May 28, 2010

Will Rubashkin’s Punishment Fit the Crime?

Your May 14 article “Campaign for Rubashkin Paints Another View of Kosher Meat Scandal” paints an incomplete picture of the group of people who are protesting federal prosecutors’ efforts to have Sholom Rubashkin sentenced, initially, to a life sentence and now to a 25-year sentence.

It is not only Haredim who think that the proposed sentence is too harsh. Those objecting include former attorneys general, former U.S. attorneys, dozens of law professors and hundreds of lawyers. Those who are concerned about justice in the United States — not justice for Jews, but for all people — should look closely at the facts of the proposed sentence itself.

Your article mentioned only in passing the letter signed by former attorneys general Janet Reno, William Barr, Richard Thornburgh, Edwin Meese, Ramsey Clark and Nicholas Katzenbach. That letter states: “We cannot fathom how truly sound and sensible sentencing rules could call for a life sentence — or anything close to it — for Mr. Rubashkin, a 51-year-old, first-time, nonviolent offender.”

Good people naturally tend not to care when criminals are over-punished, and Sholom Rubashkin is certainly a criminal worthy of punishment. But the fairness of a justice system is measured in part by how the guilty are treated. The sentence that prosecutors are proposing is simply much too harsh.

Sholom Rubashkin may have been convicted for bank fraud, but his real crime, beyond the reach of secular prosecutors, was the debasement of kashrut.

Rubashkin pioneered a brilliant business model: Indifference to animal suffering, abusive labor practices and employment of illegal immigrants too afraid of deportation to complain — all this enabled him to produce product at rock-bottom cost. He then sold the cheap product into the premium kosher market.

However, the business model depended on the willingness of the kashrut certification establishment to ignore all ethical concerns, and declare the product kosher merely if the incision was ritually correct.

The result was a fraud on gullible kosher consumers like me who used to believe that keeping kosher was an ethical practice. Rubashkin, together with his enabling certifiers, sucked all of the morality out of kashrut.

The Orthodox community, which seems to be rallying to Rubashkin’s defense, should instead be condemning him for chilul Hashem — for bringing one of the most important Jewish religious practices into disrepute.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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May 28, 2010

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