Wednesday, October 28, 2020 -
Print Edition

The stakes are high in the controversy over kosher slaughter in Iowa

We don’t have enough evidence to condemn or to exonerate Agriprocessors, the large kosher slaughtering company in Iowa, on whose premises a variety of illegal activities have been alleged. Everything from hiring illegal immigrants to running a drug lab to cruelty to animals has been leveled against Agriprocessors. Clearly, there is guilt in the sense that many of the employees were illegal immigrants, but the company has not been charged, only the immigrants. They forged documents, say the government and the courts. Other than that, very little is clear about this growing furor.

It is not new. PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — has long charged Agriprocessors with cruelty to animals. Let us grant that PETA has been correct in various instances. That alone would not tip the scales against Agriprocessors for the simple reason that PETA is not against this or the other practice in kosher slaughter. It is against kosher slaughter altogether, and its goal is not to reform it, but to shut it down. PETA is not a credible witness except to the extent that it might be right in various limited circumstances.

All this leaves the kosher consumer and the Jewish community in a quandary. On the one hand, all those interested in the good name of the Jewish people have a right to expect a large Jewish company to behave in a legal and ethical manner. It’s not just the food that must be kosher. It is the finances and the human relations that also must be kosher.

On the other hand, there is a long and sordid history of various interest groups either making false claims in order to close down kosher slaughter, or making anti-Semitic claims to defame the Jewish people.

It is too early to tell on which side of the ledger the current controversy falls, or, indeed, whether there are elements of both.

One thing is clear, however. Kosher certification per se can extend only so far. Is the meat kosher? That is all that the kosher certifier can determine, practically speaking. Anything else — such as a kosher supervising agency monitoring a company’s tax compliance, workplace safety, compliance with immigration law, hiring, firing, treatment of animals, etc. — would render the price of kosher meat utterly ridiculous. A company that assumes the mantle of meeting sacred Jewish dietary needs must assume some responsibilities itself.

That does not mean that supervising agencies cannot include in contractual agreements the appropriate standards in all the areas mentioned above. That said, and that done, it must be the reverence for the Torah, including the Torah’s reverence for both human being and animal, that governs the kosher slaughter company.

Has Agriprocessors met this high standard? It remains to be seen. As the facts unfold, the Jewish community has a legitimate interest in the outcome. It is not just the fate of a private business that is at stake. It is the reputation of the Jewish people, including, potentially, ramifications for kosher slaughter everywhere.

The individual kosher consumer also has a legitimate interest in the outcome. He or she ought not rush to premature judgement and should be aware of those who oppose the kosher food industry per se. At the same time, the present charges are severe. Given this, and given the long history of various health and other charges against Agri-processors, the kosher consumer will make the final decision. This is as it should be. Individual Jews who undertake a sacred dietary discipline, usually at much sacrifice, have the right to expect that all who enable them to follow the Torah will, in fact, uphold it themselves.

Leave a Reply