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Rabbi Yeshaye Horowitz (left); Rabbi Joseph Hertz

By BERNIE BELLAN
On a cloudy Sunday afternoon when not much else was going on at the Asper Campus, approximately 125 people gathered in the Multipurpose room of the Campus to hear a talk by Prof. Richard Menkis about two rabbis who traveled through Western Canada in the 1920s.

 

Paul (left) & Fred Switzer, who created the Switzer Cooperstock prize for the best essay on Western Canadian Jewish history, awarded biennially, flank Prof. Richard Menkis.

Tiled “Two Travelers and Two Canadian Jewish Wests”, at first blush Menkis’s talk seemed to be somewhat esoteric in nature. After all, as Menkis himself noted, when one thinks of rabbis who made their mark in Western Canada in the 20th Century, the name most often thought of is that of Rabbi Israel Kahanovitch, whose title was actually “Chief Rabbi of Western Canada” – not Rabbi Joseph Hertz or Rabbi Yeshye Horowitz, the subjects of Menkis’s talk.
But, as Menkis explained in his anecdote-filled talk for over an hour on September 23rd,  Rabbis Hertz and Horowitz, were of fascination to him not so much for any impact they might have had on Winnipeg – or anywhere else in Western Canada, for that matter, but for the written records they left that referred to their impressions of Western Canada, also for the impact their writings later had.


What Menkis found most interesting about the two rabbis was their contrasting perspectives on Jewish life in Western Canada. The two rabbis came from quite different worlds; Rabbi Hertzog was Chief Rabbi of the British Empire and wanted very much to be accepted by the British establishment everywhere in the Empire, while Rabbi Horowitz was a learned Chasid who came from Safed , who was the first Lubavitch rabbi in Winnipeg, and who cared not a whit about being accepted by the non-Jewish establishment.
Their different accounts though provide what Menkis described as an “understanding of what have come to be known as the ‘mini Wests’.” In using that term Menkis said he was offering a perspective on the history of the West (including both Canada and the U.S.) that stood in contrast to the stereotypical version of the West as having been settled only by Christians.


There were several “Jewish Wests” in this more nuanced version of history, and during his talk Menkis said he wanted to focus specifically on “two Jewish Wests” as described in the writings of Rabbis Hertz and Horowitz. While much has been written about secular Jewish life in Canada, Menkis noted that Jewish historical societies have not paid much attention to religious Jewish life. In wanting to do that though, Menkis said his “intent is not to minimize the secular perspective, but to complement it”.
Menkis began his talk by telling an amusing story about a book that came out in 1912, and which was a biographical guide to rabbis around the world. Menkis related that when he perused that book he saw listings for rabbis in Canada “in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton,” but none for rabbis in Winnipeg. He discovered the reason for that omission, however, when he found a listing for Winnipeg rabbis in the Africa section of the book, where they were listed under “Manitomba”!
Menkis then delved into the story of Rabbi Hertz’s visit to Western Canada, in 1921, when he “landed on the Pacific Coast, on tour for the British Empire”. Rabbi Hertz liked to be seen – and photographed, with government officials wherever he went, and Menkis showed a photograph of Rabbi Hertz with the lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, also with another rabbi who accompanied him on his journey, Rabbi Herbert Samuel, who was then the rabbi of the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue in Winnipeg.
While “religious emissaries had been coming all along to promote a certain kind of Judaism” in Western Canada, Menkis noted, they had the common characteristic of being “ ‘schnorrers’ for various institutions”, for which they were trying to raise money.
Rabbi Hertz, however, “was no schnorrer”, Menkis explained. “He traveled in some comfort; and, rather than trying to raise money, he “was trying to promote an Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy”.
Rabbi Hertz promoted a “progressive conservative” approach to Judaism, Menkis said. “He felt he could spread the ideals of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy by personal contact. He traveled throughout the Anglo-Jewish world of the time trying to enhance the prestige of the Chief Rabbi.”


In wanting to be accepted by the Anglo establishment wherever he went, Rabbi Hertz was interested in promoting a pluralism which he saw as defining the British Empire at that time. “The British Commonwealth of nations is most perfect”, he wrote. Rabbi Hertz was keen to laud the Empire for its tolerance toward Jews. He also spoke glowingly of how “Jews had participated eagerly in World War I” in the service of the Empire.
When Rabbi Hertz arrived in Winnipeg in 1921 – the last stop on his tour of the West, there were approximately 12,000 Jews living here at the time. As noted earlier though, Rabbi Kahanovitch was the Chief Rabbi of Western Canada, serving not only the Winnipeg Jewish community, but such other smaller Jewish communities as Regina, Estevan, Melville, and Moose Jaw. Yet, Rabbi Hertz made no mention of him in his account of his trip.
Instead, he promoted Rabbi Samuel, who arrived in Winnipeg in 1914. (Interestingly, Menkis noted that Rabbi Samuel had changed his name from “Sandheim” due to its German origin.) According to Menkis, Rabbi Samuel “wanted to represent Jews favourably in a non-Jewish world.” It’s no surprise then that Rabbi Samuel “didn’t form a good impression among Eastern European Jews” in Winnipeg, Menkis observed. He was considered an “assimilationist” by them.
As noted, despite Rabbi Hertz’s desire to be accepted by the non-Jewish establishment, when it came to modes of Jewish observance, he was quite traditional. Further, he had a particular notion of Jewish education that stood at odds with Jewish education streams in Winnipeg at that time.


According to Menkis, Rabbi Hertz was “unhappy that Jewish schools weren’t instilling a proper Jewish ‘sentiment’ “ among students. He said that “Hebrew had to be taught as a ‘holy language’. Rabbi Hertz “railed against Hebrew-speaking teachers who offered primacy to Hebrew not as the language of the ‘Shema’, but as the language of ‘Hatikva’.” In saying that, Rabbi Hertz was focusing particular criticism on the Talmud Torah school, where Hebrew was the language of instruction.
(Later I asked Menkis if he could elaborate on Rabbi Hertz’s criticism of the Talmud Torah. Menkis explained that Rabbi Hertz’s objection to the manner in which Hebrew was being taught at the Talmud Torah was that it was “secular Hebrew”. Menkis added that, although Rabbi Hertz was a “supporter of Zionism, he didn’t buy into the cultural agenda of Zionism.”)
In response, however, to Menkis’s suggestion that Rabbi Hertz was critical of the “secular Hebrew” that was being taught at the Talmud Torah, one audience member who said he was born in 1923 and was a former student of the Talmud Torah not long after Rabbi Hertz would have visited Winnipeg strenuously objected to the notion that what was taught at the Talmud Torah could have been described as “secular Hebrew”.
“We learned ‘Chumash’ and ‘Rashi’ in Hebrew. Hertz was wrong,” the audience member insisted.
At the same time as he was arguing for a more traditional form of religious observance, Rabbi Hertz was very much enamoured of the Church of England and adopted a style of dress when he was in synagogue that was modeled after “garb worn by ministers in the Church of England,” Menkis noted.


Thus, in Menkis’s description of him Rabbi Hertz came across as a man of many contradictions. Later in his talk Menkis provided an explanation for Rabbi Hertz’s seemingly contradictory approach to Judaism where, on the one hand, he wanted so very much to be accepted by the Anglo establishment, yet at the same time he wanted to promote a very traditional style of religious observance.
In Menkis’s view, “Anglo Jewish Orthodoxy was an alternative to the Reform movement in the U.S. It was one of the ways in which respectability was offered” to members of the Jewish community who craved acceptance by the Anglo establishment while not abandoning traditional forms of observance. To the extent that Reform didn’t gain a foothold in Western Canada, Rabbi Hertz was successful in achieving that goal.
According to Menkis, the Reform movement failed to have an impact here for quite some time; the first attempt came in 1927 with the opening of a Reform temple here. That temple did not last, however, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the Reform movement reestablished itself here.

Rabbi Horowitz’s attitude toward Jewish life was in marked contrast to Rabbi Hertz’s. Menkis spent some time describing Rabbi Horowitz’s Chasidic upbringing in Safed, where he excelled as a student. Rabbi Horowitz came to Winnipeg in 1927 for “economic reasons”, according to Menkis. (British Mandate Palestine was undergoing a severe economic depression at the time.) In 1931, by the way, Winnipeg’s Jewish population was over 17,000.
In Menkis’s telling of how Rabbi Horowitz happened to end up all the way in Winnipeg, “He had been promised a generous salary by some butchers if he supervised kashruth” here, but when he arrived he was told that the supervision of kashruth was entirely under the rubric of Rabbi Kahanovitch. As a result, it was difficult for Rabbi Horowitz to eke out a living here. According to Menkis he made some money selling lulavs and etrogs, and negotiating the sale of chometz at Passover.
In addition though, Rabbi Horowitz traveled throughout Western Canada, raising funds for a book which he wanted to write – and which he eventually did write, titling it “Yavo Shiloh”.
What Menkis found extraordinarily useful about Rabbi Horowitz’s writings moreover, were the meticulous records he kept about every Jewish community he visited in Western Canada during his time here. He recorded information about every community he visited which had a mikvah, for instance – and, as it turned out, mikvahs were commonplace in Jewish communities. He would also record the name of every Jewish school in every community that had a school, along with the names of teachers in those schools.
In contrast with Rabbi Hertz, who looked askance at the way Judaism was being practiced in the Western communities which he visited and whom Menkis described as being pessimistic in his outlook, Rabbi Horowitz was optimistic about Jews and not critical of their practices.


“Unlike Hertz, Horowitz praised the Talmud Torah in Winnipeg for its educational practices,” Menkis noted. “He was not inclined toward rebuke…it was not the way of Chasidim – unlike the pessimism of other orthodoxies that said how difficult it was to reach God.”
In addition, Rabbi Horowitz’s attitude stood apart from the warnings of East European rabbis to Jews there not to emigrate to Canada or America because of the “irreligiosity of North American Jews”. Rabbi Horowitz, in contrast, “was favourable toward the emigration of East European Jews.”
In 1923, however, Canada changed its immigration policies, strictly limiting the number of new immigrants it would allow in from Eastern Europe. One of the results was there was a severe drop in the number of rabbis who were coming to Western Canada from Eastern Europe. In turn, Winnipeg and other Western Canadian communities began to look to the United States for new rabbis.
But, the impact that both Rabbis Hertz and Horowitz had on Winnipeg lived long after they had both left Winnipeg. As Menkis noted, the Jewish Diaspora of the West developed identities that were fostered by certain kinds of travelers…Rabbi Hertz’s vision of a British Empire that drew strength from its diversity, and Rabbi Horowitz’s promotion of a vision constructed from his Chasidic vision, in which he encouraged optimism among Jews to lay the cornerstones of religious institutions.

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