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Illinois Labor History Society

Labor History Articles

Rabbi Jacob Weinstein

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Biographical sketch of Rabbi Jacob Weinstein and his connections with the cause of labor.

"And, what do you want to be when you grow up?" inquired the gentleman of the young newsboy who was peddling papers outside the Portland [Or.] Chamber of Commerce Building one day in about 1914.

The young fellow responded that he wanted to be a lawyer and help get the IWWs and other innocent people out of jail. It turned out that the 12-year-old Jacob Weinstein became a Rabbi instead; but he remained true to his concern for justice and the defense of the needy and oppressed.

The newsboy's customer just happened to be attorney Charles E. Wood, Portland's most prominent civil liberties defender, one of whose clients was no less than famed anarchist, Emma Goldman, who was certain to be arrested during her periodic agitational tours of the Northwest.

And so, the immigrant Jewish boy, not long off the boat from Poland, became the protege of a noted advocate of union organization and the First Amendment, in whose office the schoolboy listened to many a discussion of workers' rights, socialist thought, and American politics.

Years later, the boy became the young rabbi on his first job, in San Francisco, preaching support for striking longshoremen, or urging higher wages for department store employees to a congregation which included the owners of the stores!

Soon, his bags were packed and Rabbi Weinstein was in search of a new post with a congregation more receptive to those forms of social advocacy which were consistent with his reading of Jewish ethical thought. That congregation was to be Chicago's K.A.M. Temple, where he found both sympathy and encouragement.

During the years of World War II, Rabbi Weinstein served as public member of the Chicago area War Labor Board which arbitrated a crushing load of contract disputes between workers and their employers. This experience led to subsequent arbitration assignments in the labor relations field, and to an appointment by President Kennedy to the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, and to the Business Ethics Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Commerce.

We do not know whether business ethics became any more enlightened from Rabbi Weinstein's instruction; but there can be no doubt that he felt welcome and relevant during his term of service on the Public Review Board of the United Auto Workers, established by Walter Reuther in 1957 to mediate and adjudicate disputes within the union. Among his colleagues on that Board were Msgr. George Higgins, chair of the Catholic Conference on Social Research; Prof. Frank McCulloch, formerly head of the Labor Education Division at Roosevelt University, and Dr. Robin Flemming, labor arbitrator and President of the University of Michigan.

"Jacob brought the human influence," wrote the Board's executive director." He brought that much needed balance as a great humanitarian with understanding and compassion."

Rabbi Jacob Weinstein: 1902 - 1974