Sholom Rubashkin Gets 27-Year Jail Sentence
Formerly the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse, AgriProcessors had previously been notorious for cruelty to animals, environmental devastation, and labor woes. But in May 2008, the company's absolute demise began when its primary slaughterhouse in Iowa was raided by more than a dozen government agencies. AgriProcessors later stopped production to a large extent, declared bankruptcy, and got bought by another company. Rubashkin faced 72 immigration-related charges in a separate trial that was supposed to follow the one that ended in November, but federal prosecutors dropped those charges, apparently because they were satisfied with the verdict in the first trial and didn't think there was much to gain from expending vast resources on a second. Rubashkin was also one of several defendants from AgriProcessors originally charged with 9,311 violations of Iowa child labor laws; many of those charges were later dropped or consolidated, and earlier this month, Rubashkin was found not guilty on all 67 state charges that he ultimately faced. That verdict does not exactly clear the company of any wrongdoing, though. As Failed Messiah reflected, "Rubashkin's defense team pointed their collective finger at Heshy Rubashkin, who like his brother Sholom was an Agriprocessors VP. Does it make you feel any better about Agriprocessors labor practices if the documented abuses are Heshy's fault rather than Sholom's?"
This saga has caused pain for so many. It has caused great hardship for the Rubashkin family, and by many accounts, Rubashkin was a great contributor to the Jewish community in his personal life. Animals were treated inhumanely in a manner that had already been uncovered and supposedly stopped. The community of Postville, Iowa, was economically devastated, and many former AgriProcessors employees and their families suffered tremendously. When the second federal trial was nixed, it meant that "workers, who for over a year have been prevented by the government from returning home, will not have the long-awaited opportunity to tell their story and seek justice through the trial on immigration charges of Sholom Rubashkin," as a letter from Iowa clergy put it. Their struggle was prolonged for naught.
The whole ordeal has galvanized numerous factions within the Jewish community. The publicity generated by the scandal helped pave the way for Magen Tzedek and Uri L'Tzedek to develop seals for ethical treatment of workers. Many Orthodox supporters of Rubashkin seemingly refused to consider the facts of the cases and insisted that prosecutors and critics were acting out of anti-Semitism and unfairly targeting Rubashkin and AgriProcessors. As just one example, at least 15,000 people reportedly "attended" a rally for Rubashkin either online or in person earlier this month. When the jury found Rubashkin not guilty in the state trial, some in the Orthodox community were outraged that Jewish groups had doubted Rubashkin's supposed innocence and demanded an apology, as though Rubashkin had been totally vindicated and there were no other parts of the story.
As I noted as part of my High Holidays reflection before Rubashkin's trials began, I struggled with this ordeal as a Jew. I loathed AgriProcessors for the alleged crimes that had been committed, but I also realized that hoping for a man's downfall and suffering was not a righteous position to take. In a heebnvegan post on September 19, I concluded, "I hope that Rubashkin receives justice, both from the U.S. court system and, ultimately, from Hashem—nothing more and nothing less."
Now that "the results are in," I leave the last word to Magen Tzedek, which issued the following statement in November:
The news out of Sioux Falls, SD, yesterday, that Sholom Rubashkin was convicted on 86 out of 91 counts ... delivers both justice and a heavy heart to those of us who champion the cause of ethical kashrut. . . .Failed Messiah was a secondary source for much of the information in this post and was a leading secondary source of information for anyone looking to keep a close watch on this developing story over the last few years.
There is neither joy nor a sense of schadenfreude in yesterday’s conviction. Those of us who toil in the field of tikkun olam are downright demoralized by this highly preventable outcome. This story could have ended very differently.