Postville revisited

I was deeply disturbed by the opinion piece from Rabbi Zvi Zuravin in the Aug. 13 Light. This article should have been identified as an advertisement for Agriprocessors.

If the news article in the same edition of the Light is correct, the Rabbi’s trip to Postville was paid for by Agriprocessors; he certainly should have disclosed that in his article. This fact alone taints his judgment in the same way that a news organization which does not identify its investors is suspect when it alone reports positively about that investor in connection with a news item.

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Anat Cohen at The Sheldon


Nor does the rabbi tell the entire story. He states that the evidence against Agriprocessors comes primarily from two sources: a union he identifies as UCFW (UFCW, United Food and Commercial Workers) and from Jewish groups whose observance of kashrut is not, in the rabbi’s opinion, proper. His animosity towards these groups is clear from his language. Why doesn’t the rabbi consider the findings of the Iowa Labor Commissioner’s Office and other governmental agencies to be of consequence? To totally ignore the findings of the Iowa Labor Commissioner and, instead, to base a decision about the policies of Agriprocessors on a trip taken after the underage and alien employees have been removed from the plant is nothing short of willful blindness.

Had the rabbi, as he says he wanted to do, really desired to “seek out the unbiased and objective truth,” he should have tried to review the evidence against Agriprocessors, as well as the show put on by Agriprocessors, and he should have tried to talk to the employees who are no longer there as well as those made available to him. The rabbi stressed that he had unfettered access. But this was no surprise visit: it was a trip that Agriprocessors had planned for and even paid for. Can the rabbi, in good conscience, really believe that the plant was not cleaned up for the visit and that the employees who were available were not selected for the image they would present? Agriprocessors would not have invited the rabbi and the rest of his group to the plant if they did not know that these visitors would not see any of the violations observed by the state and by the visits made by other rabbis prior to the official investigation.

Agriprocessors is engaged in a public relations battle. I do not blame the company for doing everything it can to try and salvage its image and to fight the legal claims against it. That, however, does not excuse the rabbi from participating in the propaganda under the guise of making an independent evaluation and this does not excuse the rabbi from lending his name and his position to a clear PR campaign. It is extremely disturbing that someone entrusted with safeguarding the kashrut standards in our community could show such poor judgment and such little regard for seeking the whole truth.

Rhona Lyons

Olivette

If Rabbi Zvi Zuravin, executive director of the Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis, is going to base his opinions (Commentary, Aug. 13) about Agriprocessors, the largest kosher meat producer in the country, on his recent visit to its Postville, Iowa plant, he needs to disclose all the relevant facts about his visit. He neglects to mention that the rabbinic junket he was on was paid for by the very company whose plant they were inspecting, an obvious conflict of interest. He also fails to mention that they were only in the plant for three hours. While I’m happy that he spoke to current workers at the plant, they can hardly expected to offer an objective perspective, particularly because, as at-will employees without union representation, they hold their jobs at the pleasure of the plant owners.

By far the most problematic part of this commentary, however, is where Rabbi Zuravin attacks groups who want to impose an ethical standard on kosher certification. He states that “there are some Jewish groups with an unconvincing history of support for kosher observance who have also played a role in this fiasco. These groups, it appears, have their own denominational and social agendas to advance, most notably the creation of a new food product certification based on their own liberal social values.” Although there are Orthodox rabbis and laypeople who support the imposition of an ethical kosher certification standard, these particular remarks of Rabbi Zuravin’s appear to be addressed to non-Orthodox Jews only.

I understand that Rabbi Zuravin is new to the community, so he may not realize the impact that individuals who are not Orthodox, but who are nonetheless regular consumers of kosher products, have on the kosher-keeping community as a whole. I wonder how many local hotels and caterers would find it worth their while to continue to offer kosher catering if it were not for the Jews who are members of, in Rabbi Zuravin’s words, “groups with an unconvincing history of support for kosher observance”, or how the community’s two kosher butcher shops would survive without the regular patronage of Jews who are not Orthodox.

The Orthodox community in St. Louis is not nearly large enough to support all these establishments on its own. Yet Rabbi Zuravin displays his utter contempt for a segment of the kosher-keeping public he and his organization need in order to survive. While we can agree to disagree when it comes to whether an ethical standard should be imposed on kosher food producers, it is simply wrong for Rabbi Zuravin to insult non-Orthodox Jews who are in favor of such a standard. He owes them a sincere apology, and he owes it soon.

Joshua A. Kranzberg

Washington, DC

I was keenly interested in reading Rabbi Zvi Zuravin’s article on his visit to Iowa and the Agriprocessors Plant. After reading the news sources story on the “raid”, I was a bit embarrassed for the situation as reported and, at the same time, interested in learning more. rabbi Zuravin’s account of the conditions in the plant and the method of schechita was certainly reassuring. However, the follow up I had done had raised some interesting questions which I hope the Rabbi can also answer. First, there are some who are concerned that so many of the laborers were undocumented including Guatamalans, Mexicans, Russians and even and Israelis. Does the fact that an important Jewish business that uses illegal immigrants in any way taint the idea of what kosher means? I know this is a question being asked within the community and I would like to understand the answer.

Second, I was personally concerned that a business so connected to my religion would have knowingly used so many illegal immigrants. From a social standpoint, I hope that this issue becomes clarified. I am sure that they were treated well by management and the owners, but does that still make it right?

Richard Lincoff

Ladue