The Forward has two reports on Agriprocessors in this week's paper.
The first is on the United States Circuit Court of Appeals decision against Agriprocessors reported here Sunday.
…Because of its size, the AgriProcessors plant requires a great deal of rabbinic supervision; one estimate holds that about 70 rabbis — including slaughterers, or shochtim, and overseers, or mashgichim — help to maintain standards at the company. As a result, a designated head rabbi is placed in charge of certification, and a “super-mashgiach” manages the entire process on the ground. Some organizations, including the Orthodox Union, frequently delegate their oversight of the slaughter to that mashgiach, who is entrusted with upholding the specific standards of each congregation.
Until two years ago, the head rabbi at AgriProcessors was Rabbi Chaim Kohn, who is affiliated with KAJ. Kohn played an important role in the scandal that resulted when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals castigated AgriProcessors for the practice of ripping out live cows’ throats, which some say is condoned by kosher law.
“Kohn helped PETA to understand that the practice did not violate humane standards,” KAJ president Eric Erlbach said.
Kohn left AgriProcessors shortly after the PETA scandal and was replaced by Menachem Weissmandl, who leads a small community in Monsey, N.Y., known as Nitra, after its birthplace in Hungary.
Here, accounts diverge. According to Erlbach, Kohn was pushed out for reasons connected to conflicts with Weissmandl and the Rubashkin family, which owns AgriProcessors. According to Erlbach, upon taking over, Weissmandl quickly hired a new super-mashgiach on his own payroll and began restricting other rabbis’ access to the slaughterhouse.
“From the time that he took over, we have had less and less control over what was going on, less and less ability to supervise,” Erlbach said. “Our certification is based on our ability to supervise the process. We are not willing to cede that control to Rabbi Weissmandl or to anybody else.”
Weissmandl, for his part, claims that the current super-mashgiach was jointly hired by all the rabbis who are involved with supervision at AgriProcessors, including representatives of KAJ, and that the congregation later made an unreasonable demand: that there be a rabbi with the same amount of authority as the super-mashgiach who would oversee only slaughter performed by KAJ standards and report only to KAJ.
“I did everything possible to have a good working relationship with KAJ,” Weissmandl said. “But the Rubashkins and I felt it would not make sense to have two rabbis running the place.”…
Assuming the Forward's reporting is correct, KAJ's president is either an idot or a liar or both. In no way did Rabbi Kohn help "PETA to understand" that ripping the throats out of fully conscious animals with a meat hook "did not violate humane standards."
Rabbi Kohn, in fact, spent much time hanging up the phone on people who questioned him and being otherwise rude and obnoxious. You can read my interview with him here.
More curious still is the Forward's failure to confirm that quote with PETA.
But what is correct in the Forward's report is that KAJ dropped Rubashkin, not the other way around. The Jewish Star interviewed Aaron Rubashkin, Erlbach, and Rabbi Weissmandl and all admit that KAJ dropped Rubashkin. (The Jewish Star is only available in print or online as a PDF file. Here this issue as a PDF download: Download JewishStar.pdf .)
The Jewish Star also points out that Rubashkin lied about that in press releases and ads:
…Efforts to portray the parting of ways as a simple marketing decision by AgriProcessors persisted into Monday when a kashruth industry newsletter, Kosher Today, neglected to mention that it was KAJ’s decision to end the relationship. The editor, Menachem Lubinsky, told The Jewish Star that he had not heard that. He strongly denied that his paid work for Rubashkin, crafting the press release that announced the breakup, had played any role in his editorial decision. The article did not mention his paid role with AgriProcessors, but Lubinsky said he stood by his story as “balanced.” He has written in the past about the “number of hats” he wears as a kashruth industry expert, he said, and “I don’t have to say it every day and every time.”…
Readers of Failedmessiah.com will recognize Lubinsky for what he is. FailedMessiah.com has long-covered Lubinisky's ethical lapses in defense of Rubashkin.
(Interestingly, although he doesn't look the part, Menachem Lubinsky is a Ger hasid, said to be personally close with the Gerrer Rebbe's inner circle. Ger is currently enmeshed in the Avrohom Mondrowitz scandal.)
The Jewish Star has details of the kashrut issues that caused KAJ to leave. Part of it involves having its own rabbi-in-charge stationed at the plant, something Rabbi Weissmandl and Rubashkin opposed, and another part involves casings used for hot dogs and sausages. Originally produced in house, Rubashkin sought to produce these in an outside plant not under KAJ supervision. KAJ did not approve; Rabbi Weissmandl did.
The Forward piece on Rubashkin's failed court fight has an interesting tidbit of information that could end up being significant, at least for the health of kosher consumers. It seems the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been testing Rubashkin meat. They found sodium levels far higher than reported on the Rubashkin food labels.
A quick summary of the various Rubashkin scandals is posted here.