An immigration raid at the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant has opened a wide rift among Jewish leaders over the company’s ethical conduct and led to new interest in a campaign to create wage and safety standards for workers producing kosher food.
The Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Postville, Iowa, lost about half its work force when 389 illegal immigrants were detained there in May, causing shortages of kosher meat and poultry in butcher shops and supermarkets across the country.
Immigrants caught in the raid told labor investigators of unpaid overtime, lax safety measures and under-age workers at the plant. Their stories have troubled many kosher consumers and given impetus to a campaign known as Hekhsher Tzedek (which means “justice certification” in Hebrew) to create an additional seal of approval for kosher-certified products, indicating that the producers met certain standards for the treatment of workers.
“People want kosher food that is produced in an appropriate manner according to both ritual law and ethical law,” said Rabbi Morris J. Allen of Mendota Heights, Minn., who is leading the effort backed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, representing the synagogues of the Conservative movement, and the Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of Conservative rabbis.
But while Rabbi Allen and others have criticized Agriprocessors, some Orthodox Jewish leaders rallied to the company’s defense. After touring the Postville plant on July 31, a delegation of 20 Orthodox rabbis, including leaders of kosher certification organizations from the United States and Canada, concluded Agriprocessors was “an A-1 place,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox group.