Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner
Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU WagnerNewsletter 
March 2011

Dear Friends,

March 25th marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire which killed 146 garment workers, predominantly young Jewish women who were immigrants from Europe. As Rabbi Jill Jacobs recently pointed out, this tragic event not only galvanized the nation into demanding tougher workplace safety laws. It also promoted the cause of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, as well as the labor union movement in general, in which American Jews played a very prominent role. This centenary coincides with the ongoing turmoil in Wisconsin and elsewhere, where state workers and Republican officials are clashing over collective bargaining rights.


The history of American Jews' involvement in the labor movement emerges clearly in reports from the older editions of the American Jewish Year Book. For example, in the 1923 report "A Survey of the Year 5682," Harry S. Linfield reports the news from the Third Internationale. He discusses the status of Poland's Jewish workers' cooperatives and Jewish labor unions, reporting on the participation of Jews in strikes in Lodz and in the United States, and mentions national conventions in America organized by Arbeter Ring (The Workmen's Circle), together with several predominantly Jewish unions.

Another source of relevant material is the Journal of Jewish Communal Service, known in an earlier incarnation as Jewish Social Service Quarterly. In 1945, Bernard Segal wrote in favor of "Collective Bargaining in Social Work," noting that salaries for social agency workers were low compared both to private industry and to civil service. In a fascinating 1946 article, Irving Salert of the Jewish Labor Committee argued that the trade union movement was a powerful weapon against antisemitism: "Scratch a Jew-baiter and you will find a labor-baiter. List the names of the financial backers and promoters of the organized anti-Semitic movement and you have the names of the most outspoken enemies of the American labor movement."

The notion of a natural alliance between the Jewish community and the labor movement finds support in a 1947 roundtable between union and management leaders from the field of Jewish social services, where participants from both sides acknowledged that the unionization of the field was a positive step.

In the same issue, labor leader Joseph H. Levy wrote to warn that the Taft-Hartley Act threatened the labor movement along with the heavily unionized Jewish social services field. He called the Jewish social work field to task in 1948, criticizing Jewish case work agencies for discrimination against "Negroes," and calling on Jewish agencies to deal more effectively and smoothly with social work unions.

Mrs. Louis Langman's 1949 "Statement of Labor-Management Relationships" endorses unions' goals, but finds fault with union tactics and the union movement's profit-driven perspective. She writes that social work is a "mature and dignified profession... Let us stop trying to fit the square peg of the industrial union procedures into the round hole of the social service agency." The same issue of the journal contains an article by George Kirstein, whose experience representing management in negotiations with unions taught him that, "In industry, each businessman confides, 'My business is different than any other.'" Kirstein advocates the creation of a code of ethics to guide both management and labor when disputes arise. An example of Kirstein's vision coming to fruition can be observed fifteen years later, when the Metropolitan Association of Jewish Center Workers of New York adopted the code of behavior described by Charles S. Levy

In 1966, Manheim S. Shapiro examined labor issues in light of Jewish law and traditional texts. He writes that, "Jewish tradition imposes overriding obligations to consider the needs of the deprived above all else and to establish machinery to equalize the relative strength of employee and employer."

Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, writing for CLAL in 1998, went further, citing the Talmud (Bava Kama 116b) and Tanakh (Leviticus 25:55) to justify workers withholding labor as a legitimate bargaining tactic. He further cited a ruling by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein to argue that "scab" labor (the use of strikebreakers) is forbidden outright by Torah law.

More recently, in 2009, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis adopted a Statement on Labor, urging congregations to employ union labor when possible and hold all events in union-friendly venues, among other pro-union policies.

We have many more documents on this and other topics at Let us know what you find most valuable by keeping in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

With best wishes,



Prof. Steven M. Cohen

Director, Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner


In this installment of our video series, BJPA Director Steven M. Cohen examines and evaluates potential explanations for the salary gap between women and men in the Jewish communal field.


He gives special mention to the work being done by Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community.


Click below to watch the video.
The Gender Salary Gap: Cohen's Comments
The Gender Salary Gap: Cohen's Comments


Some of our latest additions: 

Camp Works: The Long-Term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp, Foundation for Jewish Camp (Spring 2011)



March 2011 Issue of Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, The Sh'ma Institute (February 2011)


Jewish Futures Project: The Impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel: 2010 Update, Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (February 2011)


Gearing up to Spend Down: A Foundation in the Midst of Paradigm Shifts: Year 2 Report on the Concluding Years of The Avi Chai Foundation, Joel Fleishman (February 2011)


The Challenges Facing British Jewry, Leslie Wagner (February 2011)


Including Those With Financial Challenges, Paul Golin (February 2011)


Six Key Trends Transforming Jewish Philanthropy, Lisa Eisen (February 2011)


Developing a Social Media Policy, The Avi Chai Foundation (February 2011)


Israeli and American Organizational Responses to Wife Abuse Among the Orthodox, Roberta Rosenberg Farber (2010)



Click HERE for new publications.


Click HERE for latest additions.

PLO Ambassador to Washington speaks at the BJPA

Yesterday, Wednesday March 2, the BJPA hosted Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, Chief PLO Representative to Washington. Mr. Areikat addressed an invitation-only crowd of professors, students, Jewish communal leaders, and journalists, on the topic "The Palestinians and the American Jewish Community: A Challenging Relationship."


Click below to watch the video 

Areikat Screenshot
Ambassador Areikat at BJPA

To read about this event in the press, click here.


Check out BJPA's blog, covering topics such as Poverty as a Barrier to Jewish communal participation and Hebrew Language Charter Schools. We invite your comments and participation!

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BJPA is funded by the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation and the Charles H. Revson Foundation.