Susan Rosenbluth of the Bergen County, NJ Jewish Voice and Opinion has written a love letter to Rubashkin in the guise of a news report. And the love letter is being circulated by 5W Public Relations, Rubashkin's PR firm.
But there is something about Susan Rosenbluth 5W doesn't want you to know.
Rosenbluth has a long track record of pulling stories that upset the OU and kosher food manufacturers, distributers and retailers.
In 1989, Rosenbluth interviewed several students who claimed the OU's Rabbi Baruch Lanner abused them. Rather than publishing their stories, Rosenbluth approached the (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of Bergen County. The rabbis threatened her and told her they would cut her advertising revenue dramatically if she published her Lanner story.
She was also threatened, she later claimed, by two senior rabbis from the OU.
Rosenbluth did not publish the story. Rosenbluth did not go to the police. And for more than 11 years, Rabbi Baruch Lanner continued to abuse children – until the New York Jewish Week exposed Lanner in a report that ultimately led to Lanner's conviction and the forced resignations and retirements of several senior OU staffers.
Why did Rosenbluth give in to the rabbis – the very same rabbis in many cases who are now protecting Rubashkin?
Perhaps this, as reported by the Bergen Record on July 19, 2000:
Because Rosenbluth's 15,000-circulation newspaper receives roughly 90 percent of its operating revenue from advertising by Bergen County firms selling kosher products, Rosenbluth said she took the alleged threat[s] seriously.
Now Rosenbluth, who admits "kids were being hurt." and there was "inappropriate stuff going on" for those 11 years she remained silent due to economic pressure from the kosher food industry and rabbis who certify kosher food, is being trotted out by 5W Public Relations and Rubashkin to defend Agriprocessors. (You can see 5W Vice President Juda Englemayer's name on the image below. Englemayer posted the Rosenbluth article. Please click to enlarge.)
Here is what a woman whose business depends almost completely on the advertising largess of the kosher industry has to say about the abuse of workers at Agriprocessors. Note that Rosenbluth does not quote any Rubashkin opponents, does not quote Stephen Bloom (although she cites his book), and incorrectly writes off the raid to disgruntled former employees in trouble with the law and to antisemitism, which she carefully calls "tensions between the Orthodox-Jewish enclave and the greater mid-western community." The comments in square brackets [ ] are mine.
July 2, 2008
Until Proven Guilty, Agriprocessors and the Rubashkins will Keep Kosher
By Susan L. Rosenbluth
In Postville, Iowa, where the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant is located, at least one community leader suspects some longtime residents of the town, who, he said, have never been comfortable with the Lubavitch chassidic Jews who own the plant or the mostly Hispanic immigrants who work there, may have been behind the raid conducted at the plant by federal agents last month.
Jeff Abbas, who runs the community's radio station, KPVL, said immigrants are vital to the economic stability of Postville, and, he said, he is worried because so many are fleeing in the aftermath of the raid.
Other members of the Postville community said local officials were doing everything to help the kosher meatpacking plant because it is the area's largest employer and, almost single-handedly, supports the local economy.
Agriprocessors, often referred to as simply Agri, was founded 20 years ago by Brooklyn-born Chabad-Lubavitch chassid Aaron Rubashkin. Since then, Agri has become the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country and has attracted hundreds of Orthodox Jews, most of them Chabad-niks, to this rural pocket of northeast Iowa, which has a population of about 2,300.
The plant sells its products under the labels of Aaron's Best, Aaron's Choice, Rubashkin's, European Glatt, Supreme Kosher, David's, and Shor Harbor.
According to Stephen Bloom's 2000 book Postville, there have been ongoing tensions between the Orthodox-Jewish enclave and the greater mid-western community, a split which Mr. Abbas implied might be at the root of the government's actions.
[Notice there is no quote from Abbas and that Rosenbluth uses the word "implied" and the qualifier "might." If Abbas did blame these tensions for the raid, Rosenbluth should have quoted him.
Bloom also documented worker abuse – including sexual abuse, and documented Agriprocessors' knowing, intentional recruitment of illegal workers. Rosenbluth characteristically does not mention this. She also does not mention the other misbehaviors of the Rubashkin family Bloom documented.]
Last month, 389 workers at the plant""40 percent of its 968 employees""were arrested and charged with being in the US illegally. Most of them had false documents and Social Security numbers, which, for a resident alien, is a crime punishable by a 10-year prison term, three years of supervised probation, a fine of up to $250,000, and a $100 court fee.
In a plea-bargain arrangement, the government dropped the more serious identify-theft charges against many of the workers, and most of the illegal immigrants who were arrested pleaded guilty. Most were then sentenced to five months in prison, after which, they are expected to be deported to their home countries, mostly Mexico and Guatemala, in lieu of serving probation.
Some of the illegal aliens were released immediately on humanitarian grounds in order to care for their children. Others were simply given probation after agreeing to return to their home countries immediately.
It was the largest single-site federal immigration raid in US history.
Although none of Agri's managers, administrators, or owners have been indicted or even charged, the rumor mill, egged on by left-wing Jewish and so-called animal-rights groups, has worked overtime. There have been unofficial allegations of fraud and worker, drug, and sex abuse.
In a 60-page application for a search warrant, federal agents showed that their six-month probe of the plant involved 12 federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, and the Departments of Labor and Agriculture.
Most of their information seems to have come from affidavits supplied by former Agri employees who were detained by police on a host of unrelated charges.
[This is false. ICE sent in an agent who documented company-run identity theft and fraud, for example, and other charges were from former (and perhaps current) employees – employees who were not "detained by police" as Rosenbluth incorrectly reports.]
Fraud and Duct Tape
For example, a former plant supervisor told investigators that approximately 80 percent of Agri's workforce was illegal, including rabbis who the source believed came to the US from Canada without proper immigration documents in order to supervise kashruth. The former employee said that perhaps as many as almost 700 plant employees have violated federal laws.
Some former employees said undocumented workers had been paid in cash by the plant, and others said an Agri supervisor had charged workers to help them acquire false documents and Social Security numbers.
One former employee said "a chassidic Jew"- duct-taped a worker's eyes and then hit him with a meat hook. The injuries from this alleged episode, however, were not sufficiently serious for the unnamed worker to seek medical assistance.
Sex and Drugs
Other former workers allegedly told Sister Mary McCauley, a Roman Catholic nun at Postville's St. Bridget's Church, that they had been victims of sexual abuse at the plant. Ms. McCauley told the Des Moines Register that if workers wanted a promotion or a shift change, "they'd be brought into a room with three or four men and it was like, "-Which one do you want? Which one are you going to serve?'"- she said.
There were accusations that Agri promoted child-labor, but when the officers raided the plant, no children were found. [This is false. 13 children were arrested in that raid.]
Washington attorney Nathan Lewin said he found the "viciousness"- of the allegations in the affidavit "disturbing,"- especially because they go well beyond the immigration charges.
There were, for examples, rumors that federal authorities believed a methamphetamine laboratory was operating at Agri. Known on the street as "crystal meth,"- the drug, which users say gives them a sense of energy and euphoria that can last for hours, is illegal in the US.
Pipe Bombs and Guns
The affidavit against Agri includes an allegation that "pipe bombs"- were being produced at the plant, prompting federal inspectors to search mezuzoth hanging on Agri's doors in the erroneous belief that they might contain incendiary devices.
There were also allegations in the affidavit that guns were routinely carried on the premises, which eyewitnesses have told numerous media outlets simply is not true.
The charges prompted Rep Bruce Braley (D-IA) to support an investigation into whether the plant violated workplace safety, child labor, and immigration laws.
"Until we enforce our immigration laws equally against both employers and employees who break the law, we will continue to have a problem with illegal immigration,"- said Mr. Braley, adding that the number of arrests at Agri "raises questions"- about the plant's "knowledge of possible violations of employment and immigration law."-
Rabbis involved in supervising Agri's kashruth dismiss most of the allegations as absurd.
Rabbi Menachem Meir Weissmandle of the Nitra Kehilla in Monsey, who serves as one of the kashruth supervisors at Agri, said the charges concerning drug production or that workers had been abused were "categorically false."-
"It's a lie,"- he said.
Agri's chief kashruth supervision is under the Orthodox Union. The OU's rabbinic administrator, Rabbi Menachem Genack, who heads the organization's kosher supervision department, said it would be "foolish"- for Agri to be involved in something like the production of illegal drugs, "which would only hurt them and their business."-
But business practices geared towards improving the bottom line are another matter, he said.
Rabbi Seth Mandel, who serves as the rav hamachshir for the OU at the plant, acknowledged that Agri has made some mistakes. The company, he said, "does not try to cut corners as far as kashrus goes, but does go as far as its rabbinic certification says it can."-
Most companies, he said, do this, and Agri, he said, "is no worse than other large meatpackers."-
To those who argue that a Jewish kosher business should be better than comparable non-kosher ones, he said that might be possible only if kosher consumers were prepared to spend more for the products.
"Cattle growers and meat packers would be very happy to institute higher humane standards, but consumers must vote with their wallet. Most consumers will not pay a premium for free-range, natural, or organic beef, no matter how much lip service they pay to the idea. The same thing holds true regarding employees and their working conditions. Meat packers would have no problem paying higher wages and make working conditions better, if the consumers would pay the premium price thereby entailed,"- he said.
Similarly, he said, most of the employees at all meatpacking plants in the US are immigrants, "because almost no native-born Americans are willing to work for the low pay that makes inexpensive meat possible."-
Is It True?
He pointed out that if the government simply wanted to arrest illegal immigrants, its agents could go to any large meatpacker. The incident at Agri, he said, took place because the government believes the plant's management was involved in knowingly hiring illegal aliens or helping them obtain fraudulent documentation.
Asked if they believed the allegations, Rabbis Genack and Mandel demurred.
Rabbi Mandel explained that "there are no beatings or sexual mistreatment of workers or drug facilities in the operating room of the plant,"- but, he said, he, like all the kosher workers, does not venture into the isolated warehouses, "which are the only possible places to produce illicit materials."-
Further, he said, he had never seen workers who look underage.
"I go all over the plant when I visit, but only into areas where meat is processed,"- he said.
[Here is a link to Rabbi Seth Mandel lying to protect Agriprocessors and Rubashkin during another scandal.]
Asked about the allegation that some of the undocumented workers at Agri were rabbis, Rabbi Genack said two foreign rabbis there had failed to renew their work permits when they expired several weeks before the raid. He described it as a "technical"- violation and denied that the two had been detained.
The Jewish community has expressed concern about events at the Agri plant, but, like so much in contemporary Jewish life, those weighing in on the issue are separated by left-wing and right-wing politics and religious outlooks.
For example, the Conservative movement's new "Hekhsher Tzedek,"- which some say is that movement's attempt to mimic the OU, did not wait for charges to be officially filed before condemning the company. The Conservative group, which is promoting its own "ethical kashruth certification,"- said Agri's "actions"- had "brought shame upon the entire Jewish community."-
[Note that Rosenbluth does not bother to ask Hechsher Tzedek about any of this. Also note Rosenbluth does not bother to list any of the other proven charges against Agriprocessors, making it seem, incorrectly, that the Conservative Movement is simply using this latest Agriprocessors scandal to turn a buck.]
Hekhsher Tzedek's statement seemed to indicate that the group is using the Agri incident as a raison d'être for its very existence, saying the issue of illegal alien workers "along with the other [undefined] violations of the ethical standards set forth by our Torah and our tradition underscore the need for Hekhsher Tzedek."-
Possible, Not Likely
According to Rabbi Genack, the OU is reserving judgment, especially because there have been no judicial decisions or even indictments.
"If a court of law finds that Agri is criminally liable, the OU would have no choice. We would have to remove our hechsher,"- said Rabbi Genack, making clear that he does not consider it to be a likely scenario.
"It may be fun to knock them if you don't like the idea of slaughtering meat or kashruth in the first place, but, fundamentally, the Rubashkins are good people who really care about kashruth,"- he said.
Chabad through Meat
Many observers have said that Agri has been intent on putting Lubavitch philosophy into practice via kosher meat.
Rabbi Genack pointed out that the company "has made it its business to produce kosher meat at relatively inexpensive prices and make it available throughout the US."-
In many places, Agri products are the only glatt kosher meat available.
"And it is available in such places because Agri markets and ships to any supermarket or store that has any interest. There is absolutely no question that there are many Jews who are eating kosher meat today only due to Agri,"- he said.
A Generic Phrase?
Whatever other problems Agri and the Rubashkins might face, Rabbis Genack and Mandel said the kashruth of their products is not one of them.
Rabbi Genack pointed out that, very often, liberal Jews use the term "kosher"- as a "generic phrase"- to denote practices they consider morally acceptable.
Menachem Lubinsky, editor of Kosher Today, said those who use that definition are "missing the fundamental issue of kashrus: obedience to Jewish law."- [Note that Lubinsky again fails to declare that he works for Agriprocessors as a paid consultant, and Rosenbluth – who should know this – fails to mention the relationship.]
He said most Orthodox rabbis have dismissed the attempts to discredit Agri, characterizing most of the complaints as "an irrelevant misinterpretation of what kosher represents."-
While some of the liberal groups, including the Jewish Labor Committee, have discussed boycotting Agri products, most of the people they might influence do not observe kashruth anyway.
According to Rabbi Jerome Epstein, leader of the Conservative movement, only 20 percent to 30 percent of Jews who identify as Conservative make a point of buying kosher products, even though most of them, he said, do not keep kosher all the time.
More potentially problematic for Agri was a petition circulated by some students at the politically and religiously liberal Orthodox rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The petition called for a boycott of Agri's products if the company does not make the changes the school's students demand.
In Washington, Congregation Ohev Sholom's Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who is loosely associated with YCT, has asked the local Vaad Harabonim to "temporarily suspend Rubashkin's meat in the stores and caterers it supervises."-
The Vaad did not respond to calls, and, thus far, has not issued any comment on Rabbi Herzfeld's request.
To Large to Boycott
Short of becoming vegetarians, the kosher would-be boycotters might have a hard time following through.
Agri is responsible for 60 percent of the kosher beef and between 30 and 40 percent of all kosher chickens consumed in the US, causing concerns last month that the raid and the subsequent slow-down of activities caused by the lack of workers could result in a shortage and a steep increase in price.
Only Empire Chicken sells more kosher poultry than Agri, and no one sells more kosher beef.
According to Mr. Lubinsky, some kosher meat distributors feared the worst when the plant was temporarily shut down. But production resumed very rapidly, increasing each day as the plant exerted major efforts to replace the workers who had been detained or deported by the authorities.
Like Mr. Lubinsky, many observers said they were not surprised at the way Agri has rebounded. The company is, after all, a survivor, managing to stay in business despite surreptitious films by an extremist so-called animal rights group that made no secret of its desire to outlaw kosher slaughter;
[The USDA found Agriprocessors violated Humane Slaughter law, and PETA, the group Rosenbluth mentions, wants to end all slaughter but has spoken very kindly of shechita]
a fine levied against the company last March by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for violations at the plant; the publicly unexplained decision by one of its previous kashruth supervisors, K'hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ-Breuers), to withdraw supervision of the plant as of April 2008; and a federal appeals court decision last January rejecting Agri's claim that workers in their Brooklyn distribution center should not be allowed to unionize because many of them are illegal aliens.
According to Rabbi Genack, none of these is reason for the OU to withdraw its kashruth supervision, especially since he has found, over the years, that Agri is willing to make changes as necessary.
He explained that, during past 20 years, virtually all small and medium-sized slaughter houses in the US, which used to produce kosher products in addition to non-kosher meat, have closed down.
"They just couldn't survive,"- said Rabbi Genack.
[The truth is allegedly somewhat different. Rubashkin came into their markets and undersold them until they went out of business. Rubashkin is also alleged to have used other strong-arm tactics, as well. That is why Rubashkin is a main target of a current US Department of Justice investigation into price fixing and collusion in the kosher meat industry.]
As opposed to most meatpackers, Agri was designed to produce only kosher meat and poultry. Because the company also sells its products in Israel (it is the only American slaughterhouse permitted by the Chief Rabbinate to do so), it has had to conform to Israeli rabbinic standards, some of which tend to make American consumers queasy.
This may explain why KAJ decided to separate itself from Agri. In a talk at the Jewish Center of Teaneck last month, entitled "From Coca-Cola to Postville: Issues in Kashruth,"- Rabbi Genack explained that KAJ wanted Agri to use a "rotating pen"- for shechita. However, Israeli Chief Rabbinate insists that slaughterhouses use the "inverted pen,"- because, with this device, there is no danger of the animal "falling on the knife,"- which would render the meat treif.
Rabbi Genack said he has spent a great deal of time discussing this issue with the Israeli rabbinate and other kashrus experts.
He has also called in Dr. Temple Grandin, the recognized foremost expert in animal welfare in the US, who has promoted a shechita-friendly procedure designed to lessen the stress of the animal before slaughter (it involves using a ramp so that the animal does not loose its footing and a pen with a hydraulic lift that holds the head in place). Thus far, however, Israeli authorities will permit only shechita that has the animal lying on its back.
But bringing Dr. Grandin to Agri has made a difference, said Rabbi Genack. She has suggested compromises, adopted by Agri, which have prompted her to praise the plant for its willingness to make changes.
[This is not really true.
What Dr. Grandin saw was a snapshot in time, a few hours out of thousands the plant is running every year. She made that point clearly to the Forward and to me, and also called for unannounced inspections from both trained Humane Slaughter inspectors and from anyone else able to go to Postville and drop in. Agriprocessors has never allowed this.
Even more alarmingly, the day after her inspection, Agriprocessors spokesman Mike Thomas lied about Dr. Grandin. Also, Dr. Grandin was only allowed in the plant in the aftermath of the Forward's award winning exposé on Agriprocessors' worker abuse, and Dr. Grandin – who was unaware of the story – was troubled by what we both saw as Rubashkin's attempt to use her to divert attention from that scandal.]
Similarly, said Rabbi Genack, the OU was not likely to withdraw its supervision of Agri if the plant can correct any violations that are discovered.
"Many plants have OSHA violations. Like Agri, they correct them and continue doing business. It does not mean they become non-kosher,"- said Rabbi Genack, adding that the OU's policy is to leave matters of immigration and labor standards to the government.
However, he said, the cumulative effect of Agri's problems prompted him to convince the owners that "they could not correct all these issues on their own."-
"They haven't been cruel or evil, but they've been sloppy, and now is the time to correct it,"- said Rabbi Genack.
At Rabbi Genack's urging, the Rubashkin family announced last month that it was beginning an aggressive search for a new chief executive officer. In a prepared statement, the company said that, in an effort to achieve normalcy and future growth, Sholom Rubashkin, Aaron Rubashkin's son and Agri's current CEO, will be replaced with a new management team, including professional compliance personnel.
Rabbi Genack praised the decision, saying it would go far to ensure that the OU continued its kashruth supervision of the plant.
"This is an important supplier of kosher products to consumers. We want the company to succeed,"- he said,
He said that, with the new management, even if the Rubashkin family eventually has to defend themselves in federal court, the OU would be able to continue supervising the kashruth at the plant.
"If there's new, completely independent management, why would we withdraw supervision? Because of a history? That wouldn't make sense,"- said Rabbi Genack.
Susan L. Rosenbluth is the publisher of The Jewish Voice and Opinion in Englewood, NJ