbinical Assembly or United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism please call or email: Shira Dicker (212.663.4643) or by email at [email protected] or Steve Rabinowitz (202.265.3000) or [email protected]