Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History)

Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History)

Marni Davis

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 1479882445

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Finalist, 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature from the Jewish Book Council
From kosher wine to their ties to the liquor trade in Europe, Jews have a longstanding historical relationship with alcohol. But once prohibition hit America, American Jews were forced to choose between abandoning their historical connection to alcohol and remaining outside the American mainstream. In Jews and Booze, Marni Davis examines American Jews’ long and complicated relationship to alcohol during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the years of the national prohibition movement’s rise and fall. Bringing to bear an extensive range of archival materials, Davis offers a novel perspective on a previously unstudied area of American Jewish economic activity—the making and selling of liquor, wine, and beer—and reveals that alcohol commerce played a crucial role in Jewish immigrant acculturation and the growth of Jewish communities in the United States. But prohibition’s triumph cast a pall on American Jews’ history in the alcohol trade, forcing them to revise, clarify, and defend their communal and civic identities, both to their fellow Americans and to themselves.    

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Jewish. The temperance movement’s religious commitments signaled the expansion of nineteenth-century efforts to “Christianize” American life and reorganize its laws around Protestant values and morality. Jews feared that if these movements were successful, their equal status, even their citizenship, could be in peril.4 Jews could have responded to the temperance movement merely by disputing its claims to be consistent with American political practices, and by protesting that mandatory abstinence

Kosher Wine and Jewish Saloons sia to maintain some self-governance and autonomy, attempted to remove Jews from the liquor trade. An 1804 czarist statute forbade Jews from holding leases on public drinking houses or selling liquor in rural areas. Contracts currently held by Jewish taverners in the countryside were deemed nonrenewable, and debts owed “to taverns run by Jews” declared “worthless and nonrecoverable.” The goals of this statute were to protect the Russian peasantry from what

American alcohol commerce after the Civil War, American discourse about the Jewish relation to alcohol focused primarily on Jews’ reputation for moderate drinking practices. An 1890 local color piece in Harper’s Weekly, which remarked on the prevalence of alcohol entrepreneurs in downtown Manhattan’s densely populated Jewish quarter, expressed admiration for Jewish habits of alcohol consumption. “Wine-shops and drinking places are common,” he wrote, “though intemperance is rare. I see no tipsy

knew it to be otherwise—was widely available at hundreds of saloons, clubs, beverage stands, and illegal “blind tigers” throughout the city. No one could deny that the city was soaking wet.82 With few exceptions, Atlanta’s middle-class alcohol entrepreneurs, Jewish and gentile alike, scrambled to unload their inventory and find new livelihoods. This worked to the benefit of at least one Jewish wholesaler in Chattanooga, who advertised in Der Southern Veg-Vayzer (The southern guide), a local

Bootleggers | 159 had declared themselves rabbis “for the purpose of getting into the wholesale liquor business.”53 Ford’s (and Franklin’s) complaint would certainly have resonated for members of the Ku Klux Klan, which was nominally revived in 1915 after the murder of Leo Frank but did not become a truly popular movement until the early 1920s. The Klan also regarded Jews as a threat to Prohibition. In addition to agreeing with Ford’s vision of a Jewish economic conspiracy, they were also of

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