Independent and original reporting from the Orthodox communities of Long Island

Editorial: The end is near (Exclusive to The Jewish Star)

In Editorial, Exclusive, Mayer Fertig, News on September 9, 2008 at 5:46 pm
From the issue of Sept. 12, 2008

“Baloney!” — Abraham Aaron Rubashkin’s angry reaction Tuesday afternoon to formal charges filed by prosecutors in an Iowa court. The indictment named him, his son, Sholom Rubashkin, and two employees with more than 9,000 violations of that state’s child labor laws.

The court papers charge the defendants “participated in efforts to conceal children when federal and state labor officials inspected that plant.” Penalties could include lengthy prison terms and run up millions of dollars in fines.

“Crazy,” he said in a very brief telephone conversation with The Jewish Star. “For what? What did I do?”

Mr. Rubashkin, who built a modest Borough Park butcher shop into what until recently was the nation’s largest kosher meatpacker, returned to the meeting he said he’d interrupted to answer the phone.

Clearly he doesn’t believe anything was amiss at his plant in Postville, despite the indictment, the threat of other criminal charges related to immigration violations for which 270 of his employees have already been convicted, the interruption to the nation’s glatt kosher meat supply, and the massive chilul Hashem caused by all of the above.

He’s not alone, of course. Some of Rubashkin’s many supporters have characterized the many accusations as a “blood libel,” and chalked the whole affair up to good old anti-Semitism.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has been hounding the Rubashkins for years, stirred up a lot of this fuss by calling to the attention of the authorities the plant’s many deficiencies. In the end, it seems, the union will win.

A knowledgeable source told The Jewish Star Tuesday that the OU would like to see the plant unionized under new management, and has been speaking with the union.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU’s rabbinic administrator declined to confirm that he’s been speaking to the union, but did reaffirm the threat he made back in May, reported in The Jewish Star, that he would remove the OU hashgacha from Rubashkin products in the event of criminal indictments.

“We’re standing with that position,” he said Tuesday. Unless new management is brought in, a new CEO and new investors, he will pull the hechsher. He said the Rubashkins have two weeks.

As far as the OU is concerned, the For Sale sign is hanging at the Postville plant.

“People have been interested in coming in and so on — we’ve been probing and looking — but the stated issue didn’t change: there’s got to be new management,” Rabbi Genack said. In the end the Rubashkin family would probably become minority owners.

Why not act immediately?

“The question is the timeframe, only because Yom Tov is upon us. The kashrus was never compromised,” Rabbi Genack said. He added that the OU is concerned with the welfare of the workers, and the families of the shochtim and mashgichim in Postville.

A union spokesman, Scott Frotman, applauded the action by prosecutors and said, “Given the seriousness and sheer number of charges, we cannot see how this company can remain in operation with the current ownership.” He confirmed that the union has been in talks with the OU.

Getting back to our short conversation with Abraham Rubashkin, we weren’t expecting a tearful telephone confession, but his absolute certainty that there’s no merit at all to any of this would seem to more than justify what’s been said and done so far, and what’s apparently about to happen next.

The shame of it is, it didn’t have to come to this.

“These are not bad people but they’re just so sloppy,” said Rabbi Genack. “And because they messed up so many times, they’re just piling on.”

Several messages left for Rabbi Menachem Meir Weissmandl, who also provides a hashgacha on the Postville plant, were not returned.

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