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. 3

Posted on March 13th, 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 III: The Butchers Go on Strike

Missed parts 1-2? Start here.

 Nathan London in the doorway of his kosher butcher shop on Lombard Street, early 20th century. JMM 2001.90.1

Nathan London in the doorway of his kosher butcher shop on Lombard Street, early 20th century. JMM 2001.90.1

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.[1]

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.”[2]

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.[3]

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.

Continue to Part IV: Another Controversy over Kosher Meat

Notes:

[1] “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.

[2] “Ghetto Sees a Truce in Kosher Butcher’s Strike.”

[3] “For Pure Kosher Meat,” Baltimore Sun, 25 July 1908, p.6.

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Of Strangers and Slaves

Posted on April 25th, 2016 by

On this third day of Passover, I’m thinking a lot about strangers.

I have the great good fortune of being among the inaugural cohort of “community leaders” in the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies (ICJS)’s year-long Imagining Justice in Baltimore initiative. Earlier this month, as a part of this initiative, Rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin did a workshop with the community leaders (there are about 25 of us, each of us an early- or mid-career non-profit professional who self identifies with one of the 3 Abrahamic faiths of the ICJS’s name) and then a public lecture. The title of both was “Imagining Justice in Baltimore: A Jewish Perspective.”

Bezalel style seder plate, silver plated brass with scalloped edge, purchased from Rabbi Benjamin Dinovitz of Ohel Yaakov Synagogue, c. 1930. JMM 1994.197.001

Bezalel style seder plate, silver plated brass with scalloped edge, purchased from Rabbi Benjamin Dinovitz of Ohel Yaakov Synagogue, c. 1930. JMM 1994.197.001

In the several hours I spent in Professor Gopin’s presence, he posited repeatedly that the most important commandment in the Torah is to “love the stranger as yourself.” He pointed out that this commandment appears more than 30 times in the Hebrew Bible. In Gopin’s framework, the significance of loving the stranger (separate from the “neighbor”), is in connecting with the other, whomever that is. He talked about transgressing boundaries, meeting people where they are, honoring the other human being as a human being, regardless of their behavior. For me, his words gave new resonance to that oft-repeated phrase, “love the stranger as yourself.”

Interestingly, especially with this season’s Seders so recent in my memory, each time we are told to love the stranger in the Torah, it is followed by the reminder “for you were strangers in Egypt” (c.f. Leviticus 19:34 for an example). You were strangers in Egypt it says. But as the Seder artfully reminds us through all 5 senses, we weren’t merely strangers in Egypt. We were slaves.

JMM 1984.023.1047

JMM 1984.023.1047

I haven’t fully teased out this idea, but I am becoming more and more certain that the crux of my imagining justice in Baltimore is in the woefully short distance between “stranger” and “slave.”

I believe empathy is the catalyst through which true change comes to human society. The compulsion to comfort, heal, help the other is, in my view, the way the Divine intervenes in human events. That is why Torah reminds us we were strangers in Egypt. That is why the Haggadah enjoins us to imagine we ourselves left Egypt. We are commanded to remember what it feels like. We are commanded to have empathy.

Love the stranger as yourself for you were strangers in Egypt. JMM 1995.201.11

Love the stranger as yourself for you were strangers in Egypt. JMM 1995.201.11

This year, on the fifth day of Passover, the eight-day celebration of our liberation from the land in which we were estranged and enslaved, we will commemorate the anniversary of the moment when individuals and communities who for centuries have been estranged by the system and enslaved by racism, poverty, and mass incarceration, groaned in their suffering and cried out; that stretch of several hours, alternatively called Uprising or Rebellion, when grief and rage erupted in the streets of Baltimore.

As I think about the shifting identity of the stranger and the slave, I cannot help but be struck by the secular drama playing out in the season of our religious-historical drama. Right before Purim, with American electoral politics in mind, I wrote about channeling Esther to find the bravery to stand up to Pharoah. Now that Passover and election day are both upon us, I feel that need ever more strongly.

Photo from one of last year's rallies.

Photo from one of last year’s rallies.

Passover 5776/2016 falls in the middle of an election season in which fear of the stranger, fear of the other, has become a commodity. The lesson of Passover is that we cannot sit idly by while the stranger becomes the enslaved—we cannot allow the oppression we suffered to be meted out on another. And so we are commanded to repudiate the fear of the stranger and to replace it with love.

JMM 2002.111.118

JMM 2002.111.118

Tracie Guy-DeckerA blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

 

 

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