…The revulsion that non-Orthodox Jews in the Upper Midwest have for the Hasidim of Postville is visceral and undeniable. Over and over, while talking to non-Orthodox Jews in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area—arguably the Jewish community outside of Postville that has the most at stake in this story—I have heard one constant refrain. “How could this have happened?” they ask rhetorically. “I’ll tell you…,” and then their voices drop a register: “These Hasidim do not think their workers are human beings.”
What these Jews are saying is probably…
… the deepest and darkest secret of the entire story.
This is a tale of Hasidic Jews who are utterly at odds with what most Americans understand as modernity. They learn from their most sacred text, the Tanya (published in 1797 by the founder of Chabad Hasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi) that “the souls of the nations of the world, the idol worshippers, derive from unclean husks and have no goodness in them whatsoever.”
This xenophobic teaching, an intolerant note hiding within the otherwise fetching melody of Chabad Hasidism, is spun differently for different audiences. But it indicates what can happen when business proprietors armed with a chauvinistic mystical theology that denies the humanity of non-Jews face off against the “laws of the land.” Such behavior might pass unnoticed in the cloistered brownstone neighborhoods of Crown Heights, but in the open light of the prairies, there will be an inevitable clash of civilizations.
Agriprocessors, a multimillion-dollar food manufacturer, defied the rule of state and federal law to wreak havoc on a group of workers and a town they cared nothing about. It provided the niche consumer with a needed product and along the way made a tarnished and now vulnerable fortune.