Category Archives: Price-Fixing

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

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

PETA Debates Rubashkin Flack Nathan Lewin – Lewin Plays Nazi Card

Bruce Friedrich of PETA debated Nathan Lewin, Rubashkin’s attorney, a couple of weeks ago at the West Side Institutional Synagogue in NYC. Lewin is a contemptible man. Don’t believe me? Listen. (You may have both parts playing at once. Simply stop part two and listen to part one. Then switch.)

The worst part of this is Lewin quotes "scientific evidence" that is 50 years old and that does not apply to the slaughter done at Rubashkin. Does Lewin know this? If he doesn’t, he’s a fool; if he does, he’s a liar. He also accuses the OU of cowardice and insists the animals getting up after shechita and trying to run away are unconscious and these are only reflex movements, something no scientist or veterinarian agrees with. What you see on this PETA videotape is kosher slaughter at its finest, Lewin says. He also tries to play the Nazi card. What a sick man.

Listen here or download below:

Download PETA_Lewin_Pt_1.mp3.

Download PETA_Lewin_Debate_Pt_2_1.mp3

UPDATE: If the above options are not working, try this link.

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

PETA To Debate Rubashkin Attorney Wednesday In NYC

Via email:

–Debate between Bruce Friedrich, Director of Vegan Activities for PETA and  Nat Lewin (Rubushkin’s (Agribusiness’s) attorney)

–Wednesday, November 15th at 8 pm; will go 60-80 minutes.

–West Side Institutional Synagogue in Upper West side of Manhattan (membership: 700). Traditional Orthodox synagogue.

–Brochure was sent out to 18,000 addresses; debate was advertised as “PETA v. the shechita industry” (rabbi said “we kept it very vague”).

Debate format:

–Introductions from both sides

–Time for each side to argue why the other is wrong

–Chance for rebuttal

–Back and forth on various points

–Conclusion from both sides

–Questions from the crowd

–Rabbi Einhorn will moderate

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Filed under Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Price-Fixing, Rubashkin EPA Troubles

CONSERVATIVE RABBIS: What Would Heschel Have Done?

So, the Conservative rabbis charged five months ago with investigating the abuse at Rubashkin’s AgriProcessors plant in Postville are sitting on their findings. Why? I know some of the reasons, perhaps all of them. Soon, I’ll list them. But not now.

Now I will just ask Rabbi Morris Allen and his colleagues one question: What would Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel have done? You know the answer. Leadership takes courage. Sometimes it involves risk, as well. You can act like Heschel or not – the choice is yours.

Put simply, Heschel had real strength. He took real risks. He stood up for the truth and for what is right and good. He didn’t worry about his popularity or his safety. Perhaps this is because of what happened to his generation in Europe. Perhaps it is simply because he accepted the burden of leadership in its fullest manner.

One thing I can guarantee you. When you all face the beit din shel mayla (and that should be a very long time away), God isn’t going to care much about the price of kosher meat (that is a trial Rubashkin & Co. will surely face and fail) – He’s going to care about the ungodly price paid by those (often illegal) immigrants who produce it.

What would Heschel do? You know the answer. The only real question is, Will you follow in his footsteps?

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

Rubashkin and the Conservative Rabbis

Sukkot is upon us, and it seems the Conservative rabbis sent so long ago to investigate worker abuse at Rubashkin’s Postville, Iowa slaughterhouse have still not released a report of their investigation, let alone announced a verdict on Rubashkin’s guilt or innocence. Why?

A cynic might note the biggest volume season for kosher meat sales after Passover is Rosh HaShana and the Fall holidays, and that, in effect, the last of those holidays begins in less than 24 hours time. If these rabbis were to release a report and find Rubashkin culpable, it could hurt kosher meat sales at a critical time. It might also prompt Rubashkin to again restrict the flow of non-glatt meat where this is possible. It might appear to this cynic that the C-rabbis have intentionally dragged their feet to get Rubashkin and the industry through the holidays intact.

Now, the C-rabbis will deny this and instead claim the pressures of work slowed the process.

It is not for us to doubt our C-rabbis, or any of our rabbis, for that matter. And cynicism simply must be done away with.

That being said, there is only one conclusion to reach – it’s too bad we weren’t born Buddhists.

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Filed under Jewish Leadership, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Price-Fixing

OU Non-Glatt Policy Discussed On Hirhurim; Price Fixing; Answer to Our Kosher Quiz

Rabbi Gil Student posted (uncritically, of course) on Rabbi Menachem Genack’s shameful and misleading article on the OU’s non-glatt policy. I noted here why Rabbi Genack is less than completely honest. Now let me address a comment by Michael Rogovin to that Hirhurim post.

>R’ Teitz of Elizabeth was the last “reliable” non-glatt hashgacha but because of ignorance his butcher was avoided.

Actually, Upper Midwest Kashrut of St Paul MN is listed in the Chicago Rabbinical Council (Triangle CRC) as a reliable hechsher with the note that some meat products are not glatt. Nathan’s kosher hot dogs carry this hechsher and are presumably not glatt, but should be reliable.

Upper Midwest kosher changed its name to United Mehadrin Kosher years ago. A small point, perhaps, but the name is telling. A “mehadrin” hechsher giving supervision to non-glatt meat. But the more you learn about that supervision, the more telling that name becomes.

The UMK is headed by Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, a Chabad hasid and rabbi located in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Rabbi Z, as those who follow this site will remember, is both my former rabbi and a close friend of Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin, the operational head of Agriprocessors and Aaron’s Best. Rabbi Z has given supervision on Rubashkin’s non-glatt for almost 20 years. But that supervision isn’t what you think.

KAJ, the then-head of kashrut supervision for all the varying supervisions at Rubashkin, including the OU, would not put its symbol on non-glatt meat. No haredi supervision would, and the OU would not do so either. So KAJ and Rubashkin made a deal with Rabbi Z that went something like this: You put your name on our non-glatt. KAJ will do all the work. We’ll take care of you. (I think Rabbi Z first had a symbol and adopted Upper Midwest Kosher as a name about this time.)

And this is what went on for many years and may still be happening today–except Rav Wiessmandl has replaced KAJ in the supervision hierarchy.

Anything one could say bad about Triangle-K supervision (see the many uniformed comments on Hirhurim) one could easily say about UMK, especially UMK 10 to 20 years ago. It was primarily because UMK was a fig leaf for KAJ that made its meat acceptable.

The facts of this supervision were known in the industry for years. I heard them first hand from Rabbi Z because the Agudah rabbi of Minneapolis tried to ban this very non-glatt from Minneapolis, and tried all sorts of questionably halakhic devices to stop its sale, including having a proxy drag my partner and I to beit din over this and a trumped up hasagat gevul charge. The Agudah Rav and his proxy lost. The non-glatt was stopped anyway because his friend, the local kosher food distributor, held by the Agudah Rav’s decision even after the beit din ruled against him, and no non-glatt was delivered. For his part, Rubashkin held with the Agudah Rav against his own supervision because of a complicated business deal with that kosher food distributor. This kept the price of kosher meat artificially high. From what I’ve heard since word of the Justice Department investigation into price fixing in the kosher meat industry, stories like mine are not uncommon.

So, when the CRC says UMK non-glatt is reliable, what it’s really saying is Wiessmandl/KAJ/OU non-glatt is reliable, which is why Nathan’s is reliable – if Rubashkin’s animal welfare and other issues don’t bother you.

Which brings us full circle.

Earlier, I posted a Kosher quiz:

You make rice in a clean dairy pot, thinking you’ll serve it for dinner in a dairy Indian recipe. At last minute, you remember Aunt Millie’s meat chili, sitting in the refrigerator for the last three days. You change your mind and decide to have the chili. But you have no more rice. Can you eat the meat chili together with the rice made in the dairy pot? If yes, why? If no, why not?

A few of you – including one Chabad rabbi who claims semicha from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein – suggested answers. No one answered correctly, although some were much closer than others.

So, here’s the long answer:

If you look at the Piskhei Teshuva 95:2, you’ll see he brings the Pri Megadim and the Chavot Da’at. Both hold like the Shach. The water would be forbidden to eat with meat, but the food cooked in it is permitted. (Actually, the Chavot Da’at would let you use the water with meat as well.) The only real problem here is if the situation involves roasting (tzli) fish (or another pareve food) using meat (or milk) utensils and then eating that food together with the opposite type. This stringency does not apply to regular cooking.

The Shulchan Aruch follows Tosofot and the Rosh in their understanding of Rashi’s opinion. It doesn’t distinguish between roasting or regular cooking – both are permitted, but only if one did not plan to do it. Once the rice is cooked in a clean milk pot, if you change your mind and want to eat it with meat, you can without restriction.

For Sefardim that is the normative halakha.

For Ashkenazim, it is the same with one change–if the food item in question is roasted, some poskim will ask that you remove a k’dei klipa (a thin peeling of the food) before combining it with the opposite type. Others will be stricter and will rule combining roasted pareve food as described above is not permitted.

Now, the short answer: You can eat it.

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Filed under Divre Torah, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Price-Fixing