The scandal is all over the Jewish blogosphere and it’s the word in streets and shops in Jewish neighborhoods throughout the country: the Rubashkin “animal house of horrors” has finally been exposed. After a raid by customs enforcement officials over two weeks ago, allegations and rumors abound about the country’s largest Kosher meat plant, forcing the Jewish community to think captiously about the food they’re eating. Responding to the allegations, certain elements and groups are calling for an outright boycott of all Rubashkin products based on their violation of “American and Torah law.” On ethical grounds these groups claim that we should not eat meat which was produced under unlawful and dangerous conditions- especially because the owners are Orthodox Jews and the meat Kosher, an icon of humaneness and justice.
In this situation, we are not qualified to be prosecution or the defense. We cannot judge the situation well enough to decide what did or did not take place, or how grave the crimes committed actually were. We should not outright condemn a company on hearsay alone, threatening to withhold our business until they make amends – or even sit in jail – for horrendous crimes. I say that we continue eating Rubashkin meat and supporting the hard work that they do to supply Kosher meat to our communities. Being, however, that we eat Rubashkin meat and that ostensibly as Jews we all believe in some form of social justice, it is imperative that we consider the possibility of some substantiation to the allegations and think about what our ethical response will be then. Until then, let’s bear in mind the American and Torah presumption of innocence.
It’s hard for me to believe all the allegations against Rubashkin. It seems just a bit sensationalist to believe that a company that knew they were under scrutiny would allow all of this to happen. There were always secret cameras filming what happened in the plant and they have been under investigation for a while. How likely is it that the company just allowed every code, regulation or crime to be broken? Besides hiring illegal immigrants, they’re being accused of knowingly: having a meth lab, physically abusing workers, extortion, hazardous working conditions, animal abuse, environmental waste, forging documentation, underpaying, overworking, defaulting on debts, and the list continues and grows daily. It sounds like every possible allegation that could come out to destroy a company is just being thrown out there, perhaps by unionists, Conservative Jewish activists via the media, former workers looking for a plea bargain, vegetarian groups or other people with a stake in destroying the company.
I highly doubt most of the allegations are true and firmly believe that these stories are surfacing in an attempt to further besmirch the company. If some of the events did in fact happen, they were isolated incidents that have nothing to do with the corporation (or Orthodox Judaism for that matter). In any industry there are occupational hazards and, sadly, injuries happen by accident and negligence. Safety codes are necessary because there is heavy machinery and saws being used, but not every accident is preventable or foreseeable.
No one forces illegal immigrants to take jobs, and certainly not to keep jobs where they’re being abused. Rubashkin wasn’t keeping slaves and the fact that so many workers remained for so long and moved their families out to Iowa indicates that conditions weren’t as bad as the media would have the public believe. The point in hiring illegal workers is that you can pay them a lesser wage, and that they are willing to work for that. There is no need for unionization and collective bargaining. It is a happy agreement between employer and employee, and being that they don’t have legal contracts, employees are free to up and leave whenever they please.
Time, investigations and legal action will tell what really happened at the Agri plant. Meanwhile, I’m going to continue enjoying Rubashkin meat just like I always have- or at least for as long as the prices don’t skyrocket. I’m not bothered by the fact that the company hired illegal immigrants, because that’s the order of business in the meat industry and everyone does it. It is a “harmless” crime that everyone in America is guilty of, even if it is technically illegal and hurts our economy. In this day and age, not engaging in that sort of underhandedness puts businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Besides, we should recognize that Rubashkin is chiefly a business, and Jewishness and lawful practice are really asides. It is naive to look up to a business as a spiritual or ethical icon. Organizations that make a boycott based on the religiosity and piety (or lack thereof) of a company’s owner, are utilizing a cheap irrelevant ploy that detracts from the real issue.
Until actual abuse is proven – which may happen – we must not stop purchasing Rubashkin meat.
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