This story appeared on Monday, Jan 22, 2007 in KOSHER TODAY.
It concerns more fallout from the Agri Processors story, and the destruction of a long standing relationship between a Conservative rabbi and an Orthodox rabbi.
Friendship of Orthodox and Conservative Rabbi in Tatters Over Kashrus Issues
St. Paul… It all began almost a year ago when a local glatt kosher butcher closed its doors leaving many kosher consumers without a source for glatt kosher meat. Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, spiritual leader of the Adath Israel Synagogue, head of United Mehadrin and a respected authority on kashrus, persuaded Cooper’s Supermarket to carry glatt kosher meats from Agriprocessors. Celebrating his accomplishments, Rabbi Zeilingold next reached out to his long-time friend Rabbi Morris Allen, the rabbi of the Conservative temple Beth Jacob in Mendota Heights, a suburb of St. Paul. Rabbi Zeilingold had hoped that Rabbi Allen would help him assure that as many Jews as possible patronize the Cooper’s special section on glatt kosher meats. But Rabbi Allen insisted that the store not carry regular kosher meats from Agri, which had been the subject of attack by PETA, the extremist animal rights organization. The Conservative Rabbi also made sure to send out to his membership copies of a scathing article by the Forward which accused Agri of abusing its workers. He also refused to accept regular kosher meat from Agri, preferring instead kosher meat from Green Bay. In the process of settling on a supplier of the kosher meats, the American Jewish World in Minneapolis launched a vicious tirade against Twin-City Poultry, accusing the large kosher meat distributor of refusing to sell non-glatt products. The irony of it all is that kosher meat in many markets is more expensive than “glatt kosher” meat.
Within days of the Forward article, Zeilingold and a Spanish speaking congregant, Dr. Carlos Carbonera, visited the Postville, Iowa plant of Agriprocessors. They freely spoke to many of the Agri employees and found the Forward piece to be patently false. The Orthodox rabbi invited his friend Allen to see for himself. He and a group of Conservative rabbis turned up in Postville, only to take part in the latest efforts by the Union to unionize Agri employees. The Union had in fact advertised the rabbi’s appearance. Said Rabbi Zeilingold: “From the Forward article, and from Rabbi Allen’s deceptive behavior, it was obvious to me that Rabbi Allen, Victor Rosenthal, and the other members of the Conservative commission did NOT visit Agriprocessors in order to evaluate the validity of the Forward’s May 26 attack on Agri. They were delighted to accept all the lies and slander of the Forward article as absolute truth because it gave them a pretext by which they could gain entry into Agriprocessors and other plants posing as the champions of “kashrut” and the rights of workers. The lies of the Forward article gave them fertile ground to plant the seeds of the “tzedek hechsher,” a new Conservative certification that includes social concerns.
To put the entire matter to rest, Rabbi Zeilingold arranged for a high ranking official of the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to visit the Agri plant. After two-full days at the plant, the OSHA official reported having “no issues of concern.” According to OSHA records, Agriprocessors has a far better safety record than the plant named by the commission of Conservative rabbis, with approximately sixty percent fewer citations. The OSHA official further stated that, “a program addressing each and every one of the hazards recognized by OSHA inspectors…was working strongly at the plant,” and further, that “Agriprocessors inspection history stands within normal parameters compared to other companies within this industry.” He ends his report by stating definitively: “Agriprocessors is committed to providing a safe work environment to their employees. They have the tools that allow them to improve the safety of their working environment.” With the record straight, Zeilingold still hopes that a fair-minded Allen will take his hand in friendship once again.