July 25, 2012
Rubashkin Revenge: Ethical Certificates at Center of Dispute
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The email held Yanklowitz partially responsible for Agriprocessors’ subsequent bankruptcy and for Sholom Rubashkin being sentenced to 27 years in prison for financial fraud.
That sentence, which came after a jury in a U.S. District court convicted Rubashkin on 86 charges of financial fraud in November 2009, is a major source of angst, even anger, among Rubashkin supporters.
Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, a Chabad rabbi in Orange County, knows Sholom Rubashkin personally. He said the younger Rubashkin was ill suited to act as CEO of the meatpacking powerhouse that Agriprocessors had become.
“He didn’t have the experience or knowledge to run a multi-million dollar corporation,” Eliezrie said. “But he was, in his very heart, a very good, kind, and charitable person.”
And in court, Eliezrie added, Sholom Rubashkin did not deserve what he got.
“He was unjustly victimized,” Eliezrie said. “He made mistakes, but he was, without question, the target and the victim of the unions.”
Even as many Orthodox Jews—and Lubavitchers in particular – continue to be angry over the entire Agriprocessors affair, many more non-Orthodox Jews and countless non-Jews – see the former meat processing company as a symbol of corporate malfeasance, ranging from animal cruelty to unlawful treatment of vulnerable workers.
Conservative Rabbi Morris Allen also was inspired to create an ethical certification for kosher food, dubbed the Magen Tzedek. He too did so, in part, because of what he read about and saw in Postville, and Allen has also come in for intense criticism.
Avi Shafran, the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, a Charedi organization, wrote an article earlier this year in which he argued that the Magen Tzedek was “conceived in sin – the sin of not only accepting slander but, by dint of the enterprise’s self-definition as a high-minded corrective to the Agriprocessors ‘scandal,’ promoting slander as well.”
Shafran’s article also called into question much of the accepted history of the Agriprocessors saga, in ways that are occasionally misleading. He left out, for instance, any mention of citations and fines issued against Agriprocessors before the raid. About the 72 immigration charges against Rubashkin, Shafran wrote they were “unceremoniously dropped” in 2009, omitting the reason given by Federal prosecutors at the time, who explained the decision as a way of avoiding “an extended and expensive trial.”
Thrust into the middle of this debate over the legacy of Postville are the kosher-certified businesses that have chosen to accept the ethical certificates.
On a weekday morning in early July, a laminated eight-and-a-half-by-11-inch Tav HaYosher certificate could still be seen hanging in the window at Bibi’s Bakery on Pico, just beside the door, opposite a much larger, full-color poster advertising free toppings on pizzas every Tuesday.
Owner Dan Messinger said he’d had one local Chabad group cancel a medium-sized order on account of the certification, but that he hadn’t been threatened, per se.
“The Tav isn’t a condemnation of Sholom Rubashkin,” Messinger said. “If people don’t want to shop here, they don’t have to shop here. I’m still comfortable with the commitment I’m making to my employees.”