This week's issue of Kosher Today, the Menachem Lubinsky-edited trade journal that consistently fails to mention Lubinsky is a paid consultant and spokesperson for Agriprocessors, reports Agudath Israel of America will issue an announcement this week opposing…
Major Orthodox organization said to oppose Hekhsher Tzedek
New York…Agudath Israel of America, one of the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish organizations, is set to come out against the Hekhsher Tzedek, a new kosher symbol floated by Conservative rabbis to verify compliance with ethical behavior in the treatment of animals and laborers, KosherToday has learned. The organization’s highly respected Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah (Council of Torah Sages) is said to have authorized the organization to publicly oppose the new symbol initiated by Rabbi Morris Allen, a Conservative rabbi from Minneapolis who subsequently obtained the endorsement of the Conservative rabbinate. Sources say that Agudath Israel’s position will be consistent with the position taken by other mainstream Orthodox organization and certifying agencies, which basically oppose the broadening of the traditional definition of kosher, despite Rabbi Allen’s assertions that the new symbol would be in addition to the traditional kashrus symbol. The organization is scheduled to release its position in the coming days, virtually assuring that the Hekhsher Tzedek symbol will not be accepted by kosher businesses and the majority of core kosher consumers. Kashrus organizations, headed by the Orthodox Union, have argued that they fully rely on government oversight to protect consumers from the ethical considerations that the Conservative movement is concerned about.
The Hekhsher Tzedek issue has become the focus of widespread media attention, including a front page article in Saturday’s New York Times, but most media sources have failed to make the point that the Hekhsher Tzedek is opposed across the board in the Orthodox community. Even rabbis who told KosherToday that they welcomed the kind of concern for ethics that Rabbi Allen is advocating, are questioning how the standard could be practically implemented, why it is applied only to kosher foods and not to all Jewish-owned businesses (or, for that matter, non-Jewish), and how the kosher consumer could afford to fund such a new certification at a time of rapidly rising food prices. The debate surrounding the Hekhsher Tzedek symbol largely revolves around the beleaguered Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, which continues to be beset by an ongoing onslaught of allegations. On Friday, the Iowa Department of Labor slapped the company with $101,000 in fines for 31 alleged violations, 8 of which dealt with one extension cord. Agriprocessors had hired a former OSHA official who told a group of 20 visiting Orthodox rabbis on July 31st that the plant was “99% compliant with federal and state OSHA requirements.”
What Lubinsky fails to disclose is that he sits on Agudath Israel of America's Board of Governors and that Agriprocessors' attorney, Nathan Lewin, has a decades-long special relationship with Agudath Israel, and is a special advisor to the group on issues related to ritual slaughter and freedom of religion.
In other words, both Agriprocessors' attorney and its spokesman hold leadership positions in Agudath Israel of America, which is now issuing a policy statement in support of Agriprocessors.
Lewin, I'm told, was directly involved in this successful effort to lobby the USDA, helping to represent Agudath Israel of America while at the same time serving – without disclosure – as Agriprocessors' attorney. The changes made to USDA Humane Slaughter policy as a result for the most part benefited Agriprocessors alone.
These are both clear examples of conflict of interest. They call into question the legality of Agudath Israel of America's tax exempt status. And they should cause Nathan Lewin to be sanctioned by the bar.