Processions, Debates and Curbstone Encounters: The Struggle over Kosher Meat in Baltimore, 1897 – 1918 Pt. 7

Posted on March 27th, 2017 by

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 VII: A Continuing Struggle

Missed parts 1 – 6? Start here.

Brotman Meat Market and Poultry, 1119 E. Lombard Street, c. 1923. From left to right: unidentified, Sarah Schneiderman Brotman, and Hyman Brotman. Brotman Meat Market and Poultry was owned by Hyman, Isaac (Itzhak) and Milton Brotman. JMM 2011.47.1

Brotman Meat Market and Poultry, 1119 E. Lombard Street, c. 1923. From left to right: unidentified, Sarah Schneiderman Brotman, and Hyman Brotman. Brotman Meat Market and Poultry was owned by Hyman, Isaac (Itzhak) and Milton Brotman. JMM 2011.47.1

Despite extensive newspaper coverage of the issues involved, we have no record as to the outcome of the 1910 Kosher Meat War in Baltimore, What we do know is that contention among consumers, retailers, wholesalers, and the rabbinate continued to fester in subsequent years, both in Baltimore and in other Jewish communities.[1]

In May 1918, the retail butchers announced a four-cent a pound rise in prices, effective immediately. Their rationale: rises in the cost of wholesale meat, plus sharp increases in other operating expenses such as ice, wrapping paper, and knife-sharpening. To pressure their customers and to emphasize their determination raise prices, the retail butchers declared a week-long boycott on kosher meat.[2]

The response of Jewish housewives was swift and predictable. They expressed outrage at the “exorbitant price for meat. It is beyond reason, they argued, and we do not propose to make the butchers rich in a little time.” Ten days later, on June 9, the Baltimore Sun reported “Kosher Riots Again.” A thousand women and men demonstrating at the Consolidated Beef and Provision Company, a leading meat wholesaler owned by Wolf Salganik, rushed the plant, leading to the arrests of six women and two men.[3]

The butchers and their customers reached an agreement on a price list that was “said to have the sanction of the wartime U.S. Food Administrator.” But the housewives were indignant that the new prices were for meat with the bone still in, while their understanding was that the price would be for meat with bone cut out. A mass meeting was helo in June 13 and a new meat strike was called. Several labor organizations, including the Amalgamated Garment Workers, the International Ladies Garment Workers, and the Cap Makers, came out in support of the strikers.[4]

The Jewish Comment noted that behind the wholesalers’ decision to raise their prices was a demand from the shochets for increases in their salaries. The wholesale butchers then claimed that this demand forced a rise in price to retailers and, in turn, to consumers. Meanwhile, in a struggle with a struggle, representatives of the Independent Hebrew Butchers Association, representing 150 retail butchers, descended on the store of Asa Goldman, who they alleged was selling meat at prices below those established by the Association, and emptied his refrigerator.[5]

Because America was now a participant in the World War, a new player entered the scene – the Federal Government. The United States Food Administration (USFA) was made responsible for “production, manufacture, procurement, storage, distribution, sale marketing, pledging, financing, and consumption” of foods essential to the war effort. The USFA regulated the supply, distribution, and conservation of foods (for example, promoting “Meatless Mondays”), promising a “fair price” to farmers, while furthering the war effort and preventing food shortages at home.

A hearing was held by the local Federal Food Administrator at which wholesalers, retail butchers, and consumers were able to testify, and an agreement was quickly announced. The agreement established a price list, increased the cost of kosher meat to consumers, and limited the kosher butchers to a profit ceiling of 25 percent. But the resumption of multi-dimensioned hostilities speaks to the importance of the issues and the long complicated struggles that underlay twenty years of contention over a basic – and symbolic – necessity of life.[6]

Continue to Part VIII: Memory and Meaning

Notes:

[1] See, for example, “Kosher Meat Case in Court,” Baltimore Sun, 4 June 1911, p. 9 and “To Boykott Kosher Shops,” Baltimore Sun, 26 February 1917, p. 2.

[2] “Kosher Meat Higher,” Baltimore Sun, 29 May 1918, p. 14.

[3] “Kosher Riots Again,” Baltimore Sum, 9 June 1918, p. 16. “Fined for Kosher Meat Riot,” Baltimore Sun, 10 June 1918, p. 5.

[4] “Kosher Again in Limelight,” Baltimore Sun, 14 June 1918, p. 16.

[5] “Baltimore Jews Abstain From Meat,” Jewish Comment, 14 June 1918, p. 263. “Kosher Butcher Acquitted,” Baltimore Sun, 20 June 1918, p. 16.

[6] “Agreement on Kosher Meat,” Baltimore Sun, 13 June 1918 p. 16. “Baltimore Jews Abstain From Meat.”

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Processions, Debates and Curbstone Encounters: The Struggle over Kosher Meat in Baltimore, 1897 – 1918 Pt. 6

Posted on March 22nd, 2017 by

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 VI: The “Kosher Meat War” of 1910

Missed parts 1 – 6? Start here.

"Women Raid Markets: Outbreak Follows Kosher Meat Boycott in Cincinnati." CINCINNATI, May 16 - Following a kosher meat boycott here angry women invaded markets to-day, threw kerosene upon the stock, and in several instances attached other women who had bought meat from the interdicted shops. Two arrests were made. An advance in the price of josher meat from 12 to 15 cents a pound caused the boycott. New York Times, May 17, 1910.

“Women Raid Markets: Outbreak Follows Kosher Meat Boycott in Cincinnati.” New York Times, May 17, 1910.

The kosher meat boycott of 1910 was initiated, organized, and maintained by Jewish housewives living in East Baltimore. The women leading the strike against kosher meat promoted the eating of fish as a substitute – but their activity went much farther. As shoppers emerged from butcher shops in the Jewish neighborhood, coal oil and gasoline were poured over their purchases. Parcels of meat were seized and thrown in the gutter. Intimidating threats were voiced, pushing and shoving thook place, and arrests ensued.[1] The boycott appears to have been effective: the Baltimore News reported on March 31 that, “For two weeks, the people of the Hebrew colony east of the Jones Falls have been  living on eggs, fish and vegetables.”[2] Th further pressure the local wholesale butchers, the boycotters opened three cooperative stores which sold kosher meat shipped in from Chicago.

Meanwhile, the retail butchers and storekeepers seized the opportunity to retaliate against the wholesale butchers. At a meeting on March 24, the retailers determined to boycott their local wholesalers; those retailers who were importing kosher meat from Western suppliers (in defiance of the Orthodox rabbis) “promised to assist in the work by abstaining from purchasing or selling any meat” for two days.[3] A few retailers stayed open, selling locally slaughtered meat at the old, higher prices, but they did little business.[4]

On April 4, a mass meeting that drew 3,000 people was held at the Monumental Theatre. The boycotters resolved unanimously “to keep up the fight to the bitter end: against “the Kosher Meat Trust of this city.” By patronizing only the three cooperative shops that were selling Chicago meat, the boycotters hoped to force down the price of meat.[5] The early arrival of Passover that year underlined the potential for losses among those in the kosher meat industry.

Continue to Part VII: A Continuing Struggle

Notes:

[1] “Coal Oil is Weapon in Anti-Kosher War,” Baltimore News, 23 March 1910. “Boycotters Use Gasoline,” Baltimore American, 23 March 1910. “Boycotter Comes to Grief,” Baltimore Sun, 24 March 1910, p. 7. “Another Arrest in Kosher Meat War,” Baltimore News, 24 March 1910.

[2] “Kosher Meat Sold With Police Guard,” Baltimore News,  31 March 1910.

[3] “Boycott On Kosher Meat,” Baltimore Sun, 25 March 1910, p. 5. “Kosher Meat Boycotters Quiet,” Baltimore Sun, 26 March, 1910, p. 9.

[4] “Boycott Fails To Reduce Beef Price,” Baltimore News, 4 April 1910.

[5] “Meat Boycotters Around,” Baltimore Sun, 4 April 1910, p. 14.

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Processions, Debates and Curbstone Encounters: The Struggle over Kosher Meat in Baltimore, 1897 – 1918 Pt. 5

Posted on March 20th, 2017 by

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 V: The Community Responds

Missed parts 1-4? Start here.

Crowd gathered in front of butcher shop during meat riot, New York, 1910. Courtesy of the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Crowd gathered in front of butcher shop during meat riot, New York, 1910. Courtesy of the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.

Despite the surrender of the kosher butchers to the authority of the Orthodox rabbinate, agitation over the cost of kosher meat continued. The first week of October “several hundred delegates from various Hebrew societies in the city” convened a mass meeting to protest the rabbis’ decision that only locally slaughtered beef could be used by members of the Orthodox congregations to the exclusion of kosher meat shipped in from Chicago. Speakers at the meeting charged the rabbis with “an unwarrantable assumption of rights” that caused inconvenience and hardship to consumers. It was agreed to lodge a formal protest with the Orthodox Federation.[1]

That winter thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish Baltimoreans participated in a national boycott of all meat produced by “the Beef Trust,” both kosher and non-kosher. This national food protest began in Cleveland and spread quickly to other cities from New York to Des Moines. Protesters ranging from trade unions to suffragette organizations urged consumers of dressed beef, lamb, and pork to abstain from eating any meat for thirty to sixty days in an effort to force a drop in meat prices. Meanwhile, Congressional hearings were held in early 1910 to investigate charges that the cost of living was artificially inflated by the “Meat Trust” and others.[2]

Despite the success of the national boycott, kosher meat prices in Baltimore continued to rise. This time the retail butchers declined to boycott the wholesalers of kosher meat.[3] A mass meeting of Jewish housewives “denounced the butchers and wholesalers, whom they declared were in league together…Mrs. Sadie Cohen declared that no relief would be gained unless the butchers were punished. ‘Don’t you believe for one minute that the butchers are forced to raise the price. I say they are not,” said Mrs. Cohen in Yiddish.”[4] In a matter of days the “Kosher Meat War” was in progress.

Continue to Part VI: The “Kosher Meat War” of 1910

Notes:

[1] “Oppose Kosher Meat Compact,” Baltimore Sun, 4 October 1909, p. 11.

[2] “Meat Boycott Spreads,” Baltimore Sun, 22 January 1910, p. 1. “Women Urge the Boycott,” Baltimore Sun, 27 January 1910. “Hasn’t Heard Barons Squeal,” Baltimore Sun, 21 March 1910, p. 14.

[3] “Hasn’t Heard Barons Squeal.”

[4] “Kosher Meat Boycott,” Baltimore American, March 1910.

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