Bintel Blog

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld: Is Agriprocessors Meat Kosher?

By Daniel Treiman

  • Print
  • Share Share

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the Modern Orthodox spiritual leader of Washington’s Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue, has penned a scathing op-ed for The New York Times about the growing controversy over labor conditions at the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse:

…News reports and government documents have described abusive practices at Agriprocessors against workers, including minors. Children as young as 13 were said to be wielding knives on the killing floor; some teenagers were working 17-hour shifts, six days a week.

This poses a grave problem and calls into question whether the food processed in the plant qualifies as kosher.

You see, there is precedent for declaring something nonkosher on the basis of how employees are treated. Yisroel Salanter, the great 19th-century rabbi, is famously believed to have refused to certify a matzo factory as kosher on the grounds that the workers were being treated unfairly. In addition to the hypocrisy of calling something kosher when it is being sold and produced in an unethical manner, we have to take into account disturbing information about the plant that has come to light.

The affidavit filed in the United States District Court of Northern Iowa, for instance, alleges that an employee was physically abused by a rabbi on the floor of the plant. If true, this calls into question the reliability and judgment of the rabbi in charge of making sure the food was kosher.

What’s more, two workers who oversaw the poultry and beef division were recently arrested for helping illegal immigrants falsify documents. If they were willing to break national immigration laws, one could reasonably ask whether they would be likely to show the same lack of concern for Jewish dietary laws.

It’s no surprise that an article like this, written by a Modern Orthodox rabbi with a prominent pulpit, and appearing in the national newspaper of record, is making waves (and drawing fire). Indeed, it’s currently the third-most e-mailed and fourth-most blogged article on the Times Web site.

Herzfeld’s article is particularly noteworthy since, heretofore, many of the loudest voices raising concerns about conditions at Agriprocessors have been from outside the Orthodox community. But it’s Orthodox Jewry that is the main group involved in the supervision of kashrut, and, quite likely, the largest consumer base for Agriprocessors products. And Herzfeld’s argument — that working conditions can be taken into account in determining whether or not food products are kosher — in some ways goes even further than the Conservative movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek program, which itself has been criticized by some in the Orthodox world for bringing ethical considerations to bear on kosher food production. (The Hekhsher Tzedek initiative simply bills itself as an effort to “display a seal on already designated kosher foods that reflects production benchmarks consistent with Jewish ethical standards” — not to intervene in the process of certifying food kosher.)

Finally, it’s also significant that Herzfeld publicly calls out the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America — two organizations he’s a member of — for responding to the Agriprocessors mess in a way that he says has “fallen far short of what is needed to be done and have done little to diminish the extent of the desecration of God’s name.”

Read Herzfeld’s full article here.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Agriprocessors, Shmuel Herzfeld

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Zach Leiner Thu. Aug 7, 2008

" Hekhsher Tzedek program, which itself has been criticized by some in the Orthodox world for bringing ethical considerations to bear on kosher food production." Could the writer could please provide some sources backing up the assertion that it's qua "ethical considerations" as the point of argument as opposed to ignoring the technical considerations of kashrut itself? Furthermore, in an Op-Ed that decries the string of supposed injustices, wasn't there an injustice of indicting a group in the media before their day in court?

Carol Sat. Aug 9, 2008

I am heartened by Rabbi Herzfeld's op-ed piece. Paying attention to the spirit of the law rather than just the letter of the law would make us better people. Add to that the, at the very least, arrogant treatment of the employees of Agriprocessor speaks to an owner/operator/management attitude that seems to indicate that the workers are less than human. What if those people were Jews rather than poor, mostly Hispanic, immigrants?




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.