Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America, by M.M. Silver. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2013. 644 pp.
Louis Marshall (1856-19Z9) was without doubt one of the most significant, powerful, and authoritative leaders the American Jewish community ever had. He argued more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than any private attorney of his time and was briefly considered as a candidate for the Court himself. When Henry Ford agreed to stop publishing anti-Semitic attacks in his mass circulation newspaper The Dearborn Independent, it was Marshall who personally dictated and received Ford's retraction and apology. He fought for twenty years against the imposition of restrictive laws that would stop further Jewish immigration into the United States. Were it not for his efforts and those of his colleagues in keeping the doors of America open for as long as they were, several hundred thousand more Jews would have been lost in the Nazi genocide.
Marshall rose to prominence from relatively humble beginnings. Born to poor immigrants in upstate New York, Marshall moved to Manhattan at the age of 38 in 1894 to become a partner in Guggenheimer and Untermyer, the preeminent Jewish law firm in New York City. He began his Jewish communal career as attorney, adviser, and administrator for projects funded by the city's established Jewish elite, who hoped to aid and Americanize as quickly as possible the masses of indigent, Yiddish-speaking eastern European immigrants who were streaming into the city.
The often tense interactions between the two Jewish subgroups and Marshall's ability to navigate between them is the central theme of this book. Silver argues that the conflict between the two groups ended with conservative patrician values being fused with the energy of radical populist outlooks; this combination eventually expressed itself in a recognizably liberal Jewish ethnic style in the 1930s and afterward. Marshall's powers of mediation extended to industrial relations. When in 1910 a massive strike among the Cloakmaker's Union in New York left tens of thousands without work and cost millions in lost wages, it was Marshall, Silver argues, who formulated "the Protocol of Peace" that brought the strike to an end. Other scholars might disagree with this assertion, as in many accounts, Louis Brandeis played a pivotal role.
Marshall's name occurs frequently in any study of American Jewish history, but this volume is the first full-scale...