Daily Alert

24 May 2008

Conservative Socialism: Agriprocessors and Hekhsher Tzedek

Reconsidering AgriProcessors products - JTA

Published: 05/22/2008

The leadership of the U.S. Conservative movement is urging Jews to consider not patronizing AgriProcessors, the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse.

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.”

The advisory extends not only to products bought retail but also to meat and poultry bought at restaurants and for private functions such as weddings and bar mitzvahs.

The statement falls short of the boycott hoped for by the more activist wing of the Conservative rabbinate, and leaves the decision in the hands of the individual consumer.

Still, Rabbi Morris Allen, head of the movement's hekhsher tzedek commission, said that "it is the first statement from the organized Jewish community that reminds people they need to evaluate the food they purchase and eat" from an ethical perspective.

No other Jewish movement has issued a statement on the issue.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union of Reform Judaism, said it was appropriate that the Conservative movement take the lead because unlike the Reform movement, the Conservative movement calls on its members to keep kosher.

Noting his own “deep distress” at the news coming out of Postville, Iowa, where AgriProcessors is located, Yoffie said it is “absolutely” time for the Jewish community to demand similar investigations into all kosher slaughterhouses, because the case “has raised suspicions about all kosher food.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the Orthodox Union’s kosher department, the largest kosher certifier of AgriProcessors, said the O.U. is awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings against the company before coming to any decision. If AgriProcessors is found guilty of criminal charges, he said, the O.U. will withdraw its kosher certification.

Meat and poultry produced by AgriProcessors is sold under the following kosher and non-kosher labels: Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, David’s, European Glatt, Iowa Best Beef, Nevel, Rubashkin’s, Shor Habor, and Supreme Kosher.

hekhshertzedek.org
rabbimorrisallen2.blogspot.com



Let's be clear on one point before we begin. APRPEH has been strongly critical of Agriprocessors for at the very least facilitating a situation for large scale disregard for the rule of law. The recent ICE raid which swept up hundreds of illegal workers (who to be honest would have found employment elsewhere) on charges of aggravated identity theft which as explaned here is a great hassle for the consumers whose identity was used to work under (provided they didn't know, but that is another matter) and at the very least is embarrassing to all kosher consumers and Jews.

Breaking this down to the core issue, it is not about kashrus but identity theft and criminal behavior. As pointed out in a follow up post, here Rabbi Weissmandel claims that the kashrus is unaffected. An interesting dilemma for the OU will be if they determine based upon a legal not kashrus justification to remove their approval for Agriprocessor products while Nitra-Monsey maintains his hashgacha. Ask around and see who would take the OU over Nitra? Anyhow, I digress.

What irritates me almost as much as Agriprocessor's callous business practices is the Conservativists effort to use this unfortunate episode threatening to reduce the kosher meat supply in the country at least in the short term to give some meaning to their vacuous hekhsher tzedek program which inturn, is merely an effort to give meaning to "Conservativism".

Essentially, the hekhsher tzedek program is an attempt to garner new energy and give credibility to a movement in decay, losing members (see - The Road to Sdom) both to Reformism and traditional Judaism. The self-righteousness of the comments above is sickening. For a "movement" which does not accept or believe in the divine origin of Torah, makes up "new" halacha and is comprised of large majorities of members who keep little or very liberal interpretations of kashrus, let alone Shabbos, the "ethical eating" manifesto falls on deaf ears.

The statement falls short of the boycott hoped for by the more activist wing of the Conservative rabbinate, and leaves the decision in the hands of the individual consumer.
In the end, classical Conservativist thought carried the day, much to the dismay of those who radical conservativists who wished for a boycott, not on kashrus grounds but with an eye to what they think is social justice. And that is, in the end, what is truly happening. Hekhsher tzedek is merely a socialist wolf in a kipah, (but only in the sanctuary).

And for the icing on the cake, look at the cynical comments espoused by the crown prince of Reformism, the ever laughable Eric Yoffie:
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union of Reform Judaism, said it was appropriate that the Conservative movement take the lead because unlike the Reform movement, the Conservative movement calls on its members to keep kosher.

Noting his own “deep distress” at the news coming out of Postville, Iowa, where AgriProcessors is located, Yoffie said it is “absolutely” time for the Jewish community to demand similar investigations into all kosher slaughterhouses, because the case “has raised suspicions about all kosher food.”

Yoffie thinks this is a great way to make kosher meat all but impossible to find which in his own weird calculation, helps his G-dless "movement".

I certainly hope the OU will consider only kashrus issues as it reviews matters with Agriprocessors. I fully sympathize with the idea that as Jews we should not support wilful violation of law. We also must recognize that a tircha on the tzibbor such as making meat and poultry hard to find outside the big cities has to be the higher priority. Work with Agriprocessors to fix their hiring practices and stipulate conditions for future supervision of these practices by all means. But leave the US law to the US courts and kashrus to the mashgiach. And while working conditions for employees must also be a consideration, it must not be removed from the context of the industry. Agriprocessors or any other kosher meat processing company can be expected to lead the industry in working conditions and safety but it cannot be expected to act in ways which are unrealistic given market factors.

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