Sabbath Observance In 19th Century America

From The Jewish Press:

Dr. Isaac M. Weiss of Cincinnati, a leader of the Reform movement during the 19th century, encouraged his followers to observe the Sabbath. David Einhorn, who in 1855 became the spiritual leader of the Reform Congregation Har Sinai in Baltimore, also urged his congregants to keep Shabbos.

Still, efforts to promote shmiras Shabbos often were not very successful.

A bright spot in the general drab picture of Sabbath violation was Cincinnati in 1876. There, “a walk down Pearl Street on Saturday revealed the fact that almost every store owned by a co-religionist was c1osed.”

But this was by no means the norm. The trend in the 1850s and 1860s was toward more and more chillul Shabbos.

The 1860s saw Jewish butchers who were open on Saturdays.

H. Beermann, a meat dealer doing business at 466½-8th Avenue, New York City, in 1865 felt called upon in his advertising to state that he was closed on Sabbath. Henry Schloss, another meat dealer, located at 466-8th Avenue, made similar statements in his advertising four years later. Even shochtim in Philadelphia in 1867 were known to be Sabbath transgressors. They were responsible for this warning, issued by the Rev. Isaac Leeser, as secretary of the Philadelphia Board of Jewish Ministers, on Oct. 29, 1867:
To the Israelites of Philadelphia: It being against our laws to allow anyone to kill cattle or poultry for the use of Israelites who violate the Sabbath, the public are respectfully cautioned against buying meat or poultry killed by anyone who so offends.

It was not long before chillul Shabbos became public. Jewish organizations and societies began conducting balls on Friday evenings.

The Sabbath eve of March 19, 1870, saw two balls in New York City – one under the auspices of the Noah Benevolent Society, and the other conducted by the Grand Lodge of the Free Men of Israe1. The B’nai B’rith of New Haven scheduled its ball in 1871 for Friday evening, January 20. Benefit concerts on Sabbath evenings presented a similar dour spectacle. In 1882, one was conducted at the Highland House in Cincinnati for the benefit of the Russian refugees. In 1884, one was held at Phoenix Hall, Detroit, under the auspices of the Hebrew Ladies Aid Society on Friday evening, February 29.

Shmiras Shabbos often meant a real loss in business income. Add to this the fact that in many places one was not allowed to open one’s business on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, and it is easy to understand the strong temptation to

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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