Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Buying Rubashkin VII

Letters to the NY Times in response to R. Shmuel Herzfeld's Op-Ed (link). Note that I am not reproducing all of the letters. Also, if you are sick of this topic then please skip the rest of this post.
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To the Editor:

We take strong issue with Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld’s suggestions that the Orthodox American rabbinate, including the Rabbinical Council of America, has been indifferent to the accusations against Agriprocessors. The council issued a lengthy public statement on June 3, expressing our concern about the allegations and calling for a full investigation of the facts.

Unlike Rabbi Herzfeld, we believe that no rabbinic body — expert or otherwise — can do a better investigation than the federal and state authorities now engaged in such a review of the legal, non-kashrut aspects of Agriprocessors’ operations.

We are indeed greatly concerned about the ethical implications of the allegations, but they are still allegations — unproved and unverified.

We believe that it is also unethical to rush to judgment and deny due process to Agriprocessors. Jewish law — and the norms of American justice — requires no less than that.

By all accounts, current operations at the plant are in substantial conformity with the law and all applicable regulatory statutes.

(Rabbi) Shlomo Hochberg
(Rabbi) Basil Herring
New York, Aug. 6, 2008

The writers are, respectively, president and executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America.
To the Editor:

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld discusses the troubling accusations that have been raised against Agriprocessors and questions the response of the Orthodox Union. We believe that the various social and ethical issues — such as workers’ rights and safety, protection of the environment and animal welfare — are significant and ultimately rooted in biblical and Jewish tradition.

We also believe, however, that the definition, assessment and enforcement of these standards are best placed in the hands of the governmental agencies that have the expertise, resources and regulatory authority to deal with them appropriately.

There are various investigations in progress at the federal and state level. Due process is something to which Agriprocessors is entitled and with which the Orthodox Union will not interfere. Upon completion of these investigations, the Orthodox Union will take swift and appropriate action as warranted.

Our reaction over the past several years has been to respond with alacrity even to allegations. We were responsible for calling in Temple Grandin, a veterinary authority, to visit the plant and recommend appropriate procedures for the treatment of animals. Recently, we insisted that Agriprocessors install a competent compliance officer, and it appointed James G. Martin, a former United States attorney.

For the company to continue to function, it must do so in total conformity to ethical standards and to civil and kosher law.

(Rabbi) Menachem Genack
Rabbinic Administrator and C.E.O.
Orthodox Union Kosher
New York, Aug. 6, 2008
To the Editor:

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld’s article suggests that the organization that certifies that meat is kosher would have to certify that Agriprocessors is in compliance with secular laws as well.

In my view, the job of rabbis is not to certify that food is healthy, or the workers are fairly paid, or that they can legally work in the place that employs them, or that the treatment of the animals is ethical or even that the laws of the United States are followed.

The job of the rabbis is to certify that the food is kosher — nothing more and nothing less. I trust the government of the United States to make proper decisions about the other matters.

Michael J. Broyde
Atlanta, Aug. 6, 2008

The writer, a law professor at Emory University, is the founding rabbi of the Young Israel Congregation in Atlanta.

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