Thursday, August 7, 2008

Closing Ranks

This Rubashkin business is becoming more than just a headache. It’s becoming a full blown migraine, and the orthodox community as personified by different orthodox institutions is digging for themselves a deeper pit by which it will be difficult to extricate themselves.

Just a few days ago I read a release in the JTA of an Orthodox rabbinical organization which toured the Postville based kosher slaughter house singing praise about the standards of the plant and its management. One would have thought that there was absolutely no basis for the investigation against the company. As a matter of fact one would have been led to believe that the whole thing had been a tempest in a tea pot.

Unfortunately it’s not. As it turns out our rabbis don’t have a clue as to what they are talking about. They ought to do what they know best – teach a shiur in theoretical gemorah, or deliver an arcane devar torah where there are no real life ramifications. It’s interesting and safe to learn about a “shor shenagoch…”, because there is little if no practical application. It’s harmless mental gymnastics. But once these rabbis begin to involve themselves in the corporate world and regulatory agencies, the playing field changes dramatically. One rabbi even referred to the Agriprocessor plant as a Cadillac. Another rabbi couldn’t imagine why someone shouldn’t buy the meat products. He hasn’t the foggiest idea that a moral outrage has possibly been perpetrated. This is totally believable in view of the fact that as one representative from the notorious slaughter house said “Agriprocessors doesn’t have any position on immigration. Agriprocessors doesn’t have positions on ethical culture”. Imagine that!

Charges have been made that there was exploitation of child labor. When the rabbis asked the authorities (feds) for names they advised them that they couldn’t release the names. Had the rabbis had the slightest clue as to the role of the feds they never would have asked for that information but would have begun their own serious inquiries. The Feds aren’t there to advise companies. They are regulatory agencies. Their job is to cite you and to ensure that the problems have been corrected. Their task isn’t to help you do your job.

What was most fascinating was instead of trying to get to the bottom of this horrific chilul hashem, this delegation of Orthodox rabbis went to Postville (one day) with a preconceived notion that the management had things under control and that with a little bit of PR things will get back to normal. They saw their mission in terms of damage control. For these rabbis, the issues presented over the past two years weren’t anything of ethical consequence. They were technical matters that needed to be addressed. They didn’t come there with open minds to try and find out how is it possible that we have sinned so egregiously. They came there to close ranks and circle the wagons.

Defensive. We have never done anything wrong. The goyim always have it in for us. What have we ever done to “piss them off”? I don’t know…what have we done? We’ve tried to whitewash the fact that a kosher slaughter house allegedly spits in the face of safe labor practice, allegedly exploits its labor force, allegedly exploits children, allegedly employs undocumented workers, allegedly provides them with no benefits and allegedly gives them little or no training at the risk of serious bodily harm and disfigurement. We’ll forget about the alleged sexual exploitation. Even though all of the above are allegations it ought to be enough for our esteemed orthodox rabbis to investigate, not whitewash, not circle the wagons. Big deal – the mitzvah is eating kosher meat, who cares about God’s children.

The fact of the matter is that they don’t really care about God’s children unless of course they are orthodox Jews. Actually I’m no longer convinced they care about non orthodox Jews, much less gentiles unless there is an angle in it for them – like fund raising, money and profits. After all, Getzel Rubashkin, a grandson of the founder of the now infamous slaughter house had the temerity to say that this isn’t about ethics, “it’s a business”. I guess for him and others of his ilk, religion is a business – and so is God. So it all boils down to money and “what can you do for me today”. Sad, but that is the profile of a community who allowed the end to justify the means, all for the purpose of sanctifying the name of God. I wonder what Amos would have to say?