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This Week in Postville: What the OU is telling rabbis

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As always, couple items to note ….

  • The Uri L’tzedek boycott of Agriprocessors has gone into effect. The self-described Orthodox social justice group (which doesn’t like the word boycott) said it would refrain from purchasing Agriprocessors’ products on June 15 if the company didn’t agree to establish a transparent mechanism to ensure compliance with Jewish and U.S. labor law. A meeting took place last week, but the group is still waiting for assurances that the company has turned a corner. There’s more on this here.
  • Meanwhile, another Jewish group is jumping into the fray. In keeping with its historic roots, Ameinu, the American wing of the World Labor Zionist movement, has issued a statement urging Jewish groups not to patronize Agri. We’ve also heard that another summer camp, the Conservative Ramah Darom in Georgia, turned away a shipment from Agri. Our gut here is that this is likely to further convince the company’s defenders that Jewish outrage over this issue is simply an opportunistic pile-on for liberal groups.
  • Meanwhile, some of the most damning evidence of an impending shortage emerged last week when we discovered that FreshDirect, the popular Internet retailer that gets all its kosher meat from Agri, has some 40 kosher meat products listed as currently unavailable. No worries if you’re planning to serve glatt kosher beef neck bones this Shabbos, the supply of which seems to be holding. (NOTE: If you follow that link, you need to type in a NYC zip code to see the page. If you’re outside the city, use mine: 11215). However, there does seem to be enough meat for the company to have donated 1,000 pounds to flood relief in Iowa, a Chabad website reported.
  • Finally, an email was circulated this week by a Lubavitch rabbi in Connecticut describing a recent meeting local rabbis had with Rabbi Seth Mandel, the OU’s head of meat supervision. More on that, after the jump.

Rabbi Mendel Samuels writes:

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Rabbi Yitzchok Adler for taking the initiative by bringing Rabbi Seth Mandell of the OU, to our community, to clear up any and all issues regarding Rubashkin Meat. Rabbi Mandell assured us that the many articles were “Loshen Harah” by people who are looking, for personal reasons, to hurt and damage the Rubashkin Name, and that the OU stands by and maintains that they continue to have the highest standards of Kashrus.

The OU’s Menachem Genack says the “people” Mandel was probably referring to is PETA, which first drew unwanted attention to the company in 2004 with an undercover video shot in the plant, and the food workers’ union, which has waged a long and still unsuccessful campaign to organizers Agri’s workers. As for the “any and all issues” comment, Genack says that’s not the OU’s position. He declined to be more specific on the record about the OU’s outstanding issues with the way the plant has been run, though he said, as he has repeatedly throughout, that the kashrut of the meat is not in question.

In any case, the impression Mandel appears to have left, and that Samuels is pushing, is that there’s no reason to be concerned about Rubashkin’s – the meat is kosher, the allegations are unproven, and, anyway, those folks who are making them have an agenda. (Interestingly, Adler, the head of the Hartford Kashrut Commission, said his Orthodox synagogue had stopped serving Agri meat a while ago, in part because of allegations about the company. He wouldn’t discuss what Mandel had to say, but said his own position is essentially what the RCA said two weeks ago.)

We’d love to ask Mandel himself what impression he had hoped to convey, but he hasn’t returned our call yet.

UPDATE (June 20): In an email yesterday, Mandel writes that his conversation in Hartford was private and that the rabbis assured him his comments would not be publicized. The Samuels email “did not represent what I said,” he wrote. Mandel says he never said that “any and all” of the allegations are slanderous, merely that people should reserve judgment until the facts are established.

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