Author Archives: Tamara Mann

Tamara Mann

About Tamara Mann

Tamara Mann is a Ph.D. Candidate in American History at Columbia University and a freelance writer.

Julius Rosenwald

Wealth, Julius Rosenwald contended, is a blessing and a charge: “I can testify that it is nearly always easier to make $1,000,000 honestly than to dispose of it wisely.”

Born in Springfield, Illinois to German Jewish immigrants in 1862, Rosenwald got his start in the wholesale clothing trade. In 1895 this middling garment salesmen left the family profession to invest in a newfangled mail-order company–Sears, Roebuck.
julius rosenwald
By 1906, Rosenwald had revolutionized Richard Sears’ catalogue business with clear management goals and innovative organization techniques. It was time to expand. Rosenwald sought a loan from his old friend Henry Goldman. Goldman, later of Goldman Sachs, had a different suggestion–forget the loan and take the company public.

Issuing public stocks in Sears, Roebuck rapidly paid off and in a matter of hours, the market valued Rosenwald’s personal worth at more than four million dollars. Rosenwald’s financial windfall came at a time when most of his employees made less than $16 per week. This inequity was not lost on Rosenwald. As a longstanding member of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation in Chicago, he looked to his rabbi, Emil Hirsch, for ethical guidance.

Advice from the Rabbi

Hirsch, a brilliant linguist and textual scholar, moved fluidly between Jewish and secular academic circles, articulating a vision of Jewish practice beholden to real world concerns. On Yom Kippur in the 1920s, he lectured his congregation with these words: “As long as the weakest in humanity has not his own, civilization is only a sham and a pretender, and as long as civilization is a pretender, Judaism must stand alone as a historic protest against injustice.”

Rosenwald admired Hirsch and quickly absorbed his teachings on Tzedakah. Charity, Hirsch preached, “is not a voluntary concession on the part of the well-situated. It is a right to which the less fortunate are entitled in justice.”

Learning about Jewish ethical guidelines, Rosenwald became aware of Maimonideseight degrees of charity. The highest form of giving, Maimonides claimed, alleviates poverty by offering a method towards self-reliance; a loan or a job, in this model, usually take ethical precedence over alms because jobs and loans can ensure greater dignity and independence for their recipients.

Gefilte Fish in America

Gefilte fish, a pescatarian’s meatloaf of ground fish, onions, starch, and eggs, is both an object of culinary delight and a linchpin of Jewish shtick. Born in Europe out of religious obligation, poverty, and ingenuity, gefilte fish survived in America due to bottling technology, innovative advertising, and an American Jewish desire to experience faith through the large intestine.

Gefilte fish is most associated with the Sabbath meal, as eating fish on Shabbat has been a Jewish custom since the talmudic period. Fish, the ancient sages trumpeted, was an aphrodisiac. They believed the intoxicating odor on the Sabbath table would encourage couples to “be fruitful and multiply“–which in Jewish tradition is encouraged on Friday night. The Hebrew word for fish, dag, also corresponds to the numerical value seven, which reflects God’s commandment, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord.”gefilte-fish

European Origins

Gefilte fish, at its inception, was a savvy solution to both a financial and a halakhic (Jewish legal) dilemma. Impoverished Jewish women in Eastern and Central Europe could feed their families with a single serving of the cheapest kosher aquatic, and they could eat the fish without violating the talmudic prohibition against removing bones on the Sabbath.

Jewish women carefully skinned the fish and ground the flesh and bones with inexpensive ingredients such as onions, eggs, and bread before stuffing the concoction back into the skin for baking (gefilte is Yiddish for “stuffed”). Soon Jewish families stopped stuffing altogether and simply formed the mixture into balls for steaming or boiling.

Enshrined as a Jewish staple by the 19th century, gefilte fish attained local flavors in Russia, Germany, Poland, France, and Lithuania. Poland became famous for its sweet sugary balls, while Lithuanians preferred their patties with pepper and horseradish.

A Recipe From Back Home

When Jews arrived in America, they brought their gefilte recipes with them. Jewish immigrant women spent full days shopping, preparing, and arguing over the right amount of salt for their odiferous spheres.