by Rebekah Shapiro, JTA | PUBLISHED Sep 4, 2013 | Food
My boyfriend of four years and I finally decided to move in together. But there was one problem: What to do about the kitchen.
Dov was raised in a Conservative Jewish household in Los Angeles where milk and meat never mixed. I grew up in a Reform home in New York where chicken kebabs were marinated in yogurt and saffron. When we spent our weekends apartment hunting in Manhattan, we looked not at the brownstones before us but stood stuck on the sidewalk debating whether our new kitchen would include my great-grandmother’s Descoware Dutch oven.
“Well, the pot is not kosher because it’s been passed down through non-kosher homes,” Dov said.
“Does it matter?” I argued. “It belonged to my great-grandmother. I’ll store it in a separate area of our kitchen.”
“But then our kitchen wouldn’t be kosher,” he said sadly.
I had imagined that moving in with my boyfriend might include the delightfully self-indulgent arguments from romantic comedies. I pictured purging outfits from my closet to make room for “his stuff” and paring down the nine perfume bottles that adorned my vanity. But I found the one boyfriend who wanted me to clean out my kitchen cabinets.
Before I met Dov in my mid-20s, my interaction with kosher food was limited to Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs. My Iranian mother, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, converted to Judaism when she married my dad. My parents spent their weekends shimmying past one another in the kitchen as herbs and beef sauteed on one burner and rice steamed on another. Although we mostly ate Persian food, my parents could cook anything.
Sure, we ate traditional Jewish foods around the holidays, but my feelings toward those dishes were somewhat similar to the way Nora Ephron described her tzimmes recipe: the medley of sweet potatoes, carrots and dried fruit “is delicious with a pork roast.” In our home, tzimmes was served alongside roast beef and Yorkshire pudding during our traditional Christmas Eve dinner with our longtime Jewish friends.
I had started cooking as a teenager, making chicken cutlets stuffed with prosciutto and spinach-and-meat-and-cheese lasagna. Giada De Laurentiis and Mario Batali were like my surrogate Italian aunt and uncle, and I browned and broiled my way enthusiastically through their Food Network shows.
But when I met Dov, I realized that even though our interests aligned on nearly everything, I lamented that he would never be able to try my specialty — chicken parmesan.
“Well, you can make it with non-dairy cheese,” he said brightly.
Milk and meat lived so harmoniously in my kitchen — and my stomach — that the thought of separating the two rattled my belief system more than I would have anticipated. Could I embrace kashrut for Dov? After all, he knew that I would never be one to keep Shabbat, so he’d altered his lifestyle from keeping the tradition. He also moved to New York City to be with me, despite his love for living in California. So maybe I could bend, too. There was a chance I might even enjoy it.
No such luck. A year into our relationship, I roasted my first-ever chicken — a kosher one — in my inaugural attempt into treating meat and milk like separate lovers. I turned to Ina Garten’s perfect roast chicken recipe for guidance. I followed the directions so closely that without thinking twice, I threw a half stick of butter on the stove to melt. I stood over my beautifully stuffed kosher chicken holding a spoonful of culinary liquid gold. Then I saw the flying cow image on the Horizon Organic butter wrapper and I panicked: Until that moment, I’d never considered butter dairy, but a class unto itself, like tofu. Separating these two food groups felt deeply unnatural; it was like seasoning a dish with just salt and not pepper.
Still, despite those disasters, Dov still wanted to share a home with separate sets of everything — pots, pans, plates and silverware. I understood that kashrut was key to Dov’s Judaism. But eating kebabs with rice and yogurt was key to mine. Granted, I didn’t have the Talmud behind me, but I had the “Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.” And even though keeping kosher was consistent throughout generations of Dov’s family, why didn’t the recipes and cookware that were passed down through my family — major aspects of my heritage as a multicultural Jew — carry the same weight?
So we did what most stubborn 20-somethings would do: We compromised on a “kosher-ish” kitchen. No separate sets of dishware, and my great-grandmother’s Dutch oven would be grandfathered into our new home. We would use glass plates (a kosher get-out-of-jail-free card, if you will, as they don’t “absorb” meat or dairy). No shrimp or pork in the house, which I could accept, since these are the only forbidden foods I admire but am particularly unskilled at preparing.
But it was still the fundamental request that made me almost lose my appetite.
“Could we please avoid mixing meat and dairy?” Dov asked. “I’m just too uncomfortable combining the two. Could we keep all the recipes that have been in your family that don’t combine meat and milk, since there are so many?”
I fell in love with Dov for reasons that had little to do with religion. He was brilliant, thoughtful and a stellar guitar player who already traded in his rock star aspirations for law school applications by the time we met. But I also admired his respect for tradition. If I cooked yogurt-marinated kebabs in our shared kitchen, he wouldn’t eat them. I wasn’t moving in with my boyfriend to eat dinner alone.
Regardless, I found it tremendously difficult to hold myself to the standard that I was expecting of Dov.
“He can live with one set of glass dishes, but I need to round out the flavors in my Bolognese sauce with two tablespoons of butter,” I thought to myself, simultaneously committed to my rationale and yet embarrassed by my childish obstinance.
“We can try,” I said. And as we unpacked all our stuff — my nine perfume bottles spread out untouched across the vanity, our new glass dishes in the kitchen next to my great-grandmother’s Dutch oven — I understood that it was compromise, not kashrut, that we would have to work on: to be less like the families we came from and more like the family we would create together.
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Has the era of the kosher cheeseburger arrived?
by Talia Lavin, JTA | PUBLISHED Aug 7, 2013 | Food
When the world’s first lab-grown burger was introduced and taste-tested on Monday, the event seemed full of promise for environmentalists, animal lovers and vegetarians.
Another group that had good reason to be excited? Kosher consumers.
The burger was created by harvesting stem cells from a portion of cow shoulder muscle that were multiplied in petri dishes to form tiny strips of muscle fiber. About 20,000 of the strips were needed to create the five-ounce burger, which was financed partially by Google founder Sergey Brin and unveiled by Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
For kosher-observant Jews, the “cultured” burgers could open the door to radical dietary changes — namely, the birth of the kosher cheeseburger.
That’s because meat produced through this process could be considered parve – neither meat nor dairy — according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division. Thus under traditional Jewish law, the burger could be paired with dairy products.
Several key conditions would have to be met to create kosher, parve cultured beef. The tissue samples would have to come from an animal that had been slaughtered according to kosher rules, not from a biopsy from a live animal, Genack said.
The principle underlying this theory is much like the status of gelatin in Jewish law: Though it is derived from an animal, it is not meat (the OU certifies some bovine-derived gelatin as parve).
Genack noted another source for viewing cultured meat as parve: a 19th century Vilna-born scholar known as the Heshek Shlomo wrote that the meat of an animal conjured up in a magical incantation could be considered parve. It may not be too much of a stretch, then, to apply the same logic to modern genetic wizardry.
But kosher chefs aren’t heating up the parve griddles just yet.
The lab-born burger, which cost $325,000 and took two years to make, is still a long way from market viability, kosher or otherwise. If mass produced, it could still cost $30 per pound, researchers said.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Jeff Nathan, the executive chef at Abigael’s on Broadway, a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. “Until it’s in my hands and I can touch it, smell it and taste it, I don’t believe it.”
Even if cultured beef became commonplace, consumers still might not be interested, said Elie Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Empire Kosher, the nation’s largest kosher poultry producer.
“Parve burgers made of tofu and vegetables have been on the market for years,” Rosenfeld said. “But customers are still looking for the real deal, a product that’s wholesome and genuine.”
Nevertheless, Nathan sounded an enthusiastic note about the potential for parve meat.
“I’m all for experimentation and science,” he said. “Let’s see what it tastes like!”
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State Dept.: Ritual slaughter ‘important’ to Jewish, Muslim observance
The U.S. State Department regards ritual slaughter as an “important aspect” of Jewish and Muslim religious observance, a spokesman said when asked about Poland’s ban of the practice.
The spokesman, responding to a question from JTA, emphasized that the Polish government should be the primary address for queries about the ban upheld in a parliamentary vote on July 12.
However, the spokesman, who spoke Wednesday on background, noted, “In the United States, the law protects ritual slaughter as a form of religious freedom. Ritual slaughter is an important aspect of practice for Jews and Muslims who adhere to kosher and halal dietary laws.”
The vote last week has concerned Polish Jewish leaders, who say the debate was fraught with stereotyping of Jews.
It also has reverberated outside the country because Poland’s kosher slaughter industry was a major supplier to Jewish communities throughout Europe.
Here’s a bit of good news for anyone looking for kosher steak to grill on the Fourth of July: Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market may reopen within weeks.
Rabbi Yakov Vann, director of the Rabbinical Council of California’s (RCC) kosher services arm, said on June 18 that Doheny, a distributor and retailer of kosher animal products on Pico Boulevard, has been sold to an unnamed individual and will reopen under RCC supervision.
Renovations are already under way at the Pico Boulevard outlet. On June 13, two workers were assembling brand-new stainless steel shelving units in the parking lot behind the store. A nearby dumpster was filled with chunks of asphalt; an employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said new pipes had been laid connecting the decades-old storefront with the sewage system.
In April, Rechnitz told the Journal that he had sold Doheny to David Kagan, the owner of Western Kosher, another local kosher meat retailer and distributor. That agreement fell apart after Kehilla Kosher, the local agency that supervises Kagan’s two existing retail locations, declined to co-certify the reopened Doheny with the RCC.
While Kagan won’t have an ownership stake, he may still have a role in running Doheny, possibly as a consultant or contractor. Speaking to a reporter at Western Kosher’s retail location on Pico Boulevard on June 17, Kagan declined to comment, saying that he’d be willing to speak “when the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.”
Vann declined to name the new owner or owners and said no specific date has been set for the reopening; however he estimated the store will likely reopen in the next two weeks.
Vann said all parties have agreed that the RCC would certify the business when it does open. “That part we have shalom on,” Vann said.
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EXCLUSIVE: Surveillance video of Doheny Meat scandal
[MARCH 28] Trust lies at the center of the business of kosher food, and earlier this week, in what is certainly the biggest kosher scandal to hit Los Angeles in 20 years, the trust many kosher consumers placed in Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats, a market on Pico Boulevard in the heart of L.A.’s most prominent Orthodox neighborhood, was shattered.
“I used to go to Doheny because I like their meat better; I’m so mad that I can’t shop there anymore,” said Shahnaz Benjy of Beverly Hills on Thursday, March 28.
Benjy had just finished buying groceries at Pico Glatt Mart, a kosher-certified market located a few blocks west of the disgraced shop. “I pay too much for meat as it is, and to know I can’t trust [Doheny] anymore is really sad,” she said.
After 28 years doing business in that location, Doheny’s owner, Mike Engelman, was videotaped on March 12 instructing his employees to bring boxes into his shop at a time when the kosher overseer, or mashgiach, who had been overseeing a delivery, had walked away. The video, which was shot by Eric Agaki, an independent private investigator, led the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) to revoke its certification from Doheny on March 24, the day before Passover.
That decision has not been taken lightly.
On Sunday, just hours before a portion of the footage from the investigator’s tape was shown on the KTLA 10 p.m. news show, staff members from the RCC as well as a handful of other rabbis and lay leaders from the Orthodox community gathered in the office of Rabbi Kalman Topp, the spiritual leader of Beth Jacob, the largest Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson. Also present were Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea.
Together they watched the video.
“You see him [Engelman] talking to the mashgiach; you see him waiting until the mashgiach leaves,” said Muskin of the 30-minute segment of video shown at the meeting. “And the damaging evidence is that once the mashgiach leaves, that’s when he has his helpers empty out his SUV, bringing the boxes into his establishment.”
After the group finished watching the video, the meeting continued, and Engelman himself was brought into the room. The shopkeeper – believed to be one of the largest distributors of kosher meat products on the West Coast — initially denied the allegations. But eventually, according to two people present at the meeting, Engelman admitted that he had brought boxes of unsupervised food into the store.
“He did claim that it was kosher – I think that the way he put it was that he ‘never brought non-kosher meat into the store,’ and that he ‘never sold something not kosher,’” an individual who attended the meeting told the Journal on March 28. “But he did acknowledge bringing in boxes – he claimed it was poultry — into the store.”
Before the meeting ended, the assembled rabbis composed an email stating that the RCC had “removed its kosher supervision, for cause, from Doheny Kosher Meats,” adding that all meat purchased before 3 p.m. that day was still considered kosher.
(The local rabbis, who consulted with another rabbinic authority, relied on a concept known as “rov” which allows rabbis — in cases when a majority of a set of items are known to be kosher – to declare the entire set to be kosher.)
Each of the synagogues and the RCC sent that message out to their mailing lists that night.
Agaki, who said he did the investigation over the course of several months after hearing rumors of problems with the market, did the surveillance without the cooperation of the RCC. He said he had also obtained on Sunday from a relative of Engleman 5,000 fraudulent stickers that could be used to label the contents of any bag or container as “glatt kosher.”
For the rabbis in that meeting, however, Engelman’s actions captured in the video were enough to justify revoking his store’s certification.
“He lost the trust of the community,” Muskin said in an interview. The rabbi also spoke about the Doheny scandal from his pulpit on the first day of Passover. “If you’re a kosher butcher, then you’ve got to be a kosher butcher, and you’ve got to play by the rules. You don’t bring boxes of unidentified items into your establishment behind the back of your mashgiach.”
Engelman said that on the advice of his attorney he could not comment on the allegations or the actions taken by the RCC, and, according to Engelman, his attorney would not take calls from the press either.
Despite the situation, Doheny Market was open for business on Thursday and its front window displayed a new kosher certificate — valid only until April 1.
The name and signature of Rabbi Meshulom Dov Weiss appear on the certificate, and the rabbi’s son, Rabbi Menachem Weiss, told the Journal that he and his father are working with Engelman to ensure that everything sold by Doheny is certified kosher. Weiss said that any opened meat packages had been removed from the store, and that two mashgiachs will now be on site at all times, and seven video cameras were to be installed throughout the premises, allowing the father to monitor the store via the web from his home in North Hollywood.
“We’re not going into it naïve,” Menachem Weiss told the Journal on Thursday. “These are the precautions that we’re putting into place to allow him to stay in business from now until April 1. What happens after that, we’ll have to see.”
The Weisses have acted as supervisors for Doheny before, for about 18 months starting in 2007 or 2008. Menachem Weiss did not remember the exact years, but said that Engelman brought them in after the RCC informed him – along with the rest of the shops they certified – that from then on, all meat sold under RCC kosher supervision had to be not just kosher, but glatt kosher.
For meat to be considered kosher, it must be from the right kind of animal and must be slaughtered and prepared properly. For large animals – not poultry – the animal’s innards must be checked to ensure that there are no signs of disease. If, for instance, a cow has a hole in its lung, the animal is not considered kosher by any standard.
But to be kosher under the higher “glatt” standard – the word means “smooth” in Yiddish – the animal’s lungs must have no signs of ever having had any ulcers. If the ulcers have healed, the meat is considered kosher – but not glatt kosher.
When the RCC began to insist upon the higher standard, it brought with it higher prices. Engelman, Weiss said, initially decided to drop the RCC’s certification and to continue selling kosher meat that did not meet the glatt standard under the Weisses’ supervision.
However without the RCC certification, Weiss said, Doheny’s business suffered, and Engelman decided to adhere to the glatt standard and return to the RCC.
“Our intent is not to replace the RCC,” Menachem Weiss said. “Our hope is that the RCC will take Mike back; we’re trying to help Mike earn back the trust of the community.”
Whether that’s possible remains to be seen, but it may not only be Doheny that needs to win back the trust of kosher consumers in Los Angeles. The RCC’s reputation may have sustained some damage as well.
“I have no clue who to trust anymore,” said another woman shopping at Pico Glatt Mart on Thursday said, asking to be identified only as Friede. “I don’t trust RCC.”
Suspicions about Doheny Meats practices were brought to the RCC's attention repeatedly over the last three years, according to Daryl Schwarz, the owner of the now-closed Kosher Club.
Schwartz also said that, as early as 2010, he reported seeing the empty boxes, fraudulent labels and fraudulent tape to Rabbi Nissim Davidi, the RCC’s kashrut administrator.
“It was numerous times over the years,” Schwartz said.
The RCC did not respond to requests for comment on this story; the agency said Thursday that it would release a statement on Friday, March 29.
Told that some customers were worried that the certification of other markets might also come into question, Muskin, who served as president of the RCC from 1992 to 1997, said that such broad skepticism is not appropriate.
“The rabbis have to review the entire process of the supervision, and what fell apart, and how this happened, that’s clear,” Muskin said. “But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a man did something that he should not have done. He still tried to beat the system.”
“If there’s anger and disgust,” Muskin added, “it has to be at the owner of Doheny Kosher.”
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An online petition in support of jailed kosher meat executive Sholom Rubashkin garnered 10 times its anticipated goal of 5,000 signatures.
The petition, which calls on President Obama to order an investigation into judicial misconduct in Rubashkin’s financial fraud trial, garnered 51,605 signatures.
Created Sept. 22 by the Justice for Sholom organization, the petition was posted on the White House’s We the People website, which was launched by the Obama administration to encourage public participation in government. Its goal was 5,000 signatures by Oct. 22.
On Sept. 26, an appeals court in St. Louis turned down a motion for a new trial for the former executive of Agriprocessers, once the nation’s largest kosher meat plant. The court ruled that the presiding judge in the original case, Linda Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, did not have to recuse herself because she was involved in planning the May 2008 federal immigration raid on the Agriprocessors plant, which led to the company’s bankruptcy later that year.
Rubashkin was convicted of financial fraud in 2009 and sentenced to 27 years in prison, two more years than requested by prosecutors. He is serving his sentence in New York State.
Several dozen members of Congress and a few U.S. attorneys general had written in favor of leniency in Rubashkin’s sentencing. In the federal raid on the plant, 389 illegal immigrants were arrested, including 31 minors.
The petition calls on Obama to “To take prompt and effective steps to correct the gross injustice that has been perpetrated with the federal prosecution of Sholom Rubashkin.”
Former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was denied a new trial by a U.S. appeals court. The St. Louis Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 16 that Rubashkin did not prove in his bid for a new trial that the presiding judge in the original case, Linda Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, should have recused herself because she was involved in planning the May 2008 federal immigration raid on Agriprocessors that led to the company’s bankruptcy later that year.
Rubashkin, the former head of what once was the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and packing plant, located in Postville, Iowa, was convicted of financial fraud in 2009 and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Rubashkin is in a federal prison in New York state. In the federal raid on the plant, 389 illegal immigrants were arrested, including 31 children. The appeals court also disagreed with Rubashkin’s contention that the sentence was too long. A Rubashkin attorney told the Des Moines Register that his client would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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European Parliament bill would require kosher meat labeling
A European Parliament committee has approved a bill that would require meat that was not stunned before slaughter to be labeled as such.
The amendment to the new European Union food labeling bill passed the Environmental and Consumer Affairs Committee by a vote of 34 to 28. The meat would be labeled “unstunned before slaughter.”
The food information bill will come before the entire European Parliament for a second reading and vote in July. The stunning amendment was previously rejected by the parliament on the bill’s first reading in December 2010.
Animals being slaughtered for kosher consumption cannot be pre-stunned, which goes against the laws of shechita, or kosher slaughter. The process is similar for some Muslim Halal meat. In non-kosher slaughterhouses, cattle are made unconscious, often by electric shock.
The organization Shechita UK lobbied European Parliament ministers to vote against the amendment and vow to continue. The organization claims that the price of kosher meat could skyrocket because the non-kosher market, which purchases 70 percent of kosher meat, might stop buying it because of the labeling.
“The fight to stop this amendment is far from over,” insisted Henry Grunwald of Shechita UK. “In recent months we have highlighted to a number of MEPs that this amendment does nothing to improve animal welfare, fails to fully inform consumers and is clearly discriminatory by design, and most have now chosen to reject it. We have received widespread support from many of the Parliamentary Groups and we will be working hard between now and July to give more MEPs a better understanding of the underlying issues.”
Shechita UK said in a statement that it would coordinate its activities with the European Jewish Congress.
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A former supervisor of the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Iowa was arrested in Israel.
Hosam Amara, 46, was indicted in 2009 on federal charges of fraud and immigration abuses. He is accused of some of the worst worker abuses at the now defunct plant in Postville, according to the Des Moines Register. In 2008, the plant was the site of what at the time was the largest immigration enforcement action in American history.
Extradition proceedings against Amara will begin in Israel on May 2, according to the newspaper.
Amara, who was arrested March 31 and remains jailed, is charged with one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for profit; 24 counts of harboring and aiding and abetting the harboring of undocumented aliens for profit; one count of conspiracy to commit document fraud; and one count of aiding and abetting document fraud.
He faces up to 260 years in prison and $6.75 million in fines if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was convicted in 2009 on 86 counts of fraud related to his management of the plant and later sentenced to 27 years in federal prison. He remains in prison while his case is under appeal.
Members of the Rubashkin family, who operated the now-defunct Agriprocessers kosher meatpacking plant, must pay a total of more than $2 million after defaulting on loans.
A federal judge ordered Dec. 16 that Abraham Aaron Rubashkin and sons Sholom and Tzvi must pay the money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Value Recovery Group. The latter was owed more than $1.6 million in unpaid rent, according to court records, The Associated Press reported. The judgment also includes interest and litigation costs.
Agriprocessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin was sentenced last June to 27 years in federal prison after being convicted in November 2009 on 86 counts of fraud in connection with the Agriprocessors plant.
In a federal raid on the plant in May 2008, 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children, were arrested.
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The case against New Zealand’s ban on kosher animal slaughter will be heard in the High Court in Wellington later this month.
New Zealand Jewish Council President Stephen Goodman said the case on Nov. 29 would be watched closely around the Jewish world.
“We believe that this is, or will be interpreted as, a worldwide test case,” he said. “The animal rights lobby will be applying pressure to governments around the world. We have heard rumors of the issue being raised in France, Ireland and even Australia.
“Denying us a fundamental tenant of our religion is a direct challenge to our existence. It is unintentional anti-Semitism,” Goodman said.
Goodman issued a plea to Jewish communities worldwide to assist financially in arguing for shechitah, or kosher slaughter. The cost of the case is estimated at $123,000, but less than half that has been raised, he said. The community, which numbers less than 7,000 Jews, has set up a Facebook page and a PayPal account to encourage support. “We have a very good case and a high probability of winning,” Goodman said.
In May, Agriculture Minister David Carter rejected a recommendation that shechitah be exempt from the new animal welfare code, which mandates that all commercially slaughtered animals must first be stunned, thus rendering kosher slaughtering illegal. The community filed legal action in August after negotiations with Carter broke down.
The case pits the Jewish community against the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Key, whose mother, Ruth Lazar, was a Jewish refugee who escaped Austria on the eve of the Holocaust.
Shechitah has been carried out in New Zealand since 1843.
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Rubashkin son arrested, Agriprocessors fined $10 million in kosher slaughterhouse probe
POSTVILLE, IOWA (JTA) — The former manager of Agriprocessors was arrested today on charges related to the hiring of illegal workers.
Sholom Rubashkin, 49, was arrested by immigration officials and was due to appear in federal court later today.
Documents filed with the court allege that Rubashkin conspired to harbor illegal immigrants at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. They further charge that he aided and abetted in the use of fake identification documents and identity theft.
Rubashkin is the highest-ranking Agriprocessors official to face criminal charges stemming from the May 12 federal immigration raid at the company’s Postville meatpacking plant. More than one-third of the company’s workforce was arrested.
According to the criminal complaint filed Thursday, Rubashkin provided funds that were used to purchase new identification for workers at Agriprocessors who were found to have bad papers. The complaint further alleges that Rubashkin asked a human resources officer to come in on a Sunday to process the new employment applications of several such workers.
Company representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Nathan Lewin, an attorney who represents Rubashkin’s father and the company owner Aaron Rubashkin, dismissed the arrest as unnecessary and motivated by federal law enforcement’s desire for good publicity.
“The arrest of Mr. Sholom Rubashkin today was a wholly unnecessary and gratuitous act by federal prosecutors apparently engaged in an unseemly competition with State of Iowa officials to capture headlines in a vendetta against Agriprocessors,” Lewin said.
Rubashkin’s arrest comes a day after Iowa Workforce Development announced it would levy nearly $10 million in fines against the company for alleged labor infractions.
In response to the action by the state labor agency, Agriprocessors CEO Bernard Feldman told The New York Times that he had “grave doubts as to the appropriateness of the claimed violations, and we also take issue with the intended sanction imposed per claim.”
Iowa Workforce Development, the state’s labor regulation agency, levied $9,988,200 in civil penalties against the kosher meat producer in Postville for four categories of infraction. The largest is for charging employees for frocks — the regulation agency claims the company is guilty of more than 90,000 such incidents, assessed at $100 per infraction.
“Once again, Agriprocessors has demonstrated a complete disregard for Iowa law,” said Dave Neil, the state’s labor commissioner. “This continued course of violations is a black mark on Iowa’s business community.”
According to Iowa Workforce Development, the company has 30 days to contest the penalties in writing before they become finalized. The department has an additional wage investigation under way that could lead to further penalties. The fines are the latest challenge to Agriprocessors, once the nation’s largest producer of kosher meat before a massive federal immigration raid on May 12 resulted in the arrest of more than one-third of its workforce.
With its reputation taking a drubbing and concerns mounting that the company could lose its kosher certification, Agriprocessors hired a compliance officer and installed a new chief executive.
Company representatives did not immediately respond to JTA’s request for comment.
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NEW YORK (JTA) — Agriprocessors has named a New York attorney as its new chief executive officer.
The hiring of Bernard Feldman of Long Island as the kosher meat producer’s new chief executive keeps the company in the good graces of the Orthodox Union, which said last week it would withdraw its kosher supervision if new management wasn’t hired within two weeks.
During an interview on Sept. 18 with JTA, Feldman said he had no experience in the meat industry, but was qualified for the position due to his “extensive experience in reorganizations and assisting companies who are experiencing financial difficulties.”
Feldman said he would spend “a major part” of his time at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, which was the site of a massive federal immigration raid on May 12, but would retain his New York residency.
“I believe that Agriprocessors serves a vital function to the Orthodox community and others who are in need of acquiring glatt kosher food,” Feldman said, explaining why he had decided to take the position.
The threat by the Orthodox Union (OU), the best known of the agencies providing kosher certification to Agriprocessors, came after a criminal complaint was filed against five company officials on more than 9,000 counts of child labor violations. Among those named was owner Aaron Rubashkin and his son Sholom, the former manager of the Postville plant.
On Thursday, two of the five individuals named in the complaint — both employees in the company’s human resources department — were indicted in U.S. District Court. Both face jail time if convicted.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU’s head of kosher supervision, said he had met with Feldman and was pleased with the decision, calling it “credible and wise.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation,” Genack said, “but we’re pleased by the turn of events.”
Feldman enumerated several goals he intends to pursue, including restoring Agriprocessors to “prominence,” ensuring good record keeping, complying with government regulations and resupplying the company with “qualified productive employees.” Feldman said he would stay “on board” as long as it takes to achieve those goals.
I was relieved to learn that Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of Chabad of Yorba Linda found that the working conditions and safety benefits at the Agriprocessors plant were “above par” (“Eating Bambi,” Aug. 8).
Has he done a comprehensive survey of meatpacking plants in the United States in order to come to this conclusion? Has he personally worked the line at a number of these plants, preferably during a speedup? Does he have firsthand knowledge of the working conditions at Agriprocessors before the raid?
Does he consider the preraid working conditions par or below par? Is it possible that we have an unacknowledged Upton Sinclair working a pulpit within our community?
Bill Friedman Studio City
Sell It, Sam
As you point out in “Sell It, Sam” by Rob Eshman and “Troubling Times” by Gina Nahai (Aug. 1), the Los Angeles Times is not doing well. But its problems have been ongoing for a long time — and were compounded when it cut out the local news coverage several years ago.
It goes back many years, when it was perceived guilty of biased reporting, perhaps even yellow journalism, and certainly a lack of objectivity and fairness, especially when the State of Israel was involved. Its headlines reflected personal bias.
Also, its use of statistical data was highly questionable — perhaps skewed to reflect a personal value or viewpoint, rather than the facts. Its editorial page lost vitality and has become increasingly bland.
That’s my perception, and apparently, many other readers see it the same way.
The L.A. Times’ problems were there long before Sam Zell acquired it. His challenge: Can he remake it to better serve its customers, the people living in the Los Angeles area?
He does have a few good writers and other assets. That’s a start. A major city deserves a major newspaper.
George Epstein via e-mail
In response to the article about our temple (“Synagogue Files for Bankruptcy Protection,” Aug. 1), we are pleased to share with the community that our synagogue, Temple Beth Haverim of Agoura Hills, has much good news.
Our early childhood center has the largest enrollment in our five-year history for the 2008-2009 year. We have the largest membership enrollment at this point in the summer for the new year in our temple’s history. This past year, we had over 400 families enrolled in our synagogue.
Our Men’s Club has received recognition as a “quality club” from the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, and our chapter has also received the chaverim award for best overall programming from the Western Region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.
We offer free tuition kindergarten through second gradein our award-winning religious school under the direction of Nili Ziv. We offer three years’ membership for the price of two in our temple.
We invite all to join us at our next open house brunch on Sunday, Aug. 17, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. We invite all to join us for the High Holy Days at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
We are proud to be celebrating our 25th silver anniversary. We are working hard to turn our silver anniversary into a gold one.
We are a hard-working group of devoted families at Temple Beth Haverim. Thank you all for your support.
The Aug. 1 article in The Jewish Journal on the anti-Holocaust hero Peter Bergson is in the last act of our great tragedy (“‘Forgotten Hero’ Bergson Gets His Due Times Two“). The first act starred our greatest post-biblical hero who came closest to preventing the Holocaust.
In 1903, Theodor Herzl responded to the Kishinev pogrom by traveling to Russia to press the pogrom’s architect, Von Phleve, for relief. Herzl later reported to the Sixth Zionist Congress that he had received written permission from the czar to allow the Jews to emigrate.
Heartbreakingly, this followed the announcement by the British and Egyptian governments that Herzl’s El Arish project to explore the feasibility of a territorial concession in Palestine had failed. This played a major role in Herzl’s untimely death at age 44.
Isn’t it time that every Jewish child take at least one course in Herzl? If he isn’t the modern father of the Jewish People, who is? For without Herzl’s many contributions, the Holocaust would have excluded any chance of a Jewish state in Israel.
Charles S. Berdiansky Los Angeles
Broken Political Heart
The majority of American Jews still vote — incredibly it would seem — Democratic, despite the numerous and chronic letdowns, disappointments and ineptitude of that party’s leadership in the last two decades or so.
I came across Marty Kaplan’s article (“On Having Your (Political) Heart Broken,” Aug. 1) in The Journal, and this sentence leaped out at me: “His [Obama’s] recent political shifts, while disconcerting, I have chalked up to a misguided effort to chase voters who will never be for him anyway.”
Doesn’t that statement give people cause to be puzzled if not scared?
Kaplan is letting us all know that he believes Obama’s waffling on immensely important issues should be glossed over as a simple effort to win the White House and tell voters what they want to hear.
Remember again he is a Jew and an educated one at that, someone who should be thinking our next president shouldn’t be thought of as shifting positions just to win a contest, the highest position in the free world, at that.
Kaplan is disconcerted about policy shifts of the Democratic contender? Let’s go for a stronger word we all should be feeling — scared as heck this novice will actually be the person dealing with Jewish enemies.
The last type of politician we should, as Jews, want is someone who shifts positions, waffles and goes whichever way he feels his audience will pressure him least.
Most of the anti-Semitic mail I get these days doesn’t concern Israel, Hollywood or even the threat of a nuclear war in the Middle East — it’s about meat.
The largest supplier of kosher meat in America, Agriprocessors Inc., has been the subject of ongoing public investigation and criticism for two years now.
An undercover investigation in the Forward newspaper first revealed inhumane treatment of cows at the company, located in Postville, Iowa.
A further investigation brought charges of exploitative labor practices.
Then, on the morning of May 12, 2008, in what officials called, “the largest single-site operation of its kind in American history,” 900 agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement executed a raid of Agriprocessors.
They rounded up hundreds of illegal immigrants, who comprised some 75 percent of the company’s workforce.
A subsequent story by New York Times reporter Julia Preston found that 20 of the employees were underage, some as young as 13.
The article reported on several sickening incidences, including one, documented by an company report, in which a worker holding a knife was kicked by a rabbi, cut himself, was sent for stitches, then ordered back on the line.
Agriprocessors has refuted, fought or attempted to make right on these charges. The company brought in animal expert Dr. Temple Grandin to advise on raising the company’s animal treatment standards.
Agriprocessors owner Aaron Rubashkin denied he has engaged in unethical labor practices and blamed the failure of U.S. immigration policy.
“Everything is a lie,” Rubashkin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The company has taken out full-page ads in the Jewish press, including this paper, offering a point-by-point rebuttal of the charges.
Last week, it hosted a group of 25 Orthodox rabbis from the United States and Canada on a one-day visit to the plant.
“It’s a different picture than what’s been portrayed,” Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of Chabad of Yorba Linda told me. “We roamed the plant for hours, talked to anybody we wanted to. The working conditions, the safety benefits, I found them above par. It’s not the reality the unions are telling.”
The trip may have served to calm concerns among some kosher consumers, but judging by my mail, the damage is far more widespread.
Bambi trailer (1942)
“What will The JEWS Think of Next?!?!?” read a letter I received this week. Inside, the author had considerately attached a folded copy of Preston’s New York Times article.
Of course, the image of bearded, black-hatted rabbis abusing farm animals and poor Guatemalan workers is red meat to the scattered anti-Semites out there, but this isn’t a problem of anti-Semitism.
Kashrut is a legal system rooted in morality, and the problems at Agriprocessors occurred because we chose to look away from the messy business of killing animals for food.
Now, like the rest of America, we are looking. There is great unease with our food supply and our factory farm system, a system created by market forces that places profit and efficiency above sustainability, kindness and flavor. The Jews, to our discredit, have simply followed the market’s lead — it’s called Agriprocessors, after all, not Moishe’s Kindly Kosher Cow Farm.
But just as Americans in general are taking control of their food supply — “locavore” was the Oxford American Dictionary’s 2007 Word of the Year — there is a broad consensus that the kosher “brand” should stand for something more than the most narrow and utilitarian interpretation of kosher practice. We can’t blame the system without changing our personal behavior.
That’s why another common e-mail I get these days is also about meat — about whether there is a source in Los Angeles for kosher, organic, humanely raised and slaughtered meat.
My search led me to Musicon Farms, a mail-order source for venison.
That’s right, deer. Kosher Bambi.
Norman Schlaff runs Musicon Farms, the only kosher venison farm in the United States.
Situated on 100 acres in Goshen, in upstate New York, the farm slaughters about 25 deer every six weeks. Customers include high-end restaurants in New York, such as Le Marais and Levana; mail-order customers nationwide, and Tierra Sur, the exceptional Oxnard restaurant headed by chef Todd Aarons.
If you Google Musicon, you’ll find some nasty comments from the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They sent undercover investigators there who took footage of the slaughter, and I gasped watching Bambi’s throat cut — but I didn’t look away.
Schlaff, in a phone interview with me, maintained that his animals are treated with care — they roam freely, and there is music playing to reduce noise level and stress in the loafing barns. They’re raised without steroids and chemical additives and are fed an organic diet of hay, grains and fruit.
Schlaff, a New York native, made his money in sound engineering — his technology is installed in Shea Stadium, at the U.S. Open and on either side of movie house ticket booths around the country. He’s not getting rich selling a few dozen deer for between $5.50 and $30 per pound, plus pricey, specialized shipping.
And he understands slaughtering — kosher or not — isn’t pleasant.
“It takes a day to get it out of your system,” he said.
And so, putting my money where my mouth is, I ordered.
The package arrived overnight from UPS. Inside, beneath several high-tech layers of insulation and packing ice, were 10 pounds of individually wrapped and freshly butchered venison steaks, chops and stew meat.
The next day, I turned the cute deer I’d seen on Musicon’s Web site into cholent.
It was delicious, and morally challenging, and discomfiting — but I didn’t look away.
Summer Venison Cholent
This makes a lighter, more broth-y cholent that is perfect for warm summer days. If you don’t have any dead deer handy, you can substitute beef, or for a vegetarian version add 1 cup pearl barley.
2 medium onions, peeled and cut in quarters 6 cloves garlic, peeled 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed 2 bay leaves 1 cup dried white beans, rinsed very well 8 sundried tomatoes 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in 1 inch chunks 1 stalk celery and leaves, cut in1 inch slices 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut in1 inch chunks 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in1 inch chunks 1/4 cup olive oil 6 eggs, washed very well 1 1/2 pounds venison stew meat 1/4 cup brandy or cognac (optional) 1 t. sweet paprika venison bones salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Choose a large dutch oven or casserole pan with a tight fitting lid, the kind you can use on the stove and in the oven.
Heat the olive oil until hot, add the stew meat and bones and quickly brown on all sides.
Remove the meat and bones. Add the onion, garlic and paprika and brown for 5 minutes. Deglaze the pot with brandy or cognac (or, if you prefer, skip this step).
Add all the other ingredients, including the meat and bones, placing the eggs on top carefully.
Add water 3/4 of the way to the top. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Cover the pot with the lid and place in the oven for 6 hours or overnight.
To serve, carefully remove the lid, give each person a whole egg, some meat and vegetables and plenty of broth. And say a little blessing for the deer.
The Iowa Labor Commissioner’s Office has sent dozens of alleged violations against Agriprocessors to the state attorney general for prosecution.
In its months-long investigation, the labor commissioner’s office found 57 cases of alleged child labor violations by the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, according to a news release from the Iowa Workforce Development. Each case includes multiple violations.
“The investigation brings to light egregious violations of virtually every aspect of Iowa’s child labor laws,” said Dave Neil, the state’s labor commissioner. “It is my recommendation that the Attorney General’s Office prosecute these violations to the fullest extent of the law.”
Allegations against the Agriprocessors’ plant in Postville, Iowa, include minors working in prohibited occupations, failing to obtain work permits, exceeding the allowable hours, exposing employees to hazardous chemicals and working with prohibited tools, according to Neil.
Under Iowa law, each day a violation continues constitutes a separate offense.
Agriprocessors released a statement Tuesday saying it was “at a loss to understand” the labor commissioner’s referral. It noted that the company cooperated with the investigation and claimed the government denied requests to identify underage workers so they could be terminated.
“The government’s press release does not state that the company knowingly hired underage workers,” the statement said. “The company asks the public to keep an open mind and wait for the evidence before making any judgments about these, or any other, allegations.”
Agriprocessors has been struggling to restore its production capacity and revive its public image since May 12, when a federal immigration raid on the plant netted 389 illegal workers. Claims that underage workers were employed at the plant were among a host of allegations that emerged in the raid’s aftermath.
Conservatives release guidelines for ethical kashrut certification
Agriprocessors raid fallout continues: Jewish liberals plan rally in Postville
NEW YORK (JTA)—An interfaith coalition is planning to demonstrate next week in Postville, Iowa, in support of justice for workers and comprehensive immigration reform.
Spearheaded by Jewish Community Action, a Minnesota social justice group, the rally comes in response to allegations of worker mistreatment at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher meat producer in the United States.
The rally, scheduled for July 27, will follow by one day a visit to Postville by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The group, led by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), will meet with the families of plant workers, as well as community organizers and local religious leaders.
“An immigration system that is predicated on fear tactics and piecemeal, deportation-only policies profoundly worsens our immigration crisis by creating broken homes and tearing the fabric of our society,” Gutierrez said. “It is my sincere hope that in bringing the stories of the parents, children and workers of Postville back to Congress, our lawmakers will see the very real consequences of punitive actions in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform.”
Both the congressional visit and the rally promise to keep the spotlight on Agriprocessors, whose Postville facility was the target of a massive immigration raid May 12.
In the wake of the raid, the plant’s workers claimed they were underpaid and made to suffer an atmosphere of rampant sexual harassment, among other allegations. Company officials have denied the charges.
Among the groups supporting the rally are the Chicago-based Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Jewish Labor Committee and Workmen’s Circle. Funds for transportation were provided by Mazon, a Jewish hunger relief group.
“There are two targets here,” Jane Ramsey, the executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, told JTA. “One is a message to the government for comprehensive immigration reform on the one hand, and secondly to Agriprocessors for the permanent implementation of livable wages, health-care benefits and worker safety.”
The plant’s purchase in 1987 by the Brooklyn butcher Aaron Rubashkin injected a much-needed dose of economic vitality into Postville, which was a struggling farm community. With a workforce of approximately 1,000, Agriprocessors was said to be the largest employer in northern Iowa.
The arrest of nearly half its employees in the raid has significantly cut the plant’s production.
Agriprocessors is hardly alone. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, 4,940 workplace arrests were made in the 2007 fiscal year, up from 510 in 2002. As of May, the agency has made 3,750 arrests this year.
Critics say such arrests are devastating to workers and their families and can have crippling effects on communities. Jewish Community Action raised $10,000 for Postville familes, according to its executive director, Vic Rosenthal. Jewish Council on Urban Affairs has delivered another $5,000.
“We think that this was a very poorly conceived action by ICE that hurt people and didn’t bring any further safety to you and me,” Ramsey said. “Who did this help? They swept into a little town of 2,500 that has now been devastated, that has a just-opened playground and now there are no children for that playground.”
Steven Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Study and a leading critic of the mainstream Jewish position on immigration, says such stories are sad on a human level but are not a basis for making policy.
“I can’t get bleary-eyed about these people,” Steinlight said. “They’re here in violation of federal immigration law. You don’t know if these people are from Mexico or from al-Qaida. They have engaged in identity theft. They have engaged in felonies. These are not minor issues. I don’t consider the violation of America’s sovereignty to be a minor issue.”
While Steinlight defends the raid as a legitimate exercise in law enforcement, he shares the sense of outrage over allegations of worker mistreatment even as he opposes the call for a path to legalization for Postville workers.
“The reason they’re hired is because they are exploitable,” Steinlight said. “And if they were legalized, they wouldn’t be any better off.”
Chaim Abrahams, an Agriprocessors representative, said the company is commited to abiding by all state and federal laws.
“Mr. Steinlight has apparently joined the chorus of those who accept the allegations and several newspaper accounts as fact,” Abrahams said. “Agriprocessors will have no further comment on those allegations, as they are part of an ongoing investigation. It merely urges all fair-minded people to reserve judgment until this investigation process has run its course.”
The demonstration is scheduled to begin with an interfaith service at St. Bridget’s, the Catholic church that has taken the lead in providing relief to immigrant families. It will be followed by a march through town to the plant and then back to the church for a rally. Organizers expect about 1,000 people to attend.
“We think that Jews as consumers of kosher food need to understand the importance of who is producing the food and how they get treated, how they get paid,” Rosenthal said. “We really want to energize the Jewish community to think much more clearly about the role they play as consumers.”
NEW YORK (JTA) — Jacqueline Lankry doesn’t know how she’s going to fill her orders.
Owner of her own kosher catering firm in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Lankry orders a box a week of meat and poultry from Agriprocessors, which runs the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, where production has slowed to a crawl since a federal immigration raid last month at the Postville, Iowa plant.
Lankry learned on Wednesday that this week’s box isn’t coming. “They told me they have no merchandise,” she told JTA. “I’m closed for business today. I’m going from store to store, looking for meat to fill my orders.”
Instead of buying wholesale chopped meat for $2.19/lb., she’s dishing out $6.99 to buy it retail. That’s going to hurt her bottom line in a big way. But she’s stuck, she says. There are no other kosher meat suppliers in town — everything comes from Agriprocessors, which she and other caterers refer to as “Rubashkin’s,” after the family that owns it.
She doesn’t know about the raid, she said. She doesn’t know about problems with the workers, or PETA’s allegations of inhumane slaughter methods. She just knows that if Agriprocessors shuts down, she and a lot of other people will be out of business.
“We don’t have a choice,” she explains.
The 400 undocumented workers arrested in the May 12 raid, and their families, are living in limbo, out of work and facing deportation. But now the fall-out is beginning to extend beyond those most directly impacted. This week, the production slow-down at the Postville plant finally hit the nation’s kosher markets and, by extension, kosher consumers. Retailers from coast to coast report trouble getting orders filled, and many report price hikes, although they’re generally vague about whether those increases are coming from Agriprocessors or competing suppliers.
Bottom line is, there is less kosher meat, and it’s costing more.
Some retailers aren’t even bothering to try ordering from Agriprocessors, which has scrambled in recent weeks to bolster its depleted workforce.
Klara Gottesman, manager of the meat department at Kosher Marketplace in Manhattan, stopped ordering a week ago. “I know they don’t have stuff, so I can’t rely on him,” she explains. “I can’t close the business and wait until Rubashkin brings it to me.”
She’s looking for other meat sources now.
Mordechai Yitzhaky, owner of Kosher Mart in Rockville, Md., says his meat supply is down 80 percent. He hasn’t seen any price hike yet, but he expects it if production doesn’t get back to normal soon. He won’t pass on the increase to his cutomers, however.
“Kosher meat is already more expensive,” he says. “We don’t want people to stop keeping kosher.”
Albert Zadeh, owner of Pico Glatt in Pico-Robertson, buys all his meat and poultry from Agriprocessors, which sells its products under various labels that include Aaron’s Best, Rubashkin’s, Shor Habor, Iowa’s Best Beef and Supreme Kosher. He’s seen a sharp decline in supply. “If you order ten boxes of beef shank, you only get four,” he says.
There’s also less poultry, and it arrives more haphazardly. “They used to send chicken legs, cut up. Now they give you whole chickens, all sizes, whatever they have,” he says.
His customers “understand the situation,” he says, and are making due with less. Prices have gone up “a few cents,” he says, but for now, he’s absorbing the difference and charging his customers the same.
Dov Bauman, owner of Glatt Mart in Brooklyn, says his fresh poultry supply from Agriprocessors is down, and he, too, is getting whole chickens instead of ready-to-sell parts. “I don’t have the manpower to break it down,” he says. Prices have gone up from three to 15 percent, he says, depending on the item.
But Bauman, like other kosher retailers, doesn’t blame it all on Agriprocessors. Fuel hikes, which increase shipping costs, are affecting meat prices as well, he says.
And in a way, the tighter supply means more people are eager to stock up on kosher meat and poultry now, in case things get worse. “I’m getting more business,” he admits.
Agriprocessors has taken several steps in an effort to boost its image and reassure customers, starting with the removal of the manager of the Postville plant, Sholom Rubashkin, son of the company’s owner and founder. The company also issued a statement Thursday announcing that it had retained Jim Martin, a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, to serve as its outside corporate compliance officer. Martin will begin his efforts immediately.
Martin was quoted as saying that the company would be able to meet the needs of consumers.
“Agriprocessors’ 800 jobs are important to Postville and northern Iowa, along with the observant Jewish community across the country that relies on them for their kosher meat and poultry,” he said. “Agriprocessors can meet the needs of those who depend on the company and operate in compliance with all laws, and I intend to see that happen.”
Marketing consultant Menachem Lubinsky, who represents Agriprocessors, admits there are “shortages in many markets,” particularly outside New York. “Last week there was enough inventory, but it became depleted and people are buying more than usual,” he says.
Prices have gone up “sporadically” he reports. And other kosher suppliers, like Empire Kosher, have stepped up production to try and fill the supply gap.
Part of the problem, he says, is that Agriprocessors dominates the market so heavily, supplying 60 percent of the country’s kosher meat and 40 percent of its chicken. Any slowdown in its production affects the entire system, “and this comes at a time when demand for kosher meat is up,” Lubinsky adds. “They tell me they’re stepping up production, but from what I see, it hasn’t happened yet.”
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 kosher consumers, including several leading rabbis, have signed a petition being circulated by Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice group in New York.
Mounting pressure from Jewish groups and members of Congress has led the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the United States to start searching for a new CEO less than two weeks after federal agents arrested nearly 400 of its employees in a massive immigration raid.
Aaron Rubashkin, the founder of Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, announced May 23 that he intends to find a replacement for his son, Sholom, as company CEO.
The announcement follows statements from three Jewish organizations raising the specter of a boycott, the launch of a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and a call from Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) for an investigation of the company.
“The best course of action for the company, its employees, the local community and our customers is to bring new leadership to Agriprocessors,” the senior Rubashkin said in a statement.
The Brooklyn butcher and Chabad-Lubavitcher, who founded the company in 1987, added, “The company has begun the search for a new permanent chief executive officer. We have engaged a team of industry experts to help us identify and secure a new leader who can help us meet the needs of Agriprocessors today and in the future. We will make more information on the search process available by the end of next week.”
The statement reiterated that “due to pending legal issues,” the company would not respond to specific allegations. They include charges of hiring underage workers, sexual harassment and withholding of overtime pay.
Rubashkin’s move to replace his son comes as Agriprocessors is facing mounting legal problems and boycott threats following the recent raid. The company’s problems have raised fears about a possible shortage of kosher meat and fired up the debate over whether Jewish religious bodies should take a more active role in monitoring the working conditions at kosher factories.
In response to the raid and related allegations about the situation at the plant in Postville, Iowa, the Jewish Labor Committee issued a statement May 23 calling for a boycott of Agriprocessors.
The company sells its kosher meat under various labels, including Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, Rubashkin’s, European Glatt, Supreme Kosher, David’s and Shor Habor.
In its statement, the Jewish Labor Committee asserted that the company had displayed “a clear pattern of employer negligence and even lawlessness,” including the violation of child labor laws and toleration of various forms of worker abuse.
The committee’s statement was followed by a “request” from the Conservative movement’s top bodies that kosher consumers “evaluate whether it is appropriate to buy and eat meat products” from Agriprocessors.
That same day, Uri L’tzedek, a project started by students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school in Manhattan, began circulating a petition asking Agriprocessors to pay its workers at least the federal minimum wage, abide by laws pertaining to workers’ rights and treat employees according to Torah standards.
Organizers say that about 450 people from across the denominational spectrum had signed as of Monday.
“Until these changes are made, we feel compelled to refrain from purchasing or consuming meat produced by your company, and will pressure every establishment with which we do business to cease purchase of your meat,” the petition reads. “Effective June 15, 2008 we will stop patronizing any restaurant that sells your meat.”
Meanwhile, the food workers union has taken out advertisements in major Jewish newspapers detailing the allegations against Agriprocessors. The union, which has waged a legal battle over its still unsuccessful efforts to organize plant workers, also has launched a Web site, EyeOnAgriprocessors.org, to publicize claims against the company.
Last week, in a sign of the controversy’s impact, a supermarket in a heavily Jewish suburb of Philadelphia posted a sign stating that its kosher chicken was produced by Empire, a major poultry competitor.
The store director said that the market was unable to procure chicken from Aaron’s, which it had been selling for three years, and wanted to inform customers of the change.
The May 12 federal raid is said to be the largest of its kind in U.S. history. Of the 389 illegal immigrants apprehended, 297 pleaded guilty within days and were sentenced to short prison terms or probation, to be followed by deportation to their native countries.
Speculation is rife over whether prosecutors are investigating the company itself, especially after one Postville resident with ties to Agriprocessors confirmed last week that he had been summoned to appear before a grand jury.
A spokesman for the local U.S. Attorney’s Office would not comment on the matter.
In Washington, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing May 20 on the raid, focusing mainly on its impact on the children of detained workers. But members of Congress also have expressed concern that the raids targeted illegal workers while letting their employers off the hook.
Braley, who represents the northeast Iowa area where the plant is located, has called for an investigation of the company.
Within the Jewish world, the loudest reactions have come from the Conservative movement and the liberal edge of Orthodoxy. Interviews with some of Postville’s Chabad residents and other observers suggest that the ultra-Orthodox, or Charedi community, is taking the flood of accusations against Agriprocessors with more than a grain of salt.
“The problem is, there’s a mind-set that you have to give the person the benefit of the doubt,” said Binyomin Jolkovsky, the editor of Jewish World Review and a longtime observer of Charedi Jewry. “But when 12 government agencies come in and do a sting operation, and after something that was so detailed, you got to wonder.”
In the Charedi community, Jolkovsky said, the sentiment tends to be much more focused on the bottom line for the consumer.
“They’re paying people $5 an hour labor, how come I’m paying $7 a pound for steak?’ That’s what they were saying,” he said.
Some Jewish Postville residents refused to even consider some of the government’s allegations, such as that methamphetamine was being produced at the plant or that the company was shorting its workers. In the days after the raid, several said that the affair was the product of an anti-Orthodox, if not anti-Semitic, agenda.
MUSIC VIDEO: Beyond the Pale in ‘The Jamaican-Jewish Wedding’
One day last month, my husband returned from Trader Joe’s carrying a large slab of brisket.
“I invited our neighbors for dinner,” he announced, “and they’re kosher.” I can cook, but my only attempt at a nice bubbie-style brisket took two days and was a memorable disaster. I’m sure it was digestible, it just wasn’t chewable. I have suffered brisket-phobia ever since.
I had about five hours to get something suitably special on the table. So, I abandoned all my brisket preconceptions, took a deep breath and thought, “Do what you love, do what you know.”
The result was extraordinary.
What I know is how to combine the cooking techniques of my family–Swedish (non-Jewish) Americans given to light but hearty flavors — with all the Mediterranean flavors that have become part of any serious California cook’s repertoire: olives, olive oil, fennel and preserved lemons.
Preserved lemons and brisket? Yes, those salty tart gems are crucial to this dish. I use homemade, but you’ll need three to four weeks advanced preparation for my recipe (Paula Wolfert offers a one-week version in her book, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco”). You can also buy preserved lemons at specialty Middle Eastern markets and at Surfas in Culver City.
Couscous and a little green salad with oranges are all you’ll need to complete the meal. For our dessert, I stuffed halved nectarines with a mixture of crumbled store-bought amaretti cookies, chopped almonds and honey.
The honey makes this an ideal Rosh Hashanah meal. And the amaretti cookies were, of course, kosher and pareve. Amazing how fast a Swedish American can catch on to these things.
Brisket with Fennel and Olives
1 3-pound brisket (I use a point cut)
2 large fennel bulbs, cored, trimmed and very thinly sliced. Include any nice fronds.
1 very large Vidalia, Walla Walla or other sweet onion, sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1 cup mixed green and black olives (Greek, kalamata, etc.)
3 preserved lemons, diced, and a couple tablespoons of their juice
1/2 cup water or a mixture of water and dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Chopped Italian parsley
Choose your heaviest dutch oven, or use enameled cast iron. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. On the stovetop, bring the pan to a medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and brown the brisket on both sides, not more than five to seven minutes in total. Remove the meat, and toss the fennel and onions in the pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Put the lid on and let them sweat a little. When the vegetables soften, stir in half the olives and one of the diced lemons. Nestle the meat in the mixture and add the 1/2 cup of liquid. Cover tightly, and bake for three to three and a half hours. Add the rest of the lemons, their juice and the olives, return to oven 30 minutes or so.
When ready to serve, remove meat and slice across the grain. Serve on a pla
tter surrounded with the vegetables and drizzle the pan juices over all. Garnish with chopped parsley.
Lemons to preserve, as thin skinned as possible
Additional lemons for juice
Cut the lemons in quarters from the tip to the stem end without cutting all the way through. Pack the quarters with salt, rubbing it in and close them back up. Place tightly together in a crock or wide mouthed glass jar. Cover with fresh lemon juice and seal tightly, leaving it in a cool dry place for 3-4 weeks. Check every few days to be sure the lemon juice still covers the lemons completely, and top it off if you need to. When ready, remove anything objectionable from the top of the lemon juice and refrigerate.
Stuffed Nectarines a la Chez Panisse
4 ripe nectarines
1 cup pareve amaretti cookies, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped almonds
3 tablespoon (approx.) honey.
Kosher dessert wine (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan with cooking parchment or lightly oil.
Halve nectarines and remove pits. Mix almonds and amaretti cookies together, add honey to moisten mixture. Stuff into cavity of each nectarine, place in pan and drizzle with a little dessert wine, if desired.
Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or so, then slip the fruits out of their skins before serving. These are good warm or cold.
In September 2003, Whole Foods quietly removed one brand of kosher chicken from its shelves and replaced it with a different brand.
The switch received little notice — outside of a Jewish Journal article — but it caught my eye. A representative for Whole Foods claimed the previous chicken brand didn’t meet the chain’s standard; its feed was not organic, and the chickens weren’t raised and slaughtered in the most humane way possible.
Up until then I’d assumed that kosher meant, well, kosher. It surprised me that a company well-known for its concern for animal well-being and food safety would deem anything kosher treif, or unfit. Long before Whole Foods was even a glimmer in the eye of the Prius-tocracy, hadn’t we Jews been telling ourselves and others that we were practicing humane slaughter and thoughtful animal husbandry — embodied in the very laws of kashrut? What did Whole Foods know that I didn’t?
It turns out Whole Foods was on to something seriously wrong with the kosher food industry, and the industry is due for a change.
I grew up eating meat of all kinds. One afternoon during my sophomore year at college, I found myself on an idyllic Maine isle, plunging a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. By dusk I was a vegetarian, and I stayed that way for the next 14 years. I wasn’t squeamish: I’d fished my whole life, and even hunted. As a cook in various restaurants, I’d gutted shoals of fish, whacked through sides of beef and deconstructed flocks of poultry. But at that moment I figured, if I could survive without taking another life, so much the better.
Then I met my wife, Naomi Levy, rabbi and carnivore.
I loved the woman very much, so I had to come to terms with two of her seemingly contradictory traits: She loved meat, and she didn’t cook. I still love her; she still loves meat, and she still doesn’t cook.
The thought of cooking two entrees a night for the rest of our lives didn’t appeal to me. I compromised and began eating fish. Then came the first of many Friday night meals together. I put a piece of grilled salmon on the Sabbath table, and Naomi put on her best game face: What’s Sabbath without roasted chicken? So I started eating chicken. And then came her pregnancies, when she expressed numerous times that a) she would kill for a big juicy grilled steak and b) she was carrying our baby.
So there was the occasional steak.
All along, I rationalized the meat on our table by its kosher pedigree. In my mind, and in the minds of most Jews, the meaning of “kosher” had long swelled beyond its strict Levitical denotation of permitted and forbidden animals and their prescribed method of slaughter. I believed that “kosher” meant a higher concern for cleanliness, for the health and welfare of the animals, for the sanctity of Creation.
And it wasn’t just me. The dictionary definition of “kosher” includes “genuine and legitimate.” If I had to kill to eat, at least the meat was kosher.
But the alarm bell that Whole Food rang was soon followed by a cacophony of criticism and investigation.
In December 2004, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released an undercover video taken at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant, a kosher beef abattoir in Postville, Iowa. The plant supplies kosher beef for the Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin brand. The tape showed practices that were obviously cruel and created a firestorm of criticism and countercharges. The Orthodox Union, which overseas the kashrut of the plant, said the offending practices would be corrected — they have been — and accused PETA of launching an assault on the institution of shechitah (kosher slaughter) itself.
The made-for-media PETA fracas birthed a larger, more thoughtful crossdenominational concern over current kosher slaughter practices. Earlier this year, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the best-selling novel “Everything Is Illuminated” (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) and last year’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (Houghton Mifflin), released a PETA-produced video over the Internet that condemned modern kosher slaughter practices, calling them anathema to the spirit of the kosher laws.
The author’s calm, well-reasoned arguments are buttressed by on-camera interviews with Rabbi David Wolpe of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, the Orthodox founder of CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
The video, titled “If This Is Kosher …,” is available for download at www.HumaneKosher.com. It interweaves Foer’s and the rabbis’ comments with footage from the AgriProccessors plant and from kosher egg and meat suppliers in Israel. In one scene, egg industry workers fill a plastic-lined, 55-gallon garbage can with live male chicks, superfluous to the process. In another shot, the bags are sealed and dumped.
“To be Jewish,” Foer says in the video, “is to strive to make the world less cruel and more just — not only for oneself and not only for one’s people but for everyone. One doesn’t have to consider animals as equal to humans — I don’t — to give them a place in this inspiring idea.”
Wolpe and Greenberg — both vegetarians — signed on to a letter, along with dozens of rabbis, calling on the Orthodox Union to do more to promote humane treatment of animals in the kosher facilities it oversees.
In the midst of these criticisms came the results of another investigation by The Forward newspaper last month charging the Rubashkin factory with unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions and labor intimidation. “AgriProcessors’ final product — sold under the nationally popular Aaron’s Best brand — is priced significantly higher than standard meat,” reporter Nathaniel Popper wrote. “Its kosher seal gives it a seeming moral imprimatur in an industry known for harsh working conditions. But even in the unhappy world of meatpacking, people with comparative knowledge of AgriProcessors and other plants — including local religious leaders, professors, and union organizers — say that AgriProcessors stands out for its poor treatment of workers.”
The manager of the plant, Sholom Rubashkin, denied the charges, but the plant has been subject to half the violations in all Iowa meatpacking plants so far this year, according to The Forward’s analysis of OSHA statistics.
“The bottom line here is that I’m not sure these devout Jews are using Jewish ethics to treat their workers,” one critic said.
I don’t know if Rubashkin is the exception or the rule in an industry that is increasingly concentrated in a few large hands, and whose imprimatur of kashrut comes from a handful of rabbinic authorities.
But I do know my definition of kosher is now much more narrow. In marketing terms, the brand has been tarnished. Kosher is not necessarily clean, or humane, or just. Long synonymous in our hearts and minds with good and pure, kosher is in danger of meaning just one small group’s interpretation of what’s legal.
The purveyors of kosher goods became prey to the same market forces that have undermined the integrity of the entire American food chain. The food industry has fed America’s insatiable appetite by disregarding health concerns and riding roughshod over animal welfare and environmental welfare.
The demand for meat has led to the industrialization of farming, to feedlots holding up to 100,000 cattle, to the rapid and often sloppy dispatch of thousands of animals per day.
Kosher slaughterers piggyback — so to speak — on this industry by sending rabbis into nonkosher slaughterhouses to kill selected animals. Rubashkin itself noted that it slaughtered 18,000 cows in a seven-week period, which it said inevitably leads to error.
Kosher food, which we had always taken to stand apart from and above from the larger culture, has acquiesced to some of the industry’s worst practices.
Strictly speaking, the laws of kashrut do not address issues of responsible, ethical food production and healthful eating.
“The nature of kashrut is thus at once mysterious and obvious,” scholar Meir Soloveichik wrote in a penetrating essay in the journal Azure’s winter issue. “While God does not explain the importance of cud-chewing or leaping, of split hooves or scales, the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.”
The exact meaning of these laws may remain obscure, but they are clearly meant to set us apart and elevate our souls.
For someone who loves both to pet animals and to eat them, the laws of kashrut speak to the tension between our higher and lower impulses, between the hunter Esau and the shepherd Jacob; between the carnivore wife and the conflicted husband.
Perhaps no religion better understands this eternal and inherent contradiction than Judaism. The laws of kashrut help us shuttle between our hungry selves and our compassionate ones, between the sanctity of all God’s creatures and their deliciousness.
If the kosher food industry is interested in retaining the deeper meaning of the label it bestows, its manufacturers and rabbis must figure out how to restore the spirit of kashrut to kashrut. The Jewish teaching of tza’ar ba’alei chayim — forbidding cruelty to animals because they are part of God’s creation — is the obvious place to start.
Kosher certifiers should cooperate with organizations like Animal Compassion Foundation, founded with a grant from Whole Foods, which are in the vanguard of conscientious animal husbandry and slaughter. The kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.
This column is in response to last week’s Torah Portion by Rabbi Zoë Klein, who confessed her secret enjoyment of meat, despite her family’s predominantly vegetarian diet.
To: My Not-So-Flesh-Eating Wife
From: Her Closeted Carnivorous/Publicly Vegetarian Husband
Worry not, my dear, your struggle is safe with me over vegetarianism. I try to be one, but you know the truth of my dilemma, although it is less debilitating for me than it is for you. After 20 years, I think I’m close to being true to myself when I ignore the leftover Shabbos schnitzel from our Hillel caterer.
You see, as you know, I love meat. Love it! Growing up, although it wasn’t kosher, I took extra delight in my mother’s marinated flank steak. She also made great meatballs, and do I ever miss Shake N’ Bake chicken. How fun it was to overcook hotdogs until they blistered on the grill outside, while watching “60 Minutes” on Sunday evenings as a family.
I have absolutely no repulsion toward seeing carcasses; only a sadness that others are troubled by it. Ultimately, “we are like vanity; our days are as a shadow that passes,” as you and I read when we officiate at funerals, so why not accept that the life on the paper plates used in our homes for the kids eating a little meat is temporal? When medical shows present brain surgeries, complete with machines sucking the blood away, I can watch without any angst.
You, on the other hand, must turn the station, and at the site of roadkill, you bristle and say, “God bless it.” Actually, thank you for teaching me to do the same.
“Does it really matter if I don’t turn off the water while I brush my teeth?” one of my environment-conscientious students queried me the other day. Elizabeth had been caught by another conservationist in the throes of committing what some consider a chilul Hashem, desecration of that which was holy. Wasting water is an act of bal tashchit, our tradition’s way of saying that we are stewards of the planet and as such, we have no right to waste or destroy needlessly.
“Industries and big businesses waste far more water every day than people do brushing their teeth and watering their lawns,” she added. “Truth be told, I knew that I should turn off the water faucet, but does it really matter?”
“Maybe the key is to try to turn it off but not feel immense guilt for keeping it on, since it has virtually no effect on the environment,” I offered as a compromise. She seemed content.
As we left this “lunch ‘n’ learn” at USC’s health science campus, I had an epiphany. I wondered whether Elizabeth was channeling Torah from Sinai for me with my struggle to conquer my yetzer hara, the evil impulse toward consuming fleishigs: If I privately eat the Persian kabob leftovers after our weekly Wednesday barbecue, so that no one knows and it has no impact on anyone, might that be the ideal?
My act of civil disobedience — refusing to consume the flesh of once-living, breathing animals — has virtually no effect, perhaps none whatsoever. Agribusiness decides far in advance how many cows to raise and then slaughter without regard to my individual case.
It is almost entirely unlikely that the good folks at Rubashkin’s or some other slaughterhouse would ever take an inventory that would reflect my decision. It seems that being a vegetarian in America is as effective for slowing down meat production as trying to convince our son, Rocky, that muesli tastes better than marshmallows.
However, perhaps eating leftovers is still a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of these animals. Kabbalah teaches that when we eat foods, we elevate the divine sparks within them, so by consuming these leftovers, I am ensuring that these sparks are not wasted. It would be wrong to let the leftovers get dumped, as that would certainly be a violation of the law of bal tashchit.
The purposeful consumption of leftover meats then makes sense. However, if anyone were to find out that I was not a true vegetarian, they might never consider a vegetarian lifestyle. This would betray my values: While I can’t individually change the meat production levels in this society, creating a vegetarian movement would help keep cows jumping over the moon in perpetuity. I’m pretty much convinced that had my sister, Sylvia, never been a vegetarian, I might have never ended up in this dilemma, which pits my conscience against my cravings.
So, dear, continue to chew gum after eating a hamburger in order to mask the taste of once-living animals on your breath. Even as I argue for public vegetarianism with a strictly private consumption of leftovers, I am beginning to reach the point where even my interest in meat is disappearing. One too many PETA videos, I suppose.
Hoisting and shackling the cows horrifies me, and while kosher, I would much rather take my cues from the likes of Shlomo Goren, Isaac Bashevis Singer, S.I. Agnon and A.D. Gordon, not to mention Albert Einstein, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, all famous Jewish vegetarians.
Our prayers are for Moshiach, a messianic era in which the world order will improve in its very essence. When I say “Bayom Hahu,” on that day, I join Rav Kook in imagining a world when we need not sacrifice animals on any altar ever again.
I love you, even if you do sneak a roast beef sandwich from time to time.
Jonathan Klein is the Allen and Ruth Ziegler rabbinic director at USC Hillel.
From: His guilt-ridden wife, who keeps falling off the vegetable cart
We are both rabbis. We’ve studied the same texts. We’ve turned the same verses over and over, examining them like gems under a magnifying glass, full of refractions of color and light. We both understand it was only after Noah’s sacrificial offerings God said, “Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses.” The sanction on eating meat given the moment after God realizes, “the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth.” Perhaps that was the violence God saw Noah’s generation commit? The carnivorous drive of both man and beast which horrified heaven so that the ducts of the deep were opened and the land welled over with torrential tears.
We have both turned over the verse, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” In this week’s Torah portion, the verse follows verses on sacrifice, festal offerings and choice first fruits. Biblical scholars understand it to be referring to ancient Egyptian sacrifices, not necessarily how we prepare our food. But we’ve also drunk from the Talmud, and been fed by the commentators, who understand it as a prohibition against cooking milk and meat. We’ve encountered into the fences built around that law.
You remember all the late nights when I was finishing my rabbinic thesis, “Animal Sacrifice and the Continual Offering in the Second Temple Period.” In my studies, I learned that the deep-rooted instinct to sacrifice grew out of basic archaic taboos on eating flesh, and the need to reconcile mortal frailties with the gods upon whom man believed his well-being depended. After the flood, meat-eating is God’s concession to an imperfect mankind, and man being acutely aware of his imperfection, and ashamed before the Creator for his hunger for flesh, attempts to elevate the entire process, legitimizing it by turning the animal into an offering. God, apologetically, is invited to the table. I remember what Jacob Milgrom wrote in “Studies in Cultic Theology and Terminology”: “Man will have meat for his food and he will kill to get it. At least let us not let him dehumanize himself in the process.”
I remember when we were dating, I felt ashamed when I had a hot dog. I would have a stick of spearmint gum, like a smoker, before seeing you. When I was pregnant, I wanted my body to be like Eden for our child, where only the fruit of most trees and the green of the earth were food, where there was no killing — an idyllic serenity of species cohabiting. But my body craved more iron than spinach could provide.
I love that there are never bones in our kitchen. I love that when you take me to kosher vegetarian restaurants, I can close my eyes and point to anything on the menu and know it will be fresh, healthy and good. The children wake to the smell of kosher vegetarian bacon. Chicken-less nuggets are packed in their lunches.
I try, when confronted with a burger to remember the starry eyes of the little cow in our daughter’s book: “It’s time for sleep little calf, little calf. What happened today that made you laugh?” I try to eat low on the food chain: fish before chicken before beef. And then Friday nights the preschool presents trays of savory cholent.
In the end of this week’s Torah portion, it is written, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the God of Israel … they beheld God, and they ate and drank. The gods of Uruk were served two meals a day. Giant feasts were dedicated to the goddess of Mesopotamia. In Egypt, the gods were served even grander feasts, which would then provide food for the entire staff and sometimes the whole city. Here, instead of throwing themselves upon their faces in reverence, the Israelite leaders also play host, inviting God to the table.”
Judaism is a step-by-step religion. It awaits no superhero, but commands the efforts of our own hands. It recognizes our yetzer hara (evil inclination), and teaches us to harness it. It understands we crave meat and instead of saying don’t eat it, commands us to not mix death with life, to separate out the blood which is its life force, and to not mix it with milk which represents birth and life. To mix them is to accept the world as it is. Fragmented, haphazard, where people die suddenly or too slowly, too young, death and life at random. Rather, we separate them, indicating everything should happen in its proper time. To everything there is a season. And some day, God-willing, there will be that final season, when every day is Shabbat, when we reenter Eden.
Until that day, I repent, and attempt, and repent, and attempt again to express my adoration, God, for Your wild, bristling and breathing world. Until that day, when the lioness with the heart of a lamb will lay down peacefully with her lamb, who has the giant heart of a lion.
Read Rabbi Jonathan Klein’s response in First Person on March 3.
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has apologized for its eyebrow-raising, 2-year-old “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign, with PETA’s leader stating, “it was never our goal to humiliate the victims” of the Shoah.
“We know that we have caused pain,” wrote Ingrid Newkirk in a statement sent out to Jewish news media on May 5, Holocaust Remembrance Day. “This was never our intention, and we are deeply sorry.”
PETA’s contrition did not impress Simon Wiesenthal associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper. “Did they know the impact this campaign would have when they started it two years ago? Absolutely,” Cooper said. “They leveraged the victims of the Shoah to promote their issue. The victims of the Shoah should not be leveraged to gain copy in a newspaper or airtime on TV.”
The “Plate” campaign began in February 2003. When asked why it has taken more than two years to re-evaluate the campaign, PETA spokesman Matt Prescott said, “We’ve apologized because we’ve had two years to reflect on it. We’ve been everywhere in the world on it [the ‘Plate’ campaign]. I actually did it myself in Warsaw, and the people in Warsaw loved it.”
The “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign included a Sept. 16, 2003, protest in Los Angeles at the Museum of Tolerance, complete with posters comparing genocide to food manufacturing. Prescott was among 10 demonstrators, and he said Newkirk’s broad “Plate” apology includes regret over that event.
“It encompasses everything that we did with that campaign, the Web site and that protest included,” Prescott said.
Copper said it was unnecessary to use Holocaust imagery to provoke discussion about the treatment of animals.
“The whole question of meat or non-meat — these are historical, societal issues worthy of serious debate,” he said. We don’t need to be convinced that this is a legitimate issue.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Neil Diamond Instead of Avinu Malkenu
When Cantor Sam Radwine lifts his arms to conduct his 32-member choir on June 5, it won’t be for “Avinu Malkenu,” but for “Cabaret” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” the music of Jewish American songwriters and composers such as Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, Neil Diamond and others.
Culminating the celebration of 350 years of Jews in America, Congregation Ner Tamid and Radwine have produced “Coming to America: Jewish Composers and the American Scene.”
Radwine’s community choir boasts singers from three different South Bay Synagogues: Congregation Ner Tamid, Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach and Temple Beth El in San Pedro. In addition to the choir, the concert will feature soloists and a five-piece live band conducted by Ner Tamid musical director Brent Reynolds. This salute to Jewish American composers of “popular” music will include Broadway hits, movie themes, pop, rock ‘n’ roll, and more.
“We’re very excited,” Radwine said. “Our choir will have an opportunity to perform some very different music that we don’t ordinarily hear in the synagogue. Their talent with the popular songs we’ve selected is phenomenal, and our soloists are extraordinary.”
The program contains brief biographies of more than 100 Jewish composers and songwriters from the 18th century through today. A dessert reception follows the 90 minute concert. The Ner Tamid Museum 350 exhibit, which highlights the remarkable history of Jews in America, will be open for viewing throughout the evening.
Sunday, June 5, 7:30 pm. $18 (adults), $12 (children under 12); $25 (at the door). Congregation Ner Tamid, 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. For tickets, call (310) 377-6986. — Julie M. Brown, Contributing Writer
I am a vegetarian. I know there was a big controversy brewing over kosher meat, but I’m not sure what the Jewish position
on vegetarianism is. I suppose as long as the vegetables are pulled from the ground in a quick and humane manner, no one can object too strenuously to it. I know God created animals, but I can’t imagine He’d be offended if I didn’t eat them. I’d hate to think of God pouting in His room saying, between sobs, “I worked so hard on that lamb and Nemetz doesn’t even touch it!”
People usually become vegetarians for either health concerns or humane reasons. It is, in theory, healthier to eat lower down on the food chain. Foods are more easily digestible (with the notable exception of my mother’s potato kugel, some of which has been lodged in my small intestine since the Thursday before my bar mitzvah). The problem with doing anything for health reasons is that you’re just staving off the inevitable — like carrying an umbrella in a meteor shower. It may slow the meteor down a tad, but not enough to change your ultimate destiny.
As for the inhumanity of eating animals, while I applaud the sentiment, I think it is a somewhat misplaced compassion — like the anti-abortionists who value the fetus but have no problem killing the abortion doctor. All one needs do is turn on the National Geographic channel to see that, out in the wild, fast eats slow and big eats little — although for some unknown reason, nothing eats the guy holding the camera. If I ever go on safari, I’m renting a Betacam.
I have chosen to eschew meat for a third, more self-obsessed reason — it’s annoying to those around me. You know how some people say that they don’t want to be a bother? Not me. I love being a bother. It really puts people out when they want — or feel obligated to — have me over for dinner (I’ll accept either; a meal’s a meal).
Upon learning of my restrictive diet, the host or hostess will invariably ask me the same question, “Do you eat fish?” Now I’m not a biologist (although I was a genetics major my first year in college — until my grades came out, at which point the university and I agreed that I should pursue a degree in English), but it seems to me that fish hardly qualify as a vegetable. They’re living things. Granted they don’t have much of a life, but then neither did my Uncle Alec. In fact, he would have loved nothing more than to swim around in circles all day, hiding in fake rocks. He wasn’t what you’d call an overachiever — or even an achiever.
Now, as vegetarians go, I’m not that difficult to please. Aside from a major food group, I will eat pretty much anything. There is another, stricter level of vegetarianism. They are called vegans and they consume no animal products whatsoever. There is even a small sect of vegans — I don’t like to use the word fanatical because fanatics tend to get, well, fanatical when you use that word (go figure) — who are so concerned with not taking any life whatsoever that they walk down the street with brooms, sweeping ants out of their paths lest they crush the poor vermin and take a life. The fact that they sweep the critters onto the road into oncoming traffic seems lost on these well-meaning souls. It is this line of flawed thinking that gave us the leaf blower — it doesn’t eliminate the leaf but it does blow it onto your neighbor’s property where it’s no longer your problem.
I find, however, that while familiarity usually breeds contempt, in my case it breeds indifference. The more often I go to someone’s house for dinner, the less effect I have on his or her diet. At first, everyone eats a vegetarian meal because of me. After a while, the host makes a vegetarian meal with a dish for others to eat. Finally, I’m invited to a meat meal with a dish that I can eat. I can see the writing on the wall. Next I’ll be asked to eat something before I come over. Well, I’m not going to wait for that to happen. I’m going to get new friends. That’s why I’m asking you out there to invite me to dinner. I’m willing to go as far as Calabasas. Just remember, I don’t eat fish.
Howard Nemetz is almost as good looking as his picture.
As far as foot-and-mouth disease is concerned, it’s good to be Jewish.
Since the outbreak of the disease last month, Jews who keep kosher have faced fewer serious meat shortages than the rest of the British community.
The economics of kosher slaughter have worked in Jews’ favor.
Most kosher slaughterhouses are small, so it makes financial sense for them to keep running even when only small numbers of animals are available for slaughter, said Michael Kester, the executive director of the London Board of Shechita.
And because most kosher slaughterhouses are family-run operations located near the farms that supply them, they were less affected by restrictions on the movement of animals.
"For a change, we’re ahead of the game," Kester said.
Foot-and-mouth is essentially harmless to humans, but it can be fatal to cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats.
Farming experts say the fact that animals travel long distances from farm to slaughterhouse is partially responsible for the rapid spread of the disease in Britain.
Kester also said that there has been a notable increase in poultry sales since the outbreak of the disease, as people switch from beef to chicken. Chickens cannot catch the disease.