Kosher Today, the Kosher food industry's trade publication, today reports on the latest Rubashkin scandal. (This is not online yet; what follows is the email version.) As usual for Kosher Today, which is run by Menachem Lubinsky, a paid consultant who works regularly for Rubashkin, misrepresents the story. It also fails again to disclose the financial and personal relationship between Lubinsky and Rubashkin:
BREAKING NEWS: New PETA Video Against Schechita Irks the Indians
Gordon, NE... When Agriprocessors agreed to operate a shuttered meat plant two years ago, it was hailed as an act of extreme kindness by the Oglala Sioux Tribe living on the Prime Ridge Reservation. The plant had closed in 1996 leaving many of the Tribe's members unemployed. In fact, President Bill Clinton in a visit to the reservation cited the area's 75% unemployment, which led to the creation of The Oglala Oyate Woitancan Empowerment Zone. When it reopened as Local Pride, owned by the Rubashkin family of Postville, IA, the plant employed 80 of the Tribe's members. A new illegal video by the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) alleging inhumane treatment of animals at the plant was immediately dismissed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Officials as well as rabbis confirmed that all procedures at the plant were in full compliance with halacha (Jewish law) as well as US law. PETA has continued to target Agriprocessors as part of what many rabbis believe is an attempt to discredit and possibly ban schechita in the US. But the sharpest words for PETA came from John W. Steele, the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe: "A year ago, we celebrated Local Pride's one-year anniversary with Governor Heineman and over 500 of our neighbors. Now, on Local Pride's second anniversary, we find our success under attack by political extremists who care nothing for our area, our people or the community we are trying to build." Mr. Steele continued: "despite the fact that PETA's political operatives lied and trespassed to gain access to the plant, the USDA investigated PETA's allegations and found no violations of the Humane Slaughter Act. If PETA's real concern was the treatment of animals at Local Pride, instead of their radical agenda to end the eating of meat and the owning of animals, it should have dropped the matter. Instead, dissatisfied with the USDA's conclusion, PETA has asked the Sheridan County Attorney to investigate and has launched a national media campaign with a bull's-eye painted on Local Pride and Gordon." KosherToday in an exclusive report has learned that the PETA Web site doctored a photo of a box used in the kosher slaughter of animals. The box in the photo was never used at the plant. Attorney Nathan Lewin, who has defended AgriProcessors in the past, told the Forward, that the new video "proves that PETA is out to destroy or make unlawful" kosher slaughter.
Steele's assertion that the USDA "investigated PETA's allegations and found no violations of the Humane Slaughter Act" does not mean no violations took place. It means that, after announcing their intention to inspect the plant, the subsequent inspection found no violations. This is like warning a massage parlor that the police will be inspecting your operation in a few days, and then noting that, because the police found no prostitution at the parlor, no prostitution had ever taken place there. That is why the USDA was quick to retract its quote, found only in the AP rush article on the scandal, that no violations were found. The USDA, from last Monday evening onward, has insisted that it is conducting an ongoing investigation into alleged Humane Slaughter violations at this Rubashkin plant , and that the AP article did not accurately portray the agency's attitude toward the alleged violations.
The claim that PETA, "dissatisfied with the USDA's conclusion," has asked the Sheridan county attorney to prosecute, is also misleading. PETA asked local Iowa prosecutors to prosecute Rubashkin shortly after the 2004 scandal broke, while the USDA's investigation was ongoing. Why? Because states have their own animal cruelty laws and their own jurisdictional responsibilities. It is also true that the Bush Administration has reduced USDA enforcement and oversight to new lows. (Search USDA in the FailedMessiah searchbar for three years worth of coverage on this.)
And then we have this:
A new illegal video by the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) alleging inhumane treatment of animals at the plant was immediately dismissed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Officials as well as rabbis confirmed that all procedures at the plant were in full compliance with halacha (Jewish law) as well as US law.
The USDA's FSIS Senior Spokesperson Steven Cohen told me via email a moment ago that, "No one from FSIS spoke to" Kosher Today.
Who are the "officials" mentioned by Kosher Today? Who knows. Whoever they are, they do ot represent the FSIS or its investigation.
Here are some questions to pose to your local Orthodox rabbis, the OU and other Kosher supervision agencies (including the Saint Paul, Minnesota-based United Mehadrin Kosher):
- Is it kosher to probe an animal's shechita wound with a meat hook a few seconds after shechita and before the animal has lost consciousness, bled out and died?
- Is it kosher to cut off a portion of an animal's ear a few seconds after shechita and before the animal has lost consciousness, bled out and died?
- If either or both acts are kosher but cause pain to the animal, does the resulting pain (tzaar in Hebrew) violate tzaar baalei hayyim law?
- If it does, does that violation render the meat unkosher?
- Does it make a difference if most animals at Rubashkin are treated this way, making the suffering a halakhic certainty?
- The OU pledged in 2005 to stop using a meat hook on the throats' of animals, yet we see that pledge has not been kept. How does this effect the OU's trustworthiness with regard to kashrut?
What I think most rabbis will tell you is as follows:
- Yes, but it's better not to.
- Yes, but it's better not to.
- No. The animal is halakhicly dead from the time the knife first begins to cut.
- That's a complicated question that will take some research to answer properly. Can I get back to you?
- I'm not familiar enough with the details of this to comment.
And then you will hear much about PETA's 'campaign' against shechita, Nazis and animal welfare, first they ban shechita, then they kill Jews, etc. Rabbis are nothing if not expert beclouders of sensitive issues.
By the way, although he does not look the part, many sources have told me that Menachem Lubinsky is a Gerrer hasid, active in his community and close to the Gerrer Rebbe. (So is the rabbi MK who provoked the slap in Knesset.)
More on the the "doctored" picture shortly.