As far as I have been able to understand, the accusations are not of fraud, but rather that Hebrew National’s supervision was guilty of some policy choices and some mistakes that render the meat they were selling not kosher “to the most stringent Orthodox standards” which they profess – wherefor they are guilty of lying and fraud. There is also a worker mistreatment component. If that worked to scuttle Rubashkin, it might work again against Hebrew National.
My comment: wild claims remain wild claims until substantiated.
Rabbi Ralbag at HN has legitimate credentials and has shown himself serious. He has taken on the task of skating as close to the edge of leniency as he possibly can to fit the needs of a mass market operation. Some resent him for it. Did he cross a line? Cannot say -- don't have the inside track. But the claims of the lawsuit (in so far as I have read a part) seem very general and sketchy -- and make the claim that his
statement that the food is kosher "to the most stringent Orthodox standards" is a lie. Well it is certainly hyperbole, since "the most stringent" can certainly be way out there and he depends on some more lenient rulings. His meat is not glatt. Most other certifiers will only certify glatt. That is an unnecessary stringency, but one many hold by. He permits post-shechita stunning (details below) which most do not.
But if the claim is that his rulings are all recognized even by the most stringent, that is probably true.
How much valence you wish to give charges (anonymous so far, I have not been able to find who is bringing this suit) until they have been adjudicated is clearly a decision that one need to make in terms of one’s own consumption. The halakhah recognized things as remaining within their prior presumed status (re HN – kosher, unless you never accepted Ralbag’s supervision, which is the case in the Ner
Israel crowd) until it is proven otherwise.
Technical appendix re post-shechita stunning.
Halakhah does not permit eating animals that died on their own or are in the process of dying on their own except for by natural aging (we are all in the process of dying on our own it that is factored in). Thus the normal process of shechitah includes a check of the slaughtered animals lungs (considered tell-tale like a mine canary) to determine if the animal was diseased. If it was afflicted by a fatal disease process, it is declared tref, despite having been properly slaughtered. That is where the difference between glatt kosher and regular lies. Regular meat undergoes certain lung checks before being declared kosher, and certain signs of disease are disregarded as “non-fatal”. Glatt meat undergoes more thorough checking, so it takes a bit longer, and, a more significant difference, more low level signs of disease are rejected, just to be sure. Both of these features lead to the higher price of glatt meat over standard. It
has, however, become the new normal in the Orthodox community despite its higher price and most recognized hashgachot will only certify glatt.
Animal rights groups are concerned with animal pain. At the extreme they are pro-vegetarian and would ban eating meat. Since that is an unlikely campaign, they have made their greatest strides in seeking to lessen the pain and suffering of animals being used by industry (for meat, milk, eggs). Re the way they are raised, that has been the focus of campaigns against factory farms, feed lots, and dense-packed
crated chicken raising. Re meat animals, that has informed the campaigns against hoisting and shackling for slaughter, and has brought a universal demand for stunning an animal before slaughter so that it is insensible to the pain.
The kosher slaughter industry has stood against the campaigns to require stunning, arguing, I believe correctly, that either common form of stunning (electrical, think taser, or by what is called a captive bolt gun – a gun which fires a blunt iron rod against the animals temples to knock it out) has the potential effect of beginning a process by which the animal would die (if you didn’t, of course, slaughter it just
seconds later), thereby rendering it unkosher despite proper shechitah. In “stunning” the animal’s rights groups have found an effective humanitarian tool with which to pursue their anti-shechitah, anti-halal slaughter programs. In much of Europe kosher slaughter is now banned, because they require pre- slaughter stunning.
In the course of all this it was discovered that stunning has the collateral effect of immediately reducing the blood-pumping mechanism, making the slaughter process a little less bloody and thereby allowing the speeding up of the factory line. Higher production, an industrialist’s holy grail. But on kosher lines the old messier situation prevailed. Some experimentation discovered that stunning just moments after
the throat cut also reduces what is called “blood splatter.” Not as much as pre-shechitah stunning, but enough to matter. The industry then applied to their kosher supervisers to determine if this would be possible, and the animal’s rights groups signed on, arguing, improbably, that the throat cut may leave the animal in pain, so the immediate stunning after would quickly put it out of its misery. The Orthodox chief rabbinate of New Zealand, under pressure from its government and trying to stave off the attempts to ban kosher slaugher altogether by requiring pre-slaughter stunning, ruled several years ago that since, according to the understanding of halakhah, the animal is immediately accounted dead upon shechitah, post-slaughter stunning could be permitted. (Again, I think this case is solid). Rabbi Ralbag, facing less existential threats to the viability of shechitah, has nonetheless adopted that policy for the benefit of the industrial line at Hebrew National. (As I said, he is prepared to skate close to the line in order to produce kosher meat available at a reasonable price in the mass market). Needless to say, those who prefer extra stringency and expensive glatt, and argue that nothing that was not done by
our ancestors can possibly be kosher enough, reject that position.
Aren’t you glad you read this.