No real news here – not even the stupidity of the attack. But, because the author is Rabbi Levi Brackman, the obnoxious Ynet columnist…
…I'll point out a few of Brackman's errors:
1. The allegations are not proven. Really? Then why are so many illegal immigrants now serving jail terms? Why do Iowa state documents and citation records confirm an abysmally unsafe workplace and a company unwilling to provide a safe environment for its workers?
Yes, some allegations are still unproven. But even those allegations largely follow a pattern and are backed by voluminous evidence.
2. Everybody does it. Last time I checked, few companies other than Agriprocessors had a workforce that was (at least) 75% illegal.
3. Conservative rabbis underpay their janitors; therefore, Rubashkin did nothing unusual. Granting Brackman this unproven charge (note that Brackman has no problem using unproven charges to defend Rubashkin and attack Conservative rabbis), exactly how does that compare paying illegal workers below minimum wage; forcing them to work grueling 15 to 17 hour shifts, often with no overtime (and sometimes with no pay past the 8 hour mark); grossly unsafe working conditions; extorting them and sexually abusing them?
Perhaps Rabbi Brackman should find out whether Rabbi Pinchas Lew's housekeeper was legal and whether he used her immigration status to extort sexual favors from her. After all, Lew got his crime experience and training in Postville.
4. Mistreatment of workers, extortion, extortion of sexual favors and grossly unsafe working conditions have nothing to do with kosher. Therefore, to combine these "justice" issues with kosher is wrong and has no precedent in Jewish law or tradition – hadash assur min HaTorah. This seems to be Rubashkin's major talking point against Hechsher Tzedek. Unfortunately for Rubashkin, the point is false.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein banned the use of non-union grapes (and, I believe, lettuce) as non-kosher because of oshek, oppression, of migrant workers. So did the Boston Beit Din, at the time populated by close students of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soleveitchik.
To make the claim Brackman makes means Brackman is writing out Rabbis Feinstein and Soleveitchik from the halakhic tradition.
Also note that Menachem Lubinsky and other Rubashkin protectors have made the same basic claim. Those protectors include the OU's Rabbi Menachem Genack, who has no problem claiming on one had to be a follower of Rabbi Soleveitchik while on the other moving all issues of worker abuse, extortion and related crimes – including child labor – out of the realm of kosher, and his teacher out of the realm of normative halakhic discourse. And that should tell you how corrupt the OU really is.
Brackman – who has a book on Jewish wisdom for business success due out shortly – could claim he is ignorant of this crucial bit of halakhic history. Of course, what would that say about the quality of his book?
5. The Conservative Rabbis are only in this for the money. Even if that were true (it is not true – there is no evidence to support Brackman's claim) where is it written that only Orthodox – and especially haredim – have a right to make money off kosher supervision? Does the market "belong" to the Orthodox?
Most kosher consumers are not Orthodox. And that is what really frightens the OU and other Orthodox and haredi kosher supervisions about Hechsher Tzedek.
6. Brackman is a Chabad hasid. So is Rubashkin. Brackman does not disclose this connection, a glaring ethical lapse.
And now, here is Levi Brackman's attack on Hechsher Tzedek:
Is new justice certification for food ethical?
Rabbi Brackman probes question of keeping kosher in 21st century, says new regulations imply this is somehow different today than in past times
The new ethical certification for food products being promoted by Conservative Rabbi Morris Allen, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly seems like a great idea. Hekhsher Tzedek or Justice Certification will certify that food has been produced in an ethically correct manner and that no person was unfairly treated during the production process. It is an ethical seal of approval. Why should anyone object to such a noble cause?
The problem with this new initiative is not the concept it is the context. The slogan for Hekhsher Tzedek is “Keeping Kosher in the 21st century.” This implies that keeping Kosher today is somehow different than it was one hundred or one thousand years ago and therefore a new type of ethical kosher certification is needed.
The Justice Certification initiative was born mainly out of the very unfortunate saga involving the kosher meat manufacturer Agriprocessors Inc. where illegal immigrants were employed and workers were allegedly mistreated. At present these allegations remain unproven. Nonetheless we cannot excuse companies which mistreat their employees or act in an unethical manner; and yes companies that are owned and operated by religious Jews should be held to the ethical and moral standards that the Torah demands. If these allegations are proven to be true the Chassidic owners of Agriprocessors Inc. will have much to answer for and none of us should patronize them until they change their practices. However, all of this has nothing to do with whether the food is Kosher to eat according to Jewish law.
Intellectual honesty demands that we delineate things properly. The requirements for food to be Kosher involves the laws of milk and meat, the types of animals, birds and fish that the Torah permits Jews to eat, the need for the animal to be healthy at the time of slaughter, the removal of the blood before eating and the humane slaughtering of animals. But kosher with regard food has nothing to do with the ethical treatment of workers or the morality of the company that produces the edible products. There are other Torah laws that deal with ethics and morality –laws which must also be followed with regards everything, not just food.
The kosher standards
One wonders whether these do-gooders have looked into the way the plants in China and elsewhere that manufacture their everyday consumer items treat their employees. Can they tell us if health insurance is given to those foreign workers? Is Morris Allen and his cohorts sure that all the clothes they wear were made in factories where safety for the employees was taken into consideration? Are the maintenance workers at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Conservative Synagogues unionized? What level of health coverage they get would also be of interest.
If Morris Allen and the Conservative Movement were consistent they would demand these high ethical standards within their own organizations and for all the things they personally buy. If they are in fact redefining the concept of kosher to include ethical manufacturing standards why aren’t they applying this standard to all consumer items? The fact that kosher food manufacturers have been singled out for these “21st century” kosher standards seems rather arbitrary and suspicious and may indicate other less principled motives.
Hiding behind this moral and ethical indignation may be the desire to get a piece of the multibillion dollar kosher food industry. As long as kosher food is defined by a set of Torah laws, Morris Allen and his friends at the Rabbinical Assembly – many of whom do not themselves keep to those strict traditional kosher laws – have little credibility.
Once, however, they say that kosher food necessitates an ethical manufacturing standard they suddenly seem credible especially when a meat company run by Orthodox Jews has allegedly mistreated their workers. In order for this new Justice Certification to appear ethical and honest it must encompass all consumer products – until then it remains suspect.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills . His upcoming book , "Jewish Wisdom for Business Success", is set to be published in late 2008.