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.
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Reactions among Orthodox Jews were strong, too, but the Orthodox institutional response was muted. Some community leaders said they couldn’t link kosher certification with other issues that aren’t under the Jewish community’s control.

“Fair treatment of workers is an important issue,” one leading rabbi told me, “but it’s not our job to judge it. We have to trust the government to supervise it. As long as a company is observing the law, we can’t get involved.”

That was the situation in May 2008, when the government descended on Postville. When the feds showed up, though, it wasn’t to protect the workers but to round them up

Suddenly, Postville was all about immigration. It no longer represented a debate within the Jewish community about the meaning of Jewish ethics. Now it was an escalation of America’s border wars, with the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse as the poster child for abuse.

It didn’t help that, as some accounts emphasize, Agriprocessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin, a Lubavitch Hasid, had his immigration charges dropped, as if to say: The little guys get nailed while the big guys walk.

You wouldn’t know from these accounts, including some notices for the May 10 commemoration, that Rubashkin was convicted on 86 counts of financial fraud, based on material found during the raid, and sentenced to 27 years in prison. The immigration charges were dropped, along with child labor charges, because the feds figured they wouldn’t add to the already stiff punishment.

Four other plant officials were convicted on immigration and document fraud charges, and three faced child labor charges. Two managers indicted on document charges fled to Israel, but one, an Israeli Arab, was returned to Iowa to stand trial on May 3. In fact, the one major category of crime that wasn’t punished was the one that started all the fuss: labor abuse.

“The tragedy is that Immigration and Customs Enforcement did the raid and not the Department of Labor,” said Allen. “But that’s the way America operates.”

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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