From The Jewish Press:
We certainly hold no brief for any company or business enterprise shown to have run afoul of the law. And if AgriProcessors has done so in terms of employing undocumented workers, it will, and should, have to suffer the consequences.
But in pursuing some of the threads running through the AgriProcessors controversy, one is struck by how the basic concepts of shechita and kashrut — the laws governing the slaughter and consumption of animals – have been appropriated and rendered well nigh unrecognizable by those with a rather elastic (and in some case agenda-driven) view of what kashrut should entail.
It will be recalled that several years ago, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent in some private investigators to shoot video footage of the slaughtering process at the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa. The images they produced were obviously gory — animal slaughter is not a pleasant thing.
Given that AgriProcessors is the largest kosher slaughterer in the U.S., the videos became a cause celebre. And while some violations were subsequently found and corrected, the matter did not end there. The AgriProcessors story was spun not so much as the alleged violations of an individual company but as an indictment of the kosher slaughter enterprise in its entirety. Questions were raised as to how the work product of a company could be deemed "kosher" if the animals were treated in a way that offended PETA’s sensibilities.
Some time later, the Forward did an “expose” on AgriProcessors’ alleged mistreatment of employees. The story was based largely on interviews with workers and union organizers who were in the midst of a bitter fight to unionize the plant. Again there was questioning as to how the AgriProcessors product could be considered “kosher” if there was worker abuse — which was accepted as fact.
At that point the Conservative movement came up with the notion of a “Hechsher Tzedek” which would add to the definition of “kosher” by determining what hourly wage, vacation time, shift scheduling, coffee breaks, lunch breaks, etc., were “just” and then coupling the performance of a company in those areas with its adherence to kosher food standards in order to round out a new, comprehensive standard of kashrut.
Just recently, Conservative rabbi David Lincoln, during a panel discussion on The Jewish Channel concerning AgriProcessors, offered this bit of charming commentary:
I think there’s a general feeling that in the Orthodox community, in many Orthodox communities, and especially the more haredi — more extreme Orthodox — communities, there’s more concern for the strict rules of halacha, for how you cut the animal’s throat and how you examine the lungs…they’re not really concerned about whether you’re stealing, or whatever, or going into court and perjuring themselves….
Finally, last week The New York Times ran an editorial which in effect tied the AgriProcessors controversy to the Bush administration’s immigration policies – policies that the Times, of course, roundly condemns.
The fact remains that no one has challenged AgriProcessors in terms of its conformity to the laws governing the production of kosher food. Rather, there have been attempts to graft onto those laws issues that, while important in and of themselves, simply do not relate to kashrut as it is properly and historically understood.