Tag Archives: Religious Jews

Jews of the Week: Dov Behr and Bernard Manischewitz

Kosher Food Revolutionaries

Rabbi Manischewitz (Image Source: Geni.com)

Rabbi Manischewitz
(Credit: Geni.com)

Dov Behr Abramson (1857-1914) was born to a religious Russian-Jewish family in Lithuania. He studied at the famous Telz Yeshiva. After becoming a rabbi he sought to immigrate to the United States. Some say he was only able to do so after buying the passport of a man that had passed away. The man’s name was Manischewitz, and the name stuck. Others say the Rabbi simply made up the name when arriving in America. Either way, he settled with his family in Cincinnati, Ohio. When the holiday of Passover came around, Manischewitz saw that the small Jewish community did not have much kosher matzah, so he began baking them in his basement. His matzahs soon became famous far beyond Cincinnati, and to keep up with demand, Manischewitz opened up a factory where matzahs were made by gas-powered machines. This generated a lot of controversy, as most rabbis at the time believed matzahs had to be hand-made. Nonetheless, machine-made matzahs were soon deemed kosher, and the Manischewitz brand grew ever larger. Manischewitz matzahs were also revolutionary because they were the first to be made in square shapes to simplify manufacturing, packaging, and shipping (traditional matzahs are round). Rabbi Manischewitz passed away in 1914 and left the company to his five sons, who went public in 1923. In the 1940s, the company moved beyond matzahs and expanded into other kosher foods like soups, crackers, and most famously, sweet wines.

Bernard Manischewitz

The Rabbi’s grandson, Bernard Manischewitz (1913-2003), expanded the company even further during his 26 years as president, making it a truly international brand. By 1990, the company had over $1.5 billion in annual sales and was producing everything from gefilte fish to processed meats and borscht. However, there was no willing successor in the family to take over, so Bernard sold it to a private equity firm. He credited Manischewitz with ushering in the age of mass-produced, processed kosher foods, which he called “the biggest change in Jewish domestic life since Biblical times.” Today, Manischewitz is still America’s largest producer of kosher foods, and the world’s largest producer of matzahs.

Words of the Week

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Mark Twain