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America’s First Shokhet (Ritual Slaughterer)

Lawrence Bush
March 31, 2017

Solomon Etting was licensed on this date in 1782 to serve as America’s first kosher slaughterer. In 1797, Etting and Bernard Gratz petitioned the Maryland Assembly to revoke the law that required swearing a Christian oath in order to take office, and they continued petitioning the legislature every year for twenty-nine years. When Maryland’s so-called “Jew Bill” finally became law (January 5, 1826), Etting and Jacob Cohen were elected to the Baltimore City Council, of which Etting later became president. The bill guaranteed the right to vote and hold public office in Maryland for Jews willing to profess a belief in an afterlife of rewards and punishments, but still withheld those rights from atheists and people of other non-Christian faiths. Etting was very active in the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812 and was a founder of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, one of the nation’s oldest, in 1828. He also helped to establish Baltimore’s first Jewish cemetery.

“He was a man of sterling integrity, of great wit and drollery, and was beloved and respected by a large circle of friends and acquaintances. He was distinguished for his considerable and indiscriminate charities and was in his old age affectionately hailed as ‘Father Etting.’ ” --Masonic Lodge No. 43, in Maryland Historical Magazine

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.