This article analyzes the dilemmas and contradictions surrounding Saturday/Sabbath in New York City's Jewish immigrant neighborhoods at the turn of the twentieth century. How were working-class immigrants supposed to maintain allegiance to the commands and prohibitions of the Sabbath in a new, urban environment that encouraged Saturday labor? Though many immigrants breached Sabbath laws, either by working or by shopping, many also continued to value the traditional Sabbath. They engaged in activities such as Friday night celebrations and Saturday social events with friends and family that ritualized this value and embedded it into the week. This essay introduces the concept of what I call a “family religious economy,” which allows us to examine the strategies immigrants developed to manage the tensions of work and religion. Scholars have shown the absolute importance of the family unit in analyzing the immigrant economy at the turn of the century. This emphasis holds especially true for Jews: more than any other contemporary immigrant group, Jews brought women and children with them and also often relied on the wages of their teenage children. In considering the religious life of Jews, daily, weekly, and annual observances often played out in the familial setting. The family religious economy involved the division of responsibilities of wage earning, household duties, and religious observances within a family and prods us to examine the various strategies families devised to ensure both economic and spiritual survival. By highlighting the religious work of preparing for the Sabbath—whether cooking, cleaning, or simply by earning the wages to finance the cooking and cleaning—this article expands our understanding of the Sabbath in the working-class immigrant neighborhood. It allows us to examine what immigrants did do to honor the Sabbath and how their Sabbaths, though not always observed in a strict halakhic (Jewish legal) fashion, had a profound impact on the rhythm and patterns of the immigrants' week.
Annie Polland; Working for the Sabbath: Sabbath in the Jewish Immigrant Neighborhoods of New York. Labor 1 March 2009; 6 (1): 33–56. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-2008-044
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