Joe Bernstein was one of the first well-known Jewish fighters to come out of New York's east side in the early 1900s. He was preceded by Dolly Lyons, who fought him three times, and fought mostly in Brooklyn. Bernstein was a three-time contender for the featherweight championship of the world, and garnered large Jewish audiences at most of his New York bouts.
Bernstein fought George Dixon, Young Corbett II, and the great bantamweight and featherweight champion Terry McGovern, in well-attended world featherweight title matches. Bernstein was knocked out in only one of the three matches, in the seventh round match with McGovern in Louisville, Kentucky. This bout, which brought in a crowd of three thousand, resulted in a TKO for McGovern. Most newspapers felt the other two were fairly close bouts, including his match with Young Corbett II, in which Bernstein did not return to fight after breaking a bone in his hand in the seventh round.
Bernstein also fought the exceptional Benny Yanger, the "Tipton Slasher," one of the few featherweights to ever beat the long-reigning featherweight champion Abe Attell. Bernstein lost to Yanger on December 18, 1901 in six rounds in Chicago. He lost to Yanger again in six rounds in Chicago on February 10, 1902. Two months later, Yanger beat Attell on April 24, 1902, in a very rough nineteenth round TKO in St Louis but was never given the title, though the bout was advertised as a featherweight championship by some sources, including BoxRec.
Bernstein died of cancer in New York in 1930.