Processions, Debates and Curbstone Encounters: The Struggle over Kosher Meat in Baltimore, 1897 – 1918 Pt. 3
Article by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways
The boycott of 1910 was one dramatic episode in a twenty-year struggle over kosher meat that engaged meat wholesalers, retail butchers, shochets (ritual slaughterers), the Orthodox rabbinate, and thousands of ordinary Jews, especially in East Baltimore. In the first decades of the twentieth century, conflict over kosher meat was a familiar topic. Today, that contestation is little remembered and poorly documented. However, sufficient evidence survives to give us access to the trajectory and meaning of the protracted struggle over kosher meat. Here is that story.
Part III: The Butchers Go on Strike
For a decade, contestation over shechita appears to have abated in Baltimore. But in March 1907 the Baltimore Sun reported a conflict between the large meat wholesalers and the kosher meat retailers they supplied. The retailers claimed that the wholesalers were charging excessive prices for kosher meat and refused to purchase their locally slaughtered kosher beef. After a few days, the retail butchers went a step further, agreeing to buy all their kosher meat exclusively from two small slaughterers who offered more favorable prices. A week later, the Sun reported the dispute was still in progress.
Among those affected, of course, were the consumers, who, the Sun reported, were “much wrought up over the situation.” In fact, the butchers’ strike bore most heavily on the poorer members of the community, who “are the most Orthodox [and who] have not been able to get their customary rations of this important article of food.” With Passover drawing near, the butchers relented, agreeing “to provide meat the old price until after the Passover. Then the strike will begin again.”
Although the temporary cessation of the butchers’ strike was cited by the Sun as “an inspiring example of race co-operation,” the Orthodox congregations soon felt it necessary to again take decisive steps to regulate the making and sale of kosher meat in Baltimore. In July 1908, twenty-eight Orthodox congregations in East Baltimore organized the Federation of Orthodox Jewish Congregations to “advance every interest affecting Orthodox Jews.” One of the purposes cited was to protect consumers from unscrupulous dealers who falsified seals of kashrut, thus casting doubt on the ritual purity of all meat sold as kosher.
The kosher butchers’ strike and its immediate aftermath point to a complex collision of interests. The wholesalers were trying to raise the price of kosher meat; shochets were seeking higher pay; consumers were balking at paying higher prices; the rabbinate was asserting its authority over shechita; and kosher butchers at the retail level were caught in the cross-currents.
 “Kosher Butchers Accept,” Baltimore Sun, 23 March 1907, p. 11. “Ghetto Sees a Truce in Kosher Butcher’s Strike,” Baltimore Sun, 31 March 1907, p. 12.
 “Ghetto Sees a Truce in Kosher Butcher’s Strike.”
 “For Pure Kosher Meat,” Baltimore Sun, 25 July 1908, p.6.