Photo Credit: Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Because meatpacking is bloody, exhausting and dangerous, it draws desperate workers that are down on their luck. These were precisely the laborers that made up Agri’s (and every other U.S. meatpacking company’s) workforce. One does not need to speak English or have a high school diploma in order to cut up animal carcasses.

Clearly, this is not the kind of employment that is sought by a college-educated person, or for that matter, any red-blooded American who wants satisfying employment in a secure workplace. Because America’s food industry operates at cutthroat prices, the profit margin is to the bone and the only way to ratchet up the revenue is to increase the production. This cannot happen at a kosher slaughtering house.


A competitive meatpacking plant will slaughter and process a few thousand steer a day[i] and as much as 400 an hour[ii]. Agri never topped 500 a day.

In a standard slaughtering house cows are placed on a conveyor belt and shot in the middle of the forehead by a stunner which renders them brain dead. The conveyor belt ensures that the process is streamlined and efficient. This is why in just Nebraska alone, which accounts for well under 10% of the beef commercially processed in the U.S., 11.5 billion pounds of meat was slaughtered in the year 2013.

In a kosher meatpacking plant – even in Agri, the very largest – there isn’t a conveyor belt. Kosher slaughtering is time and labor consumptive, involving a non-assembly line for slitting the animal’s throat with a long and very sharp knife by an experienced rabbinic expert. Each aspect of the slaughtering is supervised by a trained rabbi known as a mashgiach, who ensures that the process is performed in conformance with Jewish law. This entails that the blood be drained and the lungs of the carcass be inspected to be smooth and adhesion-and-defect-free.

Employing labor to do the work of automation raises the costs and is obviously not as efficient as the non-kosher alternative. Because slaughtering kosher meat requires such a large rabbinic staff, Postville had more rabbis per capita than any other city in the United States[iii], including Brooklyn.

Other than the rabbinic staff involved in the slaughtering, a plethora of blue-collar workers would be required to eviscerate, decapitate, de-hide, debone, trim, rinse, quarter and box – a procedure known in the industry as the Disassembly Line. To get this done, Agri needed nearly 1000 employees.

This meant hundreds of religious Jews, as well a larger number of workers prepared for this kind of labor had to be employed in the heartland of White, Christian America. Postville, from its origin, could not have been less diversity-inclined. The town was founded by Lutheran Germans and the local newspaper, Iowa Volksblatt was printed entirely in German[iv] until nearly the end of World War I.

With the opening of Agri in 1987, Postville was beset with what the locals dubbed, “The Jewish Invasion.”[v] According to Professor Stephen G. Bloom from the University of Iowa, the arrival of the Jews caused a local polarization.

In his book, Postville (Harcourt 2000), Bloom painfully portrays how “the Jews” whom he lumps and confuses between Lubavitcher chassidim and others, antagonized the locals with their alleged rudeness and disrespect for the Iowan way of doing things.

Although the book was published eight years prior to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid that devastated the town, it would seem naïve to believe that the discourtesy portrayed in Postville did not come home to roost in the Rubashkin trial.

On May 12, 2008 a massive raid was launched against Agriprocessors. Any description short of a combat surprise attack would fail to portray the scope, firepower, personnel, planning and execution of this invasion.

As a Blackhawk helicopter hovered overhead, hundreds of ICE officers, FBI agents, Homeland Security officials, Iowa State Troopers, Iowa State Patrol officers and federal marshals descended upon the plant with arrest warrants for nearly 700 workers. This was a national record for such a raid[vi] and was the largest criminal worksite enforcement operation in U.S. history.

(To be continued)

Chodesh tov – have a pleasant month!


[i] Postville, U.S.A. p 18

[ii] Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation

[iii] Postville p. 22, Postville, U.S.A. p. 21

[iv] Postville, p.87

[v] Ibid p.46.

[vi] Postville, U.S.A. p 59