The jury in the trial of Reb Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin has been educated in the difficulties of running a kosher meatpacking plant. Reb Shalom Mordechai, 50, and a father of 10, faces a maximum 1,280-year prison sentence if convicted of all counts.
Rav Chaim Kohn, a witness for the defense, told the Sioux Falls, S.D. jurors on Thursday that they should not judge Reb Shalom Mordechai on the way he handled the business.
“People warned them (the Rubashkins) not to take on a company of this size,” said Rav Kohn, dayan of K’hal Adath Jeshurun in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, referring to the risks of running such a large operation.
Until 2006, Rav Kohn, who works for the KAJ supervision, was the head mashgiach at the Rubashkin-owned Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa.
In his eloquent testimony, Rav Kohn detailed the many challenges of operating a Jewish-run plant of such magnitude.
“For the first three years they were extremely concerned with cash flow, and in later years faced other challenges, such as hiring a gentile corporation for doing maintenance work and trucking on Shabbos,” he said.
Asked by an attorney whether he was referring to work on the plant, Rav Kohn answered ironically, “I hope we are talking about the plant in this trial.”
Some of the 16 members of the jury chuckled.
The jury was also told that Reb Shalom Mordechai was responsible for the founding of Jewish communal life in the town, a requirement for employing observant Jews.
Reb Shalom Mordechai was credited with opening and funding a shul, 2 schools, a mikvah and a grocery. “He was the point-man in the family for communal matters and was quite good at it,” Rav Kohn said.
Outside the jury’s presence – because of U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade’s ruling citing irrelevance – Rav Kohn recalled how People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) castigated Agri for what they claimed was the practice of ripping out live cows’ throats.
“PETA has an agenda and a prejudice against kosher,” Kohn said. “Shalom traveled numerous time to New York to deal with it. It was an assault on kashrus.”
While Rav Kohn was later replaced in Agri by the Nitra Rov, Rav Menachem Mendel Weissmandl of Monsey, N.Y., Rav Kohn called Reb Shalom Mordechai “a fast learner and undoubtedly an honest person.”
Closing arguments are beginning today. The judge is expected to sum up the case as early as tomorrow.