Sunday, August 03, 2008

Buying Rubashkin

I was asked what the halakhic implications to the average Jewish consumer are of the accusations against Agriprocessors/Rubashkin. The first thing to say is that right now there are only accusations. There is a danger on many levels to reacting before investigations are completed, just as there is a danger to ignoring the allegations. Right now, it seems to me that our duty is to demand inquiries and refrain from any sort of change in buying behavior.

But if enough accusations are proven correct and it becomes clear that the kosher meat is produced through actions that constitute violations of Jewish law, then we are obligated to respond. If there are violations of kosher regulations, then the food is obviously rendered non-kosher and we may not eat it. It seems to me that this is unlikely, but as I wrote above we should not prejudge the case. If there are violations of business halakhah, then while the food is not non-kosher we may still not buy it.

Click here to read moreThe Gemara (Kiddushin 56b) uses the following analogy: It is not the mouse that causes theft but the hole in which the mouse stores its stolen wares. Without the hole, the mouse would not succeed in stealing. The Beis Yosef (Choshen Mishoat 256) cites this passage as the source for the ruling (Shulchan Arukh, ibid. 4) that one may not buy stolen goods. If thieves have no customers, they will not be able to successfully steal in the future.

The Gemara (Nedarim 22a) calls acting in this way -- i.e. implying there is nothing wrong with a sin -- supporting evildoers (machazik yedey overei aveirah). The Vilna Gaon (Bi'ur Ha-Gra, Choshen Mishpat 356:2) infers from this passage that by buying improperly sourced products, you are supporting their wrongdoings.

R. Hershel Schachter ("Dina Demalchusa Dina" in The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society I [1981] p. 115) offers a relevant practical example of this rule. He quotes R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik as saying that you are not allowed to buy from a store that does not charge sales tax. The owners of such a store are violating Jewish law by not paying sales tax. Therefore, you are not allowed to support their wrongdoing by buying from them. In a similar way, you are not allowed to buy from manufacturers who use sweatshops to produce their products (on sweatshops in Jewish law, see R. Aaron Levine, Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law, pp. 311-315).

If after the investigations are concluded it becomes clear that the practices of Agriprocessors/Rubashkin violate Jewish law and they refuse to change their behavior, then it seems to me -- unless I'm missing something, which is possible -- that we would not be allowed to buy their products. However, this is a matter on which everyone should consult with their own rabbi.

(Please note that the comments section of this blog is not the appropriate place to be discussing allegations against Agriprocessors.)

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