Mr. Sholom Rubashkin was recently released from prison. There are compelling arguments that his sentencing was both procedurally and substantively unjust. His family both loves him and needs him, and no one’s interests were served by keeping him imprisoned. Every report that I have seen verifies that he did many good and important philanthropic deeds within his home community. It is plausible that a core goal of his business was to make kosher meat more affordable, and we should be aware that his home community includes a high percentage of families that would be challenged economically even if being Orthodox carried no financial cost.
But it is also clear that Mr. Rubashkin’s business rested on a structure that allowed for and likely depended on the exploitation of workers, especially workers who were in a land not their own. He prevented unionization; he gave workers no safe avenue to complain about bosses who extorted them or sent them into unsafe working conditions; and this despite knowingly hiring employees who were desperately vulnerable because of their immigration status.
I must make absolutely clear that I am not advocating here for either looser immigration enforcement (so illegal workers will be less vulnerable) or tighter immigration laws (so that there will be fewer undocumented workers to exploit). My political analysis is that we have here (and in Israel) a “Baptists and bootleggers” situation, in which liberals and conservatives combine to create a moral situation much worse than either’s policies could independently create (the equivalent of making whiskey easily available but only from criminals). But my political analysis has no claim to be Torah.
What I am claiming on the basis of Torah is that we should be very, very wary of celebrating a Jewish redemption that is not accompanied by a profound sensitivity to labor ethics.
Rabbi Aryeh Klapper, “Rubashkin and the Fall of the Jedi”, moderntoraleadership (12 January 2018) [https://moderntoraleadership.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/rubashkin-and-the-fall-of-the-jedi/].