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Jeer at them

Yochanan Lavie, who regularly reads and comments over at failedmessiah.com, recently shared this poem inspired in general by the sickness and evil near the root of Aaron Rubashkin’s animal slaughtering and meat processing factory in Postville, Iowa, and specifically by Rubashkin’s use of PR flacks, paid industry “representatives,” and the Orthodox establishment to shill for them.

I’ve reposted Lavie’s poem below.

“Jeer at them” with apologies to William Blake

And did the Rebbe’s feet in recent time
Walk upon Iowa’s fields of green?
And were the illegal Mexicanos
On Iowa’s pleasant pastures screened?

And did the ICE helicoptors
Hover over our well-paid shills?
And was Crown Heights builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my public relations flack!
Bring me my homeless men of Texas!
Bring me my army of wetbacks!
Lie to my critics that afflict us!

I will not cease from PR fights,
I will stick it to the goyishe “Man”
Till we have built Crown Heights
In Iowa’s green and pleasant land.

Adapted from “And did those feet in ancient time” by William Blake from the preface to his epic poem, Milton: a Poem. In 1916, C. Hubert H. Parry composed music for the poem to be sung as a hymn called “Jerusalem” (thus Lavie’s “Jeer at them”). Wikipedia notes,

The term “dark Satanic mills”, which entered the English language from this poem, most often is interpreted as referring to the early industrial revolution and its destruction of nature.[1] This view has been linked to the fate of the Albion Flour Mills, which was the first major factory in London, built in 1769 by Matthew Boulton and James Watt. It was powered by Watt’s steam engines, and produced 6,000 bushels of flour a week. The factory could have driven independent traditional millers out of business, but it was destroyed, perhaps deliberately, by fire in 1791. London’s independent millers celebrated with placards reading, “Success to the mills of ALBION but no Albion Mills.” [2] Opponents referred to the factory as satanic, and accused its owners of adulterating flour and using cheap imports at the expense of British producers. An illustration of the fire published at the time shows a devil squatting on the building.[3] The mills were a short distance from Blake’s home.

The Romantic movement which Blake helped invoke began in response to the dehumanization of industrialization, environmental devastation wrought by the intense exploitation of nature, and the loss of culture resulting from the alienation of artisans and craftsmen in the production of goods. The purpose of industrialization is to use efficiencies to lower costs, but often enough, industrialized mass production simply shifts costs away from the consumer and industry and onto the workers and the environment. Resources, both natural and human, are ruthlessly exploited resulting in environmental and social ills that ultimately cost more money to rectify than that incurred in the expense of a more humanely produced consumer good.

Lavie focuses on the exploitation of “illegal workers” and “wetbacks” (terms I’d never use) to describe just one corruption within the Rubashkin enterprise. Rubashkin’s business ultimately aims to satisfy Jewish Americans insatiable and unhealthy appetite for (kosher) meat through the mechanism of industrialized mass production. The exploitation of undocumented workers is one method of lowering the costs to the consumer. Unfortunately, lowering costs doesn’t come without a price — the true costs of environmental and social ills caused by pollution and labor abuse are simply passed onto the health and welfare of society and the environment we depend on.

With all the attention on Rubashkin’s disgusting labor practices, it’s also time to remind folks how Rubashkin has regularly sought to lower standards whether it be in food safety, worker safety, humane treatment of animals, and the pollution of the environment.

Might the Rubashkin travesty revive the nascent Jewish movement that aims to place renewed emphasis on Jewish and humane values in the Kosher Food Industry? You can do your part by supporting hekhsher tzedek.

About Aharon N. Varady


Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words.

2 comments to Jeer at them

  • I should have also mentioned that Blake’s original poem references a myth that Jesus once walked in the British Isles, and the desire to build a “New Jeruslem” in a messianic age. In Lavie’s satire, Jesus’ tread upon English soil is replaced with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s upon the fields of Postville, Iowa. In doing so, CHaBaD Lubavitch messianism is satired as rank hypocrisy. Instead of helping to create this messianic age, Aaron Rubashkin brought about cruelty and exploitation and pollution. Rubashkin, the OU and their minions explain that they should be applauded for providing kosher meat to the meat hungry Jewish masses and thus allow Jews to eat meat according to halakhic Judaism. But I was taught that performing an averah in order to fulfill a mitzvah is unacceptable. This is the corruption of the dream of the messianic age, the dream that all the righteous will be fed with the meat of the Leviatan and the Behemot and the Ziz. The dream of endless meat is revealed as a nightmare of cruelty, pollution, lies, and the failure of Orthodox Jewish authority.

  • Performing an averah in order to fulfill a mitzvah IS unacceptable, and renders the mitzvah’s fulfillment invalid, and everybody knows that. (No, you can NOT do negel-vasser by swiping your room-mate’s — let alone fulfill the mitzvah of achilath matzoh with matzos you have stolen; and I’ve seen where to bentsch lulav if you don’t have your own set they gift it to you and then you gift it back).

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