How the “Temperance Question” Became a “Jewish Question”

In the early 20th century, writes Jenna Weissman Joselit, American Jews played an outsized role in the production and sale of hard liquor. Thus, as the temperance movement gained steam—eventually leading to prohibition in 1920—many Jewish businessmen grew worried:

Willy-nilly . . . the “temperance question” became a “Jewish question,” a matter of pressing concern for the American Jewish community at large. Even though Miss Frances Willard, the formidable head of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, a powerhouse of an organization with hundreds of thousands of dues-paying members, had made overtures to “the Hebrews,” inviting them to join its ranks, many of their number felt that Americans who, like Willard and her followers, practiced “abstinence as a religion” had it in for them.

But . . . unlike other moral-reform campaigns of the modern era such as animal rights, temperance didn’t anathematize Judaism per se as much as individual Jews. Its animus was directed against the manufacturers of “spirituous liquor” who happened to be Jewish, not against the theological beliefs they might have held or the rituals they practiced such as downing four cups of wine at the seder or ushering in, and celebrating, the Sabbath with Kiddush (the benediction over wine).

Besides, as those intimately familiar with Jewish life liked to point out, Jews were known to drink in moderation, not to excess. Among them, drunkenness was an anomaly rather than a feature of daily life. The “practical tenor” of Jewish life and with it, the cultivation of a “wise moderation in all things,” proudly declared Esther Jane Ruskay in Hearth and Home Essays, her 1901 celebration of American Jewish domesticity, kept Demon Rum and its counterparts at bay.

Despite Ruskay’s reassuring language, American Jews at the grassroots as well as those businessmen and their families caught in the crosshairs of temperance’s “Blue Ribbon,” women found the distinction between Jews and Judaism of small comfort.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Alcohol, American Jewish History, Jewish-Christian relations

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia