Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz on Rabbis Who Abused the Sacramental Wine Exemption during Prohibition


Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, ZT”L

One need only consider the wine business in which many rabbis are heavily engaged.

How much shame, how much degradation, how much desecration of the honor of the Torah lies therein!

Rabbis who ought to be the ones to ensure that the laws of the land are upheld are instead the direct or indirect cause of their violation.
Therefore, I beseech you, my brethren, no matter how great a Torah scholar a rabbi is, if he is a cause for the desecration of Heaven, he must be removed from the community.

Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the principal of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and founder of Torah Umesorah, launched a bitter attack in 1923 on Orthodox rabbis in America who used the Prohibition sacramental wine exemption to profiteer and deal with the mob.

Though ordained, Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz was so disgusted with the deservedly shady reputations of many orthodox rabbis that he insisted on being  called “Mr. Mendlowitz.”

In another article he attacked rabbis who looked the other way at kosher butcher shops that were selling unkosher meat.

This and other blistering articles about rabbinic corruption were published during the 1920s in *Dos Yiddishe Licht (the Jewish light), a short-lived weekly newspaper supported by Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt and others.

Rosenblatt’s financial commitment to Dos Yiddishe Lict drove him into heavy debt in spite of his phenomenal earnings as one of the most popular and heavily recorded cantors in the world. To the end of his life, Rosenblatt endeavored to pay off his debts.

*Dos Yiddishe Licht (1923) 1:7 p 13. as cited in Hannah Sprecher (1991) “Let Them Drink and Forget Our Poverty” : Orthodox Rabbis React to Prohibition.” American Jewish Archives 40:135-179.


9 thoughts on “Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz on Rabbis Who Abused the Sacramental Wine Exemption during Prohibition

  1. Filed under, the more things change (Williamsburg, yeshivsh world, etc.) the more they stay the same.

    Are their any good biographies of him?

    • Indeed he did. but he did not retract the attack, just wrote he was really talking about reverends not real rabbis. But as Sprecher indicates, the apology was doubtlessly a concession to pushback, not his real view.

  2. Yes, but it demonstrates that nothing has changed – R’ Mendlowitz couldn’t do anything then and the odd non-conforming rabbi can’t do anything now…

    • You are thinking short term like from today to tomorrow or next month. But in the long term all sorts of changes can and do happen. No one viewing orthodoxy when he wrote in 1920s could imagine that instead of most kids going to public school, most would now end up in day schools. There have been many other changes in the orthodox world, some for the better and others for the worse. Change is possible, and it happens because some people push hard enough and long enough.

    • Of course not. But most acts, noble or ignoble, get lost to history. Luckily, Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz’s thoughts got printed thanks to the controversial and, alas, short lived Yiddeshe Licht. But he was definitely in the minority within the orthodox world both in his public criticism and his favoring using grape juice for kiddush during prohibition. In contrast the Conservative movement accepted the ruling of Louis Ginzberg that grape juice should be used during prohibition.

See Commenting policy ( )

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s