Unfortunately, this year kosher meat has become a different type of symbol, one not of mourning and spiritual devotion but of ridicule, embarrassment and hypocrisy. In May in
News reports and government documents have described abusive practices at Agriprocessors against workers, including minors. This poses a grave problem and calls into question whether the food processed in the plant qualifies as kosher.
Yisroel Salanter, the great 19th-century rabbi, is famously believed to have refused to certify a matzo factory as kosher on the grounds that the workers were being treated unfairly. The affidavit filed in the United States District Court of Northern Iowa, for instance, alleges that an employee was physically abused by a rabbi on the floor of the plant. If true, this calls into question the reliability and judgment of the rabbi in charge of making sure the food was kosher.
What’s more, two workers who oversaw the poultry and beef division were recently arrested for helping illegal immigrants falsify documents. If they were willing to break national immigration laws, one could reasonably ask whether they would be likely to show the same lack of concern for Jewish dietary laws.
Unfortunately, the responses of the leading Orthodox organizations, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union, have, in my opinion, fallen far short of what is needed to be done and have done little to diminish the extent of the desecration of God’s name. What is needed is for the Orthodox Union to appoint an independent commission whose members have not in the past been paid by either the Orthodox Union or Agriprocessors. Such a commission would select a team of rabbinic experts to spend an extended period of time at the plant and then make suggestions and recommendations. This independent team would make sure the plant upholds basic standards of kashrut and worker and animal treatment — and that it is in full compliance with the laws of the
Hebrew National used to run a commercial that said: “We answer to a Higher Authority.” Then we should ask ourselves if our behavior and our values need improvement.