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June 16, 2012

The Other Side Of The Hebrew National Scandal And Lawsuit

Hebrew-national-logoThe Hebrew National Scandal post #2: AER Services, Inc. responds to charges made against it in the American Jewish World and in a class action lawsuit filed against ConAgra/Hebrew National.

Hebrew-national-logo

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:

Download Hebrew National Class Action Lawsuit 6-2012

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I now see why haredim did not trust Hebrew National - selling non-kosher products as kosher.

It is still daylight here...

Shymara

You mean the American Jewish World of Minneapolis actually did a story on this??!!

Of course the Houston Jewish paper is even more gutless

Shmarya,

Really sorry that you aren't feeling well and that your finger is infected. At least you are not a one-finger typist, or we'd all be lost!

Refuah shleimah.

As for the "other side" of this story, I have long been a supporter of Rabbi Ralbag. But didn't Triangle-K only recently take over supervision? Or perhaps a change in their management occurred? (If you've already addressed this and I've carelessly missed it, please forgive me.)

Triangle-K has been there for many years, already.

I now see why haredim did not trust Hebrew National - selling non-kosher products as kosher.

Posted by: Ari | June 15, 2012 at 07:01 PM

Well, Rubashkin reportedly (and allegedly) had kashrut problems and it didn't seem to bother haredim at all.

The underlying issue that has not been addressed is whether we want a Court to decide what is and what is not kosher. Perhaps we should also ask the Court to decide what religious teachings we should follow as well. There are limits and all of us, regardless of our beliefs or opinions, must be mindful of the ramifications.

much detail on the pasteurization process must be provided, else it is not possible to tell what is really going on.

we are talking about surface pasteurization, no?

The complaint is well-written. It rides entirely on whether ConAgra failed to comply with its own representations that it's meats follow practices rendering them fit for consumption by the "most orthodox", citing about 50 times the same marketing phrase used for the products. It specifically says it is not seeking to show a violation of state kosher laws (para 22).
The initiation of the complaint does appear to be disgruntled employees (para 53), but there are many factual allegations made about the practices used (paras 77-93) that merit a specific public response.
If I were in ConAgra's shoes, I'd launch a healthy internal investigation and not be defensive.
The greatest damage will not be what they could end up paying the plaintiff class (proving their damages will be problematic) but to company reputation.
I like HN products and, if these accusations were true and they cleaned house, I would not stop buying.

The underlying issue that has not been addressed is whether we want a Court to decide what is and what is not kosher. Perhaps we should also ask the Court to decide what religious teachings we should follow as well.

Well, it isn't as though the religious bodies are doing such a bang-up job.

And frankly, if a court were to tell evangelicals they can no longer teach their children that everyone who disagrees with them i going to hell, I would applaud.

Jeff, as I indicated above, the issue is simply whether ConAgra's practices are consistent with their marketing claims, or a form of consumer fraud to justify high prices.
The real issue is how they will respond to the suit. The fact that Ben-David welcomed the call from Shmarya and is willing to discuss the merits is a positive sign, and I'm not going to stop buying Hebrew National as a result. If they are smart and have the resources, they will continue this intelligent approach and won't be defensive. they'll launch an investigation and identify any non-compliances in their plants and turn this whole thing into a positive marketing coup.
Or, they can act like they've got something to hide and let this destroy their reputation.
My guess is that they'll do the smart thing but you never know...

Triangle-K has been there for many years, already.

Posted by: Shmarya | June 15, 2012 at 07:20 PM

Thanks. Just looked it up and it was in the early 2000s that the Triangle-K took over supervision; before that it was in-house.

The reason I bring it up is because I recall that before Triangle-K got there, there were *many* complaints about practices there (including many I heard directly from mashgichim who worked there at the time). But after Triangle-K came in, there was a big change in how things were done.

Well, Rubashkin reportedly (and allegedly) had kashrut problems and it didn't seem to bother haredim at all.

Posted by: Shmarya | June 15, 2012 at 07:22 PM

It is my understanding that there is a lot of political infighting involved in the attitude of kashrut agencies toward Triangle-K.

Feel better s

This past shabbos I had a long conversation in shul (st paul mn) with one of the shochtim for hebrew national.

he described in detail all the kashrus enhancements that r ralbag implemented and that are in place there for the past few years. This includes the requirement of always having two shochtim on the kill floor and in one of the plants always three shochtim in the kill box, this is besides a bodek sakinim who constantly checks and perfects the knives. the requirement from the triangle k that every shochet have 3 knives availabale to rotate with. the requirement of always having a bodek chutz and bodek pnim, and in some plants 2 bodkei pnim and two bodkei chutz that work together (the plants that kill more cattle).
he described how the rabbi's sons come in every few weeks on suprise visits and orally test the bodkim on the various halachos that are needed for non glatt (taking off the sirchos adhesions etc), and check the knives.

he said that over the years there were numerous shochtim and mashgichim who were dismissed by the rabbi either because they were lacking the proper fear of heaven or the proper skills. He knows for a fact one of these as a very frustrated individual who has told him personally that he only wants one thing now is bring down h.n. aer and tri k hence the class action law suit. (its pretty obvious because since when would a kashrus complaint not be brought to a bais din any bais din or at least attempt a beis din rather then and go to a judge with a class action to decide its all about revenge and $$$). he did say the rabbi might has various kulos he relies on like kli shlishi or so but he does this in order to be able to supply kosher meat and make it availabale for any jew in the usa.

he described the melicha and nikkur in detail a very updated conveyer belt with a tumbler that salts every piece of meat from all sides and pooles of water that it sits in and rinses that it goes thru etc etc.
he described how the nikur was taught to them by experts who came in from israel and described the varios cuts what has to be done. he described the various simanim the meat containers get marked off with by mashgichim and get rejected if any of the seals are missing or seem tampered with.

he described a facility in michigan with constant supervision with mashgichim on rotation 24/6 that accept the meat or reject it and personally start up the oven to make it bushul yisrael (for the franks i guess).

he described numerous more thimngs at length but my fingers are getting tired , and i am not as good as shmarya typing one handed.

"...over the years there were numerous shochtim and mashgichim who were dismissed by the rabbi either because they were lacking the proper fear of heaven...

Posted by: Shochet Ubodek | June 16, 2012 at 11:12 PM"

Funny because Aryeh Ralbag himself has absolutely no fear of Heaven, so technically he has to dismiss himself!

"Posted by: Shochet Ubodek | June 16, 2012 at 11:12 PM"

The comment by this poster was in no way written by someone who just happened to hear about how things work in shul, as he falsely claims. It was clearly written by someone with an intimate knowledge of the workings of the plant - no doubt a member of the management.

"Posted by: Shochet Ubodek | June 16, 2012 at 11:12 PM"

The comment by this poster was in no way written by someone who just happened to hear about how things work in shul, as he falsely claims. It was clearly written by someone with an intimate knowledge of the workings of the plant - no doubt a member of the management.

Posted by: abcdef | June 17, 2012 at 07:39 AM"

On further thought, it was probably written by Aryeh Ralbag himself. It would be just up his alley to do something dishonest like that!

abcdef

you really seem frustrated and missing the boat, who cares who posted it, aer management or anyone else with intimate knowledge and interests rabbi himself or current shochet, but if this is what is systematically taking place at the plant then the plaintiffs better think of a better way to make a quick buck.

and by the way it seems pretty obvious that you are that anonymous fired shochet posting as abcdef

"abcdef

you really seem frustrated and missing the boat, who cares who posted it, aer management or anyone else with intimate knowledge and interests rabbi himself or current shochet, but if this is what is systematically taking place at the plant then the plaintiffs better think of a better way to make a quick buck.

and by the way it seems pretty obvious that you are that anonymous fired shochet posting as abcdef

Posted by: uvwxyz | June 17, 2012 at 08:30 AM"

Lol. I've been posting here for a very long time using the name "abcdef," as you would know if you were an actual reader here, as opposed to a troll for Aryeh Ralbag [writer spits in disgust].

My disgust for Ralbag is based on knowledge I have of his Beis Din and his disgusting misuse of it to line his own pockets.

Abcdef
So u had a bad experience in bais din oooh we feel for you.
As per posting for years so our frustrated shochet (spitting in disgust) is posting for years, wow.

it was probably written by Aryeh Ralbag himself

I doubt it. Maybe someone in his circle, but I don't think the Rav does "Internet".

"Abcdef
So u had a bad experience in bais din oooh we feel for you.
As per posting for years so our frustrated shochet (spitting in disgust) is posting for years, wow.

Posted by: Wow | June 17, 2012 at 09:42 AM"

I didn't personally have a bad experience in Ralbag's beis din (I would never agree to go to it if I was ever asked to go to beis din), but I've been involved enough to be thoroughly disgusted by Aryeh Ralbag's despicible self-serving justice-perverting behavior.

The real story behind the people that are doing this mishpat arkaot / chilul hashem (class action lawyer suit)

I did schita in greenbay last year and was there when the rabi came on suprise visit and didn't like 2 shochtim royi basil and menachem felman these were 2 shochtim who didn't want to keep rabbis takanah of three shochtim in box besides bodek sakinim, they wanted only 2 shochtim so they can have more hafsakot.

Everyone in the plant at that day knows this is the real story. The next day they protested and didn't come to work they wanted chevra to agree to only 2 shochtim at a time so they made up sipurim that animals are dirty said can only do shechita if they work together 2 in box, everyone knows this story, they are shakranim.

Before this protest of not showing up to work they never mentioned once animals with dirt.

After they were fired for being chatzufim to rabanim these two reshaim went on a war lehapil they are mosrim and reshaim. I don't wish their punishment to come from shamaim on my biggest enemies, hizharu begachaltan.

They are still hanging around the st paul minesotta area, anyone who meets these two reshaim or employes them stay away from these two bad people they have smooth mouth but are mafia gangs no yirat shamaim, royi basil and menachem felman shem reshaim yirkav.

They know the truth too and know this is what took place.

hopefuly they will do teshuva before tragedie strikes their families for this.

Posted by: y. | June 18, 2012 at 12:19 AM

Choose one screen name and stick to it – or, better yet, use your real name.

But if I catch you posting under multiple names again, I'll ban you.

"hopefuly they will do teshuva before tragedie strikes their families for this.

Posted by: y. | June 18, 2012 at 12:19 AM"

The threats, the justifications, the assumption that god is on his side... This sycopathic behavior... It has got to be either Aryeh Ralbag himself or one of his kids.

dsd asd asd ads

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