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Milwaukee - Orthodox Rabbi Raises Halachic Question, Rubashkin Meat Kosher To Eat, But Not Kosher To Buy

Published on: June 12, 2008 07:10 PM
By: Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle By Rabbi Shlomo Levin is spiritual leader of Milwaukee’s Modern Orthodox Lake Park Synagogue
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Milwaukee - Is meat produced at Agriprocessor’s plant in Postville, Iowa, really kosher?

In spite of it bearing the Orthodox Union’s kosher symbol, that question has been on many of our minds since U.S. immigration authorities raided the plant May 12 and arrested 390 illegal immigrant workers.

The raid also raised allegations that workers were paid less than the minimum wage and subjected to forms of abuse.

What does “kosher” really mean? As used in Jewish law, the definition of kosher is “fit for a certain purpose.”

For example, one could ask whether a dried out lulav is kosher to wave on Sukkot, or whether a cracked shofar is kosher to blow on Rosh Hashanah.

With regard to food, kosher means “fit for a Jewish person to eat.” As most of us know, the Jewish tradition includes intricate rules for food.

But there is no rule that if an illegal immigrant manufactures a food, or if workers producing food are abused or not paid, the food itself then becomes forbidden to eat.

Consider, for example, someone who hosts an extravagant wedding but then never settles the food bill. Even though this would be theft, the wedding guests have not retroactively eaten traif. Pots and pans used to cook the meal don’t need to be kashered.

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The rules regarding whether food is kosher and how we conduct our financial affairs are two different things.

However, I don’t think whether the meat produced by Agriprocessors is kosher to eat or not is really our concern. We don’t want to know if it is kosher to eat. We want to know if it is kosher to buy.

Why would meat from Agriprocessors not be kosher to buy? A legal discussion in the Talmud (Shabbat 3a) provides a reason:

On the Sabbath it is forbidden to pick up an object in the public domain and put it down in a private domain. If someone picks something up in a public domain and puts it into the hands of a second person standing in a private domain, the first person has violated the Sabbath and the second person has not.

The Tosfot commentary on the Talmud questions whether it is really possible for this second person to be completely in the clear. After all, he is a party to violating the Sabbath.

So Tosfot explains that while this person has not violated the law of carrying on the Sabbath, he has violated a different prohibition: the prohibition of being part of an activity that involves wrongdoing.

This is the way many of us may come to feel with regard to Agriprocessors if the allegations turn out to be true. When we buy the meat, even though as consumers our role in perpetrating the alleged violations is passive, we nevertheless associate ourselves with doing something wrong.

The Orthodox Union states clearly that its supervision relates only to whether food is permitted to be eaten. It does not consider labor issues, animal cruelty, environmental impact or anything else of this nature and has no plans to start doing so. Why not? For many reasons.

The list of potential issues to include in expanded supervision is nearly endless. The government already regulates some of these matters; the O.U. lacks the required resources and expertise.

And many of these concerns are not uniquely Jewish, while the O.U.’s purpose is to serve the special needs of the Jewish community.

There is nothing wrong with the O.U. conducting itself in this manner, as long as we understand what the O.U. symbol means. A product is kosher to eat, but whether the company manufacturing that product is kosher to do business with is unknown.

What we need is not a replacement for the current kosher supervision system, but an addition to it.

Since how a business treats its workers, the environment and its animals is important, we need another mechanism by which consumers can receive that information.

The Conservative movement has taken some steps to form a “hechsher tzedek” kosher certification focused on the above issues. Some other small, independent groups have done the same.

The Orthodox kashrut establishment, however, due to its large existing infrastructure of supervisors, would be able to produce a new certification with the greatest ease, efficiency and speed.

As kosher consumers, let’s make clear that we want them to do so. Only if we as consumers make known that we will base our purchasing decisions on the presence or absence of such a new symbol is it likely that substantial action will be taken.



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Read Comments (37)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jun 12, 2008 at 07:20 PM Anonymous Says:

Who is this orthodox rabbi who is speaking for all us orthodox consumers???

2

 Jun 12, 2008 at 07:21 PM Anonymous Says:

Rabbi Levin, Thank you for a well-written, lucid portrayal of the dilemma in this case.

Again and again people defend AGRI by saying "those things do not affect the laws of kashrus." And they are correct. However they are missing the moral and halachic obligation we all have to not support bad behavior.

Though, with all due respect to Rabbi Belsky, whom I do respect highly, it is not clear to me that it is not ALSO a kashrus issue based upon nehemonus (trustworthiness).

In my extensive experience in the Kashrus industry, I have come to the conclusion, that it is impossible to certify any product if the owners have intent to deceive. Once I find an owner intends to deceive the mashgichim or kashrus agency, I either urge the agency to pull out, or I pull myself off the job.

3

 Jun 12, 2008 at 07:24 PM Anonymous Says:

When I'm in Milwaulkee, I defer to Rav Michel, not this guy, who obviously has an agenda.

4

 Jun 12, 2008 at 07:25 PM Anonymous Says:

ooops, sorry for the broken message.

Here with AGRI, there have already been conclusive evidence of deception both by AGRI management, as well as by Rabbi MMW.

And, since the OU puts their faith in MMW, and is not allowed their own mashgichim, I have no faith in the final product.

5

 Jun 12, 2008 at 07:26 PM Anonymous Says:

Even if you grant the products are technically kosher, they may be ossur to buy.

6

 Jun 12, 2008 at 07:48 PM Anonymous Says:

"would be able to produce a new certification with the greatest ease, efficiency and speed."
Does this include certifying tax evasion practices?
Does it include "bein odom lemokam" and/or "bein odom lechaveiro".

7

 Jun 12, 2008 at 07:52 PM Anonymous Says:

Anyone who thinks setting up a new certification (of any quality - never mind the highest) can be done with the "greatest of ease" OBVIOUSLY has no experience with the kosher shechita industry!

8

 Jun 12, 2008 at 08:01 PM Anonymous Says:

Perhaps this rabbi should announce a boycott of the OU, OK, CK and any other kashrus agency until they prove that all of the products they certify in China, Thailand, and Vietnam are not produced with child or slave labor.

9

 Jun 12, 2008 at 08:08 PM Anonymous Says:

Anon 8:01, don't make such stupid comments. Everything this rabbi wears, from his jeans to his gatches is made by child laborers. What do you want him to do - go naked?

10

 Jun 12, 2008 at 08:09 PM Anonymous Says:

I wonder if this rabbi is related to Rabbi Yehuda Levin?

11

 Jun 12, 2008 at 08:20 PM Anonymous Says:

so slow down here, you can't eat in your neighbours house if they employee an illegal residence? or you pay your shicksah less then the federal wages? cash!!!!
where do you draw the line????

12

 Jun 12, 2008 at 10:14 PM Anonymous Says:

As long as Rabbi Weissmandel gives a hechsher the meat is kosher to eat and kosher to buy.
By the way, can someone explain "Modern Orthodox"

13

 Jun 12, 2008 at 10:20 PM karci Says:

"Here with AGRI, there have already been conclusive evidence of deception both by AGRI management, as well as by Rabbi MMW. "

In Judaism, no 'evidence' is 'conclusive.' If there is a civil conviction, that may be another matter.

14

 Jun 12, 2008 at 10:20 PM Anonymous Says:

This rabbi writes with such self rightness and insincerity probrbly never learned in a yeshiva.
“The raid also raised allegations that workers were paid less than the minimum wage and subjected to forms of abuse.” Allegations are not facts in secular or in torah law the accusations and the Drasha continues!
“Consider, for example, someone who hosts an extravagant wedding but then never settles the food bill..” This rabbi implies that someone that for one that is hungry, his Pshat does not apply. My dear Rabbi very few Jews are extravagant! most of us are hungry people trying to put meager food on our tables ! YES less expensive is MUCH better!
“We want to know if it is kosher to buy” Are the Chinese products that I saw at your congregants home kosher to buy? Was the tablecloth that I saw on your Sabbath table kosher to use? Were the fruit the you ate in the hotel or in the restaurant on your trip to Israel with your members kosher? Did the Arab that grew them pay his Arab employee a Tzedek price per hour? Did he pay his employee at all? Did this Arab pay his child laborer at all? Did he pay for his doctor when he lost a finger did he at least pay that this child get educated at least an hour a month.
“A legal discussion in the Talmud (Shabbat 3a) provides a reason:” Where did you learn how to be posek? Where did yod you get Shimush whith which Rabonim? Did You Learn the poskin on that halacha? The Rambam the Bais yosef the Rama The Mishne Brurah? Your ignorance of Halacha shouts out of your article
“ As kosher consumers, let’s make clear that we want them to do so. Only if we as consumers make known that we will base our purchasing decisions on the presence or absence of such a new symbol is it likely that substantial action will be taken.”
As kosher consumers, let’s make clear These rabbis are not our representatives/ Our representatives are the Rabonim have Smicha and shimush in Rabbonis. Rabbonim that are not mechallel Hashem. Yes dear Rabbi Chillul hashem means to be mechallel Shem Shamayim before another Jew and not before a Goy. Mischabed Bekolin Chavairo Ain Lo Chelek Beolom Haba

15

 Jun 12, 2008 at 10:28 PM Anonymous Says:

My husband once worked for a Jewish company that was given a bracha by a Rebbe (maybe Satmar, not sure) that as long as the company hired only Jews, the company would see success. When the company started hiring non-Jews, the company went bankrupt. The best tzedaka is to give jobs-the Rubashkin family gives a LOT of tzedaka, but maybe they should give their jobs to Jews (and pay them well too)

16

 Jun 12, 2008 at 11:10 PM Hypocrites the lot of you! Says:

I wonder how many of the holier-than-thou commentors here have a legal on-the-books cleaning lady working for them. Also how many report cash earnings on their income tax report? Clean up the mess in your home before you tell your neighbor to clean his...

17

 Jun 12, 2008 at 11:17 PM Whiners find an excuse no matter what Says:

The same people here who are whining that workers weren't(allegedly) paid minimum wage etc would be the first to b*tch when prices on meat shoot thru the roof because of the overhead involved with paying every worker what they (the whiners) consider fair wages. Oh, another point -say what u want about the plant- it is no prison. Any worker can pick up and leave whenever they want. Nobody forced them to stay if they weren't (allegedly) get paid enough.

18

 Jun 12, 2008 at 11:28 PM anonymous Says:

I think the Milwakee Rabbi should then scrutinize all products he purchases for his person and family not just rubashkin meat.
I am sure he checks his clothing for shatnez but does he check if his clothing was made by child labor or a sweat shop that violates international law? I am sure he toivels his keilim but does he check if the pots or tableware was made at a factory that treats it's employees humanly .

according to the Rabbi this should apply to all products not just food, with all due respect I think the Rabbi is completly off base.
If the fliesh is glatt kosher then it is glatt kosher. any other moral issue is a personal preference and has nothing to due with Kasherous.

I thik w

19

 Jun 13, 2008 at 12:06 AM Chaim Says:

I e-mailed the good Rabbi the following

You are quoted http://www.vosizneias.com/16960/2008/06/12/new-york-orthodox-rabbi-raises-halachic-question-rubashkin-meat-kosher-to-eat-but-not-kosher-to-buy/


"The Conservative movement has taken some steps to form a “hechsher tzedek” "

How can a treif organization be quoted ?

To quote you quoting Tosfos

"So Tosfot explains that while this person has not violated the law of carrying on the Sabbath, he has violated a different prohibition: the prohibition of being part of an activity that involves wrongdoing"

You can do the math.



Have a good shabbos.

Chaim

20

 Jun 13, 2008 at 12:14 AM Mark Levin Says:

The "rabbi" is a fraud and should be sued for malpractice!


All you idiots including the aforementioned fraud are currently believing lots of loshon hora.

If any of you own a business or even work in the payroll department which I have done, you will know that if someone presents you with a SocSec card or a license, you dont know if its legit or not. The govt doesnt give a number for you to research it. I am sure thats what happened here too!

21

 Jun 13, 2008 at 12:51 AM Anonymous Says:

I am originally from Milwaukee where Harav Michel Twerski is the Mora D'Asra of the city and has not banned the chickens from Aarons for this specific reason or stated one way or the other.

i personally believe that Kashrus organizations are created to keep the food kosher which in itself today takes many hours of site inspections, research of formulas and process of manufacturing that are always changing. How the company runs a business is not their part. Does the OU need to be the FBI and the IRS to investigate even non-Jewish companies accounting and business practices.

Rabbi Levin is not a commentator for halacha for this blog. Does his shul still allow the women to kiss the torah directly? Or maybe he has made things " more kosher" and has changed what was known as the "minhag" in his shul.

I don’t think a modern orthodox shul rabbi who is comparing the OU to the new conservative "hechsherim" to be a valid source for your frum news outlet. What is Rabbi Levins thinking to note the genius agenda Conservative "Hechsehr” on business ethics is above the OU standards is hypocrisy while the Conservatives lack kashruth Halachic ethics?

I dont agree with all that went on nor do i know clearly the truth of what happened and why?

22

 Jun 13, 2008 at 01:09 AM Rachamim Says:

I would like to remind the rabbi as well as some of the posters here of a few things:
1) To date, Agriprocessors, it's owners, officers, executives, managers and supervisors have YET to be accused of a SINGLE criminal act regarding this incident.
2) All we have so far are a LOT of rumours and speculation surrounding UNSUBSTATIATED allegations of abuse and underpaying of workers.
3)The affadavit for warrant itself neither accuses Agriprocessors et al of these same said allegations nor any wrong doing regarding the hiring of these workers (who by admition gained employment by presenting fraudulent documents)
4)There is a TORAH OBLIGATION to judge our fellow Yid favorably.
5)For those that cannot keep themselves from adjudicating Agriprocessors et al guilty-as-charged, I would implore them to keep their thoughts to themselves, lest they be guilty of lashon hara.
Now, to the good rabbi himself, I would ask: "Do you ever buy products made in China by slave labor? Or in Honduras by child labor in sweat shops? Or clothes made in Lebanon that might actually support Hizbollah? Or doesn't that count as to whether or not a product is 'fit' for a Jew to buy?"
The answer to that question would be quite revealing as to your REAL agenda.

23

 Jun 13, 2008 at 03:31 AM Matzahlocal101 Says:

Chaim and rachamim have basically said it all. I would like to reiterate that aside from "conviction by news article" there are no charges filed against Agri management regarding worker mistreatment. Shlomo Levin Shlomo Levin is obviously one of the Ra-Banim that never learned pirkei avos. "Al tadin es chavercha od she'tagiya limkomo"; "havay don es kol adom likaf zchus" Sound familiar? It seems he didn't learn chumash either. "Vi'ahavta lirayacha komocha" Not the illegal Spanish alien making unsubstantiated accusations while trying to become states witness and cop a plea. Levin is also speaking out of both sides of his mouth like most Rubashkin detractors by faulting Rubashkin for (as of yet unsubstantiated) Knowingly hiring illegals and than he lambasts Rubashkin for (as of yet unsubstantiated) abuse and under payment of the workers that they shouldn't have hired in the first place. Levin, you're a low life.

As far as the definition for modern orthodoxy try below:
Modern Orthodoxy [Mă-dĕrn ŏr-thō-dŏks-see] noun, adjective;
1. A group of Jews that have reached a level of mediocrity in Jewish observances with which they are comfortable, and neither seek nor want to better this level in any way shape or form.
2. A group of Jews professing to adhere to the strict conduct requirements of Torah Judaism as long as it doesn't interfere with their lifestyle.
3. The observance of Sabbath, Kashrus, and occasional attendance at a synagogue with some semblance of seperation of men and women, on Sabbath and festivals, as a big favor to G-d.

24

 Jun 13, 2008 at 03:43 AM Anonymous Says:

if so the satmar meat is kosher to eat but not kosher to buy, since they are enemies of Israel. and by buying from them we support their ideas.

25

 Jun 13, 2008 at 07:51 AM Scott Says:

Matzahlocal101, you quote Pirke Avos freely and then disparage a whole sect of Jews? Is Pirke Avos simply there for you to pick and choose quotes, and for you to sound educated and intelligent but not to adhere to?
Thus far nobody has refuted the author of this letters’ arguments, everybody rather attacked his person, as if that is Halachikly permissible. Do people attacking him even know him? Or are they simply attacking him because they don't like his approach to this clearly controversial issue?

26

 Jun 13, 2008 at 08:23 AM Matzahlocal101 Says:

Scott,
Re-read my carefully written, well articulated post, that attacked Levin for convicting Rubashkin on the basis of news reports. So far the allegations of a drug lab has yielded zilch. allegations of weapons trafficing have yielded zilch, allegations of abuse have so far yilded zilch, allegations of Rubashkin providing false documentation, have so far yielded zilch. Against this backdrop, Levin theorizes if it is permissible to purchase meat from Rubashkin. Why wouldn't it be permissible? Because PETA, contrary to shulchan oruch, says that after shechita the animal is fully conscious? After the shochet is done, the animal is halachicly dead. The USDA report noted the PETA video was doctored in that it showed animals "bellowing in agony" (PETA's words) after shechita. A sign, according to their experts "That the animal is fully conscious and suffering." Their experts forgot that after the animals throat is slit, it can't make noise. it makes a wooshing sound like in the Nick berg video when the Islamic animals cut his head off. The animals behaves exactly they way it would if it were toit shicker. Alcohol, carbon monoxide poisoning, and lack of oxygen to the brain, all produce the same physiologic symptoms. Levin was attacked because he has abandoned the Torah standards in such a matter. He has called for blood before the facts are in and he has publicly adopted the conservative standard that has nothing to do with Torah or Judaism (see my post on the conservative movemnet and homosexuality elsewhere on this site.) He has seperated humself from orthodox judaism. We have just pointed it out. As far as MO goes, first tell me where I'm wrong and then we'll discuss details.

Food for thought: why do MO mating statistics mirror that of the Goyish population around them and chasidish marriage stats mirror much more closely that which it says in shulchan oruch? By "embracing the secular world" i.e., goyish culture, they have abandoned some very very important core Torah values. Tell me where I'm wrong and we'll take it from there.

27

 Jun 13, 2008 at 08:56 AM . Says:

This Rabbi obviously has an agenda. We need to look at his history of views and opinions he had on Lubavitch in general. His interpretation of something that clearly has nothing to do with the situation on hand is ludicrous.

What Rubashkin allegedly did is not anything out of the norm (run Jews or any other person). There are millions of workers who cross the border in persute of these type of jobs and there was no force of them accepting the job or even leaving the job if they felt they were underpaid.

There is no moral quandary.

28

 Jun 13, 2008 at 10:24 AM Anonymous Says:

There are millions of undocumented illeglas in this country per the US gov't. 300 were arrested in Iowa. Can we get a list of where the 50million others are working so we know where else to boycott?? Let's all start buying from China, where workers are forced to work for 18hrs per day in slave like conditions earning much less than these people were.
These people were earning a decent wage, supported the local businesses, and created a nice little American dream for themselves.
So far there has been no substantiation of any of the abuse charges, and were most likely intended to be used in defense of the workers when they were charged. To date 95% of the arrested were convicted, yet still no one from Rubashkin has been charged with any wrong doing at all.
So these workers that were 'abused' are now going to jail!! I am sure the conditions in the local penintary are much better!
Where are all the illegal immigrant rights activists now???

We need to stop with our moral BS agenda.

29

 Jun 13, 2008 at 10:29 AM anonymous Says:

As frumer yidden, we are mandated to do Tikum Oilam. We should start with ourselves before we go to others.

30

 Jun 13, 2008 at 10:38 AM koro hatarnegol Says:

I think Matzahlocal101 gave a very good description of what "Modern Orthodox" means. Either you observe the Torah and Mitzvos or you don't.
As for the article itself, I have a policy of not listening to any anonymous rabbis. If you are a Rabbi and have something to say attest your name to it. What is the point of not publicizing his name?

31

 Jun 13, 2008 at 11:27 AM meshugener Says:

Anybody remember the story in Texes when the police took away 400 children from there mother's? where are those kid's now? Rubashkin is abused by the gov/media just like those kid's

32

 Jun 13, 2008 at 12:17 PM anonymous Says:

I take offence to what you call Modern Orthodox. I am Shomer Torah Umitzvos, my daughters cover their heads at all times, my chavrusa and I are upset that it takes us too long to go though the tosfos in mesechta Chulin.
I consider myself modern because I have an MBA that helps me with my parnosa, and I know how to fix my car so I can run to the funeral home to do taharos (we have a volunteer Chevra Kadisha in my town) and I can fix my vcr so that i can still see the wedding videos. About everyone in my Young Israel is the same as me.

Why would you say something as stupid as that? To disenfranchise the Litvaks?

33

 Jun 13, 2008 at 12:20 PM anonymous Says:

meshugener Says:
Anybody remember the story in Texes when the police took away 400 children from there mother's? where are those kid's now? Rubashkin is abused by the gov/media just like those kid's
******************************************
What yeshiva did those kids learn in? Where did they learn Yashrus? You compare a goy who knows nothing with a Yid who learned for 15 years in a Yeshiva and WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER?

34

 Jun 13, 2008 at 12:30 PM anonymous Says:

koro hatarnegol Says:
I think Matzahlocal101 gave a very good description of what "Modern Orthodox" means. Either you observe the Torah and Mitzvos or you don't.
WHAT DOES MODERN HAVE TO DO WITH TORAH AND MITZVOT? I AM ORTHODOX AND AM SHOMER SHABBAT, TORAH U'MITZVOS. I CAN BE COUNTED IN ANY MINYAN IN SATMAR OR BELZ OR EVEN LUBAVITCH. WHY ARE YOU SO CRUEL AND ELITIST IF I CALL MYSELF MODERN?

35

 Jun 13, 2008 at 02:53 PM anonymous Says:


As far as the definition for modern orthodoxy try below:
Modern Orthodoxy [Mă-dĕrn ŏr-thō-dŏks-see] noun, adjective;
*********************************************
THere was a sefer torah stolen from a shul in Kenosha Wisconsin. It was a modern orthodox shul. It obviously was a possul Sefer Torah because no one in modern orthodoxy would ever know how to lain or check it's Kashrus.
As for me, this modern orthodox Jew would rather eat from the Satmar, who are very big in Chesed and will (and have) counted me in for a minyan.

36

 Jun 13, 2008 at 03:03 PM midvar sheker tirchok Says:

Just for the record.
Commentators by the name chaim, matza local and rachamim are all the same. He is hired by rubashkim to sit here all day and defend them even if it means knocking innocent people who have factual knowledge unlike him.

37

 Jun 15, 2008 at 03:23 PM $upreme Ko$her Says:

too true, there are more shills here than rubashkin has hotdogs.

38

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