Religion Vs. Labor is Keynote of Poultry Strife in New York
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Religion Vs. Labor is Keynote of Poultry Strife in New York

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When Judge Otto Rosalsky opens the second hearing into the poultry market difficulties at 2 P. M. today in his chambers in the Criminal Courts Building, he will be faced again by two widely different and until now irreconcilable points of view.

At the first hearing last Wednesday J. Sidney Bernstein, counsel to the market-owners faction, furnished a remarkable hint to the fundamental difficulty by characterizing rabbinical supervision of poultry markets as a racket.

For years there has been in progress a smoldering war between the kosher slaughterers and the market men, which occasionally flared into a serious enough break to reach the press. In the past, compromises or coercion by one group have been the temporary means of settling the antagonisms, but the problem was never definitely solved.


The fundamental problem is a difference in attitude between shochtim and market men based upon a difference in traditions, customs and values.

Market owners have told this reporter they resent what they call the “meddling” of rabbis in their business. They resent the painstaking ways of the shochtim. To kill a chicken in the ritual manner entails utmost care and a complex procedure completely set down in the Shulchan Aruch, Hebrew tome of law, custom and ritual procedure. The market men, for the most part, cannot see the importance of these ways.

The market men cannot see why shochtim should demand a minimum wage of $65 for merely killing chickens. They feel this is exorbitant, have paid this union wage reluctantly in the past, and constantly seek to lower it.


The shochtim, backed by Arthur Simon, representing the City of New York, have demanded that they be not asked to slaughter more than fifty coops of chickens per week. More than this, they have said, they cannot kill and guarantee that the fowl is kosher. Yet slaughterers have killed, even in recent weeks when the industry has been under investigation, as much as 200 coops per week, under pressure of market owners.

Last Wednesday Judge Rosalsky said that kashruth is a question of cooperation, not controversy. To market owners it is a question of toleration. They have been obliged to satisfy the Jewish public, which consumes ninety per cent of all the poultry brought into New York.

The shochet, on the other hand, feels that he is the guardian of the Jewish public in the poultry market. Strict observance of the ritual slaughtering method is of an importance to him which can be realized only by the most orthodox Jew.


In the orthodox Jewish community the shochet occupies a position second only to that of the rabbi. To become a shochet he must know not only how to wield a knife, but must be thoroughly versed in the Torah and in Talmudic lore. Some of the greatest scholars have been slaughterers.

Many scholars became shochtim in war-time Russia and Poland to evade military service.

The shochet feels that $65 is none too much. He is obliged to be a generous contributor to charities, a supporter of the local Talmud Torah, and the shochet’s children must always be among the most educated of the orthodox Jewish community.


In a nutshell, the market man looks on the shochet as merely a laborer who kills chickens; the shochet looks upon himself as a vicar of his religion to insure kosher poultry to his Jewish community.

The market man is a business man; the shochet is a religionist. The market man craves machinelike rapidity and efficiency, for time is money. The shochet, seldom under forty-five years of age, has not the American speed complex. He is an old-world Jew to whom precision, not time, is important.

The market owners’ resentment has been expressed, of late, in mergers of markets, throwing shochtim out of work and forcing added burdens on those who remain. The shochets’ resentment has evidenced itself in threats of a general strike, a threat which is very real and may well be consummated in the near future if mediation fails.


The market owners argue economic distress. They talk of taxes and depression. The shochtim argue that they must be rested and fresh, must have time to kill poultry according to the ritual method. They must not be forced to kill more than fifty coops. The fundamental point arises again: the market owners argue on an economic basis, the shochet on a religious, and the two cannot meet.

Judge Rosalsky’s problem is difficult. It is not to settle a mere labor dispute, but to harmonize two conflicting attitudes. When each side argues from a different point of view and cannot see the other’s, no permanent settlement is possible.

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