Rabbi Reuven Tradburks argues effectively that the Orthodox Union and similar agencies should not be responsible for certifying activities beyond the kashrut of food (“Kashrut agencies shouldn’t be leveraging ethics,” CJN Toronto; “Kashrut agencies and ethics,” CJN Montreal; Sept. 11). If I am to understand the rabbi correctly, the focus of such agencies should remain on certifying foods according to halachic standards, but they should also act appropriately if illegal activities are discovered in the companies they supervise.
In the case of Agriprocessors, the alleged Dickensian working conditions imposed upon its employees have yet to be proven in court. Nonetheless, the descriptions and extent of the alleged abuses have been abhorrent. The perception, in this instance, is that the OU kashrut supervisors, and perhaps the OU itself, turned a blind eye to these conditions. Is this the “appropriate response” that the rabbi suggests?
Rabbi Tradburks makes no reference in his article to any actions taken by the OU supervisors to intervene with the owners of Agriprocessors or notify government authorities of the reported travesties. This apparent inaction on the part of the OU supervisors has led many to conclude that they forsook the treatment of the company’s employees either because they didn’t care to become involved or to protect the company’s owners or both. This is much to the shame of our community, as the OU supervisors and the owners of Agriprocessors deem themselves to be Orthodox and thus supposedly adhere to a strict moral code.
Kashrut is partly about rising to a higher ethical plain in the treatment of animals used for human consumption. The call to widen the scope of what makes food “kosher” may be perilous, as Rabbi Tradburks warns, but let’s not be too quick to excuse those charged with both a moral imperative and the inherent regulatory authority who seem to ensure that animals in the kashrut process are cared for humanely but wear blinders when it comes to the treatment of the humans involved.
Kashrut and ethics (2 )
Rabbi Reuven Tradburks makes the case that the Orthodox Union should not assume the mandate of supervising the business practices of kosher meat companies, just as it should not be expected to police the entertainment and conduct at functions where kosher products are consumed (“Kashrut agencies shouldn’t be leveraging ethics,” CJN Toronto; “Kashrut agencies and ethics,” CJN Montreal; Sept. 11). Rabbi Tradburks wants “kashrut agencies to supervise kashrut and kashrut alone,” and questions why “the issue of ethics has become the responsibility of the OU alone.”
This is why. Ethics and kashrut are and have always been interwoven. The laws of kashrut stem from six simple words in the Torah, prohibiting the cooking of a kid in its mother’s milk. Commentators for generations have explained the prohibition as grounded in ethics – as demonstrating a respect for the animal by not adding the indignity of cooking it in its mother’s milk. One can hardly supervise the ethical standards inherent in the laws of kashrut, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the plight of underpaid Guatemalan and Salvadorean undocumented workers who toiled at the Agriprocessers plant. Agriprocessers hired these workers because it is alleged they were paid a lower wage than a U.S. citizen would expect, with little or no benefits, and no recourse for grievances.
For kashrut supervision to aspire to the highest ethical standard requires a broader perspective than what Rabbi Tradburks envisions. Surely the same respect shown to the animal in the biblical text must also be shown to the worker who processes it. And who better to sound the alarm if workers in faraway Postville, Iowa, are mistreated than the kashrut supervisors who walk through the plant every day. While Rabbi Tradburks places the responsibility of ethical policing upon the consumer, the reality is that until this story broke most Jews had never heard of Agriprocessers or Postville, Iowa – let alone that undocumented workers were alleged to have been exploited there.
Finally, Rabbi Tradburks argues that the OU cannot be expected to police the conduct of those who consume kosher products at Kashruth Council-supervised functions. This deflects the discussion to activities over which the OU clearly has no mandate and away from what had been taking place in a kosher slaughterhouse right within the OU’s primary mandate.
I found the column “Israeli Arabs still struggle for equality” (Kirshner File, CJN, Sept. 4) most disturbing. Though citizens, the 20 per cent Muslim or Christian Arabs in Israel are treated as second-class inhabitants. Throughout our history, Jews have been subject to such discrimination, and it is indeed regrettable that in their country, Israel, Jews are the purveyors of such a pernicious practice.