Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Book: Prostitution and Prejudice: The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery 1870-1939

By Edward J. Bristow

ISBN 10: 0805238662 / 0-8052-3866-2
ISBN 13: 9780805238662
Publisher: Schocken Books
Publication Date: 1983


“What if being a librarian was the most dangerous job
Not exactly what the title or the subtitle says--but rather, with integrity and even a certain elegance: Jewish prostitution and the Jewish fight against it. Until the late 1800s, historian Bristow (Vice and Vigilance) explains, strict religious prohibitions deterred prostitution and procuring among Jews (though there were exceptions: Dickens modeled Fagin after an actual brothelkeeper). The vice began to flourish after 1870, when the shtetl and the closely-knit Jewish family were disrupted by pogroms, wars, rapid urbanization, and secularization, and when immigration created an oversupply of single males in North and South America and South Africa. A Jewish underworld--often organized along family lines--materialized to supply women from Eastern Europe to every other continent. The subculture of that demimonde, as Bristow intriguingly describes it, was remarkably faithful to religious traditions: brothel owners founded synagogues and cemeteries; pimps ordered kosher meat; and girls in Butte, Montana refused to work on holy days. Statistically, he demonstrates, Jews were no more involved in prostitution than the French, Greeks, Poles, Chinese, or most other groups; but anti-Semites inevitably exploited the issue, conjuring up visions of an international conspiracy to abduct Christian girls and spirit them off to the bordellos of Buenos Aires. (The majority of prostitutes, in fact, were volunteers; and Jewish traffickers dealt mostly with Jewish women.) To counter the bigotry and erase ""this horrible blot on the reputation of our race,"" a coalition of Jewish socialists, Zionists, social reformers, religious organizations, feminists, and (more reluctantly) the orthodox community mounted an anti-prostitution campaign, led and funded by Rothschilds, Montefiores, and Bertha Pappenheim (Freud's ""Anna O.""). They resorted to ostracism, vigilante action, police investigation, social work, travelers' aid, muckraking journalism, problem plays on the Yiddish stage, and the League of Nations: all with limited success. In America, Jewish prostitution ended only when Jewish family life stabilized and economic opportunities opened up after 1914; in Europe, the resolution was provided by Hitler (who had heard about Jewish white-slavers). A deft, scholarly excursion into the sociology of prostitution and the byways of Jewish history.

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