Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition

Marni Davis, Author
Marni Davis. New York Univ, $32 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8147-2028-8
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
Release date: 01/01/2012
Paperback - 262 pages - 978-1-4798-8244-1
Hardcover - 262 pages - 978-0-8147-8384-9
Hardcover - 273 pages - 978-0-8147-4409-3
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In a provocative study of Jews’ complicated relationship to alcohol and Prohibition in American history, Georgia State assistant history professor Davis records that as early as the 1870s, American religious, cultural, and business issues created debates within the Jewish community: many Jews saw the temperance and prohibition movements as a mission to impose white Protestant values on American politics and culture. But, says Davis, Jews also had a financial interest in the liquor trade, having long been distillers, wholesalers, and liquor store owners. The 18th Amendment did have some Jewish supporters, notably Prohibition agent Izzy Einstein, a “flamboyantly ethnic” A Jewish immigrant and nationally renowned Prohibition agent who prosecuted fellow Jews with “irrepressible gusto.” Social justice advocate Rabbi Stephen Wise and the progressive governors of Idaho and Utah believed liquor traffic corrupted politics and that saloons added to the demoralization and impoverishment of the working class. The Volstead Act’s sacramental wine dispensation led to debates about assimilation versus seeking special rights for Jewish historical continuity And there were fears that Jewish bootlegging—which, though it represented only a fraction of the business, tainted American Jewry’s reputation and exacerbated anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, stilted prose undermines Davis’s provocative, well-researched, and potentially intriguing study. Photos. (Jan.)
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