Agriprocessors Raid Made Us, Briefly, Rethink Kashrut

Where We Are on Fifth Anniversary of Postville Raid

Kosher Scandal: On the anniversary of the raid that started the Agriprocessors kosher meat scandal, a look at what has changed, and what is still the same.
Kosher Scandal: On the anniversary of the raid that started the Agriprocessors kosher meat scandal, a look at what has changed, and what is still the same.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published May 12, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Our reporter Nathaniel Popper had turned up hard evidence of appalling abuse: substandard wages, inadequate safety measures, horrific accidents, routine short-changing of pay, bribe-taking by shift supervisors and more. Workers feared to complain because many were undocumented and subject to firing or deportation. Many couldn’t risk dismissal because they owed thousands of dollars to the smugglers who brought them over the border.

The story quoted investigators and researchers saying they hadn’t paid much attention to Agriprocessors because they assumed its religious management meant higher ethical standards, not lower ones. The Forward said in an editorial that the Torah’s rules on treatment of workers are at least as detailed as those on food preparation, and asked why violating Sabbath laws disqualifies kosher certification but violating the Torah’s labor laws does not.

“Why is this meat kosher?” we asked.

Why have efforts at reform faltered?

The coverage sparked a nationwide furor and stirred demands for action within the kosher-consumer community. Allen spearheaded a response within the Conservative rabbinate. Together with allies, he formed an organization called Magen Tzedek — “Shield of Justice” — to offer companies an ethical-practices certification supplementing the standard kosher certification. It’s been a tough slog.

Firms want to know that consumers will reward them for the commitment. That can’t be shown until someone tries, and nobody wants to go first. “We had one kosher meat company say they’d be thrilled to be the second to be certified,” Allen said.

And there’s been quiet but fierce opposition from existing kosher certification agencies. Partly that reflects the kosher food industry’s famously sharp-elbowed business culture. Partly, too, it stems from what Allen calls “a disease inside the Jewish community”: Some folks “can’t believe the Torah can ever come from outside their own community.”

To people all too accustomed to attacks on their religion, questioning their ethics feels like one more attack. Result: They circle the wagons.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.