If you ate Rubashkin meat from November 2003 through November 2004, did you eat treife (non-kosher)? The answer to this question is complicated, but the answer, I believe, is yes you did – and here's why.
Rubashkin ripped the throats out of live, fully sensate animals. This cruelty should render the meat from those animals treife – but it did not, according to the OU, KAJ, Crown Heights Beit Din, etc. Why not? The answer to this question exposes the dirty little secret of kosher supervision and shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter).
You may have been told by your rabbi, in Hebrew school, in the synagogue, that the purpose of shechita and its main benefit is that it is the most humane form of slaughter. Agudath Israel and the OU have made this contention many times over the years, often to governmental agencies, sometimes under oath, and it is a major component of campaigns to protect shechita across the world. But it is not true.
The Rubashkin case has proved that humane slaughter is not an essential component of shechita. That is why rabbis were able to rule with ease that meat from Rubashkin-tortured animals was kosher.
While I admire the ability of Rabbis Hershal Schachter, Yisroel Belsky, Menachem Genack, the KAJ, etc., to find this leniency in the law which saved all of us from having to re-kosher our kitchens, the fact remains that humane treatment of animals is not a part of kosher law as applied today, and, while the legal codes of Judaism place a high significance on animal welfare, the legal scholars of Judaism – today's Orthodox rabbinate – do not.*
So, did you eat treife? In the ultimate sense, yes you did – and you did so with the blessings of the rabbis who permitted animal torture. Remember that the next time you look for the kosher seal.
* The same can apparently be said for hygine, food handling standards, and use of diseased animals – see the New York Times report in the post immediately below.