Zman – The Rubashkin Story from A-Z

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The cover story in this month’s issue of Zman magazine is about Sholom Rubashkin. Although his story is ostensibly well-known in observant circles, the truth is that many people do not really know what went on and is going on. While other articles on the subject have typically ranged from 2,500-4,000 words, this story is almost 25,000 words! Yes, it’s a load. But it tells the story from A-Z, although in truth one would probably need 250,000 words to do it justice. The article in this month’s Zman was composed by a reporter who went to Iowa for a full week to meet with everyone from Rubashkin (in prison) to the mayor of Postville. The following is an excerpt starting at the beginning of the article, covering the history of the Rubashkins, and stopping just before the troubles begin. Before the excerpt, here is a list of the sub-headings just to give readers a feel of how much material there is to cover.

  • The Whole Truth  The Rubashkin Story
  • The Nazis Arrive
  • The Beginning of Rubashkin’s Meat
  • The Tranquil Iowan Culture
  • Postville – a Brief History
  • Founding a Jewish Presence
  • Run-ins with the Locals
  • Working Out the Differences
  • The Largest Slaughterhouse in the World
  • Troubles Begin
  • Jews Take Over from PETA
  • The Unkosher Kashrus Organization
  • A Systematic Campaign to Ruin Rubashkin’s Name
  • An Al-Qaeda Terror Camp?
  • “La Migra” Appears on the Scene
  • The Unsubstantiated Immigration Accusations
  • Sidebar: A Visit to the Linn County Jail
  • The Military Invasion
  • The Government Comes Down Hard
  • Chaos
  • The Demolition: A Thoroughly Planned Strategy
  • $10 Million Becomes $26 Million
  • Deliberate Destruction of Agriprocessors
  • The Arrest
  • The Raid on the Rubashkin Residence
  • Imprisoned Again
  • Bitachon in all Circumstances
  • Mesiras Nefesh for Yiddishkeit
  • Blaming the Victim
  • No Way to Keep Track of Time
  • Lobbying to be Released for Pesach
  • The One who Came to Give Encouragement Receives it Himself

Aaron (Avrohom Aharon) Rubashkin is the patriarch who first planted the roots of the now well-respected Rubashkin family in the United States, the man who founded the famous Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa. He lives in Boro Park and davens in the Kossoner Beis Medrash on 14th Avenue.

Mesiras nefesh runs in Reb Avrohom Aharon’s blood. His father, Reb Shneur Zalman Yissochor Getzel Rubashkin, lived during the worst of communist Russia’s anti-religious repression. He regularly risked his life to raise his two sons and two daughters as observant Jews.

Reb Avrohom Aharon was born in 1929 in the city of Neville, where his ancestors had dwelt for over 200 years. He remarks that the city once boasted 10,000 Jews, all of whom were Chassidim, mostly Lubavitch. The city was home to 16 shuls, but by the 1930s, the communists had closed all but three, one of which was barely a shack.

In Reb Avrohom Aharon’s office hangs a portrait of his father sporting a long white beard. Reb Avrohom Aharon points to the picture and proudly tells us, “Despite the constant danger, he wore that white beard with pride right through our last day in Russia.”

Reb Avrohom Aharon then recounts a bit of the mesiras nefesh his family undertook:

In Russia, public school attendance was compulsory for all children. Anyone who knows what Russia was like understands what that means. We had no choice but to attend. Since we couldn’t wear a yarmulke, we always kept a cap on our heads. We also wore small peyos, so we had constant reminders of our Jewish identity.

Jewish children need a cheder, but a cheder was not allowed – nor were any Jewish studies, for that matter. Today everyone knows the laws of communist Russia and it is self-understood that any Jewish education we received had to be in utmost secrecy.

One of the three shuls that the communists allowed to remain open was the Piskovoshik Shul. There, one could find a wonderful, saintly Jew by the name of Reb Gershon Ber Levine. He ran the shul, serving both as rav and gabbai. Reb Gershon Ber risked his life to teach Torah to Jewish children. Had he been caught, I don’t need to tell you the dire consequences he would have faced.

Reb Avrohom Aharon and his brother bade farewell to their parents each day before going to learn Torah, knowing there was a good chance they would not return.

The Nazis Arrive

The Rubashkin family remained in Neville until the German army reached the area. Reb Avrohom Aharon recalls that the communists reported how the Nazis were massacring Jews with utmost brutality, but few Jews believed them. Coming as they were after years of propaganda, most Jews saw these stories as just another attempt by the Russian authorities to make themselves look better. Many Jews thought they would be allowed to observe Torah freely under German rule, and they actually looked forward to the Nazi occupation!

Reb Avrohom Aharon himself believed these stories were communist lies. Why, then, did he run away? “Because my father and grandfather said that when someone tells you they are beating Jews, you don’t take a chance.”

Reb Avrohom Aharon’s father kept a Sefer Torah in his home. Now, before they escaped, he sent his two boys to the Piskovoshik Shul to hand over the Sefer Torah to the care of Reb Gershon Ber Levine.

This was the 13th of Tammuz, 1941. The Germans were destroying the city, attacking the center of town and the industrial section. Bombs were falling everywhere, 24 hours a day. My brother – may he be well – and I took the Sefer Torah and carried it to Reb Gershon Ber in shul. When we arrived he was in the middle of davening. You cannot imagine what a fervent davening that was. We waited respectfully until he finished. Then he came over to us and asked, “Nu – you’re leaving?”

“Yes,” we answered. “Our father and grandfather asked us to leave the Sefer Torah with you.”

He took the Sefer Torah and placed it reverently into the Aron Kodesh. Then he turned back to us. “You’re really leaving? This is the day we have been waiting for! We will at last be free of communist rule. The stories about the Germans killing Jews are just another one of those communist lies.”

He remained behind. Tragically, the Nazis killed his entire family and he was hanged in the center of town. May Hashem avenge his blood.

The Rubashkins spent the coming months wandering from place to place, running day and night to escape the Nazis’ long grip. Somehow, they managed to stay a few hours ahead of the Nazis. After a short time in Siberia, they reached Samarkand, the capital of the Asian republic of Uzbekistan. There they met up with thousands of other refugees, many of them Chassidic Jews, including the legendary Reb Yom Tov Ehrlich.

The Beginning of Rubashkin’s Meat

Only with the war’s end did the Rubashkins learn of the deaths of six million Jews, and then they finally realized how closely they had brushed with disaster. They took up the wanderer’s staff once again moved on, spending time in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and then France. It was there that they first opened the family business that they are still running today – a butcher store that sells kosher meat. After six years in France, they emigrated to their present home in New York, in 1953.

Reb Avrohom Aharon moved to Boro Park and within a year opened his butcher shop at the very same location where he works today. In the beginning, Reb Avrohom Aharon faced major challenges as New York’s kosher meat suppliers were well-organized back then and they defended their monopoly on the kosher meat market fiercely. Only with much difficulty was Reb Avrohom Aharon able to win over one producer, and then another and another, to sell him the meat he would sell at retail.

Still, with only a few wholesalers willing to deal with him, Reb Avrohom Aharon had trouble keeping up as the community grew, and with it the demand for kosher meat. After years of trying unsuccessfully to break through the tight control under which the suppliers held the market, Reb Avrohom Aharon came up with the idea of opening his own slaughterhouse and becoming a wholesaler himself.

At that point, he wasn’t thinking of anything big, just his own small slaughterhouse that would provide him with an additional, steady supply of kosher meat and poultry. In his wildest dreams he would never have guessed that just 20 years later, “Rubashkin’s” would be a household name in Jewish homes across America and the modest slaughterhouse would turn into the largest producer of kosher meats in the world.

The Tranquil Iowan Culture

Iowans are by nature relaxed, friendly and fiercely independent. The typical northeasterner who visits there feels very out of place. People live their lives at an easy pace; no one is afraid to show that he has time on his hands. There is no need for the constant display of bravado and activity.

Drivers are courteous and – no kidding — stick to the speed limit! The concept of honking one’s horn doesn’t exist in Iowa. If a driver stops his vehicle in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, everyone naturally assumes that he has a valid reason for doing so, and the long lines of cars behind him wait patiently and quietly until he moves on.

In most cities in Iowa, commerce revolves around farming and raising hogs. According to one of the residents, this is possibly the reason for the proliferation of overweight and obese people in the state. It appears to be reaching epidemic proportions.

Iowa’s greatest claim to fame in modern-day America is the Iowa caucuses that are the first contest in the race for the presidency of the United States every four years!

In the northeast corner of Iowa, surrounded by cornfields, lies a quiet town named Postville, with a population of 2,500. The townspeople are friendly to each other; everyone knows one another and shares each other’s joys and sorrows. When a fire breaks out somewhere, everyone drops whatever he is doing and runs to help. They will then support the stricken family for an entire year while the farm is reestablished, regardless of their financial situation.

Just to set the record straight, the locals’ helpfulness extends to … locals. Strangers who stumble into the city are likely to be treated with suspicion. When a new family moves into town, few jump to greet them with open arms and a steaming apple pie. It may take years before a new citizen becomes accepted into society and his children into the social inner circle in school. This is just the way things are in Iowa.

Postville – a Brief History

The city of Postville was founded in 1840 by one Joel Post (hence the name Postville), who actually hailed from New York. Mr. Post obtained permission from General George M. Brooke, commanding officer at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, to occupy the government log shanty, or “half-way” house which had been built by United States troops. It was located on a site about a mile northeast of the present town of Postville. The first settlement on the present site of Postville was made by Mr. Post and his wife when they moved there in June, 1843.

The original inhabitants were German immigrants, and English remained a second language in the city for decades. Right up until the First World War, local newspapers were still being published daily in German! To this day the city’s inhabitants evidence the cleanliness and orderliness unique to the German people.

Around 25 years ago, many farming towns in America began to face a decline. The younger generation developed a greater interest in professions, leaving the quiet town to study in large universities and then seek their fortune in the bustling cities of the northeast or on the west coast. Those who returned to their hometowns were changed people, no longer interested in the quiet life that now left them feeling unfulfilled.

Postville was no exception. The population began to dwindle. Homes sat empty and businesses that had once flourished grew quieter. Farms were lost to the banks as owners could no longer keep up with their mortgages, and the local hospital closed its doors. With its economy dead, the town quickly found itself on the verge of collapse.

The locals grew bitter as they watched their town’s history draw to a close. They would need a miracle to save the day.

And then, the miracle occurred.

Late in 1987, a Chassidic butcher – none other than Mr. Aharon Rubashkin – traveled around America in search of a home for the kosher slaughterhouse that he dreamed would soon provide him with high quality meats that meet the strictest standards of kashrus. He hoped to relieve the tremendous shortage of kosher meat that ravaged the Orthodox Jewish community once and for all.

With Hashem’s hand carefully guiding him, Reb Avrohom Aharon found himself in the town of Postville, Iowa.

There is no reasonable explanation of how he arrived at this little town, surrounded by miles and miles of farms. In fact, the name of the city was literally not on the map when Reb Avrohom Aharon arrived.

Wherever he turned, he could discern the despair of the locals who were slowly watching their town’s demise. Empty buildings dotted the landscape. And then Reb Avrohom Aharon heard about the old slaughterhouse that was sitting empty at the edge of town.

When the residents heard that a Brooklyn businessman was looking at their city with interest, they saw in him their chance. A group of local businessmen and bankers arranged a meeting with Mr. Rubashkin. They promised him anything he wanted if he would take over the abandoned slaughterhouse and reestablish a business there. To begin with, they offered him a $20,000 loan. Reb Avrohom Aharon thought it over, and the plan appealed to him.

Not long after, a group of Chassidic businessmen appeared at a Town Hall meeting in Postville to answer the curious questions of the town’s inhabitants.

Rabbi Manis Friedman, a well-known speaker who sports a long white beard, spoke on behalf of the group from Brooklyn. To the locals, who had never seen a Jew before, he was somewhat akin to an alien.

The meeting opened with a cold, tense atmosphere. Reb Manis decided to break the ice. “People say,” he began, “that where there are two people there will be two opinions. With us Jews, when there are two people there are three opinions….”

Many people couldn’t help but laugh, despite themselves. Slowly the locals came to realize that they were dealing with a human being not unlike themselves. It seems that Rabbi Friedman’s tendency to speak with his hands and respond to one question with another (that old Jewish habit) somehow won over the skeptical Iowans.

Like him or not, they were forced to admit that they needed him. The assembled locals correctly surmised that the Jewish presence in the old slaughterhouse would result in an influx of men and jobs that could change their fortune.

By the time the meeting closed, nearly everyone was wearing their old smiles once again.

Founding a Jewish Presence

Reb Avrohom Aharon didn’t waste any time. He immediately took over the abandoned slaughterhouse and spent exorbitant sums to renovate the plant and make it suitable for a glatt kosher facility. He wouldn’t compromise when it came to kashrus, and his plant was the first and only plant in America to employ the special hiddur of shechita munachas (in which animals are slaughtered while lying on their back).

Reb Avrohom Aharon explains, “The idea of using shechita munachas was raised by the son of the Rav of Margereten, the late Reb Meir Shmuel (one of several rabbanim and kashrus organizations who gave their seal of kashrus to this method of slaughtering), a devout man who expended much effort to see this hiddur put into practice. This was no simple matter. He traveled with me around the world to see what could be done and how such a form of shechita could be instituted. It cost us huge sums of money. Nobody was doing it in America, as there was no particular demand for this hiddur, but we were doing it right from the beginning because it was the Rav’s wish.”

A short while later trucks began to arrive in Postville, delivering the possessions of the 30 or so Chassidic families that converged on Postville from Brooklyn and other Jewish population centers around the world. Many of the men wore shtreimels and high, white socks on Shabbos, making them appear to the locals like something out of a fantastic dream.

But the benefits these strangers brought to the city could not be denied. In no time things began to improve dramatically. The economy picked up and real estate agents who had not seen a successful deal concluded in years found themselves busy once again, virtually overnight. Hundreds of locals found employment in the new factory and both sides were tremendously pleased.

The beginning wasn’t without difficulty for the hardy Jewish souls who ventured into the unknown wilderness of the American Midwest. Postville obviously didn’t have a kosher grocery of its own and the nearest Jewish community with its own resources was far away. The nearest available mikvah was in Rochester, Minnesota, a two hour drive from Postville.

Still, the new inhabitants in Postville benefited from some other advantages they had not known in their previous homes. For one, the cost of living was a fraction of what they had been paying until then. A four-bedroom home with a nice-sized surrounding yard could be found in Postville for just $90,000. Another benefit they received was a drastic discount on all meat orders “Agri” employees made at the Rubashkin plant.

During the first few months of the kehillah’s formation, the Rubashkins established a shul, a mikvah, a cheder, a yeshiva and even a girls’ school – all at their own expense!

In time, a kosher grocery opened in Postville.

Run-ins with the Locals

Early on there were a number of uncomfortable incidents as the older inhabitants of Postville became acquainted with their newer neighbors. For the most part, this was a result of the Iowans’ complete unfamiliarity with Jews, especially Chassidic ones.

As the newcomers made their first appearance on the streets of Postville, their long jackets, tzitzis and shtreimels caught the attention of everyone in town. Groups of locals could be seen congregating in the streets, the post office or in restaurants discussing the “Hassids” who were just beginning to make themselves at home. How do those fellows keep their skullcaps on their heads even in the strongest winds?

The more hardy locals who tried to reach out to their new neighbors did not meet with immediate success.

Local women did not take kindly to the men’s habit of avoiding looking at them, interpreting this behavior as a sign of contempt by the Jews towards their Gentile neighbors. When Jewish women avoided accepting change from the hands of a male storekeeper, it was viewed as condescending or even racist behavior.

But there were other difficulties as well, not at all religious in nature. The Jews from Brooklyn were completely unused to being greeted warmly by every passerby, a habit which is universal in out-of-town communities.

Their driving habits were extremely out of place in the quiet, relaxed Midwestern town. The locals complained that the newcomers were making u-turns, an utterly normal occurrence in Brooklyn, but considered something akin to a capital offense in Postville. As mayor Leigh Rekow admitted, the residents soon began calling u-turns “Jew-turns.”

Mayor Rekow points out that there aren’t even any traffic lights in Postville, since the residents’ unusual courteousness renders electronic control of the streets superfluous. People settle everything among themselves.

Grooming one’s property is practiced religiously among Postville’s residents. Trees and grass are kept neat and flowers are planted each spring. But who ever heard of manicuring a lawn in Kings County? Who there even has a lawn?!

Some of the renovations the Jews naturally wanted for their new homes, such as a second sink and stove for their kitchen, were misinterpreted by Postville’s hapless residents as an attempt by the newcomers to flaunt their wealth at the expense of their non-Jewish neighbors.

The fact that some the residents already harbored deep-seated anti-Semitism prior to the Jews’ arrival did not help matters much.

“It was a shock to many in our community that Jews were going to settle here,” says Mayor Leigh Rekow. “Many of the residents will never accept the fact that there are Jews in their city.” Where does this attitude stem from? “This is just how they are. It’s human nature. As a pretty isolated and close-knit community, we never cultivated a strong connection with the outside world. When I was in high school about 50 years ago, an African-American person was something we never saw.”

R’ Yoshe Zelig Aranoff, one of the earlier Jewish settlers in Postville, tells of the frequent anti-Semitic incidents they were subjected to in the early years.

“In the beginning, the situation was pretty severe,” he relates. “It wasn’t an unusual occurrence for a Jewish family to be sitting at the Shabbos table eating their meal when a rock would suddenly come crashing through the window. One Jew in particular found himself targeted in this way on a weekly basis.”

R’ Aranoff, a friendly and amicable fellow who enjoys a good story, relates an episode that occurred on another Shabbos.

I had just left shul together with Hershey Rubashkin. Across the street, a crowd of teenagers were observing us when one of them suddenly yelled, “Heil Hitler” and the rest of the gang burst into laughter.

Hershey turned to me and said, “Let’s get out of here fast,” but I shot back, “What’s your rush? I’ve already eaten at the Kiddush,” and I nonchalantly began walking in the direction of the crowd. Suddenly, one of the youths shot out of the group and began fleeing. Surmising that he must be the culprit, I grabbed him by the shoulders and faced him squarely, “Tell me, you know me from somewhere? Did you ever even see a Jew in your life before this? Where did you pick up such terrible hatred? In the entire 100 miles surrounding this city, there is not a single Jewish cemetery to be found. You don’t even know what a Jew is or what one looks like.”

It was obvious that the entire group of teenagers, and the perpetrator in particular, were truly frightened. They all began apologizing, explaining that they hadn’t meant it seriously, and promising that it would never happen again. And just like always, friendly and amicable R’ Yoshe Zelig left for home with a smile on his face.

As long as the situation in the city was financially difficult, the locals made a serious attempt to suppress their personal animosity, but as soon as things began looking up for the town, they willingly forgot who had been instrumental in the drastic improvements and began exploring different ways of making life difficult for the Jews.

The native residents came up with a plan to annex the territory where Agriprocessors was located (which had up until then been considered outside the city limits) in order to bring the “Hassids” under the authority of the Postville government officials, and force them to pay city taxes.

A referendum, required by law, was called to discuss the idea of annexing the plant. The Rubashkins expressed their deep disappointment over the war that was being waged against them, and announced that, in the event that the referendum affirmed the plan, they would be forced to leave Postville, taking along all the financial bounty they had brought with them. It goes without saying that the town would then inevitably fall back into the economic rut it had been floundering in, just in the recent past.

Mayor Leigh Rekow, then a city councilman, was, as he tells it himself, the initiator of the annexation campaign. When the Jews threatened to pack up and leave, his response was, “Just be careful that the last one to leave does not get hurt by the slam of the door.”

Working Out the Differences

In time, these differences were worked out, more or less. The old-timers learned that the Jews really are friendly under their decidedly different external shells, and the Chassidim, for their part, slowly acclimated to the out-of-town mode of behavior.

Of course, the tremendous change in fortune wrought by the new enterprise in Postville went a long way toward helping the locals overcome their initial annoyance. They were well aware that they needed their new Jewish neighbors even more than the Jews needed them.

Reb Avrohom Aharon makes it clear that there were never any serious conflicts between the Jews and non-Jews in Postville.

“Anyone you meet in Postville will only have good things to say about us,” he insists. “We were always friendly and respectful to the old-timers. I even received a letter from the local priests – there are three ministers there – thanking me for bringing jobs to the local non-Jews. Any stories you hear to the contrary are nonsense.”

R’ Sholom Mordechai relates that he had always made it a priority to cultivate a positive relationship with the non-Jewish residents.

One day, I was in my office at the slaughtering house when I suddenly realized there was a racket going on outside. I left my office to find an angry non-Jew shouting that he needed to speak with Sholom immediately. The secretaries were trying to restrain him, explaining that he first required an appointed for that. I walked over and gently invited him into my office where I asked him how I could be of assistance.

“Your brother crashed into my car and then disappeared!” he yelled in fury.

Apparently, a Jewish resident had unfortunately made contact with his car in a manner that rubbed him the wrong way, and had, either knowingly or not, made off without paying. In his eyes, any Jew wearing the same garb as myself was my brother. I unhesitatingly reached into my pocket, retrieved some 800 dollars, and handed it to him. My brother-in-law, R’ Yossi Gurarie who was watching the scene, confronted me.

“What in the world are you doing? Why are you giving him this money? It’s not like you’ve done anything to him.”

“True,” I replied, “but to this guy, we are all brothers and we are required to do whatever we can to appease him, in order to avoid a chillul Hashem.”

Needless to say, the fellow left the plant quiet satisfied.

Postville’s motto has long been, “Hometown to the World,” but this was never as true as when the Rubashkins revived the old slaughterhouse there. They imported a whole community of Chassidic shochtim, mashgichim and their families. And these were soon followed by a whole caravan of immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Eastern Europe who arrived to fill other posts in the plant.

In no time, the newcomers were buying clothing and groceries and paying for services in Postville’s once empty shops and businesses. The businessmen were delighted with the new-found wealth of customers and the money pouring into the local economy – particularly when the Yomim Tovim rolled around.

“Imagine,” one dry cleaner exclaimed after Pesach, “they bring me $80 worth of cleaning at a time!”

One delivery man received the shock of his life when a Jewish woman handed him $20 as a tip for delivering a major appliance. Another fellow couldn’t believe his ears when his Chassidic neighbor insisted on paying him $30 for cutting down a few branches for his sukkah.

The Largest Slaughterhouse in the World

R’ Avrohom Aharon sent his children Yosef, Sholom Mordechai and Hershey (who was the first Jewish resident in the town), as well as his son-in-law, R’ Yosef Guari, to oversee the operation of the plant in Postville while he oversaw the project from his home in Boro Park, where he continues to work in the same butcher shop.

R’ Sholom Mordechai relates his personal story to our interviewer from the darkness of his jail cell. He explains firmly that he had never planned to come out to Postville in order to build himself up as a successful businessman. Striking it rich had never been his dream. His dream was merely to spread Torah to every corner of the world, and saw in his move to Postville the potential realization of that dream. He moved to the town with the goal of providing kosher meat to Jews. He wanted to have the privilege of being the emissary that ensured that kosher food was available all over the United States. The business was merely a triviality in the greater scheme of things, but, apparently, Heaven had destined otherwise for him.

In just 10 years, the plant grew to be the largest kosher slaughterhouse in America. It sent refrigerated tractor-trailers delivering all types of meats to New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles. Meat was even sold to Eretz Yisrael. The Agri plant in Postville was on its way to becoming the largest meat producer in the world.

The Rubashkins successfully combined the best hiddurim in shechita with the latest technology, developing a sophisticated system that churned out 2 million pounds of beef, chicken and turkey a week. Chickens were slaughtered at a rate of 60,000 per day!

Agriprocessors soon dominated the American kosher meat market. The plant in Postville met 60% of the demand for beef and 40% of the demand for chicken. Some 11 million Americans ate Rubashkin meat, not only religious Jews, but also Muslims who eat halal and other Gentiles who believe kosher meat to be healthier. The Rubashkins sold $10.5 billion worth of meat a year.

It wasn’t long before their outstanding success drew the attention of certain people who eyed the venture with deep animosity and did all they could to bring the kosher meat magnates down.

Troubles Begin

The problems began in 2004, when the animal rights organization PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (apparently human beings are not included in that ethical agenda), publicized a scandalous video designed to portray the shechita taking place in Agri as gruesome and brutal. Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin explains how this came about.

PETA contacted us, demanding that we allow them to visit our slaughterhouse and that we institute a long list of changes in the procedures we use to slaughter the animals and fowl. We categorically refused their request, explaining that all aspects of the shechita are under the direct control of the rabbis and mashgichim, who ensure that the strictest standards of kashrus are met and under no circumstances can we dictate to them how the shechita should be done.

I was well aware of how much damage PETA had caused to shechita in other countries. I made a firm decision to resist all their attempts to undermine kosher shechita. But they went ahead and smuggled in an agent under the guise of a worker who covertly made tapes inside the plant. Then they created an uproar in the media, claiming that we were treating the animals cruelly.

Obviously, if the video were compared to the slaughtering methods used in other slaughterhouses in America, you would find that our shechita is being done exactly the way it is supposed to be and using the exact same methods that have been in use for hundreds of years. No form of shechita will sit well with the fainthearted. It is not a pleasant sight to watch, no matter how you do it. Most people are totally unfamiliar with the process and in any case, watching it on video in full color can be shocking for a sensitive person.

PETA went ahead with a massive campaign to publicize the many barbaric practices that were allegedly going on in our plant. Their campaign was pure slander, but they insisted that government intervention was called for. This was a very serious dilemma; we knew all too well the unfortunate results of government mixing into shechita matters.

In an attempt to defend ourselves, we ran a campaign of our own to counter their lies. We invited rabbis and other experts in the field to visit our plant and see for themselves that it was all nonsense. The Department of Health conducted its own investigation and immediately saw that there was no truth to the wild claims. The Health Department refused to pursue the matter further.

In addition, we brought in a delegation of world-renowned experts including Rabbi Dr. Lowinger; Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture; and Dr. Temple Grendon from the University of Colorado, the greatest expert on slaughterhouses in America, who wrote a very positive report about our procedures and practices.

I explained that this is the way Jews were commanded to prepare their meat and that we would not compromise on the way we do our shechita. I even brought scientific proofs that shechita is, in fact, the most humane way to kill an animal.

Eventually the malicious campaign against us quieted down. PETA’s motives and lowly tactics are well-known and it wasn’t all that difficult to convince people that their complaints were pure fiction. In our worst nightmares, though, we could never have imagined what was yet to come….

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2 thoughts on “Zman – The Rubashkin Story from A-Z

    Maria Stahl said:
    May 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

    I appreciate your posting these excerpts. I am a gentile living in Allamakee County who has been watching the proceedings. Seeing this from the perspective of the “Postville Rabbis” is certainly interesting.

    Regarding the story of the teenagers and their stupid comment, I am reminded of something I was told by a friend when my son was younger: One boy has one brain. Two boys have half a brain between them. Three brains share only a quarter of a brain. And it goes from there. A polite but firm confrontation of what they said was the perfect reaction and they might actually have learned something from the encounter.

    […] – The Continuation In the time since our first article of the Rubashkin case came out, Sholom Rubashkin has been found innocent of all the charges of breaking child labor laws. […]

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