Prohibition Bootleggers and Sacramental Wine "Fake Rabbis" #usa #general

Carl Kaplan

Looking for people whose ancestors may have been involved in the liquor business (legal or illegal) during the U.S. Prohibition period of 1920-1933, especially those who worked around the clause allowing for the sale of "sacramental wine", in some cases being "fake rabbis" (as they have been called) or greatly "increasing" the size of their local congregations for apportioning the wine. I am especially interested in the Boston area. Thank you. I believe this is an appropriate post, but if it's not, my apologies.

Jeff Marx


If you haven't already, for additional names, look at Marni Davis' book, Jews and Booze, and also see Hannah Sprecher, "Let them Drink and Forget our Poverty,"  in American Jewish Archives XLIII, no.2 (Fall/Winter, 1991).
Jeff Marx

Carl Kaplan

Thanks. I actually learned about the "fake rabbi scandal" from Marni Davis' book. I was looking for additional stories, especially ones in Boston. I had great luck in my search for Fusgeyers using these posts, so I thought I would give it a try. I will definitely check out Hannah Sprecher's article.



Sorry to promote my own wares a little, but me new book The Kosher Capones, about Chicago's Jewish gangsters has a small bit about some gangsters who rob a supply of sacramental wine during Prohibition. (See the section on Jules Portuguese.)

I didn't have room in this final version of the book, but there's a bizarre story about the racketeer Max Eisen who came to prominence by monopolizing kosher chicken. It got so bad that, in at least one telling, many Chicago Jews went vegetarian in an effort to break his stranglehold.

Good luck,

-- Joe Kraus

Carl Kaplan

Thanks. Any chance you came across any references to Boston in your research?


Neither of those names is immediately familiar, Diane. Sorry. I'm always curious for more of the story, though I recognize that may be moving from genealogical questions into other sorts of topics.

-- Joe

Vicki Adelson

Another great source of information on this topic -- only centered in Detroit -- is "The Purple Gang: Organized Crime in Detroit 1910-1945" by Paul R. Kavieff (2000). Found my husband's grandfather in it. Fascinating. A good read! 

Renée K. Carl

Hi Carl
My CARL family in St. Louis operated a bottle recycling business prior to Prohibition, and then ran booze during and after Prohibition - the "after" had to do with avoiding bottle tax. They had LERNER relatives in Boston who were also "bottle recyclers," though I do not know the extent of the Boston family's involvement. I have not seen my family use the sacramental wine clause in their court defense, though I don't think sacramental applied to gin!
Feel free to contact me directly for more details
Renee Carl
Washington DC