The Conservative movement is pulling no punches in response to Sholom Rubashkin’s conviction on fraud charges.
The movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek Commission, directed by Rabbi Morris J. Allen, issued a statement praising the verdict and essentially siding with the prosecution in the upcoming case regarding immigration-related charges:
The news out of Sioux Falls, SD, yesterday, that Sholom Rubashkin was convicted on 86 out of 91 counts of fraud in the federal investigation into criminal activity within the Agriprocessor’s meat processing facility in Postville, Iowa, delivers both justice and a heavy heart to those of us who champion the cause of ethical kashrut.
The investigation into Agriprocessors has unfolded in slow-motion. First there were allegations of business fraud and worker abuse, then investigations, then negotiations – all with ample opportunity for the Rubashkin family to cooperate and self-correct — then arrogant disregard for the law, shocking revelations, indictments, a plethora of press attention, the riveting scandal of the federal raid in May of 2008, the largest scale of its kind in US history…and finally the verdict of guilty on the majority of counts of business fraud in yesterday’s trial.
It is important to note that the trial on charges of worker abuse is not even underway. The heartbreaking stories that will emerge in the course of this trial will be as cringe-worthy as they are criminal.
As the founders of Magen Tzedek, we were on the ground in Postville from the virtual start of this tragic drama in the summer of 2006, bearing witness to the terrible worker conditions and business practices at the nation’s largest manufacturer of kosher meat and poultry, trying to steer the Rubashkin family towards taking responsibility and correcting their mistakes, acting in accordance with the biblical injunction – “hokhaich tokhiach et amitecha” – “rebuke your kinsman,” that is, do not stand idly by while one of your brethren commits a grievous wrongdoing.
Although the miscarriage of kashrut at Agriprocessors was not the catalyst for the creation of Magen Tzedek, it provided an urgent context and need for us to develop our initiative, proclaiming publicly our belief that keeping kosher is inextricably linked to leading a life of ethical integrity.
There are tragedies within tragedies in the story of the fall of the house of Rubashkin, the worst of which might be the deaf ear of the Rubashkin family turned towards those who tried to prevent the collapse. We were at the epicenter of those who repeatedly reached out to the family. Yet as the investigation and trial wore on, it became clear that the deafness was a direct result of the Rubashkin family’s flagrant disregard for the law and ethical behavior.
There is neither joy nor a sense of schadenfreude in yesterday’s conviction. Those of us who toil in the field of tikkun olam are downright demoralized by this highly preventable outcome. This story could have ended very differently. Had the Rubashkin family done a sincere teshuva – heeding, for instance, the three-pronged course of action we delivered to them in the summer of 2006 — they would now be the heroes of the kosher world instead of its villains.
Given the sad outcome of this situation, we rededicate ourselves to the birthing of our Magen Tzedek seal of ethical certification, a process that has been long and arduous but more relevant with each passing day.
After thousands of hours of meetings, deliberations, drafts of our working guidelines and compliance procedures, we are getting closer. The soul and future of kashrut depends on the development of Magen Tzedek as an actual seal on kosher food products, indicating that it has been produced in accordance with high ethical standards for employee wages and benefits, health and safety, animal welfare, corporate transparency and environmental impact. What has emerged in the course of the development of this product is that Magen Tzedek is more than just a new certification for kosher food — it is a worldwide awareness built upon the belief that we are how and what we eat.
Achieving Magen Tzedek is our ascent to Sinai, fraught with challenge and yet possessed of a promise. Like the Law that Moses receives at the summit of the mountain, Magen Tzedek will give Jews and all people of conscience a road map towards leading lives of ethical integrity through the portal of keeping kosher.
The Hekhsher Tzedek Commission
Rabbi Morris J. Allen, Project Director