The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902





For an early example of activism and the power of women in New York City, look no further than the kosher meat strike of 1902 — a mostly forgotten incident that tore the Lower East Side apart. “This is an early example of consumer activism,” says Scott D. Seligman, author of the new book. MORE     

Reed Tucker

New York Post

The women didn’t know it, but it was the beginning of the 20th-century’s long list of social-justice battles for workers’ benefits, suffrage, civil rights. They would be fought with the methods of the meat war, too — public outreach, economic boycotts, massive demonstrations. They would change the face of America. MORE     

Jacqueline Cutler

New York Daily News

The two weeks of urban unrest...spreading across New York and as far away as Boston, is chronicled in Seligman’s new book. It’s the first full-length treatment of a consumer uprising and Jew-vs.-Jew conflict that in its time would inspire a generation of farbrente Yidishe meydlekh – fiery Jewish women – who would stand up for social justice in the early 20th century. MORE  EN FRANCAIS

Andrew Silow-Carroll

New York Jewish Week

Seligman’s compelling book is, first and foremost, a master class in historical storytelling. Immediately captivating and readily accessible, he restores a relatively little‑known event outside of Jewish studies circles to the historical canon. Impressively, he contextualizes the boycott, routinely siloed within the confines of Jewish history, into the broader sweep of American history . . . Perhaps most important, he centers key women who made it happen and allows them to speak. MORE     

Hannah Zaves-Greene

American Jewish Archives Journal

Seligman, a writer and historian, explores how gender relations, immigration, trade unions, poverty, and women’s rights came together in 1902 when Chicago’s Beef Trust raised prices . . . A well-written narrative history, this will appeal to historians and social scientists as well as general readers interested in a powerful but little-known community action program. MORE     

D. R. Jamieson, Ashland University


Relying on primary source materials, Seligman has created a highly readable and enjoyable account of this little-known episode in American history. Highly recommended, especially for those interested in American history and Jewish history, as well as gender and labor studies. MORE

Jacqueline Parascandola, University of Pennsylvania
Library Journal

Author Scott Seligman has rescued this saga from obscurity . . . utilizing contemporary accounts, mostly from the Yiddish press, and genealogical detective work. The result is a multidimensional exploration of what the Yiddish newspapers of the time called a ​modern Jewish Boston Tea Party. The author — a freelance historian and genealogist — celebrates the unsung, obscure but remarkably effective Jewish women who pulled together the Ladies Anti-Beef Trust Association, a masterwork of community organizing. Seligman tells a wide-ranging, thoughtful, and comprehensive story. MORE

Ira Wolfman
Jewish Book Council

Seligman has . . . produced an important contribution to the scholarship on the Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902, as well as American Jewish women’s history. He succeeds in urging the reader to learn about and ponder the lives of ordinary Jewish women like Sarah Edelson, Caroline Schatzberg, Paulina Finkel, and dozens of other brave women activists who, despite the odds, stood up to powerful corporations, mobilized their neighbors and local communities, sacrificed their time, effort, and well-being with no guarantee of success — and, through patience and persistence, won. MORE

Aaron Welt
Gotham Center for New York City History
The great kosher meat war became a model of how ordinary people could accomplish extraordinary things through organizing. The victories of the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s movement, and the triumphs of progressives throughout the 20th century find their origin in the housewives of the Lower East Side and the battle for affordable kosher meat. MORE

Roger Abrams
New York Journal of Books

The author’s lively prose brings this part of American history alive, and the book, at times, reads almost like a novel. Seligman . . . has done a service in bringing this little-known part of American history to our attention, one which demonstrates that the convergence of activism, socialism, and unionization prevalent in the early 20th century remains a staple in protests to this day. MORE

Mike Maggio

 Washington Independent Review of Books

This is an excellent analysis of why meat prices jumped. Enter the “Meat Trust,” a virtual gang of providers in gross violation of the recently-enacted Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Price fixing was only part of their operation...As meat prices rose, the first to suffer was the housewife who could no longer afford to buy meat for a stew or for cholent...So, Jewish women started a boycott...The book details how protest morphed into violence, destruction of property, arrests, and eager coverage by local newspapers in Jewish and popular, Yiddish and English, religious and secular, all looking for an attention-grabbing story. MORE

Jay Levinson

London Jewish Tribune

Seligman has transformed a kosher meat strike on the lower East Side of New York into an engrossing, readable story for a wide variety of readers: those interested in American and Jewish history, those interested in the history of the labor movement in the United States and those interested in the growing political importance women were beginning to play in the United States. MORE

Burton Boxerman

St. Louis Jewish Light

Seligman’s well-researched book offers a valuable window into the emergence of direct-action protest among immigrant women on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In defending their families’ interests, the women boycotters displayed a high degree of intelligence, boldness, and militancy that set a new standard for activism among working-class women. MORE

Gerald W. McFarland

Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

Seligman’s account of the meat riots casts striking parallels with what we are seeing in our present day, especially in the United States, with the Black Lives Matter protests and the calls to end police brutality. I especially liked how “The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902” noted that the event has been characterized as being similar in motive to The Boston Tea Party, and thus homing in on an important point: our country was largely founded through the act of protesting and speaking out against perceived injustice. This theme carried through the 19th century, to the 1902 meat riots in New York City, to the Civil Rights Movement, and still largely exists today. It is important that events such as the meat riots are recorded and retold so that the foundations of American culture are remembered appropriately. MORE

Megan Weiss

Reader Views

The story featured in The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902 resonates in contemporary times when women – and men – take to the streets to protest injustice . . . Seligman writes easy-to-read prose, making this book perfect for scholars and non-scholars to appreciate his research. Its introductory timeline and its list of those connected to the strike made it easy to keep track of the events and the people involved. Anyone interested in life on the Lower East Side during the turn of the last century, Jewish women’s history or Jewish immigrant life will enjoy learning about this intriguing episode of Jewish American history. MORE

Rabbi Rachel Esserman

The Reporter

In his new book, master storyteller Scott D. Seligman weaves together the disparate narratives of New York’s 1902 kosher meat boycott, America’s first and only chief rabbi, and the notorious Meat Trust. Deeply researched, engagingly written, The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902 takes its delighted readers back in time to the teeming streets of the Lower East Side and the rough-and-tumble world of its immigrant Jews.

Pamela S. Nadell, Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s and Gender History,
American University and
America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today
The first blow-by-blow account of the kosher meat boycott of 1902 and the Jewish immigrant women who devised and promoted it. Anticipating both the Consumer Movement and contemporary Jewish women’s activism, The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902 shows how commerce, labor, food and gender explosively combined at a tempestuous moment in the history of New York City.
Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish history, Brandeis University, and Author, American Judaism: A History.
Scott D. Seligman has performed a bit of a miracle in letting the immigrant Jewish women who led the Great Meat Boycott of 1902 find their voice today. Seligman shows how and why women publicly organized America's first consumer boycott. Launched from New York’s Lower East Side to fight precipitous Chicago Meat Trust price hikes, their action spread to other cities, providing a powerful model for future activism.
Elissa Sampson, Visiting Scholar and Lecturer, Cornell University
Why would a strike led by immigrant women in 1902 be important today? In this carefully crafted book, Scott D. Seligman drew from original zaftik (juicy) Yiddish news sources to bring to life the women brave enough to strike against their butchers. At the intersection of religion and politics, their cause gave rise to a mass movement not unlike those of today that pit human values against crass commercial interests.
Miriam Isaacs, Professor of Yiddish Language and Culture Emerita, University of Maryland
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