Many states are looking to expand their mail-in ballot options for the presidential election, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that makes many hesitant to enter a polling place, but also because of a desire to increase voter participation in elections. President Trump opposes many of these initiatives, falsely claiming that mail-in voting is particularly susceptible to voter fraud. And there is fear that Louis DeJoy, the new Postmaster General, is taking actions that will negatively affect the Postal Services’s ability to handle a huge number of mail-in ballots. What were the circumstances that once led the Postal Service to reject the mailing of an item by a Jewish person?
USPS by Paul Sableman is licensed under CC BY 2.0
A. In 1962, comedian Lenny Bruce, who had already been arrested numerous times on obscenity charges, brought a package to the post office to be mailed. The package was seized by the postmaster who said that Bruce was being investigated on federal obscenity charges. The postmaster opened the package, which in fact contained a copy of Bruce’s record album, The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce. Bruce was arrested on the spot because the album included what were considered obscene riffs on sex as well as religion, including the use of many obscene words (of which “shmuck” was one).
B. In 1927, a Jewish lawyer named Aaron Sapiro filed a libel lawsuit against Henry Ford over the anti-Semitic content of Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. Additionally, Sapiro published his own pamphlet countering Ford’s message, but when he mailed the pamphlet, the post office in Dearborn rejected the piece, claiming that it libeled Mr. Ford. Given Ford’s powerful position in Dearborn, this was not surprising, and Sapiro had no choice but to delete some of the wording, even though other post offices had no problem with the mailing. In particular, Sapiro altered a headline on the front of the pamphlet which orginally read, “Henry Ford, Great Entrepreneur, Greater Anti-Semite.”
C. In 1917, the Post Office would not mail a book by Dr. Ben-Zion Liber entitled Sexual Life: A Popular Science Book. The book, written in Yiddish, covered a variety of health topics, including healthy eating, family planning, and birth control. The postmaster declared the book non-mailable because it was obscene, until the author deleted an article titled “The Incomplete Intercourse” and edited some other pages.
D. In 1984, the Orthodox Yiddish newspaper, Der Yid, printed a front page editorial railing against Jews who celebrated Christmas, or who had expanded their Chanukkah celebration into a major competing holiday. The article was printed in Yiddish. But the editorial also appeared on the front page of the newspaper’s English language supplement, under the headline, “Let The Goyim Keep Their Santa Claus, Their Trees and Their Lights-and Also, Their Jesus.” The postmaster refused to allow the English supplement to be mailed, saying that it was hostile to Christians and violated their religious freedom.
E. In 1959, the Sisterhood of the Monticello Jewish Center in the heart of the Catskills published a cookbook. However, when they brought copies to the local post office to mail to those who had ordered the book, the postmaster rejected the mailing. Apparently, the book included “Shirley Goldberg’s Perfect Brisket” recipe. However, Rosalie Rabinowitz claimed that the brisket recipe was hers, and Shirley had stolen her recipe, only changing the quantity of sliced onions from 2 large to 3 large. Rosalie’s husband Abe just happened to be the local postmaster, and Abe said that he would not allow the post office to accept the books for mailing as long as Shirley’s name was on his wife’s brisket recipe. After some negotiating, the Sisterhood inserted an extra page with “Rosalie Rabinowitz’s Perfect Brisket” recipe (with the “correct” number of onions) and the books were mailed.
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