Originally published Friday June 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm CDT
The Other Side Of The Hebrew National Scandal And Lawsuit
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
I spent more than 80 mintues on the phone yesterday afternoon and a few more this morning with Shlomoh Ben-David, the owner of AER Services, Inc., a company that provides crews of shochtim (ritual slaughterers); bodkim (inspectors, in this case shochtim, who check the internal organs of slaughtered animals and the body cavity and who also check – and sharpen – the special slaughter knives used for shechita; and mashgichim (the kosher inspectors who supervise the butchering process after the schita [kill] and bedika [inspection of the body cavity and internal organs] takes place; to five midwest plants that condcut kosher slaughter for ConAgra, Hebrew National's parent.
I'll try to do a more thorough post Sunday. Today I'm not feeling well and also have an infected finger, which has me typing primarily with one hand. But Ben-David was very clear: he denies the accusations against his company.
For example, Ben-David pointed out that Israeli tax law allows Israelis working overseas to get $100 in per diem. That money is not taxed. And it is that money he says was paid to the family of the schochet in the American Jewish World story.
I asked him about the legality of this arrangement vis-a-vis the IRS, and he told me that his attorney had approved it and promised more documentation early next week.
Ben-David also noted that many of the kashrut issues mentioned in the class action suit are vague. How can I respond to this? he asked me, after reading one of them. There are no facts [given here] to respond to.
He also points out the AER does not buy or sell the cattle or the meat – it simply provides the crew of schochtim, etc., needed for kosher slaughter.
ConAgra has other sources of kosher beef that have nothing to do with AER, and not all meat in Hebrew National products was produced with AER crews.
He said single schochtim and mashgichim are given housing in apartments. There are beds (which he said he has receipts for and will, he said, share with me), not mattresses on the floor. Several schochtim and mashgichim live in each apartment because he wants them to be together so they go to synagogue together and stay away from various temptations that could be much more easily accessible if they each lived alone.
The head of each crew is paid by AER, but reports to Triangle-K and takes direction from Traingle-K in all kashrut matters.
Ben-David says he went to Chabad schools in Israel and was a Chabadnik but has been Modern Orthodox for some time already.
One of AE's most senior employees, Rabbi Moshe Fyzakov, who is mentioned in the American Jewish World article also comes from a Chabad background. He's also a sofer who has written a Torah scroll for at least one Chabad house and who was affiliated with Chabad.
Ben-David complained that the American Jewish World did not contact him for comment before publishing its story, something that I confirmed with the AJW (whose report was based heavily on the lawsuit posted below).
We spoke briefly about humane slaughter issues, and Ben-David, emphasizing that he could not speak for any of the slaughterhouses or for ConAgra/Hebrew National, said that there is no vocallization, meaning the cattle are not agitated before slaughter. He also said that Dr. Temple Grandin's methods were being used and he believed she or one of her assistants may have consulted at these plants. He also noted that there are third party auditors in these plants quite regularly on unannounced inspections, because the companies that buy the non-kosher output require it.
There is one kashrut issue (so far) that disturbs me and one that doesn't but that will probably surprise you.
First, the more benign of the two.
Approximately 3 to 5 seconds after the slaughter cut and a second or so after the throat bedika that follows it, each animal is stunned by a plant employee. This is the same basic procedure rabbis in Holland just agreed to, and that was, I think, praised by the European Jewish Congress.
Now the more difficult one.
Sides of beef are flash pastuerized before soaking and salting. This is done through a rabbinically approved process that involves using a kli shlishi. That means that halakhicly, the hot liquid cannot cook the meat (which is only in that hot liquid for a matter of seconds).
This does raise issues with the soaking and salting process that takes place later.
I believe the pasteurization only warms the surface of the meat, though, and the heter (halakhic permit) for doing this is probably based on that and on the idea that the subsequent soaking will still do its job, and the salt put on after it will work just as well as it otherwise would.
The pasteurization kills e-coli and other pathogens on the meat.
Here is the entire class action lawsuit against ConAgra D.B.A. Hebrew National as a PDF file: