The Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902


If you think kosher meat is expensive now, just think about what your great-grandparents paid. In May 1902, the retail price of kosher meat in New York jumped–from 12 to 18 cents per pound in a matter of weeks.

Back then, the average U.S. income was a little over ten dollars a week, so a difference of six cents meant a lot. The price gauge came not from the local butchers but from the small oligopoly of farm owners that controlled the industry.

So two Jewish women (one a homemaker; the other a restaurant owner) led a meat boycott. Then, on May 15, 20,000 women broke into kosher butcher shops on the Lower East Side in New York and set them on fire. By the end of the day, the police arrested 85 persons, 70 of them Jewish women. The Yiddish Forward ran the headline, “Bravo, Jewish Women!” But the New York Times said, “the women are very ignorant [and]…mostly speak a foreign language.”

The boycott spread to different American cities. By June 9, the price of kosher beef dropped back to 14 cents, and the boycott began to lose steam. But the American Jewish community had seen the power it could wield. This would later serve as a model for Jewish union leaders in shaping the American labor movement.

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