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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Responding to #BaltimoreUprising

Posted on May 12th, 2015 by

A JMM “pop-up” exhibit, “In Every Generation” explores Jewish involvement in the struggle for justice

"On Friday, May 1st, we brought the Jewish community together and marched in solidarity with our neighbors to City Hall, where we rallied in the name of #JusticeForFreddie. " Photo by Marc Shapiro/Baltimore Jewish Times.

“On Friday, May 1st, we brought the Jewish community together and marched in solidarity with our neighbors to City Hall, where we rallied in the name of #JusticeForFreddie. ” Donated by Jews United For Justice, Baltimore Chapter. Photo by Marc Shapiro/Baltimore Jewish Times.

Monday, April 27 was my fifth day on the job as the new Associate Director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. It was also the day that the protests over Freddie Gray’s death turned violent.

That Thursday, just three days after the riots in Baltimore, my first staff meeting at the JMM had a very different agenda than originally planned. For my new colleagues and me, regular museum business simply couldn’t compete with what was happening in our city.

Marvin told us he thought the historical community in the region should band together and create some sort of response to what was going on, but that he was having a hard time coordinating with his counterparts.

Ilene Dackman-Alon, the Education Director, asked “Why can’t we just do something on our own?” and “Yes, let’s do something,” immediately echoed around the table. I felt a surge of pride to be the newest member of this team that is not willing to “wait for the dust to settle.” I was grateful, too, that my professional role would give me this concrete way to respond to the unrest in my beloved hometown.

Created by the Associated, April 2015.

Created by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, April 2015.

In an email to friends of the Museum later that day, Marvin wrote, the “Jewish Museum of Maryland is committed to being a part of the healing process.  As keepers of an important piece of the community’s records, we know that our history has the ability to show us what we have overcome and to strengthen our will to build a better future.”

Within days, JMM Collections Manager, Joanna Church, had put together a short list of photographs and artifacts from the Museum’s collections. From that list the exhibit’s ad hoc committee (of which I was honored and humbled to be a member) selected the most appropriate materials to display. We also reached out to local activist groups, including Jews United for Justice, in an effort to collect and document the current situation.

”Soviet Jews protest their oppression demand their freedom let my people go.” A group of young men working on protest posters at the JCC, January 1973. Photo by Sussman Photography, JMM 2006.13.1553.

”Soviet Jews protest their oppression demand their freedom let my people go.” A group of young men working on protest posters at the JCC, January 1973. Photo by Sussman Photography, JMM 2006.13.1553.

In her call for materials for the exhibit, Joanna wrote, “we hope this exhibit will facilitate discussion among our visitors, both of past movements and current events…most importantly, the exhibit includes space for visitors’ thoughts, stories, and contributions.”

The exhibit is now on display in the lobby of the Museum. We’re calling it “In Every Generation,” and we’ve included artifacts and photographs from the 1860s, 1910s, 1930s, 1960s, 1980s and 2015. We’ve set up a guest book (which will become a part of the museum’s permanent collection) for visitors to record their thoughts, reactions and stories. We’ve also left a little room, expecting that we may need to add to the materials on display.

Freedom Seder, c.2000s. JMM 2013.044

Freedom Seder, c.2000s. JMM 2013.044

To donate materials to “In Every Generation,” contact Joanna Church, Collections Manager, at jchurch@jewishmuseummed.org. The Museum will also accept digital submissions through the use of #InEveryGeneration on social media. Digital collections will be shared with the public via the Museum’s Facebook page, fb.com/jewishmuseummd.

Tracie Guy-DeckerA blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker.

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