The following article by Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger appears in this week’s edition of the American Yated Ne’eman and is published here with permission.
I sit here just hours after having heard the news. I am dumbfounded and confounded. I am shaken up. I feel like a ton of bricks has hit me.
I am experiencing feelings I seldom have felt before.
It is Thursday night. I should be taking care of various Shabbos preparations, but instead I sit here unable to move.
How can I possibly go on with life like nothing has happened? Our brother was just been taken away, in handcuffs, by four officers, like a hardened criminal.
A jury has found a good man guilty of dozens of charges in a case that was nothing more than a concoction of lies and misrepresentations. I wish I could go out into the streets of America and let the world know the truth. I want to tell people of the evidence and testimony that the judge, Linda Reade, did not allow the defense to present to the jury. Most of all, I want to let the world know that the American court system is broken.
As someone who was in the courtroom told me a day before the trial wrapped up, “If the masses knew the way the court system in America truly operated, there would be riots in the streets.”
A jury listened for four weeks to flawed and empty testimony and decided that Reb Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin is guilty of 86 of 91 charges.
Their task was to consider whether the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Even without the crucial evidence that was withheld, the jury could not have possibly come to a logical conclusion that Reb Shalom Mordechai is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
So perhaps the jury system is broken too. Maybe it was bias. Maybe it was sheer ignorance. Or perhaps the government’s shock-and-awe tactic of throwing countless charges at their target worked. Maybe the jury, like so many other uninformed people, decided that if there’s smoke – even if the smoke was planted by the Federal government – there must be fire.
What blinded the five-man, seven-woman jury at the federal courthouse in downtown Sioux Falls? I don’t know. Was it anti-Semitism? Was it the site of a bearded Jew that prevented them from seeing the truth?
Reb Shalom Mordechai was targeted for destruction by PETA and the very unions which have destroyed manufacturing in this country and sent millions of jobs overseas. The Heksher Tzedek initiativewas partner in this greater effort aimed directly to bring down this successful company and family.
Even within our communities – and this is painful to say – there were and there are those who believed the fodder that the mainstream press coughed up on a regular basis.
If the Federal government charged a man with over 91 counts, how virtuous can he possibly be? Right?
These people never met or spoke to Reb Shalom Mordechai. They never heard the voice of this man who lives with Hashem every breathing second and has respect for the country we live in and its laws.
They never spoke to this individual who throughout this first trial was more worried about spreading the word of Hashem than the fact that he is being judged for his very life.
They never spoke to this consummate oveid Hashem who, during the days of his trial, was busy making copies of a sefer at the local Staples store in Sioux Falls. While awaiting the verdict, what was he doing? Giving a shiur to some bochurim who had come to give him chizuk.
The detractors never conversed with this special neshama who, during his very own trial, brought Torah and Yiddishkeit to Sioux Falls for the first time, igniting the pintele Yid in a dozen Jews who have been assimilated in the melting pot of America.
They never bothered to sit down and study the case, and try to make heads and tails of the charges that the prosecutors had thrown at Reb Shalom Mordechai.
They never bothered to try to understand why the government had targeted a vice president of the company and blamed him for all the crimes that they claimed were committed at the meat plant.
There never bothered to try to understand how in the world the very judge who ordered the unprecedented raid on Agriprocessors back in May 2008 could be the judge presiding over the case against Reb Shalom Mordechai. Wouldn’t she be biased against the defendant and attempt to steer the case in a fashion that would now justify her earlier decision to allow the company to be raided?
In our world, we call that a nogeiah b’dovor, a conflict of interest. In the American justice system, it’s called, well, justice, I guess.
Last Sunday, I spoke to Reb Shalom Mordechai. I picked up the phone and asked, in a voice filled with admiration, “Am I speaking with the semel (symbol) of bitachon here in the United States?”
He humbly laughed. He didn’t realize that I meant it with every fiber of my being.
He said modestly, “Mir darf hubben bitachon.”
To him, it was so simple. You believe in the Ribono Shel Olam. What the Master of the World does is good and with a reason. A Yid believes that there’s a plan. Even when you are the victim of a flawed judicial system and a biased judge, you maintain your trust in the Ribono Shel Olam. That’s Reb Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin.
Rabbi Moshe Feller of Minneapolis told me several weeks ago that Reb Shalom Mordechai is a “Tehillim Yid.” He has been completing Tehillim daily for years.
A pure and holy Yid. A Yid who knows the lashon hara spread about him, but is undeterred and undaunted.
A Yid who lives with Hakadosh Boruch Hu every day.
Halevai oif mir gezokt.
It was thus so heartbreaking to learn of the jury’s decision Thursday evening. I was numb. I knew the facts and the fabrications. I knew that Reb Shalom Mordechai was hampered in his effort to provide evidence to prove his innocence.
I tried to regain my bearings and I thought back to when this all started several years ago. Allegations of animal abuse were suddenly made by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, after they planted someone in the Agriprocessors plant undercover – in what noted attorney Nathan Lewin said was illegal trespass of the premises – and took pictures of what was going on in the meat plant.
I thought of the fact that from then, until now, the greater frum community – with few exceptions, including our publisher, Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz – did not sufficiently come to Reb Shalom Mordechai’s defense. The company that had provided meat to the greater Jewish community for years – and at no cost to countless kehillos and mosdos – and should have received the support of the Jewish community was left hanging for the unions and others to jump in and tear the company down.
These efforts were buttressed by articles filled with distortions and falsifications about the Rubashkins printed in The Forward and on countless websites and blogs. To this day, shockingly, frum publications, in print and online, have been almost totally silent, failing to point out what has been nothing less than a travesty of justice, even before the verdict of the Sioux Falls jury was handed down.
The Rubashkins treated their employees better than the employees are treated at all the major slaughterhouses in the United States, according to Attorney Lewin. They were paid better and treated more humanely. But false exposés take on lives of their own and people believe what they want to believe.
Federal officials then raided the plant, something they never did at any other slaughterhouse or company accused of hiring illegal immigrants. As Mr. Lewin has pointed out, suddenly, under the Obama administration, immigration officials have changed their policy and are no longer raiding plants. They have decided to simply to talk to employers to get them to fire their illegal employees. This was something the Rubashkins were always prepared to do. The government never gave them that chance.
When I learned of the verdict Thursday afternoon, I read that the jury had acquitted Reb Shalom Mordechai on five charges and wondered which ones those were. I read: The jury found him not guilty of five counts of violating a law requiring payment of livestock providers within 24 hours.
Those following the case know that prosecutors alleged that the company violated a 2002 order by the U.S. secretary of agriculture to pay cattle providers within 24 hours of a sale. The charge stemmed from a 1921 law, the U.S. Packers and Stockyards Act. The law requires “prompt payment” to protect livestock producers.
However, scholars who have studied the law said they had never seen it invoked in a criminal case.
Chris Kelley, a University of Arkansas law school professor, at the time, said, “This is the first time in my life that I’ve heard of that.”
Reb Shalom Mordechai’s attorney, Guy Cook, addressed this charge at the time by stating that the livestock producers themselves, to this day, have a positive opinion of Reb Shalom Mordechai and have said that his ‘word is gold.’ Agri always paid fair money and the cattle people were happy with the arrangement. The government tried to enforce a law that has never been invoked and that has not been called into question by the cattle producers themselves.
The jury apparently recognized that. What they failed to realize was that just as this charge was patently preposterous, the entire case against Reb Shalom Mordechai was no less spurious.
And what did the jury think about the fact that the government insisted on singling out Reb Shalom Mordechai exclusively for every minor and major violation they claimed to have uncovered? Why didn’t that invite suspicion? Frankly, how is it possible in a business so massive for one person to be single-handedly responsible for every single alleged mistake and oversight?
Why didn’t prosecutors ask even one question – not a single one – of Aaron Rubashkin while he was on the witness stand? Perhaps, as Attorney Cook said later, questioning the true owner of the plant might uncover information that would weaken their case against Reb Shalom Mordechai. That couldn’t be allowed. They were following a script and they were going to follow it all the way to the bitter end. There was no desire for the truth.
They threw 91 charges at Reb Shalom Mordechai. For what? For bank, mail and wire fraud, which are all the very same charge. The government was on a mission to overwhelm the jury.
Cook told the jury, “You’re supposed to think, ‘Ninety-one counts? He must have done something terrible. Even if he’s only guilty of a quarter of them, he must be a criminal!'”
Sadly, the government’s ploy seemed to have worked. The jury fell into their trap.
How about the fact that of the 50 witnesses the prosecution called, none of them – not one – who had any acquaintance with Reb Shalom Mordechai had a bad word to say about him?
Consider the fact that in pre-trial rulings, Reade had separated the charges of bank fraud from immigration-related charges, calling for two separate trials, and yet this ruling was repeatedly violated during the actual trial. Reade had said that combining the multiple issues and charges would confuse the jury, making a fair trial impossible, but she still inexplicably permitted the prosecution to call up no less than seven witnesses to testify about illegal immigrants being harbored at the meat-packing plant, allegedly with Reb Shalom Mordechai’s knowledge.
Most disturbing, perhaps, is that crucial evidence by the defense team in establishing Reb Shalom Mordechai’s innocence was repeatedly barred by Judge Reade. Witnesses who had traveled considerable distances to testify were told by the judge that their information was not “relevant” and could not be presented before the jury.
“401. 402. 403.”
Those are the numbers of the court rules that were cited again and again and again throughout the case by Reade, ruling that certain evidence and testimony were not “relevant.”
Reade said she was afraid that certain topics would sway the jury in the defendant’s favor.
Reade did nothing less than deprive the defense team of opportunities to prove Reb Shalom Mordechai’s innocence.
What was considered taboo, you want to know?
Reb Shalom Mordechai’s generosity. His charitable activities. His care and concern for others. Any demonstration that this is an upstanding, law-abiding, moral and ethical man. There was no place in the trial for an “emotional litany reciting the defendant’s good works,” Reade intoned. The defense team was also forbidden to mention politicians or elected officials who had toured Agriprocessors in the past, and had publicly lauded the plant, its management, operations and contribution to the community.
The defense was admonished to avoid all mention of the challenges the family faced in dealing with their 16-year old son’s autism, lest it evoke sympathy from the jury.
What a shandeh. What a disgrace.
The suppression of other important testimony had the effect of straight-jacketing the defense. It cleared the way for the prosecution to paint Reb Shalom Mordechai as a conniving law-breaker who enriched himself and his family by defrauding the bank and exploiting the immigrants in his employment. Even when attorneys argued that the above testimony was important in disproving money-laundering allegations, or to dispel insinuations that Reb Shalom Mordechai lived a lavish lifestyle by misappropriating funds, Judge Reade rigidly imposed her restrictions.
The shabbiness of the government’s case despite the omission of this testimony was apparently still lost on the jury. Reb Shalom Mordechai was trained as a rabbi, not a businessman, and any alleged sloppy business practices that might have occurred didn’t amount to crimes.
It would appear that the government and the judge had their minds made up before this trial began. They had targeted Reb Shalom Mordechai and they were hell-bent on accomplishing what they set out to do.
A SILVER LINING
Amidst all the darkness and gloom, there have been streaks of light and inspiration. There is, first and foremost, the unbending – and almost supernatural – spiritual strength of Reb Shalom Mordechai.
At the same time, there has been an absolutely remarkable outpouring of support from Yidden across the country. No one knows about it, because those who have decided to contribute to this cause have, on their own, done so from the privacy of their homes, writing out a check or donating by credit card to take part in this effort to help a Jew caught in witch-hunt.
I recently looked through some of the checks that came in for the Pidyon Shvuyim Fund established for Reb Shalom Mordechai. I saw true achdus on the ground level, with Yidden of all kinds responding to the Yated‘s appeal and sending in checks ranging from $2 to $10,000. Many of these checks were accompanied by thoughtful notes, heartfelt brachos, and offers to help out in any way. I saw checks from Jews down south and donations by Lakewood yungeleit who barely have enough to sustain their own families. There were addresses from out West and donations from prominent rabbonim and askanim. The diversity of the donors was touching. I saw how people cared. Rather than the cynicism and antipathy that some would have us believe prevail out there, I saw care, compassion and sensitivity.
My heart swelled with pride, because I knew that the Ribono Shel Olam could only be shepping nachas from the unbelievable exhibition of thought and concern being shown. It is heartwarming to consider that in this economy, with many struggling as they are financially, people have truly taken to heart the plight of a Jew they never met and knew very little about until recently. Mi ke’amcha Yisroel.
ME OR YOU
Despite what others may say, this entire effort to destroy Reb Shalom Mordechai was not an isolated case. It was an attack and an assault on shechitah in general. Today it was Reb Shalom Mordechai and tomorrow it could be the new company in Postville and its owners who bought the plant and have reestablished the operation on the sweat, blood and tears of the Rubashkins.
A family business that provided more charity and tzedakah than any of us will ever know has gone up in smoke. Its founder, 80-year-old Aaron Rubashkin, has watched as his own son, whom he asked to assist with the running of the company, has been sacrificed on the altar of the American justice system.
We sit here powerless, as PETA, the unions and others wait in the wings to destroy other companies. They await the opportunity to pounce on other shechitah operations. And they won’t stop there. As this case has shown, any yarmulke-wearing Jew running a business better look over his shoulder.
Today the blood libel was against Reb Shalom Mordechai.
Tomorrow the victim could be me or you.