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— Rabbi Lisa Malik
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On May 12, 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Agriprocessors meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa based on criminal search warrants for aggravated identify theft and fraudulent Social Security numbers. The Agriprocessors facility is the world's largest kosher meatpacking plant.

Living Judaism

If You Shecht It, They Will Come.
Iowa's Kosher Agriprocessors facility is no "Field of Dreams".

Widespread community outrage has greeted the reports of government raids at the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse. The mistreatment of both animals and the human workers who “process” Kosher animals has been broad-based across denominations. We have received multiple communications from a variety of sources – expressing anger, astonishment, and revulsion. We revisit this controversial meat packing facility with a variety of excerpts from our readers.

-- Ben Burrows

Kashrut Alert: A Call to Action

-- Rabbi Lisa Malik

In a recent sermon, I expressed a strong criticism of Agriprocessors, the kosher meat production facility in Postville, Iowa that is guilty of several ethical violations against animals and human beings. Agriprocessors, which produces 60 percent of the beef and 40 percent of the chicken provided to the kosher marketplace in America, provides kosher meat under various brand names, including Aaron’s, David’s, and Rubashkin’s.

A few years ago, the ethical violations at the Postville plant spurred Rabbi Morris Allen, one of my colleagues in the Conservative rabbinate, to push for a separate “hekhsher” (rabbinic certification of kashrut). "Hekhsher Tzedek" is a shared effort between the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism “to display a seal on already designated kosher foods that reflects production benchmarks consistent with Jewish ethical standards, including how companies treat their employees.” [ href: http://www.hekhshertzedek.org/ ]

Read the full text of my sermon, which includes specific examples of the transgressions committed by Agriprocessors.

You can also refer to the May 15 article in The Forward by Marissa Brostoff about the most recent raid on Agriprocessors' Postville facility.

When the kosher meat industry violates both ritual and ethical standards against both animals and human beings, it is a travesty & and a mockery of the mitzvah of kashrut.

Agriprocessors’ actions are in direct violation of the biblical injunction from the book of Devarim (Deut 24:14),

Lo taasok sachir ani v’evyon.”

“You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer.”

According to a statement that was released on May 22 by the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) regarding Rubashkin’s kosher meat products, “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 any kind of human suffering.”

In response to the ethical violations committed by Agriprocessors, I have also signed a letter of petition to Aaron Rubashkin that was authored and disseminated by Uri L'tzedek, a Jewish organization dedicated to the enactment of social justice.

In response to the ethical violations committed by Agriprocessors, I am not permitting any chicken or meat produced at Agriprocessors to be brought into our shul until further notice.

In response to the ethical violations committed by Agriprocessor, I urge you not to purchase or eat Agriprocessors products such as Aaron's, David's and Rubashkin's until further notice.

If you are not vegetarian, I encourage you to purchase and eat Empire kosher poultry products instead of Aaron's. Empire products are available at several local supermarkets including Genuardi’s and Superfresh, as well as at Main Line Kosher Meats. You may purchase beef products at Main Line Kosher as well. (Main Line gets its beef from Aurora Meats in Illinois, via Eastern Meats' distribution center in New York.)

By taking a stand against Agriprocessors in these concrete ways, may we strengthen the bonds between halacha (Jewish law) and social justice. As we work to make the world a better place, may we all strive to incorporate both ritual and ethical mitzvot into our lives.

Unkosher Meat, Unkosher Politics

-- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Rubashkin meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, which has been the biggest supplier of allegedly kosher meat in America, has violated many moral, ethical, and legal codes of conduct -- American and Jewish. It has tortured the animals it is supposed to kill painlessly and has exploited its workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants who were fearful of complaining. It has even had the chutzpah to collect union dues from some workers and then pocket the money instead of passing it on to the unions.

Rubashkin is under serious criticism from major parts of the Jewish community. Yet even some who have called for a boycott of this unkosher meat have praised the Rubashkin family's "charitable" donations. Leave aside the fact that any such donations come from the super-profits made possible by oppressing humans and animals alike; when I asked for evidence of those charities, I was told only they were claimed by those within the family's (Lubavitch) community , and that some signers of the boycott call would not sign without it.

Finally the Federal government has stepped in.

To do what? To imprison hundreds of allegedly undocumented workers and - with rare precedent - to charge hundreds with criminal offenses rather than, as usual in such situations, simply deporting them. As for the owners - so far, no action at all.

Perhaps this failure of Federal authorities to act against the wealthy violators while destroying the lives of the powerless workers is rooted in the conventional deference to the rich. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Rubashkin family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to one political party - the one that happens to be running the Federal government at the moment. (Maybe these are the undocumented charitable contributions?)

In any case, this needs to change. I hope that many many of you our readers, of ALL religious and ethical traditions and beliefs, will write your local newspapers not only to support a boycott of this meat - unkosher in every sense - but also to press that Federal authorities take vigorous action against the owners to the full extent of the law, while dropping criminal charges against workers caught in this oppressive bind.

-- Nathaniel Popper

A video from a kosher slaughterhouse in Nebraska is reigniting concern about the way the nation’s largest kosher meat company handles its animals.

The three-and-a-half minute video shows bloody images of cows being killed at the Local Pride slaughterhouse in Gordon, Neb., which is owned by the Brooklyn-based Rubashkin family. The footage was filmed and released by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The Rubashkins, adherents of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect, also own the Postville, Iowa-based AgriProcessors, the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse. In 2004, AgriProcessors came under sharp criticism from a number of rabbis and animal rights activists after PETA released a separate video from the Postville slaughterhouse that showed gruesome footage of cows walking around after having their necks cut. Since then, AgriProcessors has also come under fire for the treatment of its workers.

The new video shows much less gut-wrenching detail than the one from 2004. A PETA spokesman said that allegations this time around are more limited. Unlike the previous video, which was filmed clandestinely, the new one was made with the knowledge of the workers, according to PETA. The group alleges that the video provides proof of the Rubashkins’ failure to follow through on reforms that they agreed to make after the previous video was released, including a promise to use a gun to immediately kill any animal that is not rendered insensate after the kosher cut is administered.

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward.

Jewish Labor Statement

-- Rosalid Spigel

As an organization committed to the defense of human rights, the Jewish Labor Committee has long condemned the abuse of workers by any employer for any reason. For this reason, the JLC has vigorously opposed the employment practices of Agriprocessors, Inc. since we first learned of them two years ago.

In reviewing the complaints of Agriprocessors’ employees, the JLC learned that there is a clear pattern of employer negligence and even lawlessness. Among the most troubling practices by Agriprocessors are:

  • abuse of child labor laws;
  • failure to pay workers the full amount of wages they have earned;
  • unnecessary exposure of workers to dangerous -- even life-threatening -- working conditions;
  • sexual harassment.

The JLC has also learned that Agriprocessors is actively waging a campaign of intimidation and harassment against workers who have expressed an interest in exercising their legal right to union representation.

In this atmosphere, it is clear that the recent ICE raid at Agriprocessors, though apparently legal, only buttresses the conviction shared by many undocumented workers that our government is not only indifferent to worker abuse, but works in collusion with management to penalize workers who challenge it.

While there are many differing perspectives regarding immigration reform, the American Jewish community shares a common conviction that all workers -- regardless of their immigration status -- must be free to exercise their rights and challenge employer abuses. Our belief is grounded in the collective memory of American Jewry of the gross exploitation of Jewish immigrants by employers who, like Agriprocessors, abused and robbed them of their right to dignity in the workplace.

Judaism is clear on the topic of treating workers with dignity and respect. We understand that we must treat our workers decently and justly, ethically and legally.

For this reason we call on Agriprocessors to live up to the responsibilities of corporate citizenship, end its campaign of worker abuse, and respect the rights of its employees including their legal right to union representation. Until Agriprocessors establishes its commitment to these responsibilities, we urge consumers of kosher meat products to seek alternatives to the Rubashkin labels.

Support Ethical Jewish Labor Practices

-- Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Conservative Jews and Jewish institutions should strive to pay their employees a living wage.

Jewish employers must treat their workers with dignity and respect.

Jewish employers should comply with federal labor laws, hire unionized workers whenever possible, and allow workers to make free decisions about unionization.

These are among the conclusions of a teshuvah (legal position) I wrote, which was recently passed 13-1 by the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

The teshuvah applies to institutions affiliated with the Conservative Movement (such as synagogues, Camp Ramah, and Schechter schools), as well as to individual members of these institutions.

The passage of this teshuvah represents an acknowledgment that Jewish practice includes not only what we eat and how we celebrate holidays, but also our interpersonal and business practices. As Jewish Funds for Justice has always maintained, when we take traditional Jewish approaches to employer-employee relations seriously, we express our Jewish values. And at the same time, we create a better America.

I have already received phone calls and emails from more than a dozen rabbis who are working to implement the teshuvah in their communities. In the near future, we will consider ways to help more communities implement the conclusions of the teshuvah.

Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse and meat-packaging factory, has recently come under fire for perpetuating employment practices and factory conditions that violate Jewish ethics as well as United States law.

As Jews, we cannot allow this state of affairs to continue. I encourage you to sign the petition, authored by Uri L’Tzedek. It pledges a boycott of Agriprocessors’ kosher meat and calls on Aaron Rubashkin to improve conditions in his factories immediately.

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