Undocumented workers, always one phone call away from deportation and a moment away from being summarily fired, are afraid to object to abusive working conditions. This makes them ripe for exploitation, as has been amply documented, and is one reason why US labor law does not allow employers to prevent illegal workers from unionizing. The May 12 immigration raid at Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, the world’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, exposed the dark underbelly of illegal immigration. In response to this exploitation, the Jewish community has split in two.
One side, overwhelmingly non-Orthodox in affiliation, views the conduct of the Rubashkin family, Agriprocessors’ hasidic owners, as beyond the pale. It looks at the history of Agriprocessors and its owners and sees a clear, long term pattern of disregard for US law and halakha, Jewish law. It has demanded change, urged boycott, and rallied for justice.
The other side, overwhelmingly Orthodox, sees little wrong with Agriprocessors. It argues Agriprocessors is being mistreated; that liberal Jews, unions, and unnamed competitors are behind the raid and its media coverage; and that Jewish law governing treatment of workers should at any rate be divorced from Jewish law governing the preparation of kosher food. To these people, the many well documented sins of Agriprocessors and its owners, sins that stretch back many years in an unbroken chain, are irrelevant.
Absent from the first is much concern over the availability of kosher meat.
Absent from the second is much concern for the poor, often illiterate men and women (and children) who produce our food.
There is no biblical command to eat meat, and many of the Rubashkins’ fellow hasidim went years without eating meat because of the difficulty of getting kosher meat in the Soviet Union.