Once Upon a Time…11.11.2016

Posted on August 8th, 2017 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

JMM 1999.23.49

JMM 1999.23.49

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  November 11, 2016

PastPerfect Accession #:  1999.23.49

Status: Partially Identified! Mrs. Sarah Ambush, cook at the Johns Hopkins University kosher dining hall, stands in the back row to the far right. All others unidentified – do you recognize these happy diners? Photo taken in the early 1980s.

Thanks To: Rena Levin

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Processions, Debates and Curbstone Encounters: The Struggle over Kosher Meat in Baltimore, 1897 – 1918 Pt. 8

Posted on March 29th, 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 VIII: Memory and Meaning

Missed parts 1 – 7? Start here.

Marble plaque from the shop of M. W. Rosenstein, c. 1900. Reads "Shochet" in Hebrew. Gift of B'nai Israel Congregation, JMM 1993.148.1

Marble plaque from the shop of M. W. Rosenstein, c. 1900. Reads “Shochet” in Hebrew. Gift of B’nai Israel Congregation, JMM 1993.148.1

A drama with so many scenes and so many actors lends itself to multiple interpretations. At its simplest level, the story is that of economic self-interest. The shochets were trying to make a decent living and to this end demanded increased compensation for their work while restricting access to the profession and resisting the importation of dressed meat from the Western packing houses. The local kosher meat wholesalers were caught between the shochets and the retailers – and under constant pressure from competitively priced Western beef.

The retail butchers and shopkeepers were under pressure from the local Orthodox rabbinate to market locally slaughtered beef and experiencing increased costs; when they tried to pass these increases along to their customers, the housewives of Baltimore – supported by unions and other local organizations – resisted fiercely, producing a series of boycotts, demonstrations, and occasional incidents of violence. The superimposition of the U.S. Food Administration and the constraints of a wartime economy exacerbated exhibiting marketing pressures, even after nearly twenty years of sustained struggle.

But economic self-interest offers only one perspective on this long and tangled tale. Ideology also played a key role. The Orthodox rabbinate, living in an American Jewish community in which their traditional authority was not well-established and concerned about loss of authority under conditions of Americanization, used their supervision of kosher meat making as a way to assert their leadership role in the community (as well as bolster their incomes). The rabbis’ stance on close supervision was also a key stimulus to the emergence of a distinctive Orthodoxy in Baltimore and to its institutionalization in the Federation of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.

At the same time, the kosher meat wars within the Jewish community were also an expression of a very American struggle occurring during this period. During the Progressive Era, as it has veen termed, there were repeated efforts – local and national – to break up monopolies, restrain unfair practices, and reduce the power of large corporate enterprises. One of the characteristic forms of the trust-busting impulse, at both the local and national levels, was food strikes and boycotts. Consumer strikes against producers and marketers of milk, eggs, bread, and other staples were common in this period.[1] The Progressive impulse to restrain the power of the trusts influenced Jewish communities around the country, as shown by kosher meat strikes in New York (1902, 1910), Boston (1902), Philadelphia (1907), Chicago (1910), St. Louis (1910), and Cincinnati (1917), among many other cities.[2]

Historians have interpreted food protests in a number of ways. One approach sees food strikes as an expression of a traditional, pre-industrial mentality. In a feudal economy, bread was sold at a “just price” as part of the communal moral ethos; as the modern market economy emerged and superseded the traditional peasant economy, food riots became a way for people to protest what they believed were efforts to deprive them of food to which they had a moral and political right.  A specifically Jewish aspect of the urge for a “fair price” may echo a lingering resentment of the korobke (meat tax) that was levied on kosher meat in Central and Eastern European communities and that constitute a primary source of communal income.[3]

A second understanding of food strikes focuses on the roles of women. During the nineteenth century, food riots began to take on a female persona. Paula Human, for instance, views boycotting women as expressing “their power as consumers and domestic manager” and evidencing “a modern and sophisticated political mentality.” The militancy of Baltimore’s Jewish women reflects their participation in labor struggles and a general environment of labor militancy among the Jewish working classes. Even their language is similar to the language of labor activitists. And, around this time, women were increasingly taking leadership roles in garment industry organizing because they constituted a growing percentage of the workforce. The kosher meat strikes underline female consciousness and leadership, not to mention their competence in networking and in organizing mass meetings, demonstrations, and boycotts.[4]

Still a third perspective focuses on the cultural meanings of the food themselves. For Jewish women, “the rituals of preparing kosher foods played a crucial role in [their] religious and cultural self-definition…Women bought and served traditional foods not only out of mere habit, but also because those foods expressed their commitment to a religious life.”[5] The long struggle over kosher meat, then, reflects the symbolic power of food in the forging of personal and communal identity, the process of cultural adaptation, and the distribution of authority and power in Jewish Baltimore a century ago.

~The End~

Notes:

[1] See, for example, “Progressive Era,” at Wikipedia.

[2] Local reportage on food strikes in other cities include: “Many Quit Buying Meat [New York City],” Baltimore Sun, 19 May, 1902, p. 2. “Meat Riots in Boston” Baltimore Sun, 23 May 1902, p. 8. “No Kosher Meat for Sale [Philadelphia],” Baltimore Sun, 27 July 1907, p. 12. “Meat Boycott Spreads [Milwaufee, Cleveland, et al.],” Baltimore Sun, 22 January 1910, p. 1. “Meat Boycotters Aroused [Chicago],” Baltimore Sun, 4 April 1910, p. 14. “Women Win By Boycott [Pittsburg],” Baltimore Sun, 11 May 1916, p. 1. “Egg Boycott Started [New York],” Baltimore Sun, 28 November 1916, p. 1.

[3] Amy Bentley, “Bread, Meat, and Rice: Exploring Cultural Elements of Food Protests and Riots,” Oregon State University, 2000; updated 23 May 2012, pp. 3f.

[4] Paula Hyman, “Immigrant Women and Consumer Protest: The New York City Meat Boycott of 1902,” in Jonathan Sarna, ed. The American Jewish Experience, 2nd ed. (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1997), pp. 153-164.

[5] Dana Frank, “Housewives, Socialists, and the Politics of Food: The 1917 New York Cost-of-Living Protests,” Feminist Studies, 11, 2 (Summer 1985): 256 cited in Amy Bentley, “Bread, Meat, and Rice, “ p. 5.

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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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