Early Twentieth Century
Published in the American Jewish Historical Quarterly, December, 1979.
Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt
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During the first three decades of the twentieth century and especially the 1920's, Jewish groups and individuals paid an increasing amount of attention to questions of the Sabbath, how it should be observed and what its larger place was in American culture. The Sabbath also became an important cause for a number of Jews, combining religious purposes with social reform goals. The Sabbath had a practical social dimension since it directly involved the reduction of the work week and as such coincided with labor's demands for the five-day week. Spokesmen for the Sabbath movement supported labor's shorter hour cause, reasoning that modern industrial developments made jobs harder, more stressful, specialized and unrewarding, and as such increased the practical need for more time off. But concerns about workers' health, safety and social well-being were joined in the Sabbath movement by larger, more idealistic, and religious motives. Individuals and groups saw in the idea of the Sabbath some profound truths that transcended the workaday world and opened up a new kind of human reform and a new field for "genuine" progress. They came to believe that the Sabbath, as a special time set aside for real human needs and apart from material concerns, provided the model and rationale for the "progressive shortening of the hours of labor" - a labor cause that began to outrun practical reform goals with the beginning of the five-day week. They also saw values contained by the Sabbath that countered modern materialism, "spurious progress," mass, cheap culture, and the philistinism of the "gospel of consumption." Hence these people represented twentieth century's Sabbatarianism as combining a very real improvement of the worker's life (a shorter workweek), a general criticism of a culture and economy sunk in materialism, without a transcendent vision, and a new direction for a qualitatively different type of progress.
One of the main difficulties that Jews faced in America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the loss of Saturday as the historical Sabbath. By law and custom, Americans worked six days a week and, if possible, took Sunday off. Paradoxically, the reason why most Americans worked the six-day week was due in part to a social reform which was sparked by religious concerns, the nineteenth century Christian Sabbatarian movement. This movement, in the 1820's and 1830's, had a strong social reform motive and a stronger result although it was heavily sentimental and designed for the most part for religious purposes. Even though Jews and Christians alike shared its social benefits, Jews were denied its religious possibilities. Any deviation from the six-day - Sunday-off pattern was difficult, almost impossible unless one worked the full seven days (even this was exceptional since blue laws augmented the Sabbatarian's reform). Although the Jewish concern for keeping the Sabbath was as keen as the Christian, Jews were practically prohibited this religious freedom and forced by society and their jobs to observe Sunday as what amounted to a national religious holiday.
Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jews faced this problem but never resolved it. The problem also caused a rift among Jews between the Orthodox and Reform leadership. Orthodox spokesmen were afraid that the Sabbath as a unique part of their religion was dying out - being observed more in the breach than in the keeping. Often they would predict that the Sabbath was doomed because of the constraints of the American culture. They saw in the death of the Sabbath one more force that would speed up the assimilation and even the conversion of the Jewish people. For example, Rabbi Israel Herbert Levinthal argued that "if we see Jewish life crumbling before our very eyes in America it is mainly due to the fact that we have lost our Sabbath." 2 That this view was widely held was demonstrated by a joint statement issued by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, the Rabbinical Assembly of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the United Synagogue of America:... "this violation of the Sabbath, if continued indefinitely, must inevitably lead to the gradual disintegration of our people." 3 For the Orthodox and a number of Conservatives, the preservation of the Sabbath was a precondition to the preservation of American Judaism. The Sabbath also contained ideals and values central to their religion. It was the special, holy time for ritual matters, for community, for family, for tradition, and for the individual and his God, set aside from the busy, materialistic and profane world. A strict observance of that day preserved the forms and institutions of Judaism to be sure, but it also contained central truths that were timeless
The importance of the Sabbath cannot be overstated. Since prominent Jews were later to graft the traditional ideas associated with the Sabbath onto the larger social reform cause of the "progressive shortening of the hours of labor," some insight into how the Sabbath was viewed during this period is useful. A fine, poetic example may be found in Ben Eliezer's book, Letters of a Jewish Father to His Son. In the chapter, "Princess Sabbath," Ben Eliezer stated that "the Sabbath is probably the greatest cultural contribution that the Jews have made to the world," even surpassing "the gift of the idea of the unity of God." The Sabbath had acted both as "a national unifying and cementing influence" for Jews as well as a "universal humanizing factor." Its place in tradition was assured in talmudic literature with such passages as: "The Sabbath outweighs the whole of the Torah and he who observes it properly has all his sins forgiven." Ben Eliezer, as did many Jews, believed that the observance of the Sabbath put man into contact with his real needs and his true nature, and put the material world into perspective.
What does . . . give the Sabbath its sacred significance is the fact that during its 24 hours, there is an abandoning of all material interests, followed by complete retirement into a self-contained spiritual world, free from earthly cares and worries. . . . For it is only in such an environment, free from the thoughts of daily affairs, that the highest religious and ethical sentiments can come uppermost to mind. . . . By cultivating such an atmosphere. . . modern Jews] would also grow into knowledge possessed by their forefathers. . . that our souls are capable of deriving more lasting pleasure from other joys which raise man beyond the level of mere animal enjoyment, drawing him nearer to the source of the great unknown from which he emanates
The Sabbath was, in fact, the goal of work and material concerns: the time "longed for. . . with the same fervour as a prince awaiting his bride." Labor and "the thought of labor" were important chiefly because they led to the Sabbath and to "its self-contained, spiritual world." In this Jews and Christians agreed. The Sabbath was a kind of "escathon" in this world, a taste of that eternal Sabbath described by St. Augustine at the end of his Confessions.
On the other hand, during the last half of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth century, many progressive rabbis, in an attempt to "modernize" Judaism, held Sunday services and argued that all American congregations should permit Sunday observances. The rabbinical conference at Pittsburgh in 1885 unanimously agreed that:
Whereas we recognize the importance of maintaining the historical Sabbath as a bond with our great past and a symbol of the unity of Israel the world over; and, Whereas, on the other hand, it cannot be denied that there is a very large number of Jews who, owing to economic and industrial conditions, and are not able to attend services on our sacred day of rest; be it: Resolved, that in the judgment of this conference there is nothing in the spirit of Judaism to prevent the holding of divine services on Sunday, or any other day of the week, where the necessity of such services is felt.
This resolution was reaffirmed in 1902, 1905, 1906 and afterwards, periodically until the 1920's in the Committee on "Weekday Services," by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The Central Conference also watered down the Orthodox notion of how the Sabbath should be kept, agreeing that activities like tramrides, work at necessary jobs, shaving, and secular amusements were permissible given the realities of the American environment.
In addition, the more radical leadership pressed for the total transfer of the Sabbath to Sunday immediately following the Pittsburgh Conference. The center for this movement seems to have been the Jewish Tidings, a publication out of Rochester, New York, which espoused the cause. This notion remained viable in Reform Judaism until 1902 when in New Orleans, after a long and heated debate, the Central Conference committed itself to a struggle for the Saturday Sabbath. The Conference resolved that it was "in favor of maintaining the historical Sabbath as a fundamental institution of Judaism and exerting every effort to enforce its observance."'
Despite their disagreement, Orthodox and Reform groups joined together in the struggle for the Saturday Sabbath as it developed from 1903 to 1920. The two most important groups engaged in this movement were the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Orthodox Jewish Sabbath Alliance. On the one hand, the Central Conference did not vigorously pursue its 1902 commitment, continuing to promote Sunday services (rearranging rituals accordingly) and to interpret Sabbath laws in a more "liberal" manner and seems to have held little hope that Saturday observances and traditional rituals could be revived in America. But the Sabbath Alliance took the initiative in the movement and was much more active, fully committing itself to the ideal of the traditional Sabbath.'
Nevertheless, during this early period, both groups used the same two techniques. Both endorsed the broader social reform of one day's rest out of seven (a cause supported originally by the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in 1908 and afterwards), but argued that industry and business should make special accommodations for their Jewish worker, allowing them to take Saturday instead of Sunday off. In contrast to the Central Conference's passive endorsement of the scheme (it never got far beyond Conference resolutions), the Sabbath Alliance actively promoted the staggered work week in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other major cities where Jews were employed by specific industries in large numbers. Both groups also joined together in opposition to Sunday blue laws. Again the Sabbath Alliance was more active, launching what the New York Times called a national "campaign" against these laws. Hence Jewish Sabbatarianism faced two fronts at first: the rearranging of the work week to allow for free Saturdays and the defeating of blue laws to open up Sunday work. Both were necessary if the Sabbath was to be observed on Saturday in a country where the six-day week was standard.
This original and narrowly focused struggle seemed doomed from the start. The Alliance had little success in promoting the staggered work week since industrial managers were unwilling or unable to administer the production and personnel problems that would have resulted from a reduced and changed work force for two days a week. Progressive businessmen, who supported the six-day work week, were not willing to extend its potential religious benefit to Jews by altering the work force and thereby the very means of production. Even Jewish employers, the target for most of the Sabbatarians' efforts, were not ready to disrupt their businesses for this cause. In addition, some members of the Sabbath Alliance conceded that even in the best of circumstances, the staggered work week could be instituted only by special industries in large cities and would not solve the Sabbath problem for the majority of Jews.
Consequently, during these early years, the Central Conference and the Sabbath Alliance devoted most of their efforts against the enforcement of the nineteenth century blue laws and the passing of new ones. But again, in this effort they faced great difficulty. Beginning around 1918 the Lord's Day Alliance, the Central Sabbath Crusade Committee, the International Reform Bureau, and several other Christian organizations were promoting a new and militant campaign for the strict observance of Sunday. The original social gospel concern with the six-day week as a constructive labor reform had by this time deteriorated into a new and repressive drive to eliminate by local and state ordinances and even federal laws all sorts of Sunday activities including movies, newspaper publications, sports, voluntary recreation pursuits, as well as most commerce and all manufacturing. As with Prohibition and immigrant restriction the dark side of modern reform was exhibited by the wave of blue laws passed in the 1920's. In many cases the campaign for strict Sunday observance had anti-Semitic overtones. For example, blue laws in Boston and New York were often enforced selectively against Jews. In addition, leaders of the Lord's Day Alliance such as H. L. Bowlby attacked the Jewish Sabbath Alliance, charging that its efforts were motivated by the desire to give Jews an unfair business advantage on Sunday or else were a front for the movie trade, which, according to Bowlby, was dominated by Jewish interests. The results of the new campaign for strict Sunday observance was a vigorous enforcement of existing blue laws and the passing of numerous new laws by city councils and state legislatures.
In this situation supporters of the Jewish Sabbath could do little except fight a rearguard action. Nevertheless, beginning in 1920, the Jewish Sabbath Alliance began its national "campaign" against blue laws. Its major argument was that such legislation "forced Jews to observe a Christian holiday" and as such violated the Constitutional provision for the separation of church and state. Acting on this assumption, the Sabbath Alliance promoted the introduction of the Dickstein Bill in the New York legislature in 1920, a bill that would have allowed Jews to operate commercial concerns on Sunday (a law similar to statutes in New Jersey and Oklahoma). But because of the rising tide of public sentiment about Sunday reform, this bill was defeated in March, 1921. Several other such bills were introduced in state legislatures in the 1920's, including one proposed by Bernard Downing, senator from New York City, that would have prohibited on Saturday all activities prohibited on Sunday. Downing supported his bill by declaring, "if this bill becomes law, it will give 1,600,000 Jews. . . no further justification for saying that legislation designed to compel them to observe our Sunday laws involves discrimination, placing them at an economic disadvantage, . . . and a little more rest and leisure will do us no harm." But these bills had little chance in state legislatures that were passing new blue laws in record numbers.
Moreover, in their fight against blue laws, the Jewish organizations had little help from the courts, although the Sabbath Alliance at first considered them to be a major hope for redress. By the 1920's, the Supreme Court of the United States had twice accepted the constitutionality of Sunday laws, with Henningion vs. Georgia (163, U.S. 299, 1896) and Peltit vs. Minnesota (177, U.S. 164, 1900), even though never ruling on the First Amendment issue of separation of church and state involved. However, lower courts were laying the foundations for the secular interpretation of these laws, ruling in over fifteen instances that the police power of localities permitted enforcement of Sunday laws, and that they were civil, not religious in purpose, since they permitted everyone to have one day of rest in the week, essential for public order, rest, recreation, health, and welfare. The New Jersey court, for example, held in Kislingbury vs. Treasurer of Plainfield (160A. 654, 10 NJ misc. 798) that the New Jersey law exempting Jews and others who observed Saturday from prosecution under that state's Sunday closing ordinance was unconstitutional in its exemption and that the First Amendment did not speak on the issue of Sunday laws."
Hence in their first attempts to free American Jews to observe the traditional Sabbath, the Sabbath Alliance and Central Conference seemed blocked by the nature and requirements of industry, the wave of Christian Sunday reform, legislatures more interested in passing Sunday blue laws than exempting people from them, and courts not willing to apply the First Amendment to this issue. It was only when the Sabbath Alliance began to concentrate on larger labor reform matters that it was able to make headway in its first, primarily religious cause. In the five-day week its members found what seemed to be a natural vehicle for both their concern for the Sabbath and their hopes for more general social justice achievements. Again in support of the five-day week, the Orthodox Sabbath Alliance lead the way. It is interesting to note that other more liberal groups were slow to recognize the coincidence of this labor reform and the religious cause. Historians have always supposed that the liberal, reform groups such as the Central Conference were those who advocated programs of social reform, but in the struggle for the Sabbath/five-day week, it was Orthodox Jewry which demonstrated its own brand of social consciousness.
As early as 1910, Rabbi Bernard Drachman, president of the Sabbath Alliance, told that group that the problem of the Sabbath was so interwoven with American conditions that the issue could be resolved only if both Saturday and Sunday were observed as days of rest by "Christians and Jews alike." As the efforts to exempt Jews from Saturday work failed and the attempts to open up Sunday work proved fruitless and generated hard feelings among Christian Sabbatarians, more people came to appreciate the wisdom of Drachman's original vision. Beginning in 1919, the Sabbath Alliance supported local unions in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other large cities which were launching their campaigns for the five-and-a-half day week, a campaign that worked directly toward the institution of Saturday holidays.
It is hard to judge religion's influence on this new labor cause. But since the unions that first pressed for the five-day week were composed mostly of Jews, the desire to revive Saturday observance was very prevalent in Jewish groups, and national Jewish organizations as well as local congregations endorsed the five-day week, a prima facie case has been made that religion was a motive of union members in this cause. But union leaders did not stress the five-day week's religious benefit. In fact, they seldom mentioned it. Instead, they represented their unions with economic and social arguments that were applicable to all workers. There is no way of telling whether economic and social consideration or the desire for the traditional Sabbath was more important for the Jewish union members who were beginning to demand and strike for the five-day week. But since the religious and the economic/social purposes coincided in a practical fashion, and the union's economic/social arguments were endorsed by religious groups and even given a theological dimension, the question of union members' motives may be left unanswered for the purposes of this essay.
The first national union to propose the five-day week was the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, which passed resolutions for this goal in their biennial conventions, beginning in 1920. Led by Sidney Hillman, this national union worked with local unions, especially in New York, during the decade to incorporate 40-hour clauses in trade agreements, or a clause that committed manufacturers to institute this reform as soon as possible." But for several local Jewish unions, progress through trade agreements and resolutions was too slow. Strikes were called by the needle trade, the New York City clothing workers, and the Patterson, New Jersey silk workers and several other local unions between 1920 and 1924, which included demands for either the five-and-a-half-day or five-day week. These early strikes were settled for the most part by compromise, the workers agreeing to give up the hours' benefits for higher wages. But beginning in 1924, a series of major successful strikes were called by 50,000 New York City Ladies' Garment Workers' Union members (the largest strike in the nation that year), 40,000 clothing workers in New York City in 1926, 5,000 fur workers in New York and 3,000 in Boston (both in 1926) and all members of the New York and Philadelphia Cloth Hat and Cap Workers' Union in 1927, as well as other smaller unions in children's dresses, bathrobes, and kimonos. In these strikes, the 40-hour/five-day week was a major issue. When coupled with demands for higher wages, the issue dominated. For example, observers of the I 7-week strike of the New York furriers concluded that "the main difficulty (prolonging the strike] seems to have been what points the union should barter away in order to gain the forty-hour week." These strikes were successful, so much so that by 1927 the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that the five-day work week was "practically the rule in trade agreements in the clothing industry."
Together with the painters' and plasterers' unions, other building trades such as plumbers and carpenters, and printing and publishing unions, these unions in the clothing industry with large, Jewish memberships initiated the five-day week movement. That their efforts were productive was demonstrated by the fact that before the war, less than twenty manufacturing establishments nationally had adopted the five-day week. Nearly all of these were managed and staffed by Jews. But during the 1920's, over 240 manufacturers adopted this plan. By 1929, approximately 400,000 to 500,000 employees were working on a five-day pay basis. The 1920's was truly the decade of the beginning of the five-day work week."
Between 1920 and 1925, the American Federation of Labor had its hands full mopping up "pockets of long hour resistance." Even though the eight-hour day/six-day week had become the norm by the 1920's, enough unions were still struggling to catch up with this standard to occupy the AFL's attention. Although it had endorsed the Amalgamated Clothing Worker's five-day week drive in 1920, it was not until 1926 that the AFL was ready to turn its full attention to this cause as the next logical step in the century-long process of shorter hours. The AFL supported the five-day week as one of its primary goals. But enough options were before it the six- or seven-hour day and the five-and-a-half-day week - that it chose to commit itself to the larger cause of "the progressive shortening of the hours of labor" during the 1926 Convention."
Jewish organizations actively supported these labor developments. In February, 1924, the convention of Orthodox Rabbis of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut met in New York City and endorsed the five-day week. This convention's efforts to "further the establishment of the five-day-week system" was an outgrowth of the Sabbath Alliance and the local congregations' original support of the clothing, fur, and needle trade unions and the joint efforts of several Jewish groups to combat blue laws. A new note of optimism and conciliation was present at the convention. Several speakers (among them Drachman) noted that since opposition to blue laws was failing and bringing "protests from Christians," the five-day week offered a compromise. The convention concluded "so to please both Jews and Christians, the plan for two days of rest each week was adopted."20
The idea gained ground rapidly among Jews and others. In 1925, the Sabbath Alliance formed an interdenominational committee to promote the cause, composed of such men as Drachman, Carlyle B. Haynes, Cyrus Adler, and N. Taylor Phillips. Spokesmen for this group agreed that "this great public reform . . . will . . . tend to remove the greatest causes of friction and religious intolerances existing in America today." Also, in 1925, representatives of several rabbinic bodies (Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative) met in New York to "further the five-day week in American industry." They launched what they called "a vigorous campaign in publications, lobbying, and promotion." Included in these efforts as leaders were M. Z. Margolies, Chaim Block and A. B. Burak of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, Samuel Schulman and Nathan Stern of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and "lay organizations" such as the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Sabbath Alliance, and Young Israel. In addition, beginning in 1924, the United Synagogue of America planned a series of conferences between employers and labor unions "with a view to the establishing of a five-day week in as many industries as possible." By 1927, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue, and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada had endorsed this cause as a general labor reform and in several instances actually encouraged the efforts of local unions, such as the needles trade and the Ladies' Garment Workers'. However, it was the Orthodox groups that took the active leadership role while the Reform group, such as the Central Conference, acted mostly as a cheering section.
The primary concern of all of the groups and individuals was, of course, the revitalization of Sabbath observances on Saturday. The five-day week cause and its successes turned the original pessimism of Reform Jews into a new enthusiasm and proved to be a justification for the Orthodox leadership's holding onto the cause. But Jewish Sabbatarianism was altered and expanded by the five-day week issue. The issue led naturally to larger concerns: broad scale labor reforms and general questions about economic development and cultural progress. The five-day week served the practical cause of Jewish Sabbatarianism to be sure; but Jewish Sabbatarianism, as expanded by the issue, served in turn to justify the broader labor reform of the "progressive shortening of the hours of labor" and to inform the cultural, social, and economic debate about the decreasing importance of work and the increasing importance of free time.
Rabbi Israel Herbert Levinthal expressed the logical broadening of the argument for the Sabbath in this way:
I can see but one way to save the Sabbath for the Jew, and that is through the establishment of the five-day week. . . .1 would favor the five-day week even if I were not interested in the preservation of the Jewish Sabbath. I would favor it because it would add health and strength to the American people. It would promote the home and home life, giving the father an added opportunity to become more intimately acquainted with . . . his children.
In a like manner, other prominent Jews who supported the five-day week agreed with the social and economic arguments of union leaders. During the struggle for the ten-hour day, the eight-hour day, and the six-day week, unions relied on fairly simple, common sense arguments. They had stressed safety factors, health benefits, moral considerations, and increased production in their defense of the earlier advances. But with the beginning of the 40-hour/five-day week drive and the commitment to "the progressive shortening of the hours of labor" these earlier, generally accepted goals were less applicable. It was not clear at all that Saturdays off improved production, was necessary for rest, or made the work place safer. Union leaders found that they had to discover new arguments to justify this new reform.
To do this men such as William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, Matthew Woll, vice-president of the AFL, A. 0. Wharton, president of the International Association of Machinists, and Sidney HilIman, founder and president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America turned their attention to the larger economy. They suggested that shorter hours were essential in order to deal with chronic unemployment and with general overproduction - new problems of the new era. These union leaders, and others, especially in the New York garment industry, firmly believed that with increasing mechanization, the economy was beginning to be over built and the demand for goods such as textiles was being saturated. As production "outran the rate of natural consumption," general overproduction and chronic, acute unemployment would soon follow. In order to deal with these two new developments, they stressed two solutions - higher wages and shorter hours. Higher wages would allow workers to buy the necessities of life and as such increase the consumption of certain types of traditional products. Shorter hours, on the other hand, would create more jobs and would act to increase wages. But they would also limit production that was beginning to outstrip demand. As A. 0. Wharton put it:
Increased production accentuates the problem of overproduction or underconsumption. Increased wages and reduced hours go hand in hand with increased production. . . . Economic balance can be maintained only if. . . wages advance and leisure hours increase. If some sort of balance is not maintained, we are headed straight for disaster.
Unions were perhaps the first major group in American history to suggest that economic growth had a limit, a limit being reached in the 1920's and as such made the limiting of production necessary to stabilize the new, mature economy.
Bernard Drachman echoed the arguments of the union officials. He pointed out "the only cure for overproduction is limitation of production" since "it is perfectly possible under modern methods of production, that commodities can be produced in quantities greater than can be consumed. . . ." He also suggested that as a result, technological unemployment, especially in the garment industry, was increasing and would continue to increase as technology outran the "rate of natural consumption.. .. The machines invented in recent years . . . with uncanny, almost demoniacal super ability . . . accomplish . . tasks formerly requiring the labor of thousands and for the. .. displaced multitudes no opportunities of employment present themselves." Drachman saw shorter hours as a way to improve the workers' bargaining position for higher wages (by making labor scarce and hence more valuable) and also to deal with unemployment caused by overproduction. Shorter hours would distribute fairly the available work which was diminishing and would limit production to "reasonable levels." He concluded that he supported "the idea of the shorter work week, not only on economic grounds but also on social, cultural, and spiritual grounds." This reform would stabilize the economy and help deal with unemployment. But it would also provide a new kind of freedom from material concerns and a new opportunity for human achievements by the masses.
Union leaders also stressed the fact that work had lost its ethical and human dimensions and was becoming increasingly hard and "dehumanizing." As such, it had increased the importance of leisure. Formerly, they believed, work had been a place for creativity, community, craftsmanship, the way for social mobility, and the vehicle for self expression, personal fulfillment, and individualism. But modern means of production had changed all that, creating jobs that were specialized, repetitive, boring and routine as well as establishing a permanent industrial labor force. As William Green put it:
there must be a progressive reduction of the hours of labor, so that men and women may have time to rebuild their exhausted physical energies. This is more than ever important in the highly specialized process of modern industry, where speed and monotony tax physical existence to the utmost
He saw the AFL policy as a "complement of labor's long struggle to prevent work from becoming deading toil." Sidney Hillman agreed that the "speed and strain of American industry was always greater."
Green, Woll, and HilIman also defended the "leisured proletariat" by criticizing the "devitalized nature of modern work" and by renewing their support of traditional values that had been lost in modern occupations. Green, for example, insisted in order that ..... our social and human values may not be merged with the machines until, they too, become mechanical, shorter hours [were] essential because they safeguard our human nature" and "lay the foundation for the higher development of spiritual and intellectual powers." He predicted "a dawn of a new era, leisure for all" and "a revolution in living" because of reduced hours. He saw leisure as a new opportunity for craftsmanship, creativity, community development, for fellowship, the "finer things in life" such as "music, art, literature, and travel," as a way "to worker's education" and "increased knowledge of technological principles," and for "recreation and recuperation . . . necessary to sustain vigor." For Green, gradually increasing leisure could redeem traditional values that had been lost at work, as well as open up new democratic vistas for the masses.
Matthew Woll, like other union leaders, criticized work in new forms and looked to leisure to compensate workers for human values that they had lost. But he also criticized the fact that "unfortunately, our industrial life is dominated by the materialistic spirit of production, of work and more work, giving little attention to the development of the human body, the human mind, or the spirit of life. . . . All the finer qualities of life are entirely ignored." The dehumanized nature of modern jobs was complicated by the "materialistic spirit" of the business community. For Woll, increasing leisure was both a "restraining influence" limiting production to basic needs as well as a hedge against the material values of the "New Era."
Jews active in the Sabbath movement agreed with the idea that work was becoming less rewarding and meaningful and that leisure offered the opportunity to recover some of the old values that work once had. Felix Cohen, for example, offered a parable of the modern economy that was able to provide the necessities of life and still supported work as a prime virtue.
Adam's children inherited the [curse of work] and soon learned to make a virtue of necessity. Idleness came to be regarded as a sin rather than source of love, art, inspiration, and wisdom.
Offered a chance by "God's messenger" or by the machine to slip the bonds of toil, men chose instead to "sing new hymns in praise of the sweetness of chains" and hold onto work because "they had so long praised each other . . . for their industriousness. . . . The message of the machine is that we shall work without end."
According to Cohen, much of that work was useless. It no longer had the firm, external sanction of necessity. Work was being channeled in absurd directions: the production of useless or shoddy articles, advertising, and a new industry, war. If useless work were abolished, then the work week could be reduced to "thirty hours immediately" and a "general working week of ten hours is then a fairly immediate possibility," given the rate of increased productivity. For Cohen, work's new forms - specialization, mechanization, and impersonal organization - destroyed the old nineteenth century ideals about work's value, such as creativity, craftsmanship, self-fulfillment. In this he agreed with the union leaders. But he also suggested that work's purpose - its product had been undercut by the machine. Much of modern work was useless, was without a firm purpose because there was "no natural" use for its product. Consequently work had been made a demigod - a thing worshipped for its own sake. It mattered little if its products were useless. One consumed them out of respect for this supreme virtue, like it or not.
Sabbatarians, such as Cohen, extended the union leaders' arguments and engaged in the larger economic debates about overproduction with a new breed of economist businessmen. In contrast to the union and some pessimistic businessmen who were stressing limited production most businessmen and economists were entering, practically and ideologically, a new age of mass consumption. They did not accept the argument that human needs for industrial products were finite or set by some nineteenth century idea of human nature. Instead they took a new view of economic growth. They promoted what Edward Cowdrick called the "new economic gospel of consumption." In their view, the best way to deal with unemployment and overproduction was not to limit production by reducing working hours, but by stimulating demand. For many businessmen, if supply exceeded demand, then the reasonable response was to increase and insure consumption of those goods in oversupply through new domestic and foreign markets, advertising and even higher wages. They were sure that Americans would naturally (or be convinced to) buy those things produced by industry which they had never needed before and consume goods and services, not in response to some set of economic motives, but according to a standard of living that constantly improved. They concluded that human needs were social and plastic, capable of being molded to fit the needs of a growing economy by the hard work of marketing experts, advertisers and business leaders.
Businessmen's new interest in consumption has been well documented as well as their optimism that demand could be stimulated. Herbert Hoover's Committee on Recent Economic Changes, however, presented one of the first and finest examples of this documentation. The Committee pointed out that "economists have long declared that consumption, the satisfaction of wants, would expand with little evidence of satiation, if we could so adjust our economic processes as to make dormant demands effective." But businessmen had proven this assumption in the 1920's. This "almost insatiable appetite for goods and services, this abounding production of all things which almost any man could want, which is so striking a characteristic of the period covered by the survey" eliminated suspicion that demand could be saturated and markets limited. The Committee found that
people. . . have become steadily less concerned about the primary needs - food, clothing, shelter. . . . The slogan of the 'full dinner pail' is obsolete. . . . Our wants have ranged more widely and we now demand a broad list of goods and services which come under the category of optional purchases.
It is in the area of "optional purchases" that the Committee saw the best hope for economic advance. Criticizing the pessimists' ideas about "remote saturation points" the Committee observed that
the survey has proved conclusively what was long held to be theoretically true, that our wants are almost insatiable, that one want satisfied
makes way for another. The conclusion is that economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants that will make way endlessly for newer wants as fast as they are satisfied.. .. As long as the appetite for goods and services is practically insatiable, as it appears to be, and as long as productivity can be consistently increased, it seems that we can go on with increasingactivity.
Union leaders did not meet this argument head on. But some Jewish supporters of the five-day week did. For example, Abba Hillel Silver, later president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, saw in the Sabbath movement a direct counter argument -one that justified the "progressive shortening of the hours of labor" and opposed what he called the "philistine" gospel of consumption. He began by describing the Sabbath as representing "the day of rest, the consecrated covenant between God and man." As such it was much more than mere relaxation from labor. It is a sign and symbol of man's higher destiny." The five-day week could help solve the economic problem of overproduction and unemployment to be sure. But the progressive shortening of the hours of labor could open up a new field of human progress. Increased leisure could provide a time for culture, for learning, for individual creativity and freedom, for the appreciation of life and creation, for spiritual exercise, and for essential rituals, those things which Ben Eliezer ascribed to the Sabbath as the "universal humanizing factor." Silver suggested "we must say to ourselves. . . so far shall I go in my pursuit of the things of life and no further. Beyond that I am a free man, a child of God. Beyond that I have a soul and I must give to it time, energy, and interest." He saw in the gospel of consumption a new way in which "our population has been victimized." Just when the opportunity for real human development had been opened through technology and increased free time, it had been closed again by businessmen intent on selling the "golden fleece" of useless luxuries and "excessive wealth." For Silver, human needs for industrial products could still be defined - they were not infinite. Increased productivity and job specialization had created two potential avenues of progress, one spurious and one genuine. If Americans chose to pursue "success" defined in terms of the piling up of useless luxuries, they would turn their backs on the more human form of progress offered by reduced working hours. For Silver, the Sabbath was the pattern for a new form of progress being cut in the American economy by shorter hours and increased leisure for human, non-material needs.
The job preparing individuals for "worthy use of leisure" was great. But Silver saw the new wealth of free time as a force revitalizing the church, the family, and the school. As people were able to spend more of their time and energy in these more human institutions, they would naturally learn how to use their time to develop their higher potentials and humane interests.
Moreover, according to Silver, it was no longer possible to assume that all work was valuable because of its extrinsic results. The relationship between work and the necessities of life was becoming increasingly tenuous. Businessmen and economists ignored this problem. Instead, they had begun to understand work and in-creased wealth as indeterminate values, relative to no set of given, basic or higher standards. Yet, they continued to support and value these things. As such, work, increased production and consumption were redefined as ends in themselves, values to be used to judge other economic and social needs. Losing extrinsic justification, these things took on intrinsic values during the decade. For Silver, these ideas were a corruption of that which was truly valuable in itself - that which Ben Eliezer described as "the highest religious and ethical sentiments." For him, the Sabbath was the only true "telos" in its "self-contained spiritual world," the model for a qualitatively new kind of progress through increased leisure. Businessmen and economists had entered the realm of philosophy and theology in their "gospel of consumption," promoting the old virtue of work and economic growth by new, virtually existential arguments. Silver believed that work and increased productivity were still instrumental in that they could meet rational needs and then lead to real virtues through shorter hours of work - to human activities that were really worth doing for their own sakes.34
The Jewish Sabbath movement, beginning as a narrowly focused attempt to allow Jewish workers to have free Saturdays and to work on Sunday, broadened in two stages. Failing in the first limited attempt, the movement flourished in the second stage as a supportive part of the general labor movement for the five-day week. Finding practical success in this reform, individuals in the Sabbath movement then went on to engage in even larger economic and social debates about modern progress and work, using the Sabbath model as a philosophical base. Certainly many Jews were content with the five-day week's practical accomplishments. It did, after all, satisfy their original purpose and constitute a significant social reform. But others such as Drachman, Cohen, and Silver went on to support the "progressive shortening of the hours of labor," reasoning that as human needs for industry's products were met, increased technology and productivity should free the worker from his job for other, "higher" pursuits. They understood the economy as beginning to offer two avenues for progress - increased wealth and luxuries or increased leisure. Rejecting the first option as a philistine "chasing after the phantom of insatiable desires," they supported the second as the way to authentic progress, humanistic rather than materialistic, individualistic rather than collective. They saw in the Sabbath the "symbol of man's higher destiny" and in increased leisure the practical Opportunity to broaden and spread the Sabbath's values and truths.