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Bread and Roses - Defining Basic Needs

Unit 1, Lesson 1

Explore the concept of “Bread and Roses” and ideas about work and dignity, with specific cases on education and culture, hats and clothing, poetry and song, as well as traditional Jewish texts about labor.


Enduring Understandings

  • Basic human needs include those of the body as well as the soul.

Essential Questions

  • What do human beings need to live, besides the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter?
  • How do social and cultural activities nurture our humanity?
  • How do human needs vary from individual to individual?

Materials Required

Notes to Teacher

This lesson is designed to have students explore what early labor activists meant by wanting “bread and roses.” It was not enough to earn sufficient amounts of money to feed, shelter and clothe themselves and to have safe working conditions; they also wanted free time, dignity, respect and joy in their lives.

In Part I of the lesson, Big Ideas, students make personal meaning of significant words about work, life and humanity, and they discuss these ideas in Part II of the lesson. If you do not read the Introductory Essay with your students, make sure that they are aware of the time period and historical background. In Part III, students read, look at, listen to, analyze and discuss primary source documents.

The following biographies can be used in connection to this lesson:

Introductory essay(s)

Bread and Roses: Introductory Essay

by Lori Shaller and Judith Rosenbaum

Introductory Essay for Living the Legacy, Labor, Lesson 1

Between 1881 and 1924, two million Jews immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe, fleeing persecution and seeking freedom and economic opportunity.[1] Some came from small, traditional shtetls, while others had already migrated to urban centers in Eastern Europe and encountered radical movements such as the Socialist Labor Bund. Many settled in New York City’s Lower East Side, where they lived in tenement housing and worked alongside other Eastern and Southern European immigrants in the area’s sweatshops and textile factories. While some immigrated with their families, many young men and women came to America on their own. They frequently sent money home to help support their families and to bring relatives over from Europe.

Though Jewish immigrants in this period faced difficult conditions in housing and work, their experiences in America were still an improvement from their lives in Eastern Europe. In America, they were able to find jobs, even if they were harsh and low-paying, and they could move freely across the country and practice Judaism openly. In Russia, the May laws of 1882 restricted where Jews could live and their right to practice their religion. Political activity and union organizing were legal in the US, and while immigrants could get in some trouble for their activism, they would not be executed or sent to labor camps. In Russia, Jewish boys and men risked being conscripted into the Tsar’s army for 25 years of service; there was no parallel in the American military.

The tenements Jewish immigrants lived in when they arrived in U.S. cities were large, crowded apartment buildings built to house the multitude of workers immigrating to the U.S. in the late 19th century. They were characterized by lack of light, air, and sanitation. Families often could not afford an entire apartment to themselves, and would take in boarders to help pay the rent. Even with this additional income, in many families, every member had to work, even the littlest children.

Sweatshops were often the first workplaces for new immigrants. Frequently operated in the tenement buildings, sweatshops were small workplaces where workers did “piece work.” This meant that workers were paid by the piece, usually doing one specific part of the garment-making process. For example, one worker might be responsible for sewing collars onto shirts, another for sleeves, and yet another for finishing a garment by sewing hems or snipping loose threads. Sometimes a whole family did “piece work” in their own tenement apartment. In other sweatshops, unrelated workers were hired by a boss, usually from the same ethnic group as the workers.

Sweatshop work was tedious and was done under difficult working conditions—poor lighting, uncomfortable chairs, stifling heat in the summer, and frigid cold in the winter. Workers were fined for such infractions as arriving late to work and for damage to their machines. In order to increase their profits, sweatshop bosses, would reduce the pay per completed piece of work, so that workers either had to work faster—and risk injury to themselves for which they would lose pay—to complete more pieces or lose part of their weekly earnings. These tactics were used in the larger factories, as well.

Some garments were produced in larger factories rather than in sweatshops. These factories might employ hundreds of workers, and the working conditions could be just as bad or worse than in the sweatshops. Workers were not to talk to one another as they worked; they could not go to the bathroom unless they were on a formal break; the noise of hundreds of sewing machines was deafening; doors and windows were locked until the bosses opened them. In both the sweatshops and the factories, workers often worked fourteen hours or more a day, six or seven days a week. There was no minimum wage, and children and women were paid less than men.

Working men had begun to organize themselves into unions of laborers in the 19th century, and by the early 20th century, there were unions of needle trade workers, such as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers union, and the Cloak Makers Union. The unions negotiated pay rates, working hours, and safety conditions for all members with the managers of the companies for which the laborers worked. Women were generally not included in the union and so did not benefit from the collective bargaining between unions and managers on behalf of the male workers. The male union leaders mistakenly assumed that women would not be interested in the union because they would only work until marriage and therefore might not be committed to improving the workplace; they underestimated women workers’ ability to take themselves and their work seriously.

Despite the lack of support from male union leaders, women—led by Jewish immigrant workers such as Rose Schneiderman, and Clara Lemlich—were aware of the benefits and protection that unions offered and began to organize themselves. In 1907, the women who dominated a garment shop making underwear walked off the job together to protest “speedups, wage cuts, and the requirement that employees pay for their own thread.”[2] After they won relief from most of these indignities, they were allowed to join the ILGWU.

With parts of the garment industry dominated by women laborers, their entry into the unions as members and organizers was crucial for the growth and success of the unions. The unions not only addressed worker grievances; they tried to support workers in every aspect of their lives, offering educational programs in subjects such as English language, literature and politics; social and cultural programs such as dances, shows and concerts; and even opportunities to get out of the city and enjoy vacations in the country at union-run camps. In part because of the contributions and insights of women workers, the unions came to understand that they needed to address not only workers' basic needs of higher wages and safer working conditions but also the greater human needs for education, community, beauty, and dignity—a concept captured in the phrase “bread and roses.” Though the origin of the slogan is unclear, it was expressed in a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim, popularized by Jewish labor activist Rose Schneiderman in the context of a women's suffrage campaign in 1912, and was later applied to a strike of primarily women workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, that took place earlier in 1912. In the 1970s, singer-songwriter Mimi Farina set Oppenheim’s poem to music and it has since become a labor anthem recorded by many artists.


[1] Orleck, Annelise, Common Sense and a Little Fire (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995) 23.

[2] Orleck, 46.

Lesson plan

Big Ideas

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  1. Write each of the following words on 8 ½ by 11 sheets paper and place them on the floor around the room. Or, you may choose to print the Big Ideas Handout Pages document.
    a. Work b. Leisure c. Need d. Want
    e. Pleasure f. Fun g. Joy h. Labor
    i. Culture j. Play k. Living l. Wages
    m. Money n. Sustenance o. Choice p. Education
    q. Fresh air r. Drudgery s. Beauty t. Oppression
    u. Rights v. Respect w. Dignity x. Free time
    y. Strike z. Labor union
  2. Give each student a marker. Direct students to walk around the room and write whatever word comes to mind as they arrive at each new word. They can also make a quick drawing, if pictures are easier than words. Be sure that everyone writes something on every word.
  3. When the students have written something on each sheet, invite them to pick up whatever word is particularly calling them at that moment, for whatever reason, and to bring it back to their desk. Direct students to turn the papers over and to write about whatever comes to mind about the idea behind the word they chose. Tell them that they will read their responses aloud in the whole group.
  4. Have students share their responses. You may choose to create a found poem (a poem created from components of something written elsewhere) by writing words that stand out for you as you listen to each student, writing those words on a sheet in whatever way makes sense to you in the moment, and then reading the poem after each student has shared their writing. (You can find detailed instructions for creating a found poem from the National Council of Teachers of English here.) Alternatively, you may choose to write on the board whatever themes seem to be emerging from their responses. Some themes may be: the value of humanity; the reasons we work; what we expect from work, treatment on the job; leisure time versus work, etc.


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Use the following questions to guide a discussion about values of humanity, work and the soul. Use either the found poem or the themes as a jumping off place for the students to discuss their values. Keep notes of the discussion, using the themes from Part I of this lesson as organizing ideas for the discussion. Ask:

  • What is work? Why do we work? What does work fulfill for us?
  • What kinds of work do you do, imagine yourself doing in the future, would never do?
  • What is leisure? Why do we humans want and need it? What is the relationship between work and leisure?
  • What is the meaning of life beyond work?

Conclude Part II of the lesson by reading the Introductory Essay with them. As they read, ask students to note (or highlight) examples of how people's human needs were met or not met. If your students already have an understanding of and information about the mass immigrations of Jews and others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tenement housing, sweatshops, the garment industry, and unions, you can recall this information with them and then move directly into Part III of the lesson.

Document Studies

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Break students into four groups and give each group of students one of the following document studies: Education and Culture, Poetry and Song, Hats and Clothing, and Traditional Jewish Sources. Each group will become “experts” in their set of documents and will report their analyses of their documents back to the whole group.

Tell students that their presentations of their document analyses should

  • Explain the document category (Education and Culture, Poetry and Song, Hats and Clothing, and Traditional Jewish Sources) and the sources they examined
  • Answer the questions: How were workers’ bodies and souls jeopardized by work in sweatshops and textile factories? What did the workers want for their bodies and souls from the work they did? What evidence is there that the workers’ bodies and souls were nurtured?
Document studies

Education and Culture

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Excerpt about the ILGWU from LIFE Magazine

I.L.G.W.U. objectives lie in three fields, whose 1, 2, 3, both in importance and chronological sequence are 1) Economic; 2) Educational and Social; 3) Political.

The union’s clubrooms, its dances and its games fill a social gap which might elsewhere be filled by a church or Y.M.C.A.  The most spectacular manifestation of the social aspect is…I.L.G.W.U.’s million dollar Unity House.

…Yetta Henner lives in New York City, is poor, works as a finisher (she snips loose threads off rayon panties) in the Mitchel Schneider shop and belongs to I.L.G.W.U.’s Local 62.  So Yetta…exercises, learns, dances within her union.

Excerpt from "ILGWU: A Great and Good Union Points the Way for America's Labor Movement," LIFE Magazine, August 1, 1938, 43, 46, 49.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the Union has social and cultural objectives for its members that go beyond what happens in the workplace?
  2. How do these union-provided services benefit the union and how do they benefit workers?

Garment Workers Eating Together Before Union-Sponsored Class

he class which Yetta attends once a week... starts at 6:30 in the evening. Since Yetta quits work at 5:30, she cannot get home for dinner. So the union provides a free buffet of sandwiches, coffee, cake. Here she sits with others of her class in a small classroom talking and finishing her coffee. When they have all finished, they will go to the next room where the union, having given them food for their stomachs, will give food for their eager minds.

Photograph by Hansel Mieth in "ILGWU: A Great and Good Union Points the Way for America's Labor Movement," LIFE Magazine, August 1, 1938, 47.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you see in this picture? What do you notice about the people in the picture? (Don’t analyze, infer or describe. Just tell what you see.)
  2. Read the text in the box on the picture. Does this caption add to your understanding of the picture? If so, how?
  3. Look again at the picture. What else do you notice about what’s happening in this picture now that you’ve read the caption?

Garment Workers Rehearse a Chorus for ILGWU's Theater, Labor Stage

Garment workers of 1938, no longer sodden machine-serfs, link their past and their present in this picture as they rehearse a chorus in the I.L.G.W.U.'s own theater, Labor Stage, before a photo-mural depicting the hero-leaders of union history. I.L.G.W.U.'s extracurricular program got national attention last winter when its still current revue Pins and Needles, performed entirely by members, became a major hit of the Broadway season. A good-natured satire on capitalism, the show has netted a neat capitalistic profit of $35,000.

Photograph by Hansel Mieth in "ILGWU: A Great and Good Union Points the Way for America's Labor Movement," LIFE Magazine, August 1, 1938, 45.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the union had its own theater and why would workers be involved in it?
  2. How are the values you identified in the first question demonstrated in the picture itself?
  3. How do the pictures of the past union leaders (behind the dancers) relate or connect to the rehearsal?

International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Social Psychology Lecture, 1926

International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union discussion on social psychology, ILGWU Unity House, Forest Park, PA, 1926. Institution: ILGWU Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the ILGWU’s Unity House recreational facility sponsored talks on topics such as social psychology, as pictured here, or art history, for example?
  2. What do you notice about the people in the audience?
  3. What do you think the union members attending such lectures together in the Unity House setting brought back to their work lives from these experiences?

Poetry and Song

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Ale Brider

"Ale Brider (We Are All Brothers)," on A Besere Velt (A Better World)

"Ale Brider (We Are All Brothers)," on A Besere Velt (A Better World).

Performed by The Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen's Circle.

Words and Music by Morris Winchevsky.

Arrangement by Lisa Gallatin.

Lyrics to "Ale Brider"

All Brothers


And we are all brothers,

Oh, oh, all brothers,

And we sing happy songs, oh, oh, oh,

And we stick together, oh, oh, together,

Like no one else, oh, oh, oh.


[Chorus] La la la la…

All together, brothers and sisters, all.


And we are all sisters, oh, oh, all sisters,

Like Sara, Rebecca, Ruth and Esther, oh.

And we are all united, oh, oh, all united,

Whether we are many or few, oh, oh, oh.



Ale Brider


Un mir zaynen ale brider, oy, oy, ale brider,

Un mir zingen freylekhe lider, oy, oy, oy.

Un mir haltn zikh in eynem,

Oy, oy, zikh in eynem,

Azelkhes iz nito bay keynem, oy, oy, oy.


[Chorus] Day day day day…

Ale tsuzamen, brider un shvester, ale.


Un mir zaynen ale shvester, oy oy, ale shvester,

Vi Sore, Riveke, Rut un Ester, oy, oy, oy.

Un mir zaynen alel eynik, oy, oy, ale eynik,

Tzi mir zaynen fil tsi veynik, oy, oy, oy.


"Ale Brider (We Are All Brothers)," Words by Morris Winchevsky, Translation Compiled by Willie Lockeretz and Linda Gritz, on A Besere Velt (A Better World), The Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen's Circle.

Discussion Questions for "Ale Brider"

  1. What is the central message of this song?
  2. How does the sound, as opposed to the words, deliver this message?
  3. When do you think a song like this might have been sung?

Mayn Rue Plats

"Mayn Rue Plats" Performed by the Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen's Circle

"Mayn Rue Platz (My Resting Place)," on A Besere Velt (A Better World). Performed by The Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen's Circle. Words and Music by Morris Rosenfeld. Arr. By Mark Zuckerman. Adapted by Lisa Gallatin.

Lyrics to “Mayn Rue Plats”

My Resting Place


Don’t look for me where myrtles grow,

You will not find me there, my beloved.

Where lives wither at the machines,

There is my resting place.


Don’t look for me where birds sing,

You will not find me there, my beloved.

A slave am I, where chains clang.

There is my resting place.


And if you love me with true love,

Then came to me, my good beloved,

And light up my gloomy heart,

And make sweet my resting place.


Mayn Rue Plats


Nit zukh mikh vu di mirtn grinen,

Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.

Vu lebns velkn bay mashinen,

Dortn iz mayn rue plats.


Nit zukh mikh vu di feygl zingen,

Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.

A shklaf bin ikh, vu keytn klingen,

Dortn iz mayn rue plats.


Un libstu mikh mit varer libe,

To kum tzu mir, mayn guter shats.

Un hayter oyf mayn harts, dos tribe,

Un makh mir zis mayn rue plats.

"Mayn Rue Plats (My Resting Place)," Words by Morris Rosenfeld, Translation Compiled by Willie Lockeretz and Linda Gritz, on A Besere Velt (A Better World), The Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen's Circle.

Discussion Questions for "Mayn Rue Plats"

  1. How does the message of this song compare with that of Ale Brider?
  2. Why do you think the song’s sound is so sad?

Discussion Questions Comparing the Songs

  1. How might each of these songs speak to one’s experience as a worker?
  2. How might these two songs contribute to a worker’s feeling part of a larger, collective experience?


The following lyrics are to the song “Bread and Roses.” The words were written by James Oppenheim and originally published in The American Magazine in December, 1911. Oppenheim’s poem was set to music by singer-songwriter Mimi Farina in 1974 and has been recorded by many artists since then.


"Bread and Roses" poem


As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,

A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,

Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,

For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!

As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,

For they are women's children, and we mother them again.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.

Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.

Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,

The rising of the women means the rising of the race.

No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,

But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.

James Oppenheim, "Bread and Roses," The American Magazine, December, 1911.

Discussion Questions for "Bread and Roses"

  1. What does “Bread and Roses” mean in Oppenheim’s poem?
  2. What does “the rising of the women means the rising of the race” mean? 
  3. Why might women have been particularly drawn to this term, “bread and roses”?

Hats and Clothing

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"The Return from Toil," July 1913

"The Return from Toil," drawing by John Sloan, published in The Masses, July 1913.
Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.


Written in 1925, Bread Givers is a novel about the Jewish immigrants who lived in the tenements of New York’s East Side and who worked in the garment industry.

Excerpt from "Bread Givers" beginning “You heartless thing!”

“You heartless thing!” cried Bessie. “No wonder Father named you ‘Empty-Head.’ Here you go to look for work, and you come back with pink roses for your doll face.”

Undisturbed by the bitter words, Mashah finished the last stitch and then hung up her hat carefully over the door.

“I’m going to hear the free music in the park tonight,” she laughed to herself, with the pleasure before her, “and these pink roses on my hat to match out my pink calico will make me look just like the picture on the magazine cover.”

Bessie rushed over to Mashah’s fancy pink hat as if to tear it to pieces, but instead, she tore her own old hat from her head, flung it on the floor, and kicked it under the stove.

Mashah pushed up her shoulders and turned back to the mirror, taking the hairpins carefully from her long golden hair and fixing it in different ways. “It ain’t my fault if the shops are closed. If I take my lunch money for something pretty that I got to have, it don’t hurt you none.”

Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers, (New York: Persea Books, 1925), 3.

Excerpt on hats from Clara Lemlich article about 1909 strike

"Sometimes a girl has a new hat. It is never much to look at because it never costs more than fifty cents, but it's pretty sure to be spoiled after it's been at the shop. There are no dressing rooms for the girls in the shops, no place to hang a hat where it will not be spoiled by the end of the day. We’re human, all of us girls, and we’re young. We like new hats as well as any other young women. Why shouldn’t we? And if one of us gets a new one, even if it hasn’t cost more than 50 cents, that means that we have gone for weeks on two-cent lunches—dry cakes and nothing else."

“Leader Tells Why 40,000 Girls Struck," New York Evening Journal, November 26, 1909, 3. Quoted in Nan Enstad, Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 8, 146-147.

Excerpt about clothing from Sadie Frowne article, "The Story of a Sweatshop Girl"

Some of the women blame me very much because I spend so much money on clothes. They say that instead of a dollar a week I ought not to spend more than 25 cents a week on clothes, and that I should save the rest. But a girl must have clothes if she is to go into high society at Ulmer Park or Coney Island or to the theatre. Those who blame me are the old country people who have old-fashioned notions, but the people who have been here a long time know better. A girl who does not dress well is stuck in a corner, even if she is pretty, and Aunt Fanny says that I do just right to put on plenty of style.

Sadie Frowne, Excerpt from "The Story of a Sweatshop Girl," Independent 54, (September 25, 1902), 2279-2282. Found in Nancy F. Cott, et al, eds., Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women, Second Edition (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996), 426-32.

Women Strikers Selling Newspapers circa 1910

Women strikers selling newspapers during the New York shirt waist workers strike circa 1910.
Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you notice about the illustration of the working girls on the cover of The Masses? What conclusions can you draw about the women selling newspapers in the photograph? What do you think they are trying to say about themselves through their clothing?
  2. What kinds of sacrifices did the character Mashah in Bread Givers, Clara Lemlich, and Sadie Frowne describe making when these working women chose to buy clothing and hat decorations for themselves? Why do you think they were willing to make these sacrifices?
  3. How were Mashah and Sadie Frowne perceived by others because of their clothes buying?
  4. What is the real issue behind Clara Lemlich’s demand that the working girls and women have a decent place to hang their hats at work?

Traditional Jewish Sources

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Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:14-15

יד לֹא-תַעֲשֹׁק שָׂכִיר, עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן, מֵאַחֶיךָ, אוֹ מִגֵּרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצְךָ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. טו בְּיוֹמוֹ תִתֵּן שְׂכָרוֹ וְלֹא-תָבוֹא עָלָיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כִּי עָנִי הוּא, וְאֵלָיו, הוּא נֹשֵׂא אֶת-נַפְשׁוֹ; וְלֹא-יִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל-יְהוָה, וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא.

14 Do not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. 15 Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.

As quoted/translated by Rabbi Jill Jacobs.

Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1

ז,א השוכר את הפועלים, ואמר להם להשכים ולהעריב--מקום שנהגו שלא להשכים ושלא להעריב, אינו יכול לכופן; מקום שנהגו לזון, יזון; לספק במתיקה, יספק: הכול כמנהג המדינה. מעשה ברבי יוחנן בן מתיה שאמר לבנו, צא ושכור לנו פועלים, ופסק עימהם מזונות. וכשבא אצל אביו, אמר לו, אפילו את עושה להם כסעודת שלמה בשעתה, לא יצאת ידי חובתך, שהם בני אברהם יצחק ויעקוב; אלא עד שלא יתחילו במלאכה, צא ואמור להם, על מנת שאין לכם אלא פת וקטנית בלבד. רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר, לא היה צריך לומר, אלא הכול כמנהג המדינה.

One who hires workers and instructs them to begin work early and to stay late—in a place in which it is not the custom to begin work early and to stay late, the employer may not force them to do so. In a place in which it is the custom to feed the workers, he must do so. In a place in which it is the custom to distribute sweets, he must do so. Everything goes according to the custom of the land [minhag hamakom].

A story about Rabbi Yochanan ben Matya, who told his son, “Go, hire us workers.” His son went and promised them food (without specifying what kind, or how much). When he returned, his father said to him, “My son! Even if you gave them a feast like that of King Solomon, you would not have fulfilled your obligation toward them, for they are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, as they have not yet begun to work, go back and say to them that their employment is conditional on their not demanding more than bread and vegetables.” Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “It is not necessary to make such a stipulation. Everything goes according to the custom of the place.”

As quoted/translated in Jill Jacobs, There Shall Be No Needy Teacher's Guide. (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010), 29.

Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:17

ג,כ [יז] רבי אלעזר בן עזריה אומר, אם אין תורה, אין דרך ארץ; אם אין דרך ארץ, אין תורה. אם אין חכמה, אין יראה; אם אין יראה, אין חכמה. אם אין דעת, אין בינה; אם אין בינה, אין דעת. אם אין קמח, אין תורה; אם אין תורה, אין קמח.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah says: If there is no Torah study, there is no derech eretz (worldly involvement); if there is no derech eretz, there is no Torah study. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear of God; if there is no fear of God, there is no wisdom. If there is no reason, there is no understanding; if there is no understanding, there is no reason. If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.

Translation from Soncino Classics, Version 2.2. Hebrew text from Mechon Mamre.

Discussion Questions

  1. Paraphrase the excerpts.
  2. Discuss and agree upon the main points of each excerpt.
  3. Describe the relationship between worker and boss or employer in the excerpts from Deuteronomy and the Mishnah from Bava Metzia.
  4. What is implied about Torah by tying “flour” to it? Why might the two be interdependent? What does work have to do with this?
  5. What do the Torah and the Rabbinic Sages teach us about the meaning of work?

Big Ideas Activity Pages

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Print this PDF for Living the Legacy: Jews and the Labor Movement, Lesson 1. Big Ideas Activity Pages. Jewish Women's Archive, 2012.
Teacher resources

Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska

Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers (first published in 1925), Persea Books, NY, 1975. A partially autobiographical novel about the Jewish immigrant experience, focusing on the life of one young woman and her conflicts with her family as she pursues an education.

The Samuel Gompers Papers

The Samuel Gompers Papers: Creating a Right to Childhood: Child Labor and Social Reform.
A collection of educational resources about child labor and reform.

The Cradle Will Rock

An online collection about the Federal Theatre Project’s musical play The Cradle Will Rock, written by Marc Blitzstein.

Labor music from Labor Arts

Labor Music Resources from the American Labor Studies Center

American Labor Studies Center material on teaching labor through songs. Includes background information, song lists, audio tracks, and a guide to writing reform songs.

Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl

Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl is a short documentary about working conditions and labor struggles in the early 20th century garment industry. A film clip, viewer's guide, and purchasing information are available.

Stars, Strikes, and the Yiddish Stage

Online YIVO exhibition “Stars, Strikes, and the Yiddish Stage: The Story of the Hebrew Actors' Union.” Includes documents and an exhibition catalog.

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Garment workers of 1938, no longer sodden machine-serfs, link their past and their present in this picture as they rehearse a chorus in the I.L.G.W.U.'s own theater, Labor Stage, before a photo-mural depicting the hero-leaders of union history. I.L.G.W.U.'s extracurricular program got national attention last winter when its still current revue Pins and Needles, performed entirely by members, became a major hit of the Broadway season. A good-natured satire on capitalism, the show has netted a neat capitalistic profit of $35,000.

Photograph by Hansel Mieth in "ILGWU: A Great and Good Union Points the Way for America's Labor Movement," LIFE Magazine, August 1, 1938, 45.


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Bread and Roses - Defining Basic Needs." (Viewed on March 5, 2024) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/labor/bread-and-roses-defining-basic-needs>.