Addressing Serious Ethical Issues in Public: Misunderstandings about The Tav HaYosher
06/25/12
Rabbi Yanklowitz is founder and president of Uri L'Tzedek, director of Jewish life and senior Jewish educator at UCLA Hillel.
Rabbi Yanklowitz is founder and president of Uri L'Tzedek, director of Jewish life and senior Jewish educator at UCLA Hillel.
"Tav HaYosher (the ethical seal for kosher restaurants) issued by Uri L’Tzedek has expanded rapidly. We just celebrated awarding the Tav to our 100th restaurant. There has been widespread support across the spectrum of the Jewish community for this seal certifying nothing more or less than the adherence to American labor laws around minimum wages, overtime, breaks and abuse.  Kosher restaurant owners with the Tav have shared that they have earned thousands of dollars more through increased business. The Tav has been accepted and supported by proprietors from across the spectrum of Orthodoxy.   Unfortunately, a few misguided at best or malicious at worst actors from within the within the Orthodox community have been actively trying to subvert this campaign. In Los Angeles, a number of proprietors with the Tav HaYosher have shared with us that they have bullied for having the Tav and have received threats against their businesses. The Tav is strong and Orthodox consumers have proudly voted with their dollars to support these restaurants offering ethical transparency. A few outliers from that community will not shatter the community’s rock solid commitments to be just and law abiding. There is no place for fear tactics. Uri L’Tzedek stands in solidarity with these righteous store owners and will not leave them to be bullied. I call on these individuals to come out into the open to debate. One reason we’ve heard for opposition to the Tav HaYosher is what happened in Postville, Iowa in 2008, and the role Uri L’Tzedek played in the Agriprocessors/Rubashkin case. Much disinformation has been circulated, some of which constitutes not only a betrayal of the facts, but outright lashon hara. So let’s set the record straight:
  •  The conditions in the Agriprocessors plant were very alarming. The federal government led a massive immigration raid, and later made many serious criminal charges. Shalom Rubashkin was convicted on 86 of 91 counts of financial fraud, after which the government dropped its case of 69 counts of harboring illegal immigrants for profit.
  •  Rubashkin was acquitted on child labor charges. This does not mean that there were not children working in the plant. There were. The Rubashkin defense claimed that Mr. Rubashkin was simply unaware. Whether or not Mr. Rubashkin was aware, the facts are that children were working in the plant. 
  • The Jewish community was concerned over the situation. Since the evidence made clear that there were legal and ethical violations, Uri L’Tzedek called on the Jewish community to refrain from purchasing Agri meat until the problems were resolved. Around 2,000 rabbis and Jewish leaders signed on to join Uri L’Tzedek.
  • The Rubashkin family asked to meet with Uri L’Tzedek, and then committed to making their company practices transparent. They put us in touch with their new compliance officer Jim Martin who assured us that the company was now in compliance with all laws.
  • Uri L’Tzedek then informed consumers that concerns were currently alleviated.
  • There was never any involvement with the government. Uri L’Tzedek had nothing to do with the government raid or any of the legal proceedings at all.
These are the facts. Yet some have been spreading rumors that “Uri L’Tzedek took down Rubashkin” or that we somehow caused Rubashkin to go to jail. This absurd claim has no truth. It was a short-lived episode of responsible, halakhically-motivated consumer activism, supported by the broader Jewish community. It is tragic how long Sholom Rubashkin’s sentence is. He has a large family, and 27 years seems to be excessive for a while collar crime. It is another indication that the prison system needs to be reformed, and many of us, including Uri L’Tzedek, are working for a more humane system. We recently met with Mr. Rubashkin’s daughter to offer comfort. Our hearts go out to him and his family. Whatever the alleged motivation, there is no place for lashon hara in the Jewish community, or for bullying restaurant owners. The Rambam taught that we sanctify the name of G-d by acting justly in all of our business affairs (Yesodei HaTorah 5:11). And the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself taught the importance of maintaining high ethical standards: "Through the shluchim [in addition to their work with Jews], it is also essential, to spread goodness, righteousness, justice, and uprightness, among the nations of the world…” (Hisvadayos 5752). The Rebbe, the inspiration of Chabad, was a teacher of the importance of perpetuating justice and truth. All followers of the holy Rebbe surely would follow his call! Uri L’Tzedek has resisted fully researching and publishing the names of those who are threatening proprietors with the Tav HaYosher. Instead, we invite you to debate. Do not descend to a campaign of invective. Rabbi Yose in the Talmud teaches, “I never made a statement for which I would have to turn around and check whether the person about whom I was speak was present” (Arachin 15b). Let’s talk in public! Klal Yisrael can and must collaborate to create a more just and holy world. There is no place for hurting one another’s efforts. There is simply too much important work to do to build the Jewish people and the world. “Olam chesed yibaneh” (Psalms 89:3)—May the world be built together through kindness and good deeds.   Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Director of Jewish Life & the Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel, the Founder & CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, and a 6th year doctoral candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology. Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” is now available on Amazon. In April 2012, Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the most influential rabbis in America.  

Last Update:

07/22/2012 - 07:34

Comments

No doubt in my mind, especially after seeing the undercover footage of the horrific animal abuse in Rubashkin's facility that this is enough to suggest a boycott. This was outright deception to all those intending to observe the laws of Kashrut!  Were there any consequences for the kosher supervisors in allowing this to take place?  Additionally, unethical treatment of undocumented workers, underage workers, and fraud were the responsibilities of Rubashkin - with no excuses!  

I don't know if 27 years is an excessive punishment for Rubashkin's crime, and I have compassion for his family, but if there are no "teeth" in the consequences of his actions, then why would any other facility, kosher or not, observe regulations and the laws? 

Rubashkin took advantage of the system on so many levels and violated his workers, his animals, and his customers - this is truly shameful and a tragedy, especially for the Jewish community. 

Kudos to Uri L'Tzedek, a beautiful concept for inspiring people to address ethical responsibility in the Jewish community!

Rabbi Yanklowitz:

The following is not at all a comment on the specific case of Shalom Rubashkin, but rather a response to your opinion about the American penal system.

I feel compelled to take issue with your opinion that "27 years seems to be excessive for a while collar crime." White collar crime, while generating less sensational impact than violent crime, can be no less evil. White collar crime is, specifically, the type of crime committed by individuals in positions of power in society, whereas violent crime is the type committed by those not in power. How can you compare the direct and indirect impacts of financial misdeeds on the lives of many families, rich, middle class, and poor, and the accompanying contribution to the deterioration of trust in our society, with the obvious destruction of one family by the acts of drug dealing or violent crime? Both are wrong, both damage the lives of the innocent, both should be punished. Just think about the current state of our economy due to corporate corruption: [http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/business/economy/the-spreading-scourge-of-corporate-corruption.html] Did Bernard Madoff not deserve his penalty for the financial damage generated by his abuse of the trust that his clients placed in him?

As a laudable example, President Obama's previous Supreme Court nominee, Justice Sotomayor, generally considered a liberal (notwithstanding Mr. Morgenthau's denial of the accuracy of this epithet), earned a reputation for being notoriously harsh in sentencing convicted white collar criminals as a judge on the Court of Appeals.[http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/09/sotomayor-tough-on-white-collar-crime/].

Would you please explain why you think wealthy criminals should be allowed to hurt other people without paying a steep price?

"Whatever the alleged motivation, there is no place for lashon hara in the Jewish community, or for bullying restaurant owners."

Yeah Right! No place, unless it's Flaums catering, of course!

What utter hypocrisy...
Uri L'Zeddek should come clean about what's really going on. If it's more than just boycotting, then say so. If tav stores are getting boycotted, well what goes around comes around. You can't complain about threats and boycotts (and alleged bullying) when you actively employ such tactics in your own political campaigning. It's not yosher Rabbi Yanklowitz to be morally inconsistent when it comes to how your organization treats others versus how you respond when others treat you the same way.

Thank you for trying to make a kosher seal that guarantees ethical treatment of workers. the effort of mean.spirited people to discredit this ethical kosher seal reminds me of the efforts to protect child abuses instead of abused children in NYC. They should be ashamed.

Yanklovitch, any store who adopts your symbol, automatically consents to your persecution of Rubashkin, with which your foundation was founded upon.

Therefore, I will not give business to any proprietor that has your symbol because a. they are supporting you b. it raises Kashrus concerns about the owners Yiras shomayim.

Uri Lezedek declared a boycott of Rubashkin without ever being in the plant, or seeing firsthand the real conditions. They allied themselves with the unions, liberal rabbis, and St. Bridget's church and accepted their version of the reality. Clearly they transgressed Jewish law by declaring a boycott without reviewing the evidence firsthand, and acted unethically.

Many who were in the plant, who saw what really occurred feel that Rabbi Yanklovich's actions against Rubashkin were wrong, and caused him grave harm.

If he could boycott Rubashkin the Jewish community can boycott him. All that happened in LA was that customers told the stores they will not patronize them. Seeing they would lose a many customers they dropped the "Tav". In Chicago this also happened some time ago.

Rabbi Yanklovich has reached into the gutter by calling those who emulated his tactics "bully's, or outliers". Instead of debating the morality of his actions he reverts to disgusting name calling. Rasing more questions if he should be setting ethical standards.

The Jewish community doing to Rabbi Yanklovich what he did to Rubashkin. They are choosing to boycott any store with his supervision. Many do not believe that he acted ethically in the past, and do not trust him to set ethical standards in the future.

Don't believe Tav Hyosher is widely accepted by major New York kosher restaurants for whatever reason.

In your attempt to defend yourself you continue to lie and besmirch the Rubashkins!

1. Working conditions were good at Agri!
I have personally spoken to a number of employees at AgriStar who have nothing but praise about their former employers, the Rubashkins, the Rubashkin's were very nice and good hearted empolyers. The allegations were part of a public with hunt against Rubashkin which you took part of and took advantage of! All the ethical violations were false, generated by Rubashkins political enemies (UFCW etc.)

2. Financial fraud and illegal aliens has nothing to do with your organization, and that is not what you framed the problem with Rubashkin was. (He was only charged with them after you organization was formed!).

3. The prosecution was not able to present a shred of evidence that Rubashkin had any idea of children working at the plant. The plant had over 1000 workers. Indeed, Rubashkins defense pointed to a number on incidents where Rubashkin promptly dismissing employess when discovering that they were underage.

4. Your organization never public announced that they were alleviating any concerns. You just kept on taking advantage of your publicity which you got on Rubashkin's expense.

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