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Scandal in Postville

Lawrence Bush
October 29, 2017

Sholom Rubashkin, who built Agriprocessors of Postville, Iowa into the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the U.S. (and the only one permitted to export meat to Israel), was arrested by federal authorities on this date in 2008. He was charged with harboring illegal immigrants and assisting with identity theft; in November he would be arrested again for multiple counts of bank fraud, which would land him in prison with a 27-year sentence (now being appealed). Five months earlier, Agriprocessors had been raided by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for its extensive employment of undocumented workers. The company, with outlets in Nebraska, New York, Florida and South America, had been frequently cited for animal abuse, food safety violations, environmental violations, the use of child labor, and other crimes — including bribing USDA inspectors. Most Orthodox authorities defended Agriprocessors and considered its meat to be kosher, but the Conservative movement, led by Rabbi Morris Allen, responded by forming its Hekhsher Tzedek (righteousness certification) as a complement to kosher certification.

“We’re not asking the movement or the Jewish people to do something beyond what is required [by Jewish law]. It’s not a question of whether there are ethical underpinnings on labor relations or for keeping kosher, for example. These already exist.” —Morris Allen

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.