Category Archives: Kosher Meat Scandal

The Lies Of Kosher Today Exposed

I wrote two weeks ago that the claim made by Kosher Today that OSHA had inspected Rubashkin’s Postville, Iowa plant and given the plant a clean bill of health, was most likely false. I pointed out that the man who made that claim, Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, was unreliable, and that he has a close business relationship with Rubashkin. I called OSHA and Iowa state officials and reported that no official visit was made by Federal or State Plan OSHA, and that the only possible "inspection" that could have taken place would been a consult done through the state’s consultancy program, which is not an inspection and has no bearing on what plant practices were before it or after it, but even this seemed unlikely.

The Forward has picked up this story (although it did not bother to give this blog a hat tip), and it did the one thing that I could not do – ask Rabbi Asher Zeilingold what the truth is. Here is what Rabbi Zeilingold told the Forward this week:

…Zeilingold, who is paid to provide kosher certification for the meat
at AgriProcessors, was an early defender of the company when the
original allegations appeared in the Forward. In Kosher Today,
Zeilingold said that the Conservative task force was “delighted to
accept all the lies and slander of the Forward article as absolute
truth because it gave them a pretext by which they could gain entry
into AgriProcessors and other plants positing as the champions of
‘kashrut’ and the rights of workers.”

Zeilingold’s
Conservative counterpart, Rabbi Morris Allen, was not contacted for the
Kosher Today article, but Allen’s synagogue did write a letter to the
publication, defending their religious leader.

“That
Rabbi Allen’s efforts — which are of no financial benefit to him — are
attacked by fellow Jews who also believe in the sanctity of kosher laws
is unfair and misguided,” the letter said.

In
addition to the criticism of Allen, Zeilingold told Kosher Today that
an official for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had
visited AgriProcessors and gave him a report praising the company’s
labor practices.

Reached this week, Zeilingold
said he could not release the OSHA report; however, he did say that the
OSHA official was not working in an official capacity when he made his
visit,
but rather as a “private consultant.”

My understanding is OSHA would like to find this "OSHA official" and discipline him. OSHA regional head Charles "Chuck" Adkins told me he wanted to find the man because no one has the right to represent OSHA unless he is on official business. "I want to put the hammer down on him," Adkins said.

Rabbi Asher Zeilingold’s veracity can further be determined by reading the data posted here.

[I should also note that Rabbi Zeilingold is the rabbi who excommunicated me.]

UPDATE: 2-8-07– I have now
confirmed the "OSHA inspection" was done by an employee of Federal OSHA
on his own time. It was not a full inspection, was not sanctioned or
approved by OSHA, and was arranged by Rabbi Zeilingold’s friend Carlos Carbonera (this
"inspector" is a friend of Carbonera’s). OSHA’s regional head Chuck
Adkins told me again today that he will "bring the hammer down" on anyone,
this inspector included, who uses OSHA’s name without permission. He
also pointed out that what this inspector did was a violation of
OSHA’s "internal rules and regulations."

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Filed under Chabad Theology, Crime, Haredim, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Rubashkin Worker Abuse

The Campaign Against The Conservative Movement Begins

The campaign against the Conservative Movement’s new tzedek hechsher, a supervision that would attempt to ensure workers employed by companies getting kosher supervision from others are fairly treated, has begun in ernest. First, we had the Kosher Today smear of the Conservative Movement’s point man on this issue, Rabbi Morris Allen. Now Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum (affectionately known to several commenters on this site as "Gershon the Swindler"), the COO of Igud HaRabbonim (the so-called Rabbinical Alliance of America) has jumped in, using his Jewish Press column to threaten kosher food manufacturers who may be thinking of using the new tzedek hechsher:

In December 2006, a call came from outside the sphere of Orthodox kosher certifiers for a tsedek heckscher or justice certification that would ensure that kosher food producers “have met a set of standards that determine the social responsibility of kosher food producers, particularly in the area of worker rights.”

      The Orthodox Union issued a statement that labor issues were a matter for federal and local regulators, not kosher authorities. Rabbi Genack was reported as applauding the call to look at labor issues, given the weight of Jewish law dedicated to that topic. However, Rabbi Genack stressed that the effort cannot be allowed to blur the line between Jewish law regarding worker rights and Jewish law regarding the kosher standard of food.
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      On January 2, the Hisachdus Horabbonim issued a kol koreh proclamation condemning any efforts to dilute or becloud kosher supervision standards, nor to allow any other supervision standards to be applied to kosher certification halachahs. The proclamation was signed by three members of its Kashrus Beth Din: Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Heshel Bick, Mezebusher Rav; Rabbi Hillel Weinberger, Serdehaly Rav; and Rabbi Yitzchok Isaac Menachem Eichenstein, Galante Rebbe.

      The Hisachdus kol koreh called upon all observant Jews to reject the introduction of any type of tsedek heckscher, something never previously heard of. The Hisachdus views the suggestion as an attempt by those outside the observant community to infiltrate and dilute the existing framework of kashrus certifications. Rabbi Yitzchok Yechiel Glick, rav of Khal Beis Avrohom and executive director of the Hisachdus, stressed that any injection of social or humanitarian considerations, especially by outsiders, would be an unallowable breach of the time honored halachic administration of kashrus standards.   

        Every kosher food producer must repulse any attempts of introducing such alien impositions. Tolerating such infringement would be a first step in destroying halachic kashrus standards. The kol koreh calls upon kosher food producers as well as kashrus certifiers to maintain vigilance against any effort to pierce protective barriers now in place.

      The universally highly-regarded HaEdah HaCharedis Kashrus Beis Din in Jerusalem as well as Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, author of Shevet Levi and leading posek, have been alerted to the suspicious machinations of those attempting to impose the so-called hekhsher tzedek.…

Note these haredim use the old haredi argument – everything new is prohibitied – to come out against enforcing the Torah’s mandates on treatment of workers.

I suspect the next move will be for various supervisors to refuse to have their supervison mark appear with that of the tzedek hechsher. This will put tremendous pressure on manufacturers and will force many to avoid using the tzedek hechsher, which is, of course, what the haredim want, even if the motives behind the new hechsher are pure.

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Filed under Crime, Haredim, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Price-Fixing, Rubashkin Worker Abuse

How Accurate Is Kosher Today?

How accurate is Kosher Today? Not very. The same issue that reported on the broken "friendship" between Rabbis Morris Allen and Asher Zeilingold has this to say about why Saint Paul’s kosher meat market closed about one year ago:

Many Kosher Stores Close Due to Lack of Succession

New York… In many markets, the closing of a kosher grocery store or restaurant is immediate cause for blame. “It’s the fault of the large supermarkets,” is one often heard argument. “The community does not patronize the store,” is yet another frequently heard opinion as to why a kosher restaurant closes. But a deeper look at some recent closings in cities like St. Paul, Cincinnati, Kansas City and others points to an often neglected culprit: “succession.” Children may have moved away from the community or are in any case involved in other pursuits.…

The truth is the Saint Paul store had been in financial straits for years. Then, the building housing it was sold, and the new owners wanted more than triple the rent. The store owner could not pay the increase, so he negotiated a deal with a local supermarket to have a kosher meat concession. That deal was nixed (before it was signed) by Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, who wanted a different set up. (I’m told this had nothing to do with any kosher issues.) The owner of the kosher store simply closed up and went into another business. And, for the record, he had no children then old enough to take over the business.

Who, one might ask, was Kosher Today’s source for this story? My guess is Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, who certainly played a major role in Kosher Today’s smear of Rabbi Morris Allen and the Conservative Movement.

[I should note that Rabbi Zeilingold is the rabbi who excommunicated me.]

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Filed under Haredim, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Rubashkin Worker Abuse

RUBASHKIN HOT DOGS RECALLED FOR “HIGHEST LEVEL” HEALTH RISK

004_2007_franks

NOTE: The 1 lb package has also been recalled.

The AP via NY Newsday reports:

Agriprocessors, Inc., issued a voluntary Class I recall on about 2,700 pounds of frankfurters _ the highest classification given to consumer recalls, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Tuesday.

The company is recalling two-pound vacuum-packed packages labeled ‘Supreme Kosher Family Pack Classic Frankfurters made with Beef & Chicken,’ and one-pound packages of ‘Supreme Kosher, Classic Frankfurters made with Beef & Chicken.

The products were recalled after an Agriprocessors employee discovered possible underprocessing.

A Class I health hazard is when a reasonable probability exists that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.

The frankfurters were produced Nov. 15 by the Postville, Iowa-based company and shipped to retail stores in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The recalled products were labeled with the establishment number; ‘EST. 4653A’ inside the USDA mark of inspection, and bear the use-by date March 16, 2007.

FSIS has not received any reports of illness related to the consumption of the products.

NOTE: It’s important to remember that Rubashkin is, allegedly, at least, bad about properly tagging and labeling output. It is also important to realize that, even though these are retail packages, they may have been sold to restaurants by suppliers. (This is not uncommon.) The bottom line: Ask before you eat. If the restaurant can’t tell you exactly what day the product expires, do not eat it. In my opinion, anything from Rubashkin should be considered questionable until proved otherwise, until the entire tainted output is located and destroyed.

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Filed under Kosher Meat Scandal

The Truth About Rubashkin, The Conservative Rabbis and OSHA

Kosher Today, the mouthpiece of the kosher food industry, has a misleading piece on the Conservative Movement’s new tzedek hechsher, Rubashkin and the allegations of worker abuse at Agriprocessors Postville, Iowa plant. First, the Kosher Today article in full:

Friendship of Orthodox and Conservative Rabbi in Tatters Over Kashrus Issues

St. Paul¦ It all began almost a year ago when a local glatt kosher butcher closed its doors leaving many kosher consumers without a source for glatt kosher meat. Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, spiritual leader of the Adath Israel Synagogue, head of United Mehadrin and a respected authority on kashrus, persuaded Cooper’s Supermarket to carry glatt kosher meats from Agriprocessors. Celebrating his accomplishments, Rabbi Zeilingold next reached out to his long-time friend Rabbi Morris Allen, the rabbi of the Conservative temple Beth Jacob in Mendota Heights, a suburb of St. Paul. Rabbi Zeilingold had hoped that Rabbi Allen would help him assure that as many Jews as possible patronize the Cooper’s special section on glatt kosher meats. But Rabbi Allen insisted that the store not carry regular kosher meats from Agri, which had been the subject of attack by PETA, the extremist animal rights organization. The Conservative Rabbi also made sure to send out to his membership copies of a scathing article by the Forward which accused Agri of abusing its workers. He also refused to accept regular kosher meat from Agri, preferring instead kosher meat from Green Bay. In the process of settling on a supplier of the kosher meats, the American Jewish World in Minneapolis launched a vicious tirade against Twin-City Poultry, accusing the large kosher meat distributor of refusing to sell non-glatt products. The irony of it all is that kosher meat in many markets is more expensive than "glatt kosher" meat.

Within days of the Forward article, Zeilingold and a Spanish speaking congregant, Dr. Carlos Carbonera, visited the Postville, Iowa plant of Agriprocessors. They freely spoke to many of the Agri employees and found the Forward piece to be patently false. The Orthodox rabbi invited his friend Allen to see for himself. He and a group of Conservative rabbis turned up in Postville, only to take part in the latest efforts by the Union to unionize Agri employees. The Union had in fact advertised the rabbi’s appearance. Said Rabbi Zeilingold: "From the Forward article, and from Rabbi Allen’s deceptive behavior, it was obvious to me that Rabbi Allen, Victor Rosenthal, and the other members of the Conservative commission did NOT visit Agriprocessors in order to evaluate the validity of the Forward’s May 26 attack on Agri.  They were delighted to accept all the lies and slander of the Forward article as absolute truth because it gave them a pretext by which they could gain entry into Agriprocessors and other plants posing as the champions of "kashrut" and the rights of workers.  The lies of the Forward article gave them fertile ground to plant the seeds of the "tzedek hechsher," a new Conservative certification that includes social concerns.

To put the entire matter to rest, Rabbi Zeilingold arranged for a high ranking official of the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to visit the Agri plant. After two-full days at the plant, the OSHA official reported having "no issues of concern."  According to OSHA records, Agriprocessors has a far better safety record than the plant named by the commission of Conservative rabbis, with approximately sixty percent fewer citations.  The OSHA official further stated that, “a program addressing each and every one of the hazards recognized by OSHA inspectors "was working strongly at the plant" and further, that "Agriprocessors inspection history stands within normal parameters compared to other companies within this industry."  He ends his report by stating definitively: "Agriprocessors is committed to providing a safe work environment to their employees. They have the tools that allow them to improve the safety of their working environment." With the record straight, Zeilingold still hopes that a fair-minded Allen will take his hand in friendship once again.

The friendship issue. To call Asher Zeilingold and Morris Allen "friends" is a stretch. They worked together on to get kosher meat for their community. They didn’t party together, vacation together or study together. They didn’t see each other socially. They didn’t visit each others synagogues, give drashot there, or pray together. Their "friendship" was conditional, based on a achieving a specific, limited goal. When worker abuse allegations against Rubashkin surfaced, Allen’s attempts to clean up Rubashkin put him at odds with Zeilingold.

Further, Zeilingold has a business interest with Rubashkin. His supervision mark is on Rubashkin’s non-glatt product. He has a vested interest in freeing Rubashkin from the cloud that hangs over him. Kosher Today does not mention this business relationship, even though ethically it should have.

OSHA. I spoke with OSHA officials in  Washington, in the regional office that covers Iowa, and the officials in Iowa who administer the state’s OSHA-approved program. This is what I learned:

  1. No Federal or State OSHA inspection took place at Agriprocessors during the time frame set out in the Kosher Today article.
  2. Federal OSHA does not have jurisdiction over Agriprocessors, because Iowa is a State Plan state, and all OSHA work is handled locally.
  3. Mary Bryant, the woman who administers OSHA enforcement for the State of Iowa, told me no inspections or enforcement actions took place during that time. This is current through yesterday, the day of publication of the Kosher Today article.

So what could have happened? Perhaps this. OSHA has a consultancy program. A company can confidentially call OSHA (in this case, Iowa-administered OSHA) and get a consult. OSHA will look at a plant’s operations as it is on that day (not how it was the day before, not how it will be the day after) and give the company a report to help them get into compliance. But any plant can prepare for one of these consults, get into perfect working order, then have OSHA look, and then publicize this consult. Rubashkin did just this with Dr. Temple Grandin’s consult. Did Rubashkin do this with OSHA, too?

Maybe. Steve Slater, the man who  runs this program for the State of Iowa, can’t say, because he is bound by the consult program’s pledge of confidentiality. He did say that he, the most senior OSHA-related person in Iowa, did not make the statements quoted in Kosher Today and he is unaware of any other senior staff making them, as well.

For their part, Federal OSHA is clear. Charles "Chuck" Atkins, the head of OSHA for the region that includes Iowa, told me no Federal OSHA people had been in Iowa for the past year. "We have to be very careful about going in there, because Iowa is a State Plan state," Atkins said. Keven Ropp, OSHA’s spokesman in Washington, DC, could find no record of any Federal OSHA presence in Iowa or at Agriprocessors.

Who has more violations? On this, Kosher Today has a point, although it is very weak. Empire has more violations over the past two years than Rubashkin. But Empire’s violations are largely related to specific equipment. Rubashkin’s violations are fewer in number but more holistic. For example, Empire is often cited for a violation involving "powered industrial trucks." Rubashkin is cited for "respiratory protection," "hazard protection," "general requirements," and "general requirements for all machines." (Rubashkin also has a "powered industrial truck" violation.)

Additionally, State and Federal enforcement are not equal. While State Plan states must meet Federal requirements, enforcement of those requirements vary from state to state. Pennsylvania is not a State Plan state, and Empire’s enforcement comes from Federal OSHA, which is considered stricter than some State Plan enforcement.

The price of non-glatt meat. Kosher today wrote: "The irony of it all is that kosher meat in many markets is more expensive than "glatt kosher" meat." This is part of the Justice Department’s investigation into price-fixing in the kosher meat industry. Rubashkin is said to be a target of that investigation.

Rabbi Asher Zeilingold. Much of Rubashkin’s defense comes down to the trustworthiness and veracity of Rabbi Asher Zeilingold. For details on him, please read this.

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Filed under Chabad Theology, Haredim, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Price-Fixing

The OU’s Double Standard

DovBear notes something I meant to post on, but forgot due to a computer crash and other matters – the OU’s double standard. DovBear notes in a post about the Conservative Movement’s new Tzedek hechsher:

…If the halacha is more demanding then the law (as it, in fact is) don’t companies, in our view, have an obligation to go beyond the law? Who’s the posek that told the OU that companies don’t have to go beyond the secular law when it comes to choshen mishpat? Anyway, if the OU is so certain the government can be relied upon to enforce Jewish law, why do we need the OU’s kashruth division in the first place!?… [We really don’t – see here.]

The real problem, though, is this: R’ Genack’s boneheaded response opens the OU to the charge that they embrace a double standard by considering the government reliable for some questions of Torah law, and not others. Worse, it suggests us that ben adam l’makom laws are more important than the laws that tell us how to treat each other.…

Of course, that charge is true. Orthodoxy is far more concerned about rabbinic minutia and humrot of kashrut law than they are about breaking a biblical command about treatment of workers or cruelty to animals. That’s one major reason why you should not be Orthodox.

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Filed under Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Modern Orthodoxy, Rubashkin Worker Abuse

Conservative Rabbis Release Report: Confirms Much Of The Forward’s Reporting On Rubashkin Worker Abuses; C-Rabbis To Set Up Own “Ethical” Supervision

Nathaniel Popper of the Forward writes that the Conservative rabbis report on Rubashkin’s (AgriProcessors’) worker abuses has been released:

The Conservative movement put together a commission to investigate the Forward’s allegations and made three trips to the plant. The report that came out of these visits said that the commission came across a number of concerns in speaking with workers and management.

The list of problems included: “Inadequate or non-existent worker safety training”; “concern about unsafe chemical use,” and “unclean and unsafe lunchroom conditions.”

Several members of the Conservative movement’s commission also visited the Empire Kosher Poulty plant in Pennsylvania, where they found “working conditions, safety conditions and general worker welfare and community relations not to be issues of concern.”

Other issues, like pay shorting, can only be confirmed by a criminal investigation. This may be happening as part of a wider Justice Department investigation into price fixing in the kosher meat industry. Sources claim Rubashkin is a target of that investigation.

The Conservative rabbis have also announced a “tsedek hekhsher,” or a justice certification, that would ensure kosher food producers “have met a set of standards that determine the social responsibility of kosher food producers, particularly in the area of workers rights.”

The head of the Conservative movement commission, Rabbi Morris Allen, said that any certification system would be a supplement — not a replacement — for current kosher supervision. Allen said the additional level of scrutiny is necessary for the religious bona-fides of the industry.

“We have reached a point where it not sufficient to teach and promote the whys of keeping kosher,” Allen said. “It is necessary to ensure we talk about how our kosher food is produced.”

Here is what the OU’s Rabbi Menachem Genack says about this:

“There are lots of social issues that are really important that could be subsumed under some sort of super certification,” Genack said. “But if we just move away from strict concerns about kashruth — if we talk about what they pay workers — these kinds of standards can be less than 100% clear.”

After rolling on the floor convulsed in laughter, my only response to this innane statement by Rabbi Genack is to note that ripping the throats out of live animals with a meat hook – a process Rabbi Genack defended as 100% kosher – is far from 100% clearly kosher, yet the OU sanctioned it. Why? Money, the same reason they will not deal with Rubashkin’s abuses or the abuses on the farming side of the meat industry. Making sure employees of kosher plants and the animals they slaughter are both (not to equate the two) treated humanely will raise the cost of kosher meat, which will drop sales, which will reduce the value of the OU’s supervision, which will reduce the amount of money the OU gets to provide that supervision. Rabbi Genack himself says:

Genack also said that a major priority for the Orthodox Union was to make kosher food more widely available. “For us to set up a new amorphous standard in certain plants,” Genack said, “parts of the kosher industry are very fragile and could be adversely affected by this.”

In other words, your Orthodox rabbis are willing to ignore tzaar ba’alei hayyim law and all the halakhot surrounding the treatment of employees so you can buy (relatively) cheap kosher beef.

Orthodox Jews, understand this well. These are your rabbis. Run away from them.

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Filed under Jewish Leadership, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Rubashkin Worker Abuse