Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the butcher, federal authorities have slapped kosher meat-producer Agriprocessors with another series of charges because of the company’s hiring practices.
Following up from the May raid that netted almost 400 illegal immigrants, the government has now brought more than 9,000 child labor violations against Agri’s owner, Aaron Rubashkin, along with his son Sholom, who ran the Iowa plant until his father removed him in June. In a turnaround from its “wait and see” attitude, the Orthodox Union has said that it will cease its supervision of the plant within weeks if independent management is not brought in immediately.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, administrator of the O.U.’s kashrut division and a resident of Englewood, made similar statements after the May raid, but urged people to allow for due process. He seemed satisfied when the elder Rubashkin removed his son from the plant and hired a compliance officer, even though no new CEO was named. Now Genack is taking a much stronger tone, threatening to suspend supervision before the charges are proven in a court of law.
Perhaps Genack feels, as we do, that enough is enough.
Yes, one can argue that the government unfairly targeted Agri to make an example, even though similar conditions exist at many non-kosher meat plants. Yes, Agri has been singled out by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and heavily scrutinized. Shalom Rubashkin used the word “vendetta” – because the company would not allow the workers to unionize – and that may not be that inaccurate.
But that does not change the fact that we should expect better behavior from a kosher institution. The government did not just pull 9,000 violations of child labor laws out of a hat. Coupled with the new video from PETA showing irregular slaughter practices and a condemnation from former Agri advocate Temple Grandin, Agri’s leadership has a lot to be ashamed of heading into Rosh HaShanah.
Many in the Jewish community have already stopped using Agri meat, but others brush aside the allegations because the company provides kosher food in areas where no other options exist. Without Agri’s outreach into these areas, many people would not keep kosher at all. Making it easier to observe kashrut is certainly admirable, but not at any cost.
How can Agri’s bosses and its supporters honestly face HaShem when the most basic and, as Hillel said, most important of God’s laws – to treat one another humanely – is tossed aside in the name of profit, mass distribution, and cheap labor?
To borrow a phrase from Hebrew National, we answer to a higher authority. It’s time we started acting like it. We hope that 5769 will usher in a new chapter for Agriprocessors – one without federal indictments.