Rubashkin convictions mean new beginning

Rubashkin convictions mean new beginning

Not surprisingly, Sholom Rubashkin is close to spending the rest of his life in prison.
Last week, a federal jury in Sioux Falls, S.D., convicted Rubashkin, the 50-year-old former owner of the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, of 86 out of 91 charges, including fraud, money laundering and failing to pay his suppliers.
He faces up to 1,250 years in prison.
While Rubashkin essentially stands convicted of being an unscrupulous businessman, the real lesson of the Agriprocessors episodes, which gripped the attention of the Jewish world for much of 2008 and 2009, goes to the core of Judaism itself.
Rubashkin’s fall accompanied revelations that the animals were slaughtered at the plant in ways that caused extreme pain (a clear violation of kashrut), that illegal drugs were manufactured there, and that hundreds of illegal aliens labored there under intolerable working conditions.
These were hardly unsubstantiated revelations. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals covertly taped the slaughter practices at the Postville plant. And the workers themselves came forward with their harrowing stories following a federal raid at the plant in May 2008, which resulted in the arrests of nearly 400 illegal aliens.
These revelations were made worse by the fact that Rubashkin is an observant Jew.
Rather than make excuses for Rubashkin — he was incompetent, he didn’t know what his plant managers were doing, the slaughter methods were technically kosher — we should learn a lesson from him, and put a period to this dark chapter of the American kosher meat industry.
Positive developments have taken root since Rubashkin’s arrest:
• The Conservative movement launched its Hekhsher Tzedek (ethical kashrut certification) following two years of work by a Conservative-sponsored commission that came together after a 2006 investigation of workers’ complaints at Agriprocessors.
• Uri L’Tzedek, a social justice group founded by rabbinical students at the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, has launched its Tav HaYosher, or ethical seal. The seal will be awarded to kosher restaurants in New York City that treat their workers fairly.
• A coalition of 13 Jewish groups urged the new owners of the plant to partner with local leaders “to create an agreement and working environment that will ensure the health and prosperity of the plant, its work force and the town of Postville.”
• At the recent Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Toronto, URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie urged participants to eat 20 percent less red meat, saying “it’s good for the environment and for your health,” and to plant synagogue gardens.
We find particularly moving the young observant Jews who have taken it upon themselves to play a role in the rehabilitation of the kosher reputation. They find value in a kosher lifestyle, and they expect the industry to live up to that value.
Rubashkin’s conviction need not be a low point for Jews. It can be a time of reflection and renewal. The process is already begun; we need only keep it going.