Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Buying Rubashkin II

Following up on this post (link), R. Shmuel Herzfeld published an Op-Ed in today's NY Times (link), in which he called for the following:

What is needed is for the Orthodox Union to appoint an independent commission whose members have not in the past been paid by either the Orthodox Union or Agriprocessors. Such a commission would select a team of rabbinic experts to spend an extended period of time at the plant and then make suggestions and recommendations. This independent team would make sure the plant upholds basic standards of kashrut and worker and animal treatment - and that it is in full compliance with the laws of the United States.
Click here to read moreLet me get this straight. The OU and RCA are waiting for the conclusions of a criminal investigation by authorities who are trained and experienced in conducting such an investigation, and R. Herzfeld is faulting them for not appointing a panel of rabbis ("rabbinic experts") to investigate? Does he know any rabbis who are more qualified than federal investigators to conduct this inquiry? What he is essentially, perhaps unwittingly, calling for is the setting of a precedent in which we ignore the police and allow rabbis to investigate criminal matters on their own. To my knowledge, such an approach has not served our community well. A rabbi is not automatically an expert on everything. It is a sign of wisdom to know what you don't know. While R. Herzfeld seems to be calling for a progressive policy, he is actually calling for a regressive attitude. Let's learn from the past, for reasons that don't need repeating.

I appreciate the desire to use headline-outrage as a catalyst for change, but I don't see R. Herzfeld calling for any meaningful change. What is being done to determine at what point of criminal violations a factory or store loses its kosher supervision? How many violations of federal code will breech a limit? What obligation does a rabbinic supervisor have to report such violations to the secular authorities and will his becoming a reporter undermine his primary task of supervising kosher preparations? That is the discussion that we need to be having. However, it seems to me to be the kind of discussion that has to go on behind closed doors until a consensus is reached. I just don't know if anyone is talking about it. That seems like something we should be insisting upon.

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