Rabbi Genack, can you describe what you do at the OU?
As CEO, I lead the kashrus department. My responsibility is to set policy for the organization, both halachic and administrative, and to make certain that the standards that are established are implemented. There are various levels of staff supervision that ultimately report to me. An addition in the past few years to my responsibilities is to be General Editor of OU Press, which affords me the opportunity to provide leadership and direction for OU Press’ goals to serve the community by publishing quality scholarship, based on Orthodox Jewish values, featuring the teachings of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik as well as works by other leading Jewish scholars and innovative thinkers.
How were you first brought into the OU?
In 1980, I had been leading a kollel at Touro College when I got an offer to join the OU. I accepted and have been there ever since.
What makes the OU unique as a kashrus organization?
The OU is the largest kashrus organization in the United States, and possibly in the world. It supervises 8,000 plants in 80 countries all over the world. Most basic ingredients – the foundation of kashrus supervision – are under the supervision of the OU.
Unique among kashrus organizations, the OU is non-profit. All income generated is returned to the community. The OU is active in promoting kiruv, which is funded primarily by income from OU Kosher, especially through the OU’s NCSY program for youth, as well as Yachad for special needs young people. We run significant programs sending teens to Israel and encouraging public school children to attend yeshivos. The OU is also involved in many communal projects, especially through its extremely successful Job Board, in terms of helping people find jobs. Both in terms of its reach and the plethora of its programs for the community, the OU is unique among kashrus organizations.
How has the OU changed since the time you first joined its staff?
It’s different because the world is so different. It’s much larger. Business is done globally and there are many more people involved. The food industry has become globalized. Ingredients are being imported from every corner of the earth, including Tibet and China. Food technology as well has become much more developed. The OU stays on top of all this and has become high-tech as well.
Our rabbinic staff, both those in the field (Rabbinic Field Representatives) and their supervisors at OU Headquarters (Rabbinic Coordinators) have remarkable backgrounds beyond Yoreh Deah to deal with this new situation. They are versed in chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering, food science, accounting, law, and other specialties. And yet, we must also evaluate the halachic ramifications precipitated by these new trends and developments.
Further, we now emphasize kashrus education on all levels, from the child in the early grades in yeshivos (and their teachers as well) to senior rabbonim in communities like Lakewood and Boro Park. Through our traveling programs, which always draw large audiences; our CDs and DVDs; our programs on OU websites (www. ou.org and www.oukosher.org) such as Kosher Tidbits, we provide the highest level of kashrus education to these different audiences.
As an example, on Sunday, November 21, our poskim, Rav Yisroel Belsky and Rav Hershel Schachter, together with Rabbi Elefant, the OU Kashrus COO, and myself; Rabbi Loike, our expert on birds; and Rabbi Stone, who is a remarkable writer and speaker, will go to the White Shul in Far Rockaway to explore major policy and halachic issues of OU Kosher. It will be the first time that the two poskim, Rabbi Elefant and I have ever appeared together on the same program.
How do you see our community’s image in the world at large today?
As part of the OU, in terms of our kashrus division, I would say that our image is excellent. From a business standpoint, we provide superior service. Our purpose is to make our image as a kashrus-abiding community a proud one. Our goal? To make kashrus available worldwide. I never forgot the words that my predecessor, Rabbi Yacov Lipshutz, a very fine talmid chochom in his own right, once told me, quoting Rabbi Soloveitchik: “When you see OU on a product, it is testimony to the vitality of the Jewish people.”
What is happening in terms of anti-Semitism worldwide?
We have to be ever vigilant because of the reemergence of anti-Semitism in every corner of the world. Part of this is because of Islamic anti-Semitism. For half a century after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism was quiescent. But now, both in Europe and in the Islamic world, it has come very much to the fore. And that, of course, is a very frightening phenomenon.
We see this relating to kashrus issues as well. Shechitah is under attack in New Zealand, Britain, and other places. This is very troublesome. Boruch Hashem, we don’t see this in the United States. We should thank Hashem every day that we live in such a great country.
Do you think the attacks on shechitah are fostered by anti-Semitism?
Certainly anti Semitism is a significant component, but there are other elements to it as well.
When did you first become concerned with the case of R’ Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin?
Obviously, we were concerned from the start. I know R’ Sholom Mordechai personally, as the OU supervised his plant and kashrus operations. Agriprocessors represented the largest glatt kosher slaughtering plant in the United States. The Rubashkins’ personal commitment to kosher motivated them to serve as distributors to small communities that would not otherwise have had kosher products available to them. For the Rubashkins, it was not just a business decision but also an ideological commitment to make sure that kosher food was available to every community in the United States.
What do you see happening in the Rubashkin case?
As the case unfolds, we’re looking at an extraordinary miscarriage of justice. Don’t take my word for it. Six former U.S. attorneys general, from Ramsey Clarke to Edward Meese, wrote to the sentencing judge that the suggested sentence was a complete misreading of the guidelines. It wasn’t anything close to what the sentencing should be.
In addition, a new revelation, accessible due to the Freedom of Information Act, has been recently uncovered: evidence that the sentencing judge, Linda Reade, had ex parte meetings with the U.S. Attorney General’s office and was involved in the planning stages of the raid on the Rubashkin plant. It was therefore completely inappropriate for her to be the judge on this case. A judge is supposed to be completely dispassionate; she should have revealed her previous involvement in the planning of the raid. She should have recused herself or at the very least told the defense about her involvement so that they could have made a motion for her to recuse herself. And of course, when the defense went before her to ask for a new trial, she dismissed the request.
In general, Reade has proven herself to be a judge who has overreached her judicial role in many different areas.
She has a history of outlandishly harsh judgments and has proven herself to be one of the handful of the harshest sentencing judges on the federal bench. One of her past judgments meted out a penalty of 17 years in prison for a 17-year-old boy convicted of pawning a weapon.
United States judges are allotted a lot of power due to the confidence in them, inherent in the system, that they will use this power with balance. That is not what’s going on now.
Part of the calculations used when judging white-collar crime is gauging the amount of loss incurred. In this case, the U.S. Attorney’s office precipitated part of the loss. When the Rubashkin company was up for sale, the U.S. Attorney undermined the possibility of the Rubashkins emerging financially sound from the sale by enforcing ridiculous rules pending the sale. For example, the buyer was not allowed to speak to the Rubashkins regarding the plant or hire any of the Rubashkins to work for them. I was aware of at least one buyer who was very interested in purchasing the plant and traveled from overseas to view it. He didn’t end up buying it, however, because of the restrictions enforced by the U.S. Attorney General. Who would invest in such a huge investment without the opportunity of learning from its previous owners how to run it?
Even in terms of what happened with bank issues, mitigating factors were not considered, as they usually are. This family was not trying to steal from the banks. This family had a business relationship with this bank for the past number of years and the bank had benefited tremendously from their business. At that point, they were trying to save their company. This was not some Ponzi scheme, as the level of punishment indicates. What is essentially a life sentence, 27 years, is a total miscarriage of justice.
Let’s not forget the prosecution’s opening salvo on the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in May 2008 – the shock-and-awe raid, replete with a Black Hawk helicopter, guns and wholesale arrests. The resources used were far disproportionate to what should have been necessary for an adequate pursuit of its investigation. The unprecedented incarceration of immigrant workers for the types of violations that were alleged and the violations of due process, in which immigrant workers were shuttled through the court system barely understanding the proceedings, set the tone for a grossly overzealous prosecution.
What was your opinion about the raid in general?
The raid itself, without due process, and the general way it was conducted, was a huge miscarriage of justice, from beginning to end an approach that is unprecedented in criminalizing illegal immigration. The interviewing of immigrants who knew no English, shuttling them through the courts, and giving them five months in prison (instead of the usual protocol of deportation) were shocking. They were jailed without being given due process, a foreshadowing of the outrageous miscarriage of justice for Mr. Rubashkin. Honestly, besides the fact that he is a Jew, what went on here, both in and out of the courtroom itself, should shock every American.
How would you describe R’ Sholom Mordechai as you knew him?
Unfortunately, the U.S. Attorney had a complete misrepresentation of who R’Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin really is. He and his family have a history of chessed and kindness. When I heard him from his prison cell speaking at his son’s bar mitzvah, he was a man of great faith and tenacity. It was an incredible speech to listen to, to hear the amazing bitachon in his voice. On a human level, it was very moving to hear.
Businesswise, I will say that my own impression of Mr. Rubashkin is that he should not have been running a major corporation. He was lacking the managerial skills necessary for the position. But we don’t need to be apologists for him. The punishment was totally unfit for the crime.
The bottom line is that the overall picture is that in terms of any violation of the law, the overreaching of the U.S. Attorney General, the severity of the sentence, the dismissal of any mitigating factors, the refusal of the judge to recuse herself, and the U.S. Attorney superseding indictments seven times are all unprecedented and unwarranted. We should all be concerned about this case as Americans. It’s not only a parochial concern, it’s an American concern. Look at the miscarriage of justice. Let us look, be concerned, and be supportive.
How specifically have you been able to help justice be served in the Rubashkin case?
I’ve spoken to about 15 members of Congress regarding this case, several of whom have written letters on his behalf. They were shocked to learn the details of this case.
Have you had previous relationships with these Congressmen?
I have. I live with my family in Englewood and have been involved in the founding of NORPAC, the largest pro-Israel committee there is today. We founded this group in 1990 when we were concerned about the administration’s attitude towards Israel. It’s a bi-partisan group dedicated to supporting politicians who support Israel.
How has your own personal background affected your work for the klal?
My parents arrived in the United States during the war as refugees. I’ve seen up close how wondrous our country is. How fortunate my parents were, boruch Hashem, to have somewhere to run to. They had been living in Lithuania, escaped to Antwerp, and then ran from there just in time, through France, Morocco and Cuba, and finally arrived in the United States.
So I don’t take our freedoms for granted. I think that the United States is a great country, and throughout its history it has been a beacon of light when at times the world was a very dark place.
Thank you, Rabbi Genack, for clarifying points in the Rubashkin case and for all you do for the Rubashkins and for the rest of Klal Yisroel.