Monthly Archives: June 2006

Anti-Trust In Kosher Saint Paul

Rubashkin’s distributor in the upper midwest has consistently refused to sell non-glatt meat – even Rubashkin non-glatt – in the Twin Cities. Rabbi Morris Allen, the Saint Paul-based Conservative rabbi leading the Conservative Movement’s investigation of Rubashkin, has been fighting to get non-glatt for his community. But after many months of fighting, no results – until, it seems, this week. The local supermarket is now selling Rubashkin non-glatt. Amazing how this would happen the very week of the investigation, a week that saw the revelation of federal anti-trust subpoenas targeting price fixing and collusion in the kosher meat business. What a ‘coincidence.’

[For those not familiar with the intricacies of kosher food, non-glatt meat is less expensive than glatt. It is the meat of choice for most non-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jews.]

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Filed under Crime, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal

MORE ABUSE? Rubashkin And His Workers, cont.

The Rubashkin family opened a sister plant to Postville last year in Nebraska. The JournalStar, seemingly oblivious to the legal and ethical troubles plaguing the Rubashkin operation, reports on the plant’s first year of operations. First, what’s in it for Rubashkin?

The Nebraska plant is also unique in its partnership with the Oglala Lakota Nation, which is just north of Gordon in South Dakota. Oglala leaders declared the plant and 300 surrounding acres of Gordon part of its economic empowerment zone.

For every person living within the zone it employs — Native or otherwise — the company qualifies for a $3,000 federal tax credit.

Plant manager Gary Ruse said about 65 of the nearly 100 plant employees are Native. He estimated about 15 percent of the work force is Latino and the remainder is Anglo.…

The company got more help Thursday when Gov. Dave Heineman presented a $505,000 check to Rubashkin on behalf of the city of Gordon.

Leaders of the northern Panhandle community of 1,800 — about 430 miles northwest of Lincoln — obtained the funds from the state’s Community Development Block Grant program, said Gordon City Administrator Fred Hlava. The money represents a loan to help with plant expansion costs.

Sounds fine so far. Until you read what the workers are actually paid:

Starting pay is $8.25 per hour without benefits. Ruse said the company plans to offer benefits as soon as it can.

Reread the Forward’s damning report of Rubashkin’s Postville worker abuses. Can you ethically continue to purchase and consume any AgriProcessors product? If so, why?

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Haredi Expert Misleads On Circumcision

Dr. Daniel S. Berman is a haredi-linked "expert" with very few published papers and no special expertise. He bills himself as "Chief of Infectious -Disease Section. New York Westchester Square Hospital Medical Center." The center is not a research facility and is merely a decent community hospital. Berman has been in the forefront of the movement to declare metzitza b’peh safe. He writes in today’s Jewish Week:

First, compared to other medical contexts, the steps recommended in the agreement are quite severe. In contrast, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), entrusted to guarding public safety on a national level, in response to outbreaks of life-threatening bacterial infection linked epidemiologically and genetically to three petting zoos across the United States recommended only stronger infection-control measures in these zoos. The CDC’s report said nothing about closing the individual petting zoos or banning any of the operators. Further, within this same agreement, if a baby nurse was found to be the transmitter of the herpes virus to the baby, no action would be taken, and she could continue to care for other babies. If a mohel were found to be the source, he would be banned for life.

What Berman does not tell you is that the disease transmission differs dramatically in the two cases, and that bacterial transmission and viral transmission are not equivalent. Berman then continues his disingenuousness:

As for Dr. Zenilman’s assertion that the steps would not reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, there is strong evidence to the contrary. There are many studies in the literature demonstrating the effectiveness of antiseptic mouthwash in inactivating Herpes virus. Studies have shown that the antiviral agent acyclovir can reduce the incidence of Herpes viral shedding by 94 percent in those with genital herpes. It is likely to do the same in oral Herpes.

Berman does not tell you that the author of the antiseptic mouthwash study brought by the state (presumably at the suggestion of haredim through Berman) totally disagrees with both the incorrect use of his study and the unsupported conclusions recklessly drawn from it, and he is adamant that MBP should be stopped. Berman’s intellectual dishonesty continues:

It still has not been proved with 100 percent certainty that any case of herpes has been transmitted through metzitzah b’peh. If there is transmission, the incidence is rare. There are only seven reported suspected cases in New York City over the last 18 years, with many thousands of babies receiving metzitzah b’peh during this time. The infection- control measures recommended should reduce the incidence of transmission of herpes through metzitzah b’peh (if such transmission exists) to almost nothing.

No mandatory reporting existed during those years. We know only of the most severe cases. No serious expert believes these 7 were the only cases in the city during those years.

Here is a letter Danny Berman wrote to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv "informing" him about herpes and MBP. Note that he refers to Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler as "an individual with a Ph. D." rather than as a rabbi, and that he slants all his information toward the supposed "safety" of MBP:
Download dr. Daniel S. Berman Letter To Rabbi Elyashiv.pdf

Here is a brief report on Berman and Westchester. Note Westchester is not a critical care facility:
Download daniel_s. Berman Report.pdf

Danny Berman has consistently proven himself to a less than honest broker. He shares part of the blame for every maimed and dead MBP infant. Perhaps one day his licensing board will look into that.

Want to know the real dangers of MBP? Read Dr. Shlomo Sprecher’s Hakirah article on the long history of disease transmitted through MBP:
Download sprecher_metzitza.pdf

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President Katsav: Conservative Rabbis Rabbis

israel’s president Moshe Katsav digs himself (and his mentor, Sefardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar) deeper into a PR hole. Katsav has told the Conservative movement that he will address their rabbis as “rabbi.” Exactly how he intends to explain this to the Reform movement, whose rabbis he refuses to call rabbi, is, to say the least, unclear.

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Chabad Calls For More Federation ‘Inclusiveness,’ Argues Against Helping Non-Jews

Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, a quasi-official Chabad spokesman, argues in the Forward for Federations opening their doors – and wallets – to haredi causes. Steven I. Weiss breaks down Eliezrie’s arguments here. Most notable is this claim by Eliezrie, with SIW’s response following in italics:

Just imagine if Orthodox scholars had a major seminar and referred to the AJCommittee as “liberal extremists,” “ultra liberal” or “being on the fringe.” The front-page headlines would scream, “Orthodox attack AJCommittee.”

Point me to a gathering of Orthodox scholars that doesn’t do that (other than perhaps the recently defunct Edah), and you get a prize.

No matter how tone-deaf the Federations may be to haredim and haredi causes, fanciful claims – even from polished haredi spokespeople like Eliezrie – show clearly why the problem exists. From Rabbi Avi Shafran downward, haredim play fast and loose with the truth. In this case, that lack of honest assessment hurts an otherwise important cause.

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Rabbi Avi Shafran And Agudath Israel Exposed And Rebuked

Rabbi Avi Shafran, perhaps the sleeziest PR person Judaism has ever known, wrote a disgusting piece last week on the Rabbi Kolko Man Boy Sex Abuse Scandal. The Jewish Week published three responses in this week’s paper that reveal Shafran’s lack of moral compass:

Orthodox Abuse And Cultural Forces

Robert Kolker

For those closely following the issue of rabbinical sexual abuse accusations in the fervently Orthodox Jewish community, last week’s Jewish Week represented something of a historic moment: An authority from the esteemed haredi organization Agudath Israel, Rabbi Avi Shafran, openly acknowledged that sexual abuse is indeed a problem that requires more attention and measures than the community currently brings to bear.

In the past, The Jewish Week’s own reporting has mentioned how rabbinical sexual abuse has been roundly ignored at Agudath Israel conventions. Rabbi Shafran himself has eschewed any calls for a centralized body to deal with the problem, instead encouraging anyone claiming to have been abused to “go to the rebbe or community rabbi.” So it is refreshing to read Rabbi Shafran grappling with these issues in an open forum and writing, “Must more be done? Yes. And it will be.”

But pausing only briefly to extend sympathy to victims of abuse, Rabbi Shafran saves his real outrage — and most of the space in his piece — for my recent feature story in New York magazine, “On the Rabbi’s Knee,” the first report to publicly detail plaintiff David Framowitz’s astonishing allegations in a recent sexual-abuse lawsuit. (The defendants are Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, Yeshiva & Mesivta Torah Temimah of Flatbush, and Camp Agudah, which Rabbi Shafran acknowledged is affiliated with Agudath Israel.) While the detailed and brave testimony of Framowitz received little attention from Rabbi Shafran, the uncomfortable question asked in my piece — if molestation is more common in the fervently Orthodox community than it is elsewhere — must have hit a nerve. Because last week, Rabbi Shafran accused the New York magazine article of “slip[ping] toward slander, not only of Orthodox Jews but of Judaism itself.”

As a journalist and a Jew, I take this accusation very seriously, and I’m grateful for the chance to respond.

First, Rabbi Shafran suggests that when I wrote that “there’s reason to believe the answer to that question [of more sexual abuse among the fervently Orthodox] might be yes,” I was engaging in something “sinister” — and that the only substantiation I provided was an insight from the author Hella Winston about the countless incidents she heard about in her laudable research on chasidic exiles.

While everyone including myself and Rabbi Shafran can stipulate that no hard statistics are available, my explanation of this belief extends for several more paragraphs. The next paragraph suggests that some experts believe “repression … creates a fertile environment for deviance.” Rabbi Shafran takes this as an assault on what he calls “a Torah-observant life.” I intended it only as my sources did: as a belief that any society that shies away from open discussion of certain issues is a society that allows problems to fester longer — and abusers to stay in business longer.

But it’s what I discuss next that Rabbi Shafran ignores completely: the cultural forces of shame and denial that have kept alleged victims like David Framowitz from going public for decades. Nowhere in Rabbi Shafran’s piece is a mention of the so-called shonda factor, lashon hara, shalom bayit, mesira, and chillul Hashem, all of which are invoked to keep victims from bringing their community unwelcome attention by the authorities.

Rabbi Shafran spoke to mental-health experts who believe the problem is smaller among the fervently Orthodox. The experts I interviewed said otherwise — like the pediatrician who was in tears discussing how these pressures keep victims silent, and two psychologists who agreed that the fears of being ostracized from the community prevent victims from speaking out and being treated.

Common sense would indicate that even if there are fewer fervently Orthodox abusers, if they’re allowed to remain in positions of power for decades they can abuse hundreds of more victims and perhaps even create victims who go on to become abusers themselves. As one abuse victim told me, “Whether it’s Jewish or Amish or Mennonite or Catholic or Muslim, it doesn’t make a difference. I feel like this is kind of like a fungus. It grows in the dark.”

But above all, this sort of chauvinistic we-abuse-less argument is an insult to victims like David Framowitz who felt so alone and intimidated for so long. Can there be any doubt that until the cultural bias against the reporting of abuse is tackled head on, not defensively, community leaders are only paying lip service to the problem?

Rabbi Shafran would have you believe that something is being done, but is it really?

While the Catholic Church now has a charter calling for removal of any clergyman who commits an act of abuse, the 3-year-old guidelines for preventing abuse in Jewish day schools that Rabbi Shafran mentions are non-compulsory. Torah U’Mesorah, the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools, has no real disciplinary system in place, but the New York City schools do. Are Jewish children somehow entitled to less protection than public school children? If Rabbi Shafran wants to suggest that fervently Orthodox religious observance in fact fosters superior moral behavior, then why not throw open the doors to the public? Why not urge complainants frustrated by the bet din process to take those grievances to an American court?

The absence of such conviction leads me to conclude that the real point of Rabbi Shafran’s editorial appears to be to distract attention from the Framowitz lawsuit and make people believe that Agudath Israel’s reputation deserves their support more than the victims do. He would have you believe that the mainstream media — the usual bugbears of the Internet and MTV — are the villains here. He is obviously more concerned with defending Judaism from paper tigers — illusory enemies — than he is with actually dealing with the problems of his community.

Still, a major step has been made. At long last, by admitting there is a problem, Rabbi Shafran has opened the door for more discussion. Is it possible that outside forces like the Framowitz lawsuit and the mainstream media have actually done some good here? As a Jew and a journalist, I hope so.

Robert Kolker is a contributing editor at New York magazine.

Special To The Jewish Week

Hella Winston Responds

For the second time on the pages of your paper (Rabbi Marvin Schick’s paid column “Is this Jewish Sociology,” May 12, and Rabbi Avi Shafran’s Opinion piece “A Matter of Orthodox Abuse,” June 23), the participants in my research have been subject to baseless speculation that they may have lied about their experiences of sexual abuse. I find this disturbing, not only for what it implies about their character and my research, but also because it serves as confirmation that victims who speak out about abuse can expect to have their credibility called into question, even by those ostensibly charged with representing their interests.

What I reported in my book was the result of several years’ research, involving not only chasidim who left their communities, but those who remain within them, as well as a variety of professionals who work closely with this population. To be clear: Nowhere have I asserted that sexual abuse is more common in the Orthodox world than it is in the general population; reliable published statistics on this issue are notoriously hard to come by. What I have noted, however — along with many others — are some of the factors that make it particularly difficult for chasidic victims of abuse to seek help and justice: the fear of stigma; the traditional Jewish antipathy toward informers; concerns about lashon hara and making a chillul Hashem; the taboo against speaking openly about sexual matters; the lack of independent entities within these communities to investigate charges of abuse; the fact that offenders often find refuge in other communities.

All of this means that it is possible for abusers to go on abusing unhindered, sometimes for years. Ultimately, however, quibbling over numbers is merely a distraction from dealing with an issue that deserves our undivided attention.

Hella Winston

Don’t Circle Wagons On Orthodox Abuse

Avi Shafran (“A Matter Of Orthodox Abuse,” June 23) quotes David Mandel of Ohel as saying, “The degree to which Torah leaders have spoken out [on abuse in the Orthodox community] has been remarkable.” I wish he were right.

While there are some who have spoken out in clear, responsible ways, what is remarkable to me are the many who have spoken out against lashon hara (slander), hillul Hashem (scandal) and mesira (the prohibition of going to secular authorities), to name just a few halachic walls to inappropriately hide behind, as a means of silencing victims. What is remarkable are the many stories that I have heard in my extensive work through JSafe with victims of sexual abuse, child abuse and domestic violence in all parts of the Jewish community of denial, cover-up and dismissal.

Interestingly, the non-Orthodox often see abuse as an Orthodox problem, and the Orthodox see it as a non-Orthodox one. And it is a problem for all of us. To date we do not have appropriate studies that give us real numbers. But perpetuating stereotypes of where to find perpetrators does no one any good.

I agree with Shafran’s critique of the New York magazine article and his dismissal of its suggestion that somehow Orthodox repression fosters abuse. But I believe that there are unique factors within the Orthodox community that make it extremely difficult for victims to come forward and get the help they need. There is systemic intimidation, covertly and overtly, of victims and their advocates, and even their rabbis. These people often fear retaliation and intimidation, as well as harmful consequences to their own reputations and those of their families. There are betei din (rabbinic tribunals) that have adjudicated these cases that have no expertise or understanding of these issues and no means to protect past and future victims.

Now is not the time to circle the wagons in order to protect an idealized vision of the community. Now is the time to do everything possible to protect victims from abuse. Then opinion makers won’t have to write columns defending their communities and accusing others of having nefarious agendas — they won’t need to.

CEO, JSafe

Rabbi Mark Dratch

West Hempstead, N.Y.

Shafran is the official “voice” of the so-called gedolim. Unless these alleged rabbinic leaders publicly repudiate Shafran, we should repudiate them, and we should do so in the only way they understand – do not give any money, no matter how small the amount, to any haredi organization, school, charity or rabbi, no matter how seemingly worthy the cause. It is the only message today’s “gedolim” are likely to understand.

[Hat tip: Mechaberet.]

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The OU, etc.

It seems to me the OU and other kosher supervising agencies may be targets of the new federal investigation of price fixing and collusion in the kosher meat industry. This is a good time to point out that, with only one or two exceptions, these companies operate as tax exempt religious corporations and shield their books under the so-called “church exemption” which allows them to avoid filings with the IRS that otherwise would be public information. This means that, for all practical purposes, these organizations from the behemoth OU down to the much smaller UMK (Rabbi Zeilingold, who might possibly have his own IRS issues brewing, although I have not confirmed this) have no public accountability for their finances. When was the last time the OU’s or UMK’s books were laid bare for the community to view? It seems this has not happened recently, and probably never happened. Worse yet, while the OU seems to legitimately fit the “church exemption,” others like the OK do not – yet they claim it nonetheless.

Will the feds pierce the veil of these “church exemptions”? I believe they will, and that piercing will result in indictments and, eventually, convictions and perhaps plea bargains.

It may very well be the corruption so rampant in the kosher industry will be cleaned up by federal prosecutors and Treasury agents, when it should have been cleaned up long ago by rabbis and community leaders.

My guess (and this is only a guess) – the federal medical prison facility in Rochester, Minnesota will have a very choshuv minyan a year or so from now.

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Filed under Crime, Haredim, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Modern Orthodoxy