June 16, 2006

Investigate Abuses at Iowa Slaughterhouse

A May 26 article on AgriProcessors and a subsequent rebuttal in the Jewish Press by lawyer Nathan Lewin make only one thing clear: A full, fair and unbiased investigation of the working conditions at the Postville, Iowa, plant is needed — and it is needed now (“In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher ‘Jungle’ Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay”). My suggestion is that the Orthodox Union and the Jewish Labor Committee jointly undertake that investigation and that the investigation be performed by unbiased, bilingual professionals.

Lewin correctly notes that “no decent person — much less a Jew concerned about allegations of unethical behavior by religious Jews that might give rise to a chilul Hashem — could fail to be troubled by what [the Forward] was reporting.” Lewin also properly discloses his professional relationship with AgriProcessors.

He goes on to refute the allegations of the Forward article relying, in part on the “findings” of a rabbi and professor from Minnesota who paid a visit to Postville in late May. The rabbi and professor are to be praised for their concern. Now the Jewish community needs to show its concern.

I buy and eat Aaron’s chicken. I keep kosher and feel a deep commitment to Kashrut. The thought that the food I eat and the tradition I cherish could be blemished by the conditions cited in the article is very troubling. I can’t believe that Lewin and I are the only kosher consumers concerned about the allegations made in the article.

The allegations are so serious and, if true, so offensive that they require an immediate investigation. Those who buy kosher meat have a right to know that the workers who produce it are not abused. Those who certify compliance with the laws of kashrut have a responsibility to insure that the Torah’s laws concerning the treatment of workers are respected in the process of implementing the laws of kashrut.

Time is of the essence. A joint Orthodox Union-Jewish Labor Committee investigation should commence this month with a charge to report its findings by Labor Day. The investigative committee needs to formulate ground rules and retain investigators. Workers must be free to speak to the investigators and free from retaliation for what they say to investigators.

Both organizations must commit themselves to finding the facts and sharing the truth. Together they have an awesome responsibility to hundreds of thousands of individuals. They must not let these people down.

Donald Siegel

Newton, Mass.

I read with sadness and consternation the entire sordid story of the Postville, Iowa, kosher meat and chicken slaughtering plants. At the very least, as the Forward editorialist rightly points out, the treatment of the workers is totally against the teaching of the Torah (“Slaughterhouse Rules,” May 26). To treat one’s workers fairly and in a timely fashion is a shining example of the Torah’s early emphasis and insistence on carrying out the laws that deal with the relationships of man to man.

The Forward describes how initially the group that initiated this venture were composed of Lubavitch adherents. No more was said about this connection.

Are the rabbis who perform the ritual slaughter Lubavitch rabbis? Is there a connection between the Lubavitch hierarchy and the owners of the plants?

Why didn’t the Forward seek comment and possible condemnation from the Lubavitch leadership? The Torah does not differentiate between Jewish laborers and gerim, in this case Guatemalans. Why not have a follow-up article that delves into just where the Lubavitch stand on this aspect of chilul Hashem?

Martin Schulberg

Palm Coast, Fla.

I seem to remember Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writing that a Jew had to possess both Torah knowledge and a good heart in order to do holy work. I have no doubt that the Lubavitchers of Postville are expert in shechita, or ritual slaughter, but after reading a May 26 editorial, I wonder about how holy their work is.

If kashrut is supposed to lead us to a holy life, it should not lead as well to unsafe working conditions, delayed or incorrect payment of wages, environmental degradation or intimidation of workers. At its best, kashrut should reflect a good heart as much as it reflects Torah.

Perhaps if this shonda were to be corrected, more Jews would keep kosher. This slaughterhouse is a true sin. It is a sad day when the knowledge of kashrut pushes Jews away from Torah.

Rabbi Jordan Parr

Adat Chaverim

Plano, Texas

I was quite upset after reading a May 26 article on the labor practices at the AgriProcessor’s plant in Iowa . It appears that the company’s management believes more in the almighty dollar than the teachings of the Torah.

All Jews should respect and fairly treat all people — not only observant Jews.

Jews march for the rights of the less fortunate all over the world. We need to clean our own house. The Forward should continue to monitor the situation.

Edward Williams

Worcester, Mass.

Stop Smearing Postville

A May 26 article on the Postville kosher slaughterhouse was nothing more than a disgusting piece of thinly-veiled antisemitic garbage directed against observant Jews.

What halachic principle is violated by paying wages consistent with the market rate?

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics would know that if these workers were being paid below what they could obtain elsewhere, they would not be working at AgriProcessors.

It is bad enough that the Forward suggests that an employer is unethical because a job is hard, potentially dangerous and not lucrative — typical socialist, class-warfare propaganda.

It is a deplorable smear to give credence to an unsubstantiated charge that these workers are treated unethically by “Jews because they’re not Jews.”

Andrew Hanan

Cherry Hill, N.J.

Rabbi Out of Place in Criticism of Catholics

If a Catholic priest were invited to be part of a panel discussion in a synagogue addressing an antisemitic movie, and he took the occasion to lecture Jews for having “blood on their hands” for their treatment of Palestinian Christians, he would properly be blasted by both Catholics and Jews for his remarks (“Rabbi: ‘Da Vinci’ Paints Skewed Picture,” June 9).

Yet when Rabbi Michael Lerner recently lectured Catholics about the “blood on their hands” while addressing “The Da Vinci Code” in a Catholic Church, he apparently escaped criticism from Catholics and Jews alike.

It speaks ill of both groups that Lerner’s insulting remarks went unchallenged. There is a time and a place for everything — something Lerner has yet to understand.

William Donohue

President

Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

New York, N.Y..

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June 16, 2006

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