Illegal Alien Rabbis, Workers . . . Maybe Even
Meth? When is Kosher not
Comment: The answer to the above question is, "Whenever Jews are
possible drugs, illegal workers at kosher plant
Ben Harris Published: 05/13/2008
NEW YORK (JTA) -- In laying
the legal groundwork for a massive raid of the country's largest
kosher slaughterhouse, federal authorities cited claims that illegal
narcotics production took place at the factory and hundreds of
illegal immigrants were employed there, including several of the
rabbis responsible for kosher supervision.
The charges were
among the most explosive details to emerge following the raid Monday
at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa.
arrested 390 workers in what Immigration and Customs Enforcement
called the largest raid of its kind in U.S. history.
raid, which required federal authorities to rent an expansive
fairground in nearby Waterloo to house detainees, prompted the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of Iowa temporarily to
relocate judges and court personnel to the site because the
facilities in Cedar Rapids and Sioux City were
"There have been other operations where more
people have been arrested," Tim Counts, an Immigration and Customs
Enforcement spokesman, told JTA. "But as far as we can determine,
this is the largest single-site operation as far as number of
The raid follows a six-month investigation
involving more than a dozen federal agencies, including the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the
Internal Revenue Service, and the departments of labor and
Three Israelis and four Ukrainians were among
the detainees held on charges of being in the country illegally,
Counts said. Officials are expected to bring criminal charges
against some of the detainees as well, most of whom are from
Guatemala and Mexico.
Agriprocessors said in a statement
Tuesday that it "takes the immigration laws seriously" and intended
to "continue to cooperate with the government in its
"Agriprocessors will also inquire further
into the circumstances that led to these events," the company said.
"We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families whose lives were
disrupted and wish them the best. We are deeply committed to meeting
the needs of all of our customers and are operating again
In the affidavit filed as part of the 60-page
application for a search warrant, additional details were revealed
of the government's investigation of Agriprocessors, a company that
has been beset by numerous allegations of health and safety
violations, mistreating workers and using controversial slaughter
According to the document, a former supervisor at
the plant -- identified only as Source #1 -- told investigators that
some 80 percent of the workforce was illegal.
The source also
said he believed rabbis responsible for kosher supervision entered
the United States from Canada without proper immigration documents.
According to the affidavit, the source did not provide evidence for
his suspicions about the rabbis.
Source #1 also claimed to
have discovered active production of the drug methamphetamine at the
plant and reported incidents of weapons being carried
Methamphetamine, more commonly known as crystal meth,
is Illegal in the United States. The popular nightclub drug gives
users a sense of energy and euphoria that can last for
Agriprocessors employees told investigators that
sometimes they were required to work nighttime shifts of 12 hours or
The affidavit says that 697 plant employees are
believed to have violated federal laws.
producing more than half of the nation's kosher meat, the raid has
prompted fears of a disruption in supply. Though the plant was back
in operation Tuesday, it was unclear if Agriprocessors could meet
its normal production capacity with hundreds of its workers in
Founded by Brooklyn butcher Aaron Rubashkin,
Agriprocessors produces kosher meat and poultry marketed under the
labels Aaron's Best and Rubashkin's.
The firm gained national
attention in 2000 with the publication of the book "Postville,"
which described the tensions between the company and the local
community. The company has attracted a significant population of
Orthodox Jews to a rural pocket of northeast
Agriprocessors did not respond to requests for comment
from JTA. Asked if there was slaughter taking place Tuesday, a woman
who answered the phone at the plant said, "We're trying."
Des Moines Register reported that more than 100 cars were in the
company lot Tuesday morning, but quoted a nearby business owner who
said that foot and vehicular traffic to the plant was much lower
Rabbi Menachem Genack, the head of the Orthodox
Union's kosher supervision department -- the largest outfit
certifying the kosher status of Agriprocessors' meat -- told JTA
that other companies had assured him that they could make up for any
shortfall from the Postville plant.
Genack reiterated the
O.U.'s policy of leaving matters of immigration and labor standards
to the government.
"No one else has the resources to do what
the federal government can do," he said.
If the company turns
out to be criminally liable, Genack said, that could be grounds for
losing its kosher certification.
Genack said he was told by
the plant's supervising rabbi that two foreign rabbis working at the
plant had failed to renew their work permits when they expired a few
weeks ago. He described the issue as a "technical" violation and
insisted the two rabbis had not been detained.
Much of the
information the government collected appears to have come from
former employees of Agriprocessors who were detained by police on
unrelated charges. Sources related similar stories of presenting
fraudulent documents and Social Security numbers when seeking
employment with the company.
Several said they were aware of
undocumented workers employed at the plant that were paid by
supervisors in cash.
The affidavit says the government has
probable cause to believe that an Agriprocessors supervisor assisted
workers in acquiring fake documents in exchange for a cut of the
Federal investigators provided documentation for a
former Agriprocessors employee, identified in the affidavit as
Source #7, for the purpose of gaining employment at the plant. Once
hired, the source reported on rabbis who insulted the workers and
threw meat at them.
In one alleged instance, a "Hasidic Jew"
duct-taped a worker's eyes and then hit him with a meat hook,
"apparently not causing serious injuries."
come under fire before for its labor practices, as well as health
and safety violations. In March, authorities fined the company
$182,000 for violations at the plant.
People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals has clandestinely videotaped a controversial
slaughter practice used at the plant.
In addition, an
investigation by the Forward weekly newspaper revealed allegations
that employees were underpaid and exploited. Agriprocessors
officials denied the allegations.
On Tuesday, members of the
Conservative movement's Hekhsher Tzedek Commission condemned the
company, saying that keeping kosher requires more than just
adherence to ritual matters, but also sensitivity to the environment
and respect for workers and animals. The Hekhsher Tzedek initiative
is in part a response to past allegations of misconduct at
"The actions of this company have brought
shame upon the entire Jewish community," the commission said.
"Yesterday’s discovery, along with the other violations of the
ethical standards set forth by our Torah and our tradition
underscore the need for Hekhsher Tzedek. To be sure, halacha has
never limited its concern to the ritual elements of kashrut alone."
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