Wednesday, August 6, 2008

‘Dark Meat’ humiliates good people, fails to correct the problem

I had an entirely different topic on which to post today, but I am so annoyed with the end of the Forward’s latest Agriprocess piece and this morning’s “Dark Meat” editorial in the New York Times that I’ve got to say something here.

[1:40 PM Just saw Gil Student's post here on the topic. Glad to say we agree.]

Important Disclaimer: I am not a fan of Agriprocessors. Personally, I am uncomfortable buying their products at this time. I have explicitly told congregants that if the allegations turn out to be true, then hashgachah should be removed until conditions change.

But there’s a world of difference between my own stance and contacting the Forward and publishing a New York Times Op-Ed piece to tell the world that you personally feel the OU and RCA are being too prudent. Frankly, that smacks of ugly grandstanding and opportunistic self-aggrandizement - and all on the backs of innocent people.

In both articles the author blasts the RCA and OU for relying on the results of a federal investigation. Instead, the author wants to have the OU launch an independent rabbinic investigation of the plant.

What, exactly, is the OU going to find, in terms of worker and animal treatment, that the federal government is going to miss? This is patently absurd. On the one hand, you have specially trained, experienced personnel. On the other hand, you have a group of well-intentioned rabbis. Where is the logic?

I think the author knows there is no logic in his position. I also think the author knows that putting this position into The Forward and the New York Times is not going to inspire the OU to do it. [needless ad hominem deleted here, on re-read.]

To me, the right thing to do in the wake of Agriprocessors is to work to correct the problem. This means suggesting specific standards for factories, marshalling halachic sources, getting a committee together to develop a good standard. This publicity stunt did nothing of the kind.

R’ Zecharyah ben Avkulus was wrong for holding his tongue when Bar Kamtza was evicted from the party; he contributed to the public humiliation of Bar Kamtza. (Yes, this was his real sin; see Eichah Rabbah, as well as Maharam Shif and Maharatz Chayes to Gittin 56-57.)

How much worse it would have been if R’ Zecharyah ben Avkulus would have stood up at the party and bashed all of the sages, instead of correcting the host! He would have been guilty of humiliating innocent people, of rechilus, etc – and he would have accomplished nothing.

This person who called the Forward and wrote the New York Times piece is guilty of exactly that – humiliation of good people, without lifting a finger to correct the problem.

(And a side note on the NYT piece: Refraining from meat before Tisha b’Av, in all of the original sources which discuss the practice, is not a way to “limit ourselves so that we can better focus on the spiritual.” Rather, it’s an act of mourning for the Beit haMikdash and its korbanot.)

Add to Technorati Favorites


  1. I don't know enough about Methods For Getting People To Do Things to say whether i agree with you or with the NYTimes piece about the value of such public statements, but he does talk about mourning the ביהמ"ק and קרבנות —
    One of the customary practices in these nine days is the avoidance of meat: it’s the way we commemorate the destruction of the Temple, where daily animal sacrifices were once brought.

  2. Steg:
    Thanks for commenting.
    Methods - Do you really think that humiliating people would be a way to inspire compliance? As someone who has made that mistake once or twice in my career, I have to say it's most unlikely.
    Beit haMikdash - Yes, but then he contradicts it in the next line.

  3. I thought the Beit Hamiqdash line and the limit line were meant to show multiple factors of the practice.

    I know a few people who are involved in Activism. And what they say is that when you call out someone publicly, the added pressure can sometimes make it more likely that they're actually going to fix what's wrong — because everyone knows that there's a problem and everyone will know if they fix it or not.

    Now, i've found most of the examples of this tactic that i've seen in action to be distasteful, and doubt i would ever even try to pull it off myself (the idea seems sorta obnoxious to me) — but it does seem to work, sometimes.

  4. steg, the other thing that has to be taken into account is that while Orthodox people will still keep kosher, just choose not to buy rubashkins, there are plenty of people who buy kosher meat who might decide against it due to these allegations. (I know plenty of people who fall into this camp).

    Do the people who are activisting on this subject take that into consideration?

  5. SP:

    i dunno if they take that into consideration — they may not know such people. feel free to introduce them to your friends :-)

  6. There is no question that when it comes to pushing corporate entities to action, humilation and negative publicity is the best policy. (Aside from legal sanctions).

    This is especially true when they are being asked to acknowledge past mistakes, accept blame, or "rock the boat."

    That being said, the author's going to the NYT is despicable, as it invovles a terrible Chillul Hashem.

    I happen to agree that the Rubashkin situation and the wink-wink attitude of the kashrus organizations is deplorable.

    However, I don't think that correcting that problem justifies the Chillul Hashem.

  7. Steg, Moshe-
    I'd have to disagree with the idea that this would work, particularly regarding a case in which the informed population - mature adults who have looked at the issue carefully and in depth - are going to agree with the corporate entity and disagree with the shrill, childish accuser.
    I think it more likely that the accused will stand firm.

    An interesting point, and not out of the realm of possibility, I think.

  8. That being said, the author's going to the NYT is despicable, as it invovles a terrible Chillul Hashem.


    How is this a greater חילול השם than all the negative publicity that Agriprocessors has been getting the last few years? At least now people will know that there *are* Orthodox rabbis who are trying to take a stand (even if the forum or tactics are misplaced).

  9. Sorry, Steg, but that is most definitely NOT what he did.

    The RCA told the world with its original statement that it cares - the RCA said explicitly that if the investigation turns up violations, the hashgachah should be called into question. The RCA told the world that Orthodox rabbis care.

    This publicity hound, on the other hand, went on the Op-Ed of the New York Times to tell the world that no, the RCA doesn't care - that he is really the one who cares.

  10. the tone of the piece doesn't seem quite so harsh to me. but maybe i'm just not sensitive enough to the RCA since i don't have much invested in them.

  11. I don't know about you, but I'd rather laugh than cry... so go to Eye on Agriprocessors: The Rabbinic Search Committee to laugh a little...

  12. Steg-

    Anonymous 2:54 PM-
    Are you just going to leave us hanging with that first day's report? Do I have to tune in every day? I might as well wait for the federal investigation to conclude!

  13. There is no question that when it comes to pushing corporate entities to action, humilation and negative publicity is the best policy.

    There is a difference between humiliation and negative publicity, especially when it comes to intent and the consequences of such actions.

    Humiliating someone is a good way to create unnecessary harm and strife. In some cases it is more likely to create more intransigence and less change.