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By Nicole Neroulias
Religion News Service

NEW YORK (RNS) Criminal charges filed against the the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking plant have added fuel to the debate about kosher standards within the Jewish community.
The Iowa attorney general filed more than 9,000 charges Tuesday (Sept. 9) for child labor violations against the Agriprocessors slaughterhouse, owner Aaron Rubashkin, his son Sholom, and three managers.
In response, Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of kosher supervision for the Orthodox Union, the largest organization that certifies products as fit for traditional Jewish consumption, announced the organization will withdraw its seal of approval within two weeks unless the plant — which produces more than half of America’s kosher meat — hires new management.
But Rabbi Menachem Weissmandl, who also certifies meat at the plant, told Jewish news agencies he would only remove his seal if the plant were not meeting the religion’s food preparation restrictions, unrelated to legal or ethical work environment standards.
Kosher standards should include the ethical concerns, however, said Rabbi Morris J. Allen, a Conservative rabbi spearheading the Hekhsher Tzedek “ethical kosher” movement. He and other Jewish leaders had raised numerous concerns about worker age and safety after visiting the plant two years ago, he said, but no improvements were made.
“Had the Rubashkin family accepted our recommendations that we made on Sept. 11, 2006, the Jewish community would not be in this situation today,” Allen said.
Neither Aaron nor Sholom Rubashkin could be reached for comment.
Plant spokesman Chaim Abrahams has denied the accusations and said the minors found working in the plant had lied about their age to company officials. The defendants are scheduled to appear in court Sept. 17.
In the meantime, Hekhsher Tzedek is testing out standards for its own seal of approval, which will certify that kosher products were also made in an ethical work environment, Allen said.
The movement has urged rabbis to address this issue in sermons during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the upcoming Jewish high holidays.
“As Jews, we have a responsibility to maintain high ethical standards in the production of food, and that transcends all Jewish denominational boundaries,” Allen said. “We have to be sure that the food that we know may be produced in a ritually kosher fashion is also produced in a fashion that speaks to who we are as human beings.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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