"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Sholom Rubashkin Gets 27-Year Jail Sentence

Today it was announced that tomorrow, former AgriProcessors executive Sholom Rubashkin will be sentenced to 27 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $30 million in restitution. In November, Rubashkin was found guilty on 86 of 91 federal charges related to financial fraud. Although an appeal is likely and the trial of at least one more AgriProcessors defendant has yet to start, I'd like to think of this sentencing as at least a temporary end to a long-running scandal that has divided the Jewish community.

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. . . .

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.
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.


  • At 6/26/2010 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Once someone asked a famous criminal lawyer, how he justified defending criminals. His answer was that he thought his fees were enough punishment.

    Along the same line of thought, whatever Sholom Rubaskin did wrong, he has paid severely for two years by being separated from his family and being held behind bars, and the conditions that go along with it. Should he not be allowed to face a much lesser sentence and be allowed to improve himself and climb up from the mistakes and mess he made of his life. If not for himself, for the sake of ten children whose lives are at stake. Which one of any of us would be able to survive if we had not been allowed some amount of chances to reconstruct and remake mistakes in our lives. I will never accept this harsh sentence and just.

  • At 6/26/2010 5:21 PM, Blogger heebnvegan said…


    I don't have much feel for what the appropriate number of years in jail (possibly just the time he's already served) should be for these financial fraud charges. I have a lot of sympathy for your perspective on this.

    In this post I quoted what I wrote in Septmeber: "I hope that Rubashkin receives justice, both from the U.S. court system and, ultimately, from Hashem—nothing more and nothing less."

    Has Rubashkin received that first type of justice, nothing more and nothing less? I honestly don't know.

  • At 6/26/2010 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If wild criminals are given a chance to rehabilitate their lives, how is it that a father of ten children, who is a loving father, can not be given a chance to correct his errors and be a father to his children for 27 years! It is an unbelievable sentence, and I hope our leaders of our great country will reconsider this harsh decision.

    Yes, wrong doings must be judged as wrong doings, but if there is no element of mercy shown, who can survive? Judgement coupled with mercy brings awe and respect for our government; not these kind of judgements.

    Please reconsider and prepare a different kind of sentence that has some consideration for the wife and children; that will allow them some hope for the future. This sentence leaves no room for any hope for the future. He's already been separated from his family and friends for two years, and his business future is ruined. This sentence is worse than he deserves.

    Please, United States government, let's change this sentence to something that will be bearable and honorable to a fellow human being who failed, but can be reconstructed and given another chance. The shock of this sentence is enough punishment. Please bring some hope.

  • At 6/26/2010 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Everyone must be grieving deeply for this sentence. It is unbearable for me even though I have never met him or his family or friends. We are all human beings and without mercies none of us could survive. Something has to be done to change this sentence. What will happen to the wife and children.


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