Menachem Lubinsky is a paid mouthpiece for Agriprocessors and Rubashkin. Lubinsky writes and edits Kosher Today, the kosher food industry's "trade paper," and covers controversies at Agriprocessors. But Lubinsky does not disclose past or current relationships with Agriprocessors and Rubashkin. This is, to say the least, deceitful and unethical. But this is Orthodox Judaism and the kosher food business, and ethics and truth do not seem to be on the radar screen of those who make, distribute or consume kosher food.
Lubinsky has a hit piece this week, reprinted in full below after the jump, 'exposing' the Forward's "crusade" against Agriprocessors. In brief, here are Lubinsky's main points in Rubashkin's defense:
- Other companies have been sued by workers for the exact same reason workers are now suing Agriprocessors. The Forward fails to mention this in their report.
- The government monitors and regulates treatment of workers. That is enough supervision to ensure fair treatment.
- Non-kosher plants are worse.
Let's deal with Lubinsky's points in order:
- Yes, the Forward does omit this fact. But by omitting the fact it omitted a very strong point against Agriprocessors – the workers won those other lawsuits.
- If government supervision is enough to ensure workers are fairly treated, it should follow logically that government supervision is enough to ensure food is free from non-kosher ingredients in countries like the US that have strong labeling laws. Therefore, it should be that any food marked, for example, Vegan, should be kosher for Jews to consume even without kosher supervision. I suggest you all follow Lubinsky's logic and start to buy products that have no kosher supervision but list no non-kosher ingredients on their packaging. If it's fair to trust the government to deal with worker abuse, even though many Jewish laws dealing with worker abuse are biblical (d'orita), then certainly it is okay to do the same with food, where most of the applicable law is rabbinic.
- Even if this were true – and there is no indication that it is; in fact, with Agriprocessors, the opposite may very well be true – it does not make it kosher. Two wrongs simply do not make a right.
A reader forwarded this letter he sent to Kosher Today:
I have read with interest the article in today's Kosher Today regarding the ongoing issues at Agriprocessors in Iowa. It is most interesting to me however, that not once in your 'coverage' was there any mention that your editor-in-chief, Mr. Lubinsky, has also acted professionally on behalf of Agriprocessors, handling some of their PR needs and placing some of their advertising. Some of that work may have actually been done in regard to this labor issue and to counter the reporting of the Forward.
This is truly troublesome to me, a kosher consumer and member of the orthodox community, that this has not been disclosed to readers. There are many Halachos, Jewish Laws, relating to honesty and this seems to fall very far outside the norm.
Now, not only has this story been covered in the Jewish media, but it is now in The NY Times, quoting material from your weekly newsletter as industry gospel, without such knowledge that the author is/has been on the payroll of Agriprocessors, specifically in a PR capacity.
Please explain how this can be rectified, so as not to continue to mislead the Kosher Today, and broader, readership.
Of course, Lubinsky has been called on this before, including here. Neither he nor the companies and rabbis he works with have ever tried to rectify this gross ethical lapse. Clearly, they do not believe conflicts of interest need to be disclosed.
(You can also add this to list of things the NY Times' Samuel G. Freedman missed in his coverage of Agriprocessors worker abuse and the Conservative Movement's Hechsher Tzedek.)
Agriprocessors and its rabbis broke Humane Slaughter law. Agriprocessors also broke EPA regulations and, it seems, OSHA regulations. It also broke the National Labor relations Act. During all of these offenses, one class of people have been overwhelmingly silent about Agriprocessors failings while loudly defending the company and the Rubashkin family from "attack." That class of people? Orthodox rabbis, many of whom profit from Agriprocessor's business.
Tuesday night is Shavuot, the "anniversary" of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Torah prohibits much of the worker and animal abuse Agriprocessors has been accused of. These are biblical offenses. Yet our rabbis remain silent.
All the drashot and speeches about accepting the yoke of the Torah are meaningless if the Torah's representatives stand silently by while the poor and weak suffer. They make a mockery out of God's Torah, and they make a mockery out of Judaism.
Perhaps this Shavuot is the time to make your rabbi own up to his responsibility. If he does not, make sure you find a different synagogue to go to this coming Shabbat.
[Hat Tip: Chaim Yankel.]
Special Report: A Jewish Newspaper’s Crusade Against a Kosher Meat Purveyor
New York… The Forward, the English language weekly successor to the Yiddish daily founded in 1897, continued its crusade against Agriprocessors in its May 18th edition. Like some of its previous investigatory stories on the Iowa kosher meat processing plant, the story on alleged new abuses of the labor force at Agri was written by Nathaniel Popper and like previous stories it again profiles the efforts by some Conservative rabbis to create a “heksher tzedek” or a certification that would also cover social justice. According to the Forward, the Conservative movement has resolved to move forward with this certification, thus far non-existent in the marketplace. Agri sales in markets with large numbers of Conservative Jews have risen dramatically, according to some retailers reached by KosherToday.
The Forward is the only Jewish newspaper that has taken on the kosher meat producer, which is a major supplier of kosher meat in the nation’s retail establishments. Like the Conservatives, the weekly does not attack the kashrus of the products produced at the plant. Agri is certified kosher by a number of kashrus agencies including the Orthodox Union(OU). Its focus originally was on the inhumane treatment of the animals (in the aftermath of alleged abuses shown on a video by PETA), but has since progressed to the treatment of workers. The kashrus agencies and other groups have pointed out that the plant is heavily regulated and monitored by government agencies, but the Forward seems to say that this oversight is not enough. The anti-Agri crusade also ignores the fact that Agri is part of a larger meat industry where conditions are considerably worse than at the kosher plants.
The Forward website quotes one reader Eric Leibman, who presents the broader picture this way: “The reality is that the mass production of meat for mass consumption is a very grim and unhappy business indeed. Its working conditions are always far from pleasant and improve only marginally at best. The central fact of the situation is this: Meat production in America depends largely on illegal aliens who are badly treated in operations much like the author describes in plants all across the country. If you clean up the plants, you drive up the price...big time…And by the way, even if the accusations against Agriprocessors are true, another sad reality is this: The people who put the meat on your table nationwide are most likely far more brutally and inhumanely treated at numerous other plants across the country than they are at Agriprocessors. Don't think you've found a unique situation here, if, indeed, the facts as alleged in the article turn out to be true.”
Mr. Liebman’s points are illustrated in a few examples that only further reinforce the vendetta against Agri. For example, the Forward headline is “Kosher Slaughterhouse Hit With Lawsuits” (by a group of Agri employees). But nowhere in the article does Mr. Popper mention that similar lawsuits are routinely filed against other meat packing plants, including giant Tyson Foods in February by employees at plants in Denison and Storm Lake. The Forward quotes lead counsel on the lawsuit in Iowa, Brian McCafferty, as saying that “workers at AgriProcessors are not being paid for anything other than the time that the production lines are moving. But local Iowa papers reporting the story noted “Agriprocessors follows a policy used widely in the meat packing industry known as "gang time" or "line time," and employees are paid only for hours spent on the production line.
Sources told KosherToday that much of the labor problems at Agri stem from its ongoing battle with the United Food and Commercial Workers, who have been trying to organize plant workers for about eight months. Indeed, sources say that much of the news of the labor discontent appears to come from Union officials. Mr. Popper credits the Forward for stirring up the trouble, as he noted: “Working conditions at the AgriProcessors slaughterhouse have been under scrutiny in the past year, after an article in the Forward detailed worker complaints. Since then, the company has been the subject of an investigation by rabbis affiliated with the Conservative synagogue movement. During these inquiries workers at the plant were generally hesitant to speak publicly about their concerns, but this appears to be changing.” The Forward story was subsequently the subject of several other newspapers, including a New York Times religion column on Saturday May 19th (which also quoted KosherToday’s previous reportage of events).
The Forward has a long history of championing causes for immigrants and laborers. Many Jewish immigrants labeled the daily as a “leftist paper” and preferred such competing Yiddish dailies as Der Tag and the Morning Journal, which later merged. Their views of the Forward were reinforced by its flamboyant founding editor Abraham Cahan who routinely advised immigrants in the early 1900’s in his “A Bintele Brief” column to reject the mores of the shtetl in favor of the “new world,” which frequently meant shirking their religion, leaving family behind in Eastern Europe and working on the Shabbat. The Forward itself says: “The Forward family of newspapers continues to carry on the founding vision of Abraham Cahan, serving together as the voice of the American Jew and the conscience of the community.” Ironically, this week the Forward announced that it would renew Cahan’s “A Bintele Brief” column, this time by renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
Here is the whole issue as a PDF file: