Agriprocessors: Presumed Innocence

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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?

Posted on June 23, 2008

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