Photo Credit: Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Author’s Note: Readers of this column, and I am consistently realizing the number is not-insignificant, join me in celebrating the release of Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin from an unfathomable prison sentence. I hope that the publication of his story in the Jewish Press leading up to his release heightened awareness, compassion and abhorrence at the legal travesty that was perpetrated. The series continues this month and beyond. HT

The powerful United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union joined collaborative hands with PETA, The Forward and Magen Tzedek. Rabbi Allen appeared with Avram Lyon, former director of the Jewish Labor Committee on the CNBC series: “American Greed” (installment 45, aired March 23, 2011), whose villain of the week was Agriprocessor’s chief executive. As the name implies, the show highlights that some will do anything for money. The documentary, and those two interviewees, minced no words portraying Shalom Rubashkin as a greedy manipulator who perpetrated a plethora of abuses upon his immigrant workers.


Lyon was on the fact-finding mission that Allen directed to Postville subsequent to The Forward’s articles about Agriprocessors. Along for the ride was labor activist Vic Rosenthal, founder and executive director of Jewish Community Action whose rabbinic advisor is Rabbi Morris Allen, a Minnesota organization advocating social and economic justice.

While in Postville to visit the Agri plant, Allen had clandestine meetings with union officials and teamed up with their representatives. Postville City Councilman, Aaron Goldsmith, and joint author of Postville, U.S.A. had not connected the dots regarding Allen and Union collaboration until he accompanied Shalom Rubashkin to St. Paul for what they thought would be a private meeting with Rabbi Allen, but turned out to be a panel with Lyon and Rosenthal.

Rubashkin and Goldsmith had traveled to St. Paul under the pretext of meeting with Rabbi Allen who had offered to assist in removing the tarnish from Agri’s name. Despite the stated objective of the invitation, the two arrived only to discover that Allen and Lyon sought involvement in the running of Agri.

Goldsmith’s take on the meeting was corroborated by a letter Allen had sent to Rubashkin in December, 2006 demanding involvement in Agri’s management decisions. Shalom Rubashkin was eager to repair the media damage that Agri had suffered from PETA, The Forward and union harassment, but he was not prepared to allow an outsider’s involvement in his family’s business.

The confederation of non-Agri forces did not necessarily share the same agenda, but they all shared an equal determination to take down the Rubashkin plant. The media had a cause célèbre and a villain straight out of Central Casting. Jewish, bearded Rubashkin was, well, just different than anyone the Iowans had ever beheld before.

Everybody was joining into the fray – even Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama. Campaigning in Iowa, he asserted that Agriprocessors had hired underage workers to avoid paying decent wages and benefits.

Super lawyer Nathan Lewin wondered whether Obama had weighed the evidence in the case or considered the company’s repeated denials. “This is a shocking statement,” Lewin denounced, “from a former president of the Harvard Law Review and former constitutional law professor who has sworn, as a United States Senator, to uphold the Constitution which prescribes a presumption of innocence until guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

And whereas the reaction of the overwhelming majority of American Jewry regarding the man who had done the most to make quality, kosher meat available, was silence, Lewin advocated consistently on his behalf. In response to false and negative information that appeared in The New York Times he wrote:

“In a front-page article asserting that minors had been hired to work in an Iowa kosher meat-packing plant and in an editorial calling the plant the modern equivalent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, The New York Times joined the media frenzy that has, over the past two months, with very little basis in fact, pilloried Agriprocessors, the country’s leading kosher slaughterer and packer of beef, and driven federal and local law-enforcement personnel to threaten dire consequences to its owner and employees. Insult was heaped on injury when an Orthodox rabbi in Washington, D.C., joined the vigilantes and published an op-ed piece in the Times of August 6, claiming that the news accounts ‘call into question whether the food processed in the plant qualifies as kosher.’

“This nationally published challenge to the kashruth of the Agriprocessor product contradicts the unanimous opinion of highly respected and universally recognized kashruth-certifying agencies that have repeatedly endorsed – even while the media attack was ongoing – the ritual acceptability of Agriprocessors’ product.”

With all of this media attention and pressure exerted from high places, the government had to respond. PETA was complaining to the USDA, the UFWC was complaining to ISHA (United States Occupational Safety and health Administration) the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) and EPA (United States Environmental Protection Administration) and Magen Tzedek and The Forward were complaining to anyone that would listen.

The most attentive ears belonged to ICE (United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as the Bush Administration was escalating its crackdown on illegal immigrants. This attention morphed into action as the Mother of All Illegal Immigration raids was planned after a 16-month investigation that included undercover informants posing as illegal workers seeking employment.

Prior to the raid, a lawyer representing Agriprocessors, recommended to federal prosecutors in a letter that he delivered on May 9, 2008 that they visit the plant (unarmed) where they will be granted access to employment records, just as they had done with the Swift meatpacking plant in Texas. Swift had followed this formula and averted a violent confrontation and their illegal alien employees were apprehended and deported. The federal prosecutors in Iowa rejected this offer.

(To be continued)

Chodesh tov – have a pleasant month!

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Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled Heroic Children, chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.