The Fake Jews of Prohibition, and Their Fake Rabbis

Sept. 4 2019

The Volstead Act of 1919 forbade the manufacture and sale of alcohol, but carved out special exceptions for Jews and Catholics who use wine for sacramental purposes. As Alice Kassens writes, this provision had some unintended consequences:

Given that Jews conduct some ceremonies in the home, rabbis served as middlemen for their congregations, submitting a list of their congregations’ membership to Prohibition officials in exchange for permits for their members to purchase ten gallons of wine per year from authorized dealers. This workaround led, perhaps unsurprisingly, to a rapid expansion in Jewish congregations and the number of rabbis.

In some states, a person needed only ten signatures to a petition attesting that he was a rabbi in order to get a rabbinical license from the secretary of state. License in hand, the only obstacle to the wine permits was a list of congregation members. Fake rabbis took names from city directories, phone books, and other public listings to create congregations.

According to a Sept. 9, 1922 article in the San Francisco Examiner, . . . Irish, Swedish, Scottish, and Greek residents of San Francisco were getting monthly supplies of sacramental wine “under the names of Goldstein, Blumberg, Silverstein, Levinsky and other adopted Jewish cognomens.”

Banning booze did not halt its demand, and thus offered ample opportunity to intemperate spirits. . . . One former junk dealer from Denver made more than $100,000 in profits by selling wine under a permit issued by the government—nearly $1.5 million in 2019 dollars. Fake rabbis often sold permits to restaurants for $200 to $500 ($3,000 to $7,500 today) apiece.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jewish Telegraphic Agency

More about: Alcohol, American Jewish History, Wine

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror