Constitutional Faces: The Schecter Brothers

June 2nd, 2012

The “Four Jewish Butchers” that “brought down the first New Deal.”

The Schechters were kosher butchers operating in the 1930s who stood fast to their commitment to the dietary laws of kashrut in the face of ferocious pressure and prosecution by a powerful government. They eventually took their case to the highest court in the land—and won—defeating one of the most popular and powerful administrations in American history.

One would think this story of Jewish heroism and commitment to Jewish values would be inspirational for generations of young American Jews. But the Schechter brothers were up against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It was the Roosevelt administration’s prosecution of the Schechters for violating the National Industrial Recovery Act, one of the pillars of the New Deal, that led the Supreme Court to declare the act unconstitutional in 1935. FDR was, and remains, so beloved by American Jews that the heroism of the Schechters has been lost as a story of Jewish moral commitment in the face of power. In her history of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes begins the process of rescuing the Schechter brothers from obscurity by spending an entire chapter on their challenge to the New Deal. In this article I build on Shlaes’s account to provide some broader context for their story and draw some implications for Jewish Americans.

Little known fact- the Schechter Brothers voted for FDR in 1936 after their Supreme Court case!