American Portraits

The Schechter Brothers’ Purpose

In this lesson, students will read about the struggles of the Schechter Brothers and how they refused to give up their values or compromise their purpose. Students will use this example to think about ways they can be purposeful in their own lives.

Founding Principles

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Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

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Civil Discourse

Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.

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Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

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Except where authorized by citizens through the Constitution, the government does not have the authority to limit freedom.

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Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

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Rule of Law

Government and citizens all abide by the same laws regardless of political power. Those laws respect individual rights, are transparently enacted, are justly applied, and are stable.


The year was 1934, and Joseph, Martin, Alex, and Aaron Schechter found themselves in jail. The four brothers were businessmen who operated two poultry butcher shops in Brooklyn, New York. As observant Jews, their butcher shops were kosher and adhered to the Jewish laws of kashrut. Swindling customers, committing fraud, and embezzlement—these are a few of the crimes that would normally be deemed a crime in business. The Schechter brothers, however, were not in jail for such dishonest behavior. Rather, they were penalized for offering safe, reliable merchandise to their customers….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you defend your purpose in life?

Virtue Defined

Purpose is my answer to the question “why do I exist?” It is the reason for which I exist; it is my goal, that thing to which my actions are directed. It is our answer to the question “what are you for?”

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will read about the struggles of the Schechter Brothers and how they refused to give up their values or compromise their purpose. Students will use this example to think about ways they can be purposeful in their own lives.


  • Students will analyze the purpose of the Schechter Brothers.
  • Students will evaluate the Supreme Court decision regarding the Schechter Brothers’ practices.
  • Students will act purposefully in their own lives.


o As part of the New Deal legislation of the 1930s, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). FDR and supporters of the bill believed this would help the faltering economy recover and grow. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was established to craft a multitude of codes and regulations for different industries. The NRA told businesses how they should conduct their affairs in order to keep competition low and prices high. Legislators believed this was the formula that would help the economy.

Joseph, Martin, Alex, and Aaron Schechter ran kosher butcher shops in Brooklyn, New York, which followed the Jewish laws of kashrut. Kashrut laws required that animals be treated humanely and also placed high standards on sanitation and health. The customers themselves could inspect the animals and reject any that seemed unfit to purchase. These standards attracted buyers who knew the Schechter brothers followed ethical standards while providing high quality meat. Under regulations established by the NRA, customers could not inspect chickens before buying them. The law forced the brothers to abandon their purposeful kashrut practices, putting their business in jeopardy.


  • New Deal
  • National Industrial Recovery Act
  • National Recovery Administration
  • Multitude
  • Kashrut
  • Kosher
  • Adhered
  • Swindling
  • Fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Penalized
  • Merchandise
  • Faltering
  • Regulations
  • Codes
  • Dietary
  • Humanely
  • Tuberculosis
  • Devout
  • Ironically
  • Unconstitutional
  • Commerce Clause

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was the role of the Schechter brothers? Why was their identity important to the narrative?
  • What was the Schechter brothers’ purpose?
  • Why did the Schechter brothers decide to fight the NIRA and NRA in court?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. U.S. 55 S. Ct. 837. Supreme Court of the United States, 1935.
  • Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan. 293 US 388. Supreme Court of the United States, 1935.
  • Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

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