Jews and Booze

Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition

272 pages

14 halftones illustrations

January, 2012

ISBN: 9780814720288

$75

Cloth

Also available in

Author

Marni Davis is Assistant Professor of History at Georgia State University.

All books by Marni Davis

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.    

Reviews

  • "In her debut, Davis suggests that anti-Semitism and Prohibition were parallel expressions of political disquiet during the turn of the last century...A fascinating, nuanced social history."

    Kirkus

  • “A pioneering study of Jews and the American trade in alcohol from entrepreneurial 19th century immigrants through 20th century battles over prohibition. Lively, well-researched, and comprehensive, this will long stand as the definitive study of Jews, booze, and evolving American taboos.”

    —Jonathan D. Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History

  • “Imaginatively conceived, fiercely researched, beautifully written, Jews and Booze is welcome news indeed. A very talented and promising historian has shown how a contentious slice of the American Jewish past can remain important to today's readers—and has made a particular conflict between Protestant moralism and ethnic habits her own.”

    —Stephen J. Whitfield, author of In Search of American Jewish Culture

  • “In this groundbreaking study, Davis deftly blends social and cultural history to uncover the important role American Jews played in the liquor trade, and the hostilities they elicited. In recovering this nearly forgotten past, Jews and Booze provides a prism through which to view the difficulties of Americanization.”

    —Tony Michels, author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York

  • "Using census data and other primary documents, Davis brings to life the stories of Jewish saloon keepers, rabbis, and alcohol producers faced with the temperance movement and increased anti-Semitism. While much has been written about the temperance movement and Prohibition, Davis focuses uniquely on the implications and impact of this period on one ethnic and religious population. Recommended to readers studying aspects of turn-of-the-century immigration or temperance, Prohibition, or Jewish studies."

    —Karen Okamoto, Library Journal

  • "[This reviewer] has always been amazed at the ability of academics to take inherently interesting subjects, like TV and sex, and make them incredibly boring. Davis manages to avoid this, producing an account which is at once both highly readable and yet still approaches the subject in a sophisticated manner."

    Heeb Magazine

  • "It was probably inevitable that someone had to ask if Prohibition was good for the Jews. Sure enough, Marni Davis has come along not only to raise the question but also to provide intriguing answers in Jews and Booze."

    Moment Magazine

  • "A comprehensive look at a little-discussed historical subject that can't help but have a spring in its step."

    —Jenny Hendrix, Forward

  • "This fascinating, academically sophisticated, and superbly written exposition of the intricate, often precarious, role that Jews played in every aspect of the American alcohol industry—from production in industrial stills to retail sale in bars and speakeasies across the land, and finally to bootlegging, a crime that created the fortunes of some of North America’s most prominent Jewish philanthropic families—turns out to be a wonderful historical companion to HBO’s most explosive series since The Sopranos and to the recent PBS airing of Ken Burns’ documentary Prohibition.
     
    More important, Jews and Booze is a major contribution to the economic history of the Jews in the United States. The book also offers an original and rich exposition of the social and political importance of alcohol—particularly the puritanical fear and loathing of it—in the development of anti-immigration and anti-Semitic sentiments in late 19th- and early 20th-century America."

    Tablet Magazine

  • "Jews and Booze touches on a most important topic--what can happen when the challenge of maintaining tradition, on the one hand, fostering entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is greatly heightened...this [is a] fascinating work."

    —David Geffen, International Jerusalem Post

  • "Every Jew should read Jews and Booze because it touches on a most important topic—what can happen when the challenge of maintaining tradition, on the one hand, and fostering entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is greatly heightened."

    —David Geffen, Jerusalem Post

  • "The author does an excellent job of delving into the Jewish community."

    —Kevin Winter, City Book Review

  • "In his multilayered book, Davis (Georgia State Univ.) explores the braided nature of the temperance movement, assimilation, ethnicity, immigration, nativism, wartime fervor, and postwar intemperance. The alcohol trade enabled some Jews to acquire economic power and social standing before the Prohibition movement, and the Volstead Act caused more non-Jews to question that very involvement. Jews themselves reacted differently to attempts to restrict or prohibit alcohol, while the perception of Jews held by others underwent transformation as well. In cities like Cincinnati and Louisville, the alcohol industry had proved economically nurturing, affording entrepreneurial opportunities for Jews and allowing for the promotion of institutions such as Hebrew Union College. Toward the close of the 19th century amid mass migration of Jews from czarist Russia, anti-Semitism and discrimination practices heightened. While striving to prove themselves as both Jews and Americans, Jews contested prohibitory measures they considered contrary to American freedom and individualism. Having attained a reputation for moderation regarding alcohol consumption, Jews had to contend with growing associations involving immigration, liquor, and criminality, particularly during the Prohibition era, when Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky helped to found the organized crime syndicate. The perplexity of how to respond to Prohibition only ended when the 'Great Experiment' did." 

    —R.C. Cottrell, CHOICE

  • “Focusing on America’s late-nineteenth-century temperance movement and the passage into law of the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition in 1919, Davis illuminates the dilemma facing many American Jews of the time: the desire to maintain traditions – often livelihoods – or to assimilate further into mainstream society...Jews and Booze is an academic text, without a strong narrative or a central character. A couple of repetitions, like the noxious quote from Henry Ford – “the Jews are on the side of liquor and always have been” – slow things down occasionally, but there are enough interesting anecdotes, facts and figures in the charming history to make the reader thirsty for another round."

    —Evan Rail, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Davis has succeeded in depicting the trials and tribulations of many Jewish immigrants as they adapted to life in the United States."

    —Morton I. Teicher, The Jewish Chronicle

  • "This book is an important addition to the literature of cultural conflict in American history."

    —K. Austin Kerr, American Jewish Archives Journal

  • "Marni Davis had me with the title of her book, Jews and Booze. But the book itself, an academic monograph that is also highly readable, is an eye-opener."

    Jewish Journal

  • "Jews and Booze is thorough and well-researched."

    The Weekly Standard

  • "Davis has succeeded in depicting the trials and tribulations of many Jewish immigrants as they adapted to life in the U.S."

    Buffalo Jewish Review

  • "This is an excellent book. Davis crafted a complex and sophisticated narrative, weaving a variety of themes together into an argumentative arc that demonstrates the complex relationships between prohibition and the development of three generations in American Jewish life."

    Journal of American History

  • "Jews and Booze is an excellent piece of academic research on a serious subject, written superbly, which is entertaining, enlightening and engaging."

    —Tim Holt, Brewery History

  • "Davis's book offers a unique keyhole into the Jewish immigration experience."

    —David Rosen, Brooklyn Rail

  • " The book deserves a wide audience for its creative inquiry and suggestive approach to American immigration and ethnic history."

    American Historical Review

  • "The best kind of history—surprising, authoritative, and written with both acuity and charm. I loved this book."

    —Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

  • "Jews and Booze tells many important stories and recognizes the diversity and complexity of American Jewish experience."

    —Wendy Bergoffen, H-Net Reviews

  • "Davis has significantly enhanced our understanding of Jewish acculturation in the United States"

    Journal of American Ethnic History

  • "Beginning with the mid-nineteenth century, Davis provides a solidly documented study of Jewish participation in the American alcohol industry, and she carefully verifies her stories with specific examples from many sections of the country. Furthermore, she shows that the alcohol industry provided an avenue of acculturation first of German Jewish immigrants and later of Eastern European Jewish immigrants....[I]t presents a solidly researched and well-documented history in a field that has been overlooked by Jewish studies." 

    —Kay Goldman, Yearbook of German-American Studies