Last weekend’s Forward noted that Agriprocessors — the kosher slaughterhouse that was raided by federal agents last month — has hired a big-time PR company to handle allegations of major labor infractions.
This comes as some Jewish groups are calling for a boycott of the company, a move being championed by Uri L’Tzedek, a group run by Shmuly Yanklowitz, Ari Hart, and Aaron Finkelstein, rabbinical students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, as well as Tsufit Daniel.
But in a recent op-ed published in the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, rejected these communal condemnations of Agriprocessors.
Neither I nor Agudath Israel of America has any connection to Agriprocessors. And for all we know, it may yet be shown that the firm indeed knowingly hired illegal aliens. Or that it mistreated them, or that it was a front for a drug operation, a neo-Nazi group or a baby-cannibalizing cult. All under the eyes of the federal inspectors present at the plant at all times.
BUT UNLESS and until some wrongdoing is actually proven, not merely suspected or charged, no human being – certainly no Jew, bound as we are by the Torah’s clear admonition in such matters – has any right to assume guilt, much less voice condemnation or seek to levy punishment.
While I’ve sympathized with the work that groups like Uri L’Tzedek have done on this issue, I found Rabbi Shafran’s article somewhat compelling — if only as a sort-of rhetorical defense attorney. In America, at least, we do believe it’s important to offer defense to even the most seemingly egregious of offenders.
But I also wanted to hear responses to Rabbi Shafran’s article, so I emailed Shmuly Yanklowitz of Uri L’Tzedek. Here are a few of his points:
- Agudas Yisrael is one of the quickest to urge that a hashgacha [kosher certification] get pulled from a product as soon as there is the smallest doubt of the kashrut of the product. Where is the presumption of innocence (kosher) in those cases where they ruin a business or a mashgiach? Is it not hypocritical to care only about the Torah’s ritual demands but not the Torah’s moral demands?
- All that Uri L’Tzedek has asked is that the company recommit itself to US and Jewish law and make their reforms transparent. Why is that so much to ask? As soon as they meet those demands, our work ends. But they are not complying.
- We don’t need to wait for a verdict. There are hundreds of interviews that have already happened exposing atrocities and past charges over many years that have not yet been addressed. Also, we are not a court of law. We are concerned consumers. We have lost faith. Faith of a consumer can not wait for verdicts. It must respond to the hundreds of pieces of evidence.
Shmuly’s first point gets at, perhaps, the heart of what Uri L’Tzedek is trying to do — raise the ethical bar in the Orthodox community. That being said, Rabbi Shafran may have halakhic legs to stand on. It could be that the presumption of guilt/innocence is different for halakhic and ethical concerns.
Which is why Shmuly’s final point is even more significant. Rabbi Shafran is assuming that guilt must be proven in a court of law for it to be Jewishly significant. But this is not necessarily so.
In fact, there shouldn’t be any necessary connection between guilt from a Jewish point of view and guilt from a secular, legal point of view.
For Uri L’Tzedek, Agriprocessors has already been proven guilty. And they are calling for reform based on this.
Eli Gonen says, Israel has not maximized its tourism potential, in large part because of only fitful attention from the government (Haaretz).
The European Union has decided unanimously to upgrade relations with Israel in commerce, the economy, academic ties and diplomatic areas (Haaretz).
Zvi Bar’el reports that officials in Hamas and the PA believe that circumstances for negotiation between them are better than ever, and this is part of a broader regional trend toward reconciliation (Haaretz).
A new documentary film focuses on the emotional journeys of American Jewish visitors to Israel. (Jewish Chronicle).
Teva says that its Parkinson’s Disease drug Azilect can not only treat symptoms of the disease (which other drugs do too), but can actually slow the progression of the disease itself (Jerusalem Post).
The new Contemporary Jewish Museum, seeks to present “a contemporary perspective on Jewish art, culture and historyâ€?, without functioning as a collection museum.
Daniel Libeskind’s trademark off-kilter style is put to surprisingly effective use at the museum. As Libeskind explains in his architect’s statement, “No Jewish museum can ignore the darkness of the Holocaust,” but the building here “embodies and manifests hope” and, like the American West, describes “a culture of freedom, curiosity and possibility.” (Jewish Journal)
The CJM’s new home is dedicated to using contemporary art to illuminate and explore Jewish culture and history. Founded in 1984, the museum has no permanent collection. (Los Angeles Times)
Some even say the Museum defies geometry! (Architecture)
For complete coverage and information about the new museum see this collection of links. (J)
This week our homepage features articles about what makes meat kosher. But lately, the focus has been on what makes the treatment of workers kosher due to, in part, the crisis at Agriprocessors.
To shed light on the matter, JTA’s Ben Harris, who was on the ground in Iowa, interviewed both Aaron Rubaskhin, the owner of Agriprocessors, as well as his son Sholom, who served until recently as the CEO.
Also Uri l’Tzedek, an orthodox group devoted to social justice, has updated their petition as well as a list of restaurants who don’t serve Rushbashkin’s meat.
Jeffrey Goldberg reports that one source of tension between Ehud Olmert and some Jewish leaders is that the latter â€œloathe the idea that Mr. Olmert, or a prime minister yet elected, might one day cede the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the latent state of Palestine.â€? Says Joshua Katzen, of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, â€œI think that Israelis donâ€™t have the big view of global jihad that American Jews do.â€? (New York Times)
A look at attempts by e.g. Center for Leadership Initiatives, Professional Leaders Project, Progressive Jewish Alliance, and American Jewish Committee Access Young Leaders, to create a stronger bond of Gen Y-ers to Israel. The Jewish Journal)
Gideon Levy says to American Jews directly â€œLeave us alone. Take your hands off Israel. Stop using your money to buy influence in Israel. Stop contributing to advance your interests and views, some of which are at times delusionary and extremely dangerous to the future of the country youâ€™re supposedly trying to protectâ€¦. Everything is about money, even if it is concealed under a pile of cliches and promises. From the prime minister to the mayor of a remote town, from hospital director to community center manager â€” all look to American Jewish money.â€? (The Forward)
A look at the strong and growing link between Israel and Hollywood. (The Jewish Journal)
The case is made that a better connection can be made between Diaspora youth and Israel by focusing less on politics and â€œmore about what Israel offers the world today.â€? (Jerusalem Post)
Noam Neusner makes the case that â€œAmericaâ€™s Jewish community has a clinical obsession with Israel-related issuesâ€?, noting that â€œIsrael is the most bipartisan issue in Washington.â€? (The Forward)
A panel discussion at Manhattanâ€™s Central Synagogue on â€œDo Young American Jews Care About Israel?â€? left the audience with â€œan ambiguous answer: Not really, but…â€? (The Jewish Week)
Over at the Fundermentalist, Jacob Berkman and the JTA staff have come up with a list of Jewish organizations that can merge in order to save precious resources. Their ideas so far include:
The orgs:The American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress.
The reason: We all think the Jewish alphabet soup would be better off with one AJC. (Too easy?)
The orgs: Jewish Funds for Justice, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, Avoda: The Jewish Service Corps, Mazon and The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.
The reason: Weâ€™d call it United Torah Judaism
The orgs: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the American Jewish World Service.
The reason: Old school with great Jewish mission, reach and some real financial umph meets new school with great social vision and incredible momentum.
The orgs: The Jewish Agency and the Israeli government.
The reason: Come on, Charles Bronfman says they are already one anyway. (We Joke. We Joke.)
The orgs: The Jewish Funders Network and The Jewish National Fund.
The reason: JFN + JNF = Maybe money does grow on trees?
The orgs: BBYO, ADL, Hillel, and Jewish Women International
The reason: We think â€œThe Spawn of Bâ€™nai Bâ€™rithâ€? is a bad a$$ name for a Jewish org.
The orgs: JTA and The Forward Associationâ€™s gazillion-dollar endowment.
The reason: Come on, the Fundermentalist can at least dream of getting a new computer, right? (MORE)
Oh but Fundermentalist, you failed to notice the Jewish blogosphere. Here’s a suggestion from MJL.
The blogs: Jewcy, Jewschool, and Jewlicious.
The reason: Smart, snarky, and self important hipster Jews get to make fun of themselves and their friends for the very things they love do and think. They could call it Jewciliouschool.
Recently I attended a fundraiser for a Jewish organization. After the speaker I went to get a bite to eat and began speaking with the head of the organization. He began to recount the politics that go on in his office and also told me that there were mainly women in the office, which caused even more tension.
I joked around and said, “When I have my own business, I’m only hiring men. They are just easier to deal with.” He replied, “But women are cheap labor!” I was suddenly taken aback realizing he was being serious. He continued on and told me that “Women are a second income, we can pay them less.”
But the issue at hand is unfortunately not limited to this snide remark. This head of organization is just one of many who abuse their position to subordinate and limit the role of women in the Jewish professional world.
According to the Advancing Women Professionals, a group devoted to promoting leadership of women in Jewish institutions at both local and national levels:
“Women earn less than their male colleagues–a shameful 77 cents for every dollar. This is as true in the nonprofit world as for Fortune 500 companies. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that women CEOs in charities with budgets over $50 million earn 37% less than male CEOs. Research studies in the Jewish world–including federations, synagogues and JCCs–show the same patterns, even after statistically controlling for the status of the position and the qualifications of the professionals.”
But, the recent publication of the book “Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational life” has given me some hope for the future of Jewish women professionals. The book offers strategies for creating gender equity from recruitment to retention and advancement and offers tools and exercises to asses ones current work environment. The book is a call for change-makers and individual action. If the Jewish community cannot uphold a just and moral code of business ethics and equality then it might cause young motivated women to opt out of Jewish communal life and leadership.
I happen to be one of these young motivated Jewish women. I am very active in the New York University Hillel and currently serve on the Orthodox student board. However, I am hesitant to go into Jewish organizational life because although women make up a large part of the Jewish organizational workforce, they only hold a small percentage of leadership positions. Furthermore, when women finally manage to acquire a leadership position they are still paid less.
We must change our attitudes and change the statistics, so that women who are 51% of the Jewish nation can be represented and paid equally.
Well now I received the following notice about the creation of Ziv’s offspring, the Good People Fund:
We are proud to announce the creation of The Good People Fund. We hope it will help to fill the void created when the Ziv Tzedakah Fund closed at the end of March, and that it will build upon Zivâ€™s legacy. The fundâ€™s founders and initial donors were strongly committed to Zivâ€™s mission and believe that the essence of its good work should continue to help, educate and inspire others.
The Good People Fund, Inc. is committed to supporting small, grass-roots endeavors that are making a difference in peopleâ€™s lives, and to providing educational resources that will show many ways individuals of all means can truly make a difference. We will do so with a minimum of bureaucracy and with the greatest transparency.(MORE)
From our friends at Jspot.org:
Just in time for Shavuot, Jewish Funds for Justice has released a study guide on the concept of tikkun olam– click here to download.
On the holiday of Shavuot (Monday/Tuesday next week), it’s traditional to stay up all night studying in what’s called a “tikkun l’eil Shavuot.” Through this learning, we prepare ourselves for receiving Torah (again) in the morning, and for the yearly renewal of the divine covenant.
This year, we encourage you to spend some of your tikkun time (or some other time) discussing the very concept of tikkun, as it’s used today. Do you find the concept of tikkun olam a powerful call for justice? An overused word that has lost any real meaning? A confused and complicated phrase?