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.

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Read more at Tablet

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

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship