Culture, Justice, Politics, Religion

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:
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]

9 thoughts on “Conservative Rubashkin update

  1. Does anybody have a full list of Rubaskin’s brands? It is my understanding that they produce products under a number of different labels. You may actually be buying their meat without realizing it.

  2. Please stop eating Rubashkin!
    Being understaffed their output is minimal. I need all the meat I can get.
    PLEASE DON’T EAT RUBASHKIN

  3. First of all I want to clarify. This statement 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

  4. I am confused about something – If I buy meat that is repackaged at the butcher, it always says whose rabbinical supervision it has. If it says some random rabbi whose name I don’t recognize, does that mean it’s NOT Rubashkin’s? Would all Rubashkin’s meat say it is under Weissmandl’s (is that is name?) supervision? I am having a hard time figuring out how to tell where repackaged meat is from. I will start asking the butcher, but if you have any info to help kosher consumers tell Rubashkin from non-Rubashkin that’d be greaet.

  5. Thank you to Kol Ra’ash for the update.
    I do not wish to justify bad behavior with other poor behavior, but…
    The Conservative leadership has brought a religious aspect to this issue. They have tied Kashrut to ethical standards. They did not go al the way and call for a boycott, but they certainly created language that moved many Conservative rabbis to urge their congregants to look elsewhere for their Kosher meat. This is far better than nothing. And there may be more to come.
    Let us also keep in mind that Rabashkin has not yet even been charged with any crime or wrongdoing (yes, workers have been).
    But The Reform Movement (the Movement of Prophetic ethics) gets off the hook with a statement that this is more the bailiwick of Conservatives because Reform does not insist on Kashrut.
    The Orthodox rabbinate is THE rabbinate in charge of Kashrut at the plant. They provide the Hashgacha. They have, for the most part,remained silent. They have, for the most part, held that Kashrut and ethical working conditions ought not be connected.
    I expect, and hope,that we will see more action and stronger language from the Conservative leadership. i will agree that there is a need for hard ball.
    But does this mean that they should have told the family that planned their wedding celebration (choosing a kosher affair at extra cost) for next week at the synagogue, or a Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration, “Sorry, your big event is off at our shul?
    That too would raise a variety of issues.
    Specific action may yet come from Conservative leadership. But there has been near total silence in the world that grants Hashgacha. There has been almost nothing coming out of the Reform Movement.
    The Conservative Movement calls on its membership “to evaluate whether it is appropriate to consume Rubashkin products until this situation is addressed.” Yet they are the ones who come under criticism.
    The organized Jewish world needs to feel shame here. The Conservative leadership did not go as far as some activist rabbis would have wished.
    But why is this story about the ONLY denomination that is reacting to the failure to tie Kashrut to ethics?

  6. But why is this story about the ONLY denomination that is reacting to the failure to tie Kashrut to ethics?
    “It doesn’t matter which denomination you belong to, as long as you’re ashamed of it.” –Yitz Greenberg
    KRG and other Conservative-identified writers are writing about their own movement.

  7. if you have any info to help kosher consumers tell Rubashkin from non-Rubashkin that’d be greaet.
    According to one of the recent articles, Rubashkins’ products are labeled under the following names. Not all of them are kosher:
    Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, David’s, European Glatt, Iowa Best Beef, Nevel, Rubashkin’s, Shor Habor, and Supreme Kosher.

  8. “But The Reform Movement (the Movement of Prophetic ethics) gets off the hook with a statement that this is more the bailiwick of Conservatives because Reform does not insist on Kashrut.”
    One thing that confuses me is that though this reference to Yoffie’s statement appeared in the JTA piece at the time Yael captured it, it seems to have been redacted out of the article’s present state. I can find nothing about the raid on the URJ’s web site.
    I think that Reform has a few dogs in this fight:
    1) There are Reform Jews who keep kosher. That it is not required does not mean it is not done.
    2) Reform Jews, whether they keep kosher or not, or encouraged to ensure that Jews who do wish to keep kosher can.
    3) When the sorts of chillul haShem that come forth forth from Postville hit the mainstream, we are all affected. The dominant culture does not care about our intramural differences, to them we are all Jews.

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