PETA is threatening to sue Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin for defamation. You can read PETA's letter to Rubashkin after the jump.
Todd Dvorak, the AP reporter who toured AgriProcessors with Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture, other politicians and press describes the slaughter he witnessed at Rubashkin:
Cattle are killed by trained rabbis once every three minutes, said Sholom Rubashkin, company president.
Once an animal is secured, the barrel pen rotates 180 degrees. The animal is upside down, its neck exposed to rabbis wielding 2-foot knives. After rinsing the neck with water, rabbis make a quick cut, severing a pair of arteries, the esophagus and windpipe. The cut releases a massive spill of blood from the cow's brain.
Another rabbi immediately steps in to make a second cut, targeting arteries only. It is described as a fail-safe cut to ensure rapid blood loss and quick and painless death.
"The animals I saw were unconscious within one or two seconds," Judge said after the 90-minute tour.
After slaughter, the barrel rotates again and a door opens. The animal slides to the floor, where a worker wraps a hind leg with a chain. The animal is hoisted and carried away for butchering.
None of the five animals viewed during the tour thrashed or tried to regain its footing.
What Judge and the press saw does not appear to be how the Rubashkin slaughterhouse normally operates. Please note that:
During the event, Rubashkin also released its long-promised "independent Humane audit." According to the AP:
Rubashkin also released an audit of the company's slaughter policies done last spring by ASI Food Safety Consultants of St. Louis. Among 100 cattle killed, inspectors found no cases of inhumane treatment.
Without seeing a copy of the audit its difficult to render any judgement on its findings. Although Rubashkin announced the audit and promised to make it available to anyone who wanted to have it, he has consistantly refused to make it available to me (and, according to PETA, to PETA). But, briefly, my questions about the audit are as follows:
In short, it appears to me that what the press tour saw at AgriProcessors is a representation of how the plant should run, not a representation of how the plant was running before the PETA video was released.
It also seems that Iowa's Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge knowingly lent her name to Rubashkin's PR efforts. Is that a violation of Iowa law? We'll see.
You can read the entire AP article here.
A new friend has informed me that the late founder of the KAJ, Rabbi Breuer, ztz"l, was opposed to glatt kosher becoming the standard for his community. During a city-wide campaign to institute glatt as the standard for all Orthodox homes, Rabbi Breuer wrote the following: (Please click on the thumbnail to see a larger document. A plain text version can be read after the jump. Thank you.)
This essay, written by Rav Dr. Yosef Breuer, ztz”l, originally appeared in Volume XI 1949/50 of the Mitteilungen. It was reproduced on pages 238 to 239 in Rav Breuer: His Life and Legacy.
If only it were so.
Click on the link below for a plain text version of the essay.
Arutz Sheva, Israel's popular news service, has a report on the visit of Iowa Ag Secretary Patty Judge to the Rubashkin slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. The report incorrectly states that:
Further, the Arutz 7 report failed to mention the following key facts:
And then we have this quote from the OU:
Officials at the Orthodox Union, the world's largest Kashrut-certifying organization, expressed satisfaction at Secretary Judge’s comments. “We are gratified that a personal inspection tour of AgriProcessors by Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, Patty Judge, made it clear that kosher slaughter there is done humanely,” declared Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, and Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbinic Administrator of the OU Kosher division. "Clearly, humane slaughter goes on at the AgriProcessors plant, in conformity with the laws of Torah which make it clear that humanity to animals is a religious requirement in Judaism.”
The official statement of Secretary Judge reads:
(Des Moines, IA) Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge toured the AgriProcessors Plant at Postville on Sunday afternoon. Secretary Judge was invited by Agriprocessors to tour the facility and to learn more about kosher slaughter of cattle. The Secretary’s visit was strictly as a guest, and not as a regulator. Plant officials extended the invitation and because she had not previously had an opportunity to visit the Postville facility, she was glad to accept the invitation.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture has no legal authority to inspect or regulate the Postville plant. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) holds the federal grant of inspection on the Postville plant and is in charge of all regulatory matters pertaining to it.
The USDA is conducting a thorough investigation of the plant and they alone will make a determination as to what, if any, action is taken.
You can read Arutz 7's report here or after the jump.
I just looked up the section of the Babylonian Talmud (Hullin 33a) cited by Tzemach Atlas in his post. (Please see my post immediately below this.) It is referring to removing a small section of flesh from the throat immediately after shechita, soaking it, salting it, and then eating it only after the animal has died.
Why was this done?
For a medical reason. This flesh was considered to be a tonic, probably a way of consuming part of a living animal without violating the Halakha of eiver min ha hai.
(Flesh and blood from living – or mortally wounded – animals was commonly thought of in the ancient world as containing the animal's life force. Its consumption was thought to transfer some of the animal's strength to the eater.)
As the Talmud says, if one wanted to remain in good health, one would do this. As with all medical advice given in ancient sources, this no longer applies (unless it has been confirmed by modern medicine). Further, it is important to keep in mind that this was not done because the meat tasted good, was a delicacy, or for financial reasons. It was done for medical reasons only and, as such, no financial or non-medical lesson should be learned from it.
Tzemach Atlas has a new post on tzaar baalei hayyim (causing suffering to animals) after shechita. He consulted with two different Halakhic authorities. What he found boils down to the following:
Rubashkin's spokesman Mike Thomas agreed to let me know by 5:00 p.m. CST today if I would or would not be able to get a copy of the "independent Humane audit" Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin claims AgriProcessors passed in November of this year. AgriProcessors has repeatedly refused to answer requests made by reporters for copies of the audit, even though Rubashkin made the existence of the audit public and invited anyone to contact him to get the results.
It's 5:21 P.M. and still no answer.
Representatives of the OU, KAJ, Star-K and Lubicom (the kosher industry trade and PR orgainzation that puts on Kosher Fest and publishes Kosher Today) appear to have been in a meeting just over one year ago with the United States Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman.
The purpose of the meeting?
Allegedly to amend UDSD Directive 6900.2 to favor AgriProcessors/Rubashkin and allow the throat-ripping and other procedures seen on the PETA video. This meeting occurred shortly after PETA's first complaint to Rubashkin and the OU, but before PETA filed a complaint with the USDA.
The first version of the USDA Directive 6900.2 was issued on October 7, 2003. The revised version was issued on November 25, 2003. The rabbis' meeting with USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman allegedly took place sometime between those two dates.
PETA's first written correspondence with Rubashkin is dated June 18, 2003. PETA's threat to go public with its findings is dated November 3, 2003, right in the time-period specified above.
Why didn't PETA file a complaint earlier with the USDA? Because PETA was trying to keep the issue quiet and to work with the rabbis and with Rubashkin.
But when that proved impossible, PETA sent in an undercover investigator to video the plant. That process – trying repeatedly to work with Rubashkin, failing to gain cooperation from AgriProcessors, finding the volunteer and sending him in undercover, getting the video and trying to work with Rubashkin and the OU again – took just over one year.
More to come as this story develops.
The Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge was invited by Rubashkin to visit AgriProcessors in Postville. She was given a personal guided tour by Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin but saw only three cattle slaughtered. Her office will not comment on whether throat-ripping occurred. She saw no problems with the slaughter of those three cattle.
The Secretary's official statement follows:
When the OU said they did not know about the throat-ripping, was it
telling the truth?
According to a source in the food science community close to the USDA, on the afternoon of October 23, 2003, rabbis from the OU, Star-K, CRC (Chicago), Agudath Israel, and from other haredi kosher supervision agencies met in Washington, DC with senior USDA staff including some of the most senior political appointees in the agency.
[UPDATE 1-31-08 – As I later mentioned on other posts, I was able to confirm this meeting with both the USDA and with two rabbis who attended. But, despite FOIA requests, the USDA was unable to provide an agenda for the meeting or to state with clarity which senior staff were present. The rabbis themselves were unable to say whether then-Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman was there for the meeting or not, although it appears she did attend part of it.]
The rabbis wanted to change USDA directives governing ritual slaughter, apparently to benefit Rubashkin and allow throat-ripping.
In the extended post below you will find two versions of the same USDA directive covering kosher slaughter. The first is the current language, approximately one year old. The second is the original version. [Emphasis added to both.]
You'll see the so-called "second cut" is specifically permitted in the new version of the directive.
USDA FSIS inspectors are also instructed to not stop the production line for violations of the Humane Slaughter Act. Instead, line inspectors are told to call their regional office for a ruling on whether a kosher line can be stopped.
In practice, staff are reluctant to do this which means kosher lines will rarely be stopped, even for good cause.
Similarly, sources tell me it is unlikely a regional office will order a line stopped because that regional office itself must contact Washington to notify USDA staff of the stoppage.
It appears the rabbis and senior USDA staff have in effect succeeded in gutting the Humane Slaughter Act for glatt kosher production.
The documents posted after the jump in the extended post…
In a long article on the Postville Shechita-gate Scandal written by Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin and published on Shmais.com, the widely-popular Chabad-Lubavitch website, Rubashkin claims that:
Agri processors has an independent Humane audit done in February 04 and has passed with excellent marks. It is available on request.
As I've noted before, PETA, the AP and I have all tried to get copies, but Rubashkin has not cooperated (or, at least in my case, responded).
I reached Rubashkin's spokesperson, Mike Thomas, today. After a moment of hesitation he acknowleged that the audit exists, but he would not commit to sending me a copy or tell me who the auditors were because he is "familiar with my work" and he's "not sure he wants to." I asked him if he had responded to the AP's request for the audit. "It's none of your business," Thomas said.
He did promise me that by 5:00 p.m. CST today he would tell me if Agriprocessors/Rubashkin would share the audit with me or not.
The A.A. Rubashkin Family Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) charitable nonprofit organization. As such, its records are public. Here are the five most recent 990 filings for the Foundation. All provide no financial information and close with requests for filing extensions, which are granted.
What does this mean?
I'm not sure. If you have expertise in this area, please let me know.
Another Rubashkin statement on the scandal, this time from Heshy Rubashkin.
Agriprocessors is, and always has been, committed to the highest standards of humane treatment of animals as a matter of moral conviction, federal law, and religious faith.
In the face of the scurrilous charges leveled against it, Agriprocessors will depend on outside expertise, like these rabbinic authorities, to judge objectively, free from political agendas or personal bias, the humane nature of the processes it uses and will communicate those judgments to our retailers and customers. We will rely on the ongoing assessments of the United States Department of Agriculture to judge our compliance with the law, the rabbinic authorities to judge our adherence to kosher law and practice, and outside auditors to monitor our treatment of animals.
As we always have, we will follow the recommendations and directions of our regulators to make any additional changes they recommend or require to guarantee animals are treated humanely. We are confident that our regulators will conclude, as they have in the past, that Agriprocessors lives by the highest principles of kosher law and humane animal treatment.
Of course, those rabbis are paid by Rubashkin for their supervision.
Read it all here.
My suspicions noted in the previous post have been confirmed: Iowa's Ag Secretary saw only three cows slaughtered, apparently by a hand-picked shochet, with Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin standing next to her.
How's that for an impartial inspection by government of a suspect business?
Then we have these quotes from Rubashkin:
Rubashkin noted that muscles on the barely recognizable heads continued to twitch more than an hour after the heads had been separated from their bodies. "Look. It's breathing. It's calling for help," Rubashkin said, referring sarcastically to PETA's claim that videotaped movements of cattle after their throats had been cut constitutes evidence they were conscious and suffering. "You will see head, feet and body movement after the animal has been slaughtered. It is reflexive. It is not evidence of consciousness," Rubashkin said.
The article closes this way:
After consulting with the USDA and the Orthodox Union, a group that certifies kosher products, the company agreed to let rabbis use an air bolt gun on animals that attempt to regain footing after slaughter. Although Agriprocessors denies ever having done so, it also agreed not to remove the esophagus and trachea immediately after the ritual throat-cutting.
Read it all here.
Of course, this visit (note: "visit," not "inspection") took place after throat-ripping was banned and after shochtim (ritual slaughterers) had been warned. In other words, apples and oranges, not apples and apples:
POSTVIILLE, Iowa After visiting an embattled kosher slaughterhouse over the weekend, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge said the animals she saw slaughtered died quickly and were treated humanely. Her comments signal a significant shift in her opinion on the treatment of cattle at Agriprocessors Incorporated in Postville. It's the world's largest supplier of certain kosher meat products.…
Agriprocessors, along with rabbinic leaders, scientists and kosher certification groups, have defended the plant's slaughtering techniques, saying it's natural for animals to experience involuntary reflexive movements after slaughter.…
Read it all here.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
Some of the rabbis who spoke to The Jerusalem Post have a heartfelt concern that procedures at AgriProcessors may be faulty.
But they are also concerned that PETA's highly successful media campaign might be a springboard for a general attack on shehita.
In an attempt to protect shehita from a groundswell of public criticism, rabbis are sidestepping the issue of whether its methods should be revised and, instead, are coordinating public announcements in its defense.…
Dr. Temple Grandin, assistant professor of animal science at Colorado State University, who provided expert advice to PETA [and to the kosher meat industry], told The Jerusalem Post that incompetent kosher slaughterers and shoddy quality control at AgriProcessors is giving shehita a bad name.
"What really makes me mad is when Orthodox Jews try to hide behind religious rhetoric to try to justify sloppy slaughtering procedures," she said.
"You know what that's called? Bulls**t. I've seen kosher done right and all it takes is responsible management."
In other words, the rabbis are hiding the truth and banding together to 'protect' shechita. Funny how this 'attack against shechita' started with rabbis failing at their jobs and has now devolved into other rabbis parsing language and spinning in order to protect them. Sad.
Read it all after the jump.
In his article on the Postville Shechita-gate Scandal, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, the CEO/V.P. of AgriProcessors wrote that:
Agri processors has an independent Humane audit done in February 04 and has passed with excellent marks. It is available on request.
So far, AgriProcessors has not responded to my requests for a copy of the alleged audit. PETA has also requested a copy but has not received a response. I'm also told that an AP reporter requested a copy and received no response.
I have also seen no mention of this "independent Humane audit" anywhere in the media.
Immediately after the mention of this "independent Humane audit," Rubashkin closes his article – written specificly for Shmais.com, a widely popular Chabad-Lubavitch news site – this way:
E-Mail to your supermarket the truth of this issue. This is not against Agriprocessors. It’s a war against Shechita! Agriprocessors has the Z’chus to be able to give support to our Rabbonim and help them stave of this vicious attack of defamation of our religion. First explain the right to religious freedom and the need to unite and defend. Then explain the humane of Shechita both by faith and science.…
I wonder what is in that "audit."
Under the headline "Israel's Chief Rabbinate, Orthodox Union Refute Charges Against Agriprocessors," Rubashkin has issued a long press release claiming vindication from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the OU. However, the statements of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate as quoted by by Rubashkin refer to the kosher status of the slaughter itself, not to the surrounding issues of animal welfare (tzaar baalei hayyim). It should be noted that the violation of tzaar baalei hayyim is a quite serious infraction in Jewish law, and a system of slaughter that mandates unnecessary animal suffering – as Rubashkin's does – should be forbidden.
In Jewish law, the ends do not justify the means, and a technically correct shechita that regularly involves tzaar baalei hayyim both immediately before and immediately after the ritual slaughterer makes his cut should not be sold as kosher.
That Rubashkin, the OU, and the other kosher supervising agencies working at the Rubashkin slaughterhouse are misrepresnting this issue should give the kosher consumer pause.
Kosher consumers, ask yourselves the following question: Can rabbis who disregard the laws of tzaar baalei hayyim/cruelty to animals be trusted for kosher supervision?
PETA has issued a statement in response to the statements issued by the 12 Rabbis and the OU. While I hope to write a more complete analysis of PETA's response sometime today, let me note the following:
1. The OU/12 Rabbis parsing of language has not been beneficial.
2. The byzantine kosher supervision arrangements at the Rubashkin slaughterhouse – along with the parsing of language noted above – create much confusion.
3. Neither Rubaskin or the rabbis have done much – if anything – to clarify that situation.
4. PETA confuses the OU's use of the word "Halacha" with the word "law" or "legal" as it would be used in American English in American society.
5. PETA understands that, because Halakha does not require upside-down slaughter, and because the OU is on record as preferring standing slaughter, that standing slaughter will be instituted by Rubashkin.
6. Clearly, neither the OU or the 12 Rabbis intend to require standing slaughter.
7. Why? Because, a minority of Jews prefer upside-down slaughter based on a Halakhic opinion codified in the commentaries to the Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law), upside-down slaughter is therefore a Halakhic issue, and the OU – although it is on record as preferring standing slaughter – will not mandate change. In its own words, it will not compromise "one whit."
And then PETA notes:
Although we have a thick skin, and we are willing to deal with lies, if it will help animals, we must point out that the OU’s statement is rife with transparent duplicity that will be clear to anyone who takes a good look. This is not a case of “he said, she said.” This is a case of the OU making things up that it can’t defend, perhaps supposing that most people will accept its statement without bothering to check into its claims. [Emphasis added. Also, please note #1 above.]
PETA also notes the parsing of the acceptable slaughter failure rate as defined by the USDA:
The OU argues that AgriProcessors is not unique in having a failure rate in rendering animals insensible. This is comparing apples and oranges: One animal who stands up 30 seconds after his throat has been slit, in any plant—conventional or kosher—would warrant shutting the line down to correct an indefensible problem. Although a first stun rate of 95 percent is considered acceptable in conventional plants, animals who are missed are supposed to be immediately restunned. Drs. Grandin and Friedlander, both experts in kosher slaughter, say they’ve never seen anything like what’s happening at AgriProcessors.
In other words, this is not only about the number of animals who are not rendered insensate by slaughter, it is also about how those mistakes are handled – or, in the case of Rubashkin, not handled.
I find aspects of the OU's statement on Shechita-gate to be troubling. For instance:
Were those animals walking around free of pain? For many of the animals shown on PETA's video thrashing and even walking after shechita, the answer is no. They felt pain. Every scientific expert I've spoken with has confirmed this.
"[M]ay be seen to be objectionable"? Again, the OU admits no wrong and attempts to paint the issue as one of squeamish animal rights activists overreacting to normal slaughter procedures, not poor practices at an OU-certified slaughterhouse.
As for questionable practices at other OU-certified plants please see here.
And then, we have this:
The USDA's spokesman, Stephen Cohen, told me yesterday that:
Further, I told all of this to the OU's Rabbi Menachem Genack yesterday.
Why? Because Rabbi Genack told me in an earlier conversation that the USDA had found nothing wrong at AgriProcessors and that Dr. Henry Lawson the USDA's chief inspector there had also found nothing wrong.
When I challenged him, Rabbi Genack said, "So? So he's speaking as a private individual, not as the USDA. So what?"
Now, 24 hours after that exchange, the OU is again presenting Dr. Lawson as representing the USDA. This is far from honest.
Further, if the USDA's inspection finds fault with Rubashkin/AgriProcessors, Dr. Lawson, who was in charge of on-site supervision, may also be found to be at fault. He is hardly an independent witness.
As for the assertion that kosher slaughter as performed at AgriProcessors "renders the animal insensate," the question is not if the animal is rendered insensate, it is when the animal is rendered insensate.
The OU's parsing of the English language is reprehensible.
And then, the statement closes this way:
When this story broke, several rabbis, in Israel and Europe as well as in the United States, at first commented negatively on the kashrut of this shechita. Almost all of them, including the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, have now said that their initial statements were based on misinformation, and have retracted them. [Emphasis added.]
ShechitaUK told me yesterday that they stood by their statement. David Rosen, the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, has not retracted and I have not seen a retraction from Rabbi Raful of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate in print.
In short, where are the retractions?
Kosher meat from Uruguay and Argentina is imported into the United States under a variety of brand names and supervisions. Rubashkin owns a slaughterhouse in South America (I believe, in Argentina). I have been told that cattle there are processed much as they are at AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa. Amazingly, that is better than the OU-supervised meat (under joint supervision with Satmar). The process has been described as follows:
The supervision is under Rabbi Teitelbaum, who has his own Satmar-related supervision. According to the OU's Director of Kashrut Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbi Teitelbaum is also an employee of the OU. The meat that comes to America from Uraguay would presumably be sold under the Alle, MealMart, and Schriebers labels, along with its use in OU supervised products under other labels and in OU supervised restaurants.
According to experts I've spoken with – including Dr. Grandin – this is a horrible process that they would much like changed.
Again, the OU certifies that meat.
I interviewed the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen early this morning. Rabbi Cohen was widely quoted early in the scandal in support of PETA, but as of late has been characterized by the OU and others as retracting those statements. Some – most notably employees of the Rubashkin family – have claimed that PETA deceived Rabbi Cohen and misled him. Without detailing our entire conversation, let me note the following:
I would also point out that Rabbi Cohen was clear and forthright, did not hesitate when answering questions and seemed to be a very kind man.
I spoke with Steven Steiner, the OU's director of media relations a few minutes ago. I asked him if the OU had issued its promised statement on the Rubashkin Shechita-gate Scandal. "No. Not yet. You haven't missed anything," Steiner said. I asked him when the promised statement – due out Tuesday, then Wednesday, and now, today – would finally be released. "Soon," Steiner said. I responded by chuckling and wishing him a Good Shabbos, my way gentle way of letting him know that the OU's "soon" wasn't soon enough.
This scholarly paper on The Scientific Approach To Resolving Conflicts Between Veterinary Science and Shechita (L.S. Shore, Israel Veterinary Medical Association, 1999) should help in understanding the issues at hand. I found the author's closing comments to be particularly prescient:
In summary, scientific studies dealing with veterinary problems in the kosher meat and poultry industry today can be characterized as sporadic, generally out-of-date, and grossly underreported. Attempts by Dr. Levinger in Israel in the early 1970’s to develop a scientific basis for research into these problems was not continued due to lack of funding. Considering that the rapidly growing kosher food market is one of the great success stories of recent decades, this policy, or lack of it, on the part of funding agencies can at best be characterized as short sighted. This is especially so as the kosher meat industry must meet the new environmental, hygienic, and food quality requirements which will seriously challenge its profitability in the near future. [Emphasis added.]
One must ask how the Rubashkin Shechita-gate Scandal would have played out – in fact, if it would have occurred at all – if rabbinical authorities in charge of kosher supervision had followed Dr. Shore's advice.
Just a few moments ago, I asked Bruce Friedrich of PETA for his comments on Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin's article published yesterday defending AgriProcessors. Bruce had only a few moments to scan the piece before going to sleep. What follows are a few brief comments from him [formatting mine]:
… But what was striking about PETA's criticism of the Postville plant was that it was not part of an overall attack on shehita. Their Web site made a point of noting that "kosher slaughter is more than twice as well-regulated as conventional slaughter and is supposed to be more humane."
The group sought out the expert advice of Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a top consultant to the meat industry, who made a point of noting that the practices at Postville were not up to the standard of many other kosher slaughtering-plants she has examined. And PETA made a serious effort in seeking the backing of recognized Orthodox authorities in Halacha (Jewish law) to support its charges against the plant.…
The problem with Postville was neither the nature of shehita itself, nor PETA's charges, but faulty procedures by AgriProcessors and lax supervision by the OU. Hopefully these problems will soon be corrected, and the kosher meat industry will have learned it needs to do a better job of policing itself.…
Read it all here.
The Forward notes that:
As it stands now, the O.U. position seems to rest on a distinction between what constitutes kosher slaughter and what is humane slaughter. According to the O.U., one can have the former without the latter.
"In terms of kashrus, the plant was very much in order," said Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the O.U.'s kashrut department and a member of an O.U. delegation that visited the Iowa plant early this week. "I was impressed with the commitment of the personnel to kashrus."
It is in the realm of trying to make slaughter more humane that the O.U. has now recommended refinements to the AgriProcessors model.
Released by PETA:
Lester C. Friedlander, DVM
USDA Slaughterhouse Inspector for more than 10 years
Professional Comments and Opinions after reviewing PETA’s Undercover Video taken at Federal Establishment #4653, AgriProcessors, Inc., Pottsville, Iowa:
From PR Newswire.com. It's important to note that the kosher industry's trade group and producer of KosherFest, Lubicom, released this statement. They also publish Kosher Today, the publication that smeared, among others, PETA.
At least 6 of the rabbis who signed this statement have financial ties to AgriProcessors/Rubashkin.
- To render the animal unconcious faster and to ease it's pain.
- To reduce the number of bloodspots and bruises on the meat by increasing the bleeding. (This makes the meat more valuable.)
Now we have this from the Postville Herald-Leader:
The administration for Agriprocessors added that two rabbis are in the slaughter area at all times; following the first cut made by a rabbi with a ritual knife, a worker on the floor makes additional cuts to ensure sufficient blood loss and make certain the animal is oblivious to pain.
The USDA has continued to approve the methods of slaughter used at the plant here. Nine rabbis are on site during production to ensure kosher standards, as well as those set up by the government, are adhered to. Veterinarians, who are employed by the USDA and oversee the procedures at Agriprocessors, say the bleeding should render the animal unconscious in less than 20 seconds.
You'd think these guys could coordinate their stories in a better fashion. It's almost like the holding cell from NYPD Blue on the prarie.
The Postville Herald-Leader reports on the EPA's suit against AgriProcessors:
Agriprocessors, Inc., along with its CEO Sholom Rubashkin, has asked for the support of the citizens of Postville and the surrounding area. In a mass mailing to the community, as well as in a letter to the editor to this newspaper, Rubashkin said the plant is and will continue to be a good steward of the land and surrounding environment.
The OU's PR director, Steven Steiner, assures me that:
Sent to me by PETA:
An exemplary mainstay of the lifestyle of halakhically-observant Jews is that they are willing to make sacrifices for the observance of Halakah. Thus all halakhically-observant Jews keep kosher, though, as is well known, kosher meat is appreciably more expensive than non-kosher meat. Similarly, a sizeable percentage of halakhically-observant Jews accept the more stringent requirement of glatt kosher meat -- though that meat is even more expensive.
But for a person to insist upon the most stringent requirements with regard to the ritual portion of the slaughtering process and yet at the same time flagrantly not insist upon stringent requirements with regard to the crucial moral aspect of the slaughtering process -- the necessity to guarantee beyond the slightest doubt that there is no tza'ar ba'alei hayyim (pain caused to animals) which is not absolutely essential to the slaughtering process -- makes the entire kashrut endeavor of that person both suspect and absurd. It very well may be that any plant performing such types of shechita is guilty of hillul hashem -- the desecration of God's name -- for to insist that that God cares only about his ritual law and not about his moral law is to desecrate His Name.
Dr. Chaim Milikowsky
Bar Ilan University
The Iowa State Daily has the best report (okay, the only report) I've seen during the Rubashkin Slaughterhouse Scandal on the difference between PETA and more radical animal rights groups like ALF. (Funny how blogs, online publications and college newspapers have led the coverage of this while the traditional press has fallen far behind. But I digress.)
Josh Nelson reports:
Tzemach Atlas has another interesting post, this one on Tzar Ba'alei Hayyim (pain caused to an animal) after ritual slaughter. Interestingly, the Da'as K'doshim "Dovid" mentions in the post in opposition to the KAJ-instituted throat-ripping (or so Dovid seems to claim) appears to be the same source Rabbi Chaim Kohn of KAJ cited for me in support of the KAJ endorsed second cut/throat ripping. This will need to be clarified.
But the idea that KAJ "has what to rely on" is foolish.
Because we now know for a fact that the animal can feel pain as long as it remains conscious, which in well done shechita – not Rubashkin shechita – is for 10 to 30 seconds after the shochet's initial cut. So, while the animal does not appear to feel properly done shechita carried out in a standing pen, it would feel the throat-ripping that follows.
In other words, this is not an arcane legal argument about what one is or is not punished for under Jewish law. This is a real life situation and it is clearly apparent that the animal feels the pain of the throat-ripping, and that the throat-ripping prolongs the animal's suffering.
So, we are left with the following choice:
1. If the intent of Jewish law is to prevent tzar ba'alei hayyim, the KAJ, et al, have committed a heinous crime.
2. If the intent of Jewish law is to foster arcane debates removed from the real world, and Jewish leaders isolated from the consequences of – and the suffering caused by – the results of them, the KAJ, et al, have done no wrong.
Of course, if the answer is #2, we all need to find a different Judaism.
Tzemach Atlas has this post on the business of kashrut. I would only add that Rav Weissmandel was brought in to Rubashkin's stable of supervisions not because KAJ walked away, but because Rubashkin's market share depends largely on the perception of a higher standard of kashrut, higher than the OU alone. When KAJ agreed to supervise Empire along with Empire's existing OU certification, Rubashkin's edge was largely destroyed. Worse yet, all things being equal, Empire is widely considered by food experts to have the better product. Rubashkin's solution to this problem was to add the supervision of the Nitra Rav, Rabbi Weissmandel, who is widely regarded as having the strictest supervision in the business. (Rabbi Weissmandel is also reported to be extremely anti-Zionist.)
The OU has mandated at least three changes at the Rubashkin-owned AgriProcessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa.
I was told in confidence last week about the changes, but the senior-level OU rabbinic official who told me asked me not to make the changes public. He feared publicity would cause Jews to think the following:
If Rubshkin was doing all these things incorrectly right under the noses of the OU, KAJ, UMK, Crown Heights Beit Din, Kehilla Kosher (LA), Margareten, and several other kosher supervisions, then why should I trust them now? Why keep kosher?
Stupidly, I agreed to his request.
Little did I (and, perhaps, little did that senior-level OU rabbinic official) realize that, as we were speaking the OU was dishing most of this information to the New York Times.
Yesterday I received a phone call from Steven Steiner, the OU's director of public relations, promising me that today or tomorrow there would be a statement issued by the OU, after Rabbis Genack and Belsky (and Rabbi Chaim Kohn from KAJ) returned to New York from Postville. When Steiner did not call me with or e-mail me the statement, I assumed the OU would issue it tomorrow morning.
Instead, the OU was dishing it to the JTA (and, I would expect, the New York Times).
In other words, I got scooped on my own story because I allowed myself to have sympathy for an important rabbinic figure and for the Jewish community.
Live and learn.
Most Jewish newspapers are sent to the printer ("put to bed", in newspaper lingo) on Tuesday night. By dishing to the JTA (whose coverage of this scandal has been weak) late Tuesday afternoon, the OU guarantees one more week of insipid coverage in the Jewish press. How's that for honest, Torah-based behavior from our rabbinic leaders?
I should also add that the senior OU rabbinic figure told me that from now on the second cut would be made by shochtim (Jewish ritual slaughterers, commonly thought of as rabbis) and not by untrained workers. Let's hope that turns out to be true.
DES MOINES — Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge said Monday if her department had jurisdiction, she would shut down and investigate a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville that critics say makes cattle suffer needlessly.
Kosher Today, the house organ of the kosher trade organization that, among other things puts on KosherFest, issued the following two 'news articles' on the Postville Controversy. Please note that many of the claims made by Kosher Today are false or misleading. For example, Kosher Today writes that:
Similarly a spokesman for the chief rabbinate, who explained policies that are in effect in Israel, was misquoted [by PETA -– see context below, after the jump] as saying he would no longer accept Agri products, the only kosher beef slaughtered in the US allowed into Israel.
The problem is that the Jerusalem Post – not PETA – sent a reporter to the Rabbinute, and it was the Jerusalem Post – not PETA – that reported the story.
Then, we have this:
It used a bellowing sound from an animal waiting to be slaughtered in conjunction with a frame allegedly showing an animal thrashing on the floor (a clear reflexive action not associated with pain, veterinarians say) after schechita. A spokesman for Agri confirmed that the company has sent the tape for expert analysis.
The problem is that experts (as well as some highly placed rabbis involved in the supervision of AgriProcessors) have clearly shown that the animals that walked and crawled were not unconcious and their efforts at escape were not "reflexive".
Kosher Today also labels this as an "attack against shechita," when all evidence so far made public shows that it is not an attack against shechita, it is an attack against bad shechita at one poorly-run slaughterhouse.
As for sending the tape out for "analysis," I look forward to the results – and to learning the name and affilliations of the experts who conduct it.
The Kosher Today 'news articles' can be read after the jump.
Rabbi Belsky and Rabbi Genack of the OU and Rabbi Chaim Kohn of KAJ (Broyers) are meeting with officials of AgriProcessors in Postville and are inspecting the plant. A statement from the OU is expected tomorrow.
What follows are excerpts from PETA's November 29, 2004 letter to Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the OU's Kashrut Division. [Emphasis usually mine.] Please notice that PETA assumes that the OU already follows humane slaughter practicies, and that the Rubashkin/Postville situation is an abberation:
[W]e encourage the OU to conduct a thorough audit of its own systems of supervision and personnel-monitoring capabilities to prevent a similar debacle. We also urge the OU to require that AgriProcessors make the necessary policy and procedural changes to live up to the legal, humane, and kosher standards required of an OU-certified company and to remove the OU hechser from this operation if AgriProcessors is not willing to reform.
Finally and most importantly, we recommend that the OU issue an official policy statement on Tsaar Baalei Chayim to all slaughterhouses that it certifies and that included in that policy there be a pledge to certify only companies that have adopted the following humane methods to prevent the abysmal treatment of animals that was witnessed at AgriProcessors:
The full text of the letter can be found after the jump.
In an otherwise unremarkable article on PETA's attempt to have the Iowa Department of Agriculture institute legal proceedings against AgriProcessors/Rubashkin for cruelty to animals, we find the following statement:
During slaughter at the plant, rabbis use a 2-foot blade to cut across the neck of the animal, severing the arteries on both sides and the trachea and esophagus. A second cut is made to each artery to ensure rapid blood loss as a second rabbi stands by to monitor, company officials have said.
The idea that a second rabbi "stands by to monitor" the 'second-cut/throat-ripping' appears to be incorrect. If "company officials" actually said this, those "company officials" appear to be lying.
"Company officials" have also been quoted as saying that if the 'second-cut/throat-ripping' tears the trechea and severs it from the cow's body, the cow is "not kosher."
Yet, that is exactly what happened time after time on the PETA video.
Rubashkin has continued to maintain that all cows shown in that video were in fact correctly slaughtered and therefore kosher (unless defects of the internal organs were found on processing). The OU and the KAJ have both claimed the same. Yet, neither the OU or the KAJ have claimed that a second rabbi watched or even inspected the 'second-cut/throat-ripping.'
More on this as it developes.
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The New York Times: "The legal conflict has revealed a deep tension within the Orthodox community that has been reported in the Jewish weekly press, and has been the almost exclusive topic of discussion on some Orthodox Jewish Web sites like failedmessiah.com and unorthodoxjew.blogspot.com in the months since Mr. Hikind brought up sexual abuse."
The New York Times: "In Postville, residents were dismayed by a report posted on a Jewish Web site, FailedMessiah.com, saying that Sholom Rubashkin held a celebration in Postville last week after he was released from detention on $1 million bail."
THE COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: "[Jeff] Abbas passed the video to Shmarya Rosenberg, a blogger in St. Paul, Minnesota, who has provided some of the best coverage of the raid and its aftermath; a few days later, the video was referenced in The New York Times."
The Forward: Postville’s City Council initially voted to support the idea of a community benefits agreement, but later voted to withdraw support for such an agreement — a development first reported on the blog Failed Messiah.
Samuel Freedman in the Jerusalem Post: "[T]the scandal of Agriprocessors has been chronicled from Stephen Bloom's book Postville to Nathaniel Popper's investigative reports in the Forward to Julia Preston's coverage in The New York Times to the muckraking blogger FailedMessiah.com."
Religion In The News: "So authoritative has Rosenberg become that he is now regularly quoted by the Register; and his site has been referenced by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and both the Forward and the JTA."
Tablet Magazine: “If you’re Jewish and you were married five years ago, you have not confronted the problem that exists today,” Rosenberg says. “The problem is much worse for anyone who isn’t Orthodox. As the Haredi strength grows and their control grows, that’ll become clearer.”
Religion Dispatches: "The best collection of articles I’ve found can be perused at failedmessiah.com, the blog of Shmarya Rosenberg, who, with the perspective of insider turned disillusioned outsider, has been probing the nuances and hypocrisies of the ultra-Orthodox establishment since 2004."