Conservative Movement Wavers on an Agriprocessors Boycott

The Conservative Movement, which has publicly announced its support of Rabbi Morris Allen’s Hekshsher Tzedek initiative, seems hesitant to call for a full boycott on Agriprocessors after last week’s raid.

The JTA reported on Wednesday that: Calls this week by activist rabbis for a limited boycott have been muted out of concern that a boycott could be actionable and might discourage Jews from keeping kosher because kosher meat would be harder to access. Like KRG on Jewschool, I personally find that stance to be pathetic and frustrating. What sort of mixed up priorities must we have to turn an embarrassed eye from a very real and very serious affront on human rights because it might lead to someone to eat non-kosher meat. Ach…

But then yesterday, The Conservative Movement came out with a different statement that, while shrouded in somewhat vague language, seems to be calling for something like a boycott:


The Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism will immediately release an advisory to its members and constituents to evaluate the appropriateness of consuming Rubashkin products until the current situation is addressed. This advisory extends not only to products purchased on the retail level but to meat and poultry consumed in restaurants and at private functions, such as weddings and bar mitzvahs.

That’s a little better. I would never officially suggest that Jews should stop eating kosher meat in favor of the organic, free range non-hekshered stuff (though personally, I support individuals who made that choice). I’m also not going to say that all Jews should become vegetarians – though perhaps taking a few weeks off of meat in protest would be a good way to boycott Agriprocessors without breaking any laws of kashrut. But I will say, without hesitation, that a boycott on Agriprocessors right now seems not only appropriate, but critical.

Below, you can read the official statement from the Conservative Movement in its entirety, but we want to hear from YOU! As Jewish individuals, parents, and professionals – what do YOU think about an Agriprocessors boycott? Are you choosing to boycott? Why/why not, and what does that look like in your home and for your family and community?

A Statement by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
And the Rabbinical Assembly
Regarding Rubashkin’s Meat Products

New York, NY (May 22, 2008) – In light of continuing disturbing allegations of unacceptable worker conditions at the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville, Iowa, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly is united in calling for a thorough evaluation by kosher consumers of the appropriateness of purchasing and consuming meat products produced by the Rubashkin’s label.

Rubashkin’s produces kosher meat primarily under the Aaron and David label at the Agriprocessors facility. It is a major producer of kosher meat and poultry in the United States. The allegations about the terrible treatment of workers employed by Rubashkin’s has shocked and appalled members of the Conservative Movement as well as all people of conscience. As Kashrut seeks to diminish animal suffering and offer a humane method of slaughter, it is bitterly ironic that a plant producing kosher meat be guilty of inflicting human suffering.

The Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism will immediately release an advisory to its members and constituents to evaluate the appropriateness of consuming Rubashkin products until the current situation is addressed. This advisory extends not only to products purchased on the retail level but to meat and poultry consumed in restaurants and at private functions, such as weddings and bar mitzvahs.

As the month of Sivan approaches, Jews throughout the world are mindful of the Torah’s message of the power of Kedushah, holiness as it applies to all aspects of our lives including the ethics of worker treatment and food production. It is hoped that Conservative synagogues, schools and summer camps engage in a study of this important topic in honor of the festival of Shavuot – which begins on the sixth day of Sivan — which commemorates the giving of the Torah

A valuable source for such study is the paper written by Rabbi Avraham Reisner , entitled Hekshsher Tzedek Al Pi Din. This paper is a companion to the Hekhsher Tzedek Policy Statement and Working Guidelines. The paper is available on the websites of the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

By releasing this advisory, the Conservative Movement endorses the vision and guidance of the Hekhsher Tzedek commission. Hekhsher Tzedek is an initiative of the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue that seeks to create an ethical certification process for kosher food. Through its work, Hekhsher Tzedek seeks to strengthen the bond between Halakha and Social Justice.

The reports of unacceptable worker conditions at the Agriprocessors plant demonstrate the pressing need for the sort of ethical oversight which might be provided by Hekhsher Tzedek.

For further information about the advisory being released by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, or to request an interview with any member of the Hekhsher Tzedek commission, the Rabbinical Assembly or United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism please call Shira Dicker at 212.663.4643 or by email at shira.dicker@sd-media.com or call Steve Rabinowitz at 202.265.3000 or steve@rabinowitz-dorf.com.

ABOUT THE UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism represents and supports the synagogues of the Conservative movement in North America. We work with lay leaders and Jewish professionals on the national, regional, and grassroots levels to teach, inspire, and motivate Conservative Jews to live lives increasingly filled with Jewish learning, ethical behavior, spirituality, and mitzvot.

ABOUT THE RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY

Founded in 1901, the Rabbinical Assembly is the international association of Conservative rabbis. The Assembly actively promotes the cause of Conservative Judaism, publishes learned texts, prayer-books and works of Jewish interest, and administers the work of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for the Conservative movement.

Rabbis of the assembly serve throughout the world in congregations, on campus, as educators, hospital and military chaplains, teachers of Judaica and officers of communal service organizations. Its membership spans over 20 countries and numbers 1600 rabbis.

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13 Responses to “Conservative Movement Wavers on an Agriprocessors Boycott”

  1. Kishkeman Says:

    When my wife and I married two years ago we agreed then not to purchase Rubashkins products. Somehow we still keep kosher.

  2. Karen Says:

    I’m a Conservative Jew who observes Kashrut and I have been avoiding Rubashkin products for a while now. I have to choose my grocery store because there is one in town that only carries Aaron’s products (even poultry, which I’m not sure is involved in the Iowa situation). Sometimes I end up at that store and break my “boycott.” But not that often.

  3. Lev Says:

    I’ve been boycotting Rubashkin products ever since I read “Postville.” And in conversation with many family members and friends, have encouraged them to do the same.

    Now if only my rabbinical student friends at the AJU would put their human rights ethics before their need for cheap kosher meat…

  4. Rob Says:

    I’m a vegan, while the rest of my family still eats kosher meat. They have boycotted Rubashkin products since the PETA videos and stories of worker abuse came out. My extended family as well as many members of our synagogue community will not boycott Agriprocessors unless the Rabbinic Assembly(RA),the USCJ, and/or their rabbi say so.

    The RA Statement seems to encourage a boycott, but ultimately sends the decision back to the individual community and members. So far, I have received a thoughtful yet uncommitted private response from my rabbi. The topic has not been brought up publically by the rabbi, our shul leadership, or the general community.

    Without strong and active leadership from the RA and the USCJ, passive communities like mine will continue to allow the worker-abuse and animal-abuse horrors of Agriporcessors to continue.

  5. Leah Koenig Says:

    Interesting answers – out of curiosity Kishkeman, Karen, and Lev, what meat do you choose to buy instead?

    Rob, I think you make a great point that while some individuals will make their own decisions, a lot of folks will need to hear it from their Rabbis before they decide to boycott.

  6. Tovah Says:

    I am not buying Rubashkins. I always tried not to buy it, but I didn’t try hard enough. Now I am truly not buying the stuff. I do eat occasionally at restaurants that may use Rubashkins but I’m beginning to ask questions at restaurants, too. I have some information now about which restaurants in town don’t use Rubashkins (or only a small percentage of their meat is from them) and will begin to patronize them more.

    I’m eating more bison (Solomon’s) and Wise Organics and Empire chicken.

  7. Karen Says:

    Empire for poultry and Wise for beef if I can get it. Wise poultry sometimes appears here, too. Hebrew National dogs (blech, but the kids like them) and Neshama sausage.

  8. Rivster Says:

    I think that boycotts can have an added dimension — a spiritual one. When I was growing up, we never had California table grapes here in California as a way of making a statement. But it went further than that. As a result, any time I ate (or still eat) produce, I give thought to the working conditions of those whose effort have brought the produce to my table. I am more thankful and more cogniscent of the plight of the migrant worker.

  9. Hannah Lee Says:

    The Nestle boycott left a long-lasting impression on me, so that when I became a mother and chose to breastfeed my babies (despite medical difficulties), I was still leery of the corporate brand.

  10. Roselle Says:

    We do not buy Rubashkins (since reading Postville). On ocasion we eat Best/Sinai, another non-glatt meat, or Empire chicken. The rest of the time we eat peanut butter, tofu, black beans, garbanzos, etc. I don’t eat in restaurants very often, but hadn’t even thought to ask what kind of kosher meat they serve.

  11. Sigal Says:

    We will not buy any products by Rubashkins-
    Its right to ask restaurants if they cook and serve their products-
    They are clearly in violation of many basic ethical
    laws and we as Jews must stand together and put them out of business.
    Obviously its not something they can be truthful in to themselves or serving the public.
    What more is there to say?
    Lie once -shame on you
    Lie twice-shame on me.
    BOYCOTT RUBASHKINS -

  12. Joe Says:

    Definitely will not purchase Rubashkins!!!
    http://www.eastory.com/kabbala.....l-jewelry/

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