The problems with the Lubavitch

Postville Iowa Lubavitch problem started a long time ago.
July 13, 2008, 10:56 pm
Filed under: crime, Iowa Slaughter House | Tags: , ,

Learning from Postville

The Mississippifarian –

June 29, 2008

Read Jon Tevlin’s excellent in-depth article, There’s something bad in this town.

Rabbi Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation knew about Agriprocessors’ problems a long time before the raid. He knew the most recent CEO, Sholom Rubashkin, who for a time lived in St. Paul’s Highland Park before moving to Postville. After reading an article critical of the company, Allen led a delegation of Twin Cities rabbis to Postville in 2006.

Workers told story after story of long hours, unsafe conditions and wages as low as $5 an hour. They told him many of the same things now in court documents.

“They appeared to me to do everything possible to maximize the bottom line at the expense of human dignity,” Allen said of the plant owners.

The Minnesota rabbis tried to work with the Rubashkins. “I think if they had followed our advice, this may never have happened,” he said.

Allen is now leading a national movement to create a certification program called Hekhsher Tzedek, much like fair trade agreements, which would ensure not only that kosher meat is prepared properly, but also that workers are treated fairly.

Jews in the Midwest weren’t blindsided by this scandal, and tried to get the Lubavitchers to obey the law. It was never a secret what the Rubashkins were up to. From day one word got out all over northern Iowa about the bigoted Jews who’d moved to Postville. Initially, this transplanted community rejected all welcoming efforts and determinedly kept to themselves, refusing to even engage in small talk with locals. And the locals, understandably, took deep offense. So much so that Agriprocessors launched a PR effort to improve community relations (without having to mingle with the locals anymore than was absolutely necessary).

But what I don’t understand is why the locals turned a blind eye to the Guatemalans. Only an idiot would think that our government had granted work visas to that many Central Americans.

This is one of the last chapters in a long and sordid story about Iowa labor. When I was active in that movement in the ’70s, meatpacking unions across the state were under constant fire. It’s a vicious industry, and men who own plants that profit from selling meat, blood and guts aren’t squeamish about breaking unions. But the men who worked in packing plants were hard cases as well, and most of the packers ended up shutting down their plants rather than continue to pay union wages (living wages earned through demanding physical labor).

This was but a part of the great labor realignment Reagan brought with him. In Reagan’s first term, Iowa lost over ten percent of their work force. Tens and tens of thousands of Iowans were forced to leave the state to find employment.

Came the ’80s and Terry Branstead became governor. Branstead opened the doors to Iowa Beef Packers, and they swooped into Iowa with a vengeance, buying up old packing plants for pennies on the dollar and then bringing in Mexican laborers because even out-of-work Iowans wouldn’t do packing house work for the low wages offered by IBP.

It got so bad that state Attorney General Tom Miller sent letters out to every conceivable Hispanic organization warning them that IBP’s wages and working conditions did not offer decent job opportunities. The fact was that the Mexican workers ended up living in crowded apartments because they didn’t make enough money to pay rent. Despite having dangerous jobs, they had no health insurance, and IBP quickly developed a record of lying about workplace injuries. The workers were mostly men living apart from their families, locked into low wage jobs that didn’t permit them to bring their families to Iowa.

Agriprocessors simply moved into an existing bad situation, then proceeded to make it worse.

Read Tevlin’s article. It is only because of the lawless nature of the Bush administration that Agriprocessors’ owners are not facing trial. And God help them if they ever are put on trial. Kosher meat is a monopoly, and Agriprocessors could have raised their prices at any time, allowing them to easily pay living wages to legal employees. They chose not to. They chose to break labor laws, they chose to dehumanize their workers, they chose to reject the embrace of the local community and to instead develop an insular community.

It’s that last bit that’s the most telling. The Lubavitchers moved from Brooklyn to rural Iowa, and then sealed themselves off so their children wouldn’t be contaminated by the locals. To them, there was no difference between the gangs of Brooklyn and the church softball leagues of northeastern Iowa. They could have paid high wages without significantly impacting their sales (it’s good to have a monopoly on a product that’s endorsed by your religion).

I think the Jewish community need to recognize that within their faith, they harbor bigots every bit as vile as the worst Aryan Nation villains. And no, I don’t think I’m telling them anything new. I’m just encouraging Jews to be more open in their rejection of extremist beliefs. Postville was never in danger of becoming the Jewish Waco, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong element of Branch Davidian nuttiness permeating the Lubavitcher movement, a religious sect as fucked up as anything Sun Myung Moon or Jim Jones ever concocted. Seriously, on a theological level, the Mormon faith makes more sense than the bastardized Judaism practiced by Lubatvitchers, a personality-centered cult that should have disbanded when Rebbe Schneerson died.

Chabad Hasidim believe that there is no successor to Schneerson and all the suggested successors declined the mantle of leadership in the days after his death. Chabad Hasidim believe that he is still their leader, guiding them from beyond the grave through prayer and signs. Some Chabad Hasidim believe that he will return as the Messiah; this view has led to controversy with other Orthodox groups and within Chabad itself. Some, quoting Talmudic passages and statements that Schneerson himself made, refuse to put the typical honorifics that Jews normally use for the dead after his name. Schneerson’s messianism or divinity is not advocated in any of Chabad’s official literature, but such literature is published and distributed by people who hold that belief. Chabad-Lubavitch leaders have repeatedly condemned the Meshichists (messianists) in the strongest possible terms.


Kudos to the Twin Cities Jewish community for recognizing the problems being created by these transplanted Lubavitchers early on, and for trying to help fix a situation that predictably blew up in everyone’s faces.

On the Contrary

Weblog of Michael A. Hoffman II, Box 849, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho 83816. Author of Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare; The Israeli Holocaust Against the Palestinians (with Moshe Lieberman), and They Were White and They Were Slaves. Additional news about Hoffman and an archive of his writing, can be found at:


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