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On 3 January 1909, Rabbi Simon Glazer spent a busy and long although not an unusual day in Montreal. He conducted three marriages, each held in a different location, wrote a letter to Rabbi Grossman of Philadelphia to inform him about a future son-in-law, adjudicated the case of Markson versus Wagner, and counselled the Sosins, who had asked him to grant them a divorce.[1] He carried out these responsibilities within walking distance of his home on St. Urbain Street. The seven lines that Glazer inscribed in his 1909 daily journal depicting such work-related activities provide a window onto his role as an orthodox rabbi of a largely immigrant community and on the range of tasks he performed to augment the inadequate stipends he received from a consortium of five city synagogues, the “United Orthodox Congregations,” where he was chief rabbi.[2]

His journal offers a new lens through which to view and map the social geography of the immigrant Jewish community of early twentieth-century Montreal. While scholars have used diaries as sources of information,[3] few attempt to map from this textual document.[4] The Glazer journal is especially valuable in identifying key relationships between the rabbi and leading members of the Jewish community, municipal government, as well as with the different congregations of the synagogues where he was chief rabbi, and in providing clues to the everyday life of ordinary people.

Using a multidisciplinary methodology coming from our interests in both human geography and social history, the Glazer journal allows us to explore ways in which he and others in the Jewish immigrant community sought to become economically independent. On the one hand, our study examines the diverse roles played by an economically deprived rabbi, and on the other hand it enquires into his interactions (social and spatial) with the Yiddish-speaking Jewish community grouped along and around St. Lawrence Boulevard. We argue that not only did the community provide a springboard for Glazer’s social mobility but also that he played an important role at a critical moment in its early history. The city’s Jewish community was on its way to becoming the most important one in Canada in size and influence. Over the eleven years that he worked in Montreal (1907–18), Glazer carved out a vital place for himself in the city’s Jewish immigrant community and honed skills that would serve him well when he returned to the United States.[5]

This study makes a novel contribution to the growing body of urban historical scholarship using historical geographic information systems (HGIS) in Canada,[6] particularly what calls for a deeper understanding of spatial-temporal patterns and experiences of individuals in the past.[7] Previous HGIS research has revealed how Montreal in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a highly segregated city in ethnicity, religion, and occupation.[8] Responding to calls for a deeper understanding of historical spatial-temporal patterns and lived experiences, this research adopts an approach that shifts our focus from the static residential spaces typical of census-based studies of segregation to the more dynamic domains, the multitude of spaces and places Glazer traversed, occupied, and conducted business daily. The article uses the databases of the Montréal l’avenir du passé (MAP) project,[9] which was established in 2000 to create a historical GIS research infrastructure based on census returns, annual directories, and tax rolls for nineteenth- and twentieth-century Montreal. The comprehensive MAP infrastructure—which includes geocoding to the level of street address—was used to identify the spatial footprints made by Rabbi Glazer and to plot the numerous ways he earned a living. The flexibility of the MAP infrastructure has allowed us to integrate diary entries with other sources of historical data for Montreal to chart the movements and interactions of Rabbi Simon Glazer as he carried out his work responsibilities in 1909 as well as those Montreal residents who sought his assistance at his home office on St. Urbain Street. Glazer systematically recorded, largely in English and sometimes in Yiddish, his day-to-day activities in a journal that year. Mapping his movements, visits, and visitors provides a new window onto the complex social geography of the city’s Jewish community highlighting Rabbi Glazer’s very public fight against the poverty, discrimination, and workplace inequalities suffered by his congregants, his resistance to the authority of Jewish elites while being privileged himself, his rabbinical role in regulating aspects of Jewish immigrant daily life, particularly with respect to gender, and the means by which he sought to increase personal revenues.

We also intend this research article to contribute to urban historical scholarship on immigrant settlement patterns, which have shown that clustering encouraged economic mutual support and independence—both necessary for integration and social mobility.[10] The St. Lawrence Boulevard corridor, characterized by a high degree of ethnic and commercial diversity, served as an ideal location for Jewish newcomers to set down roots close to the city’s business district on St. Jacques, Street, therefore permitting integration into the larger economy.[11] Echoing studies of the built environment and Jewish immigrant settlement patterns by Laura Vaughan and Alan Penn in the United Kingdom, newcomers in Montreal took advantage of their proximity to Montreal’s bourgeoning garment industry where they found employment.[12] Known as “the people’s rabbi,”[13] Glazer’s relationship with these new arrivals was also embodied in labour politics that pitted Jewish factory owners against Jewish workers, Jewish union organizers, and Glazer himself in strikes over job insecurity, long workdays, and low wages.[14] Nonetheless, such privation was offset by a rich local culture based on the Yiddish language, on religious rituals marking birth, coming-of-age, marriage, and death, and on working-class identity, solidarity, pride, a communal sense of social justice, and social mobility, all of which Glazer supported and pursued himself. Parents sought a better life for their children than the one they had left behind in Europe.

Simon Glazer’s responsibilities took him almost effortlessly to congregants’ homes, local businesses, community halls, and sites of worship, most of which were situated along the St. Lawrence Boulevard corridor, less easily north to the Tifereth Jerusalem Synagogue located at the corner of Papineau and Beaubien Streets, and to the city jail in the east, 3.5 kilometres from home. He played an important role in the creation of social welfare associations, including soliciting funds for the establishment of a Jewish orphanage. Members of his several congregations, neighbours, and fellow co-religionists sought his help in religious, commercial, legal, family, marital, and social problems. He charged a fee for these services based upon a person’s ability to pay. Glazer also wrote for local newspapers (Jewish Times, Jewish World, Keneder Adler, and Der Veg), edited a prayer book, authored the Guide of Judaism, gave public lectures at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association as well as at Jewish mutual benefit societies, and promoted, defended, and supervised meat slaughtering in accordance with Kashruth or religious dietary laws. He was a well-known participant in disputes over the regulation of the kosher meat business. Each of the activities provided Glazer and his growing family with much-needed cash.

As shown in figure 1, Glazer was most active in winter, and Sunday was by far his busiest day. The bulk of his work was related to family and/or marital issues such as wedding ceremonies, conjugal tensions and conflicts, and divorces. The rabbi visited many places throughout the city, but he was particularly active at the Auditorium Hall, the Standard Hall, and the Austro-Hungarian Synagogue. Although Glazer was not always clear in his diary about where an activity took place, we were able to identify addresses for and map more than half of his activities. Of the 350 recorded events and activities in his diary, 184 or 52.5 per cent have been mapped.

Figure 1

Characteristics of Rabbi Glazer’s activities in journal, 1909

-> See the list of figures

Rabbi Glazer’s 1909 journal reveals the complicated relations he established with those inside and outside the immigrant Jewish community in a city and province made up of a French-Catholic majority and an influential and powerful English-Protestant minority population. As a tireless fighter against anti-Semitism, he challenged local and provincial francophone and anglophone elites who included members of the Catholic Church hierarchy, Protestant ministers, politicians, businessmen, and professionals. For example, he protested the Sunday closing statute or Lord’s Day Act (1906), which restricted hours of operation of religious Jewish storekeepers who closed on Saturday for Shabbat or Sabbath. Glazer also took issue with the wealthier Jewish establishment: the rabbis of earlier-founded synagogues; the executive of the Baron de Hirsch Institute; owners of clothing factories where many in his congregations worked; and community leaders such as Hirsch Wolofsky, manager of the Yiddish-language newspaper Keneder Adler, against whom he brought several libel suits. Within the immigrant Jewish community, Simon Glazer was hugely popular, earning a reputation among many as a dedicated rabbi, a social activist, and an impartial adjudicator.

In addition to Simon Glazer’s 1909 journal, our primary data source, we have also consulted contemporary Jewish newspapers such as the Jewish Times and Keneder Adler (translations by David Rome), as well as Lawrence Tapper’s A Biographical Dictionary of Canadian Jewry 1909–1914: From the Canadian Jewish Times.[15] Included are records of the membership list of the Hebrew Sick Benefit Association of Montreal, which have been translated from Yiddish, of the synagogues where Simon Glazer worked,[16] photographs and letters housed at the Jewish Public Library Archives,[17] private papers held by members of the Glazer family that they generously shared, parish records, census returns of 1901 and 1911, annual city directories, and historical documents of the city’s Protestant school board.

The discussion has been organized as follows. We begin with a brief exploration of the Jewish community in early twentieth-century Montreal. Next we reflect on Glazer’s own migration history. Then we discuss a series of maps, which demonstrate the evident association between the rabbi’s home, co-religionists, activities, and immigrant Jewish community. Finally, we consider the work usually accorded orthodox rabbis—similar to clergy of different faiths—while examining the tasks Simon Glazer performed in his office on St. Urbain Street as adjudicator of and counsellor to those who sought his aid as well as those activities that took him to places in the neighbourhood and elsewhere in the city.

Montreal’s Jewish Community in the Early Twentieth Century

In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the Jewish population of Montreal increased an impressive 300 per cent, and 400 per cent between 1901 and 1911, in response to waves of immigration from Eastern-European shtetlekh (small towns or villages) largely from Russia, Poland, and Romania. By 1911, 30,000 Jews called Montreal home.[18] Most had left Europe to escape political repression, discrimination, compulsory military service, and pogroms, as well as to seek economic opportunities in the face of rampant poverty. With the development of a global industrial information network predicated on mass circulation newspapers, railroads, telegraphs, and rapid postal services, information about jobs elsewhere in the world meant that other subsistence options were available to them.[19] These migrants were, in the words of historian John Bodnar, “children of capitalism.”[20] While Yiddish-speaking immigrants were mostly poor and had little formal education,[21] their diversity is striking in their regions of origin and cultural and class backgrounds: “Scattered among the immigrants in ever increasing numbers were members of the intelligentsia, people who were passionately devoted to social activism. Some were former students in yeshivas and secondary schools (gymnasia), young men and women steeped in the culture and traditions of the old country who had already read Sholem Aleichem and Peretz, Reisen and Nomberg, Asch and Pinski—the modern Jewish writers of the day.”[22]

The newcomers contrasted sharply with established English-speaking and largely well-to-do Jewish Montrealers who had set down roots in the city between the 1760s and the 1880s. While the new arrivals or “downtowners” concentrated near the city’s intersection of St. Lawrence Boulevard and Ste. Catherine Street and spread northward along the corridor, most of the earlier arrivals or “uptowners” lived principally in middle-class enclaves such as Westmount. That the two groups were at odds in social class, political orientation, language, and culture resulted in pronounced tensions. The older community was ambivalent about the newcomers; similar ambiguity was reported in North American cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. Studies by Tamara Myers and Sylvie Taschereau reveal well-off members worried that any negative attention resulting from the new arrivals could tarnish their reputation in general and thus jeopardize their tentative hold on claims of social citizenship in Quebec in particular.[23]

The overwhelming needs of impoverished immigrants strained the resources of Jewish charitable institutions such as the Baron de Hirsch Institute (1891—founded originally as the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1863) and the Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society (1877). Montreal had virtually no municipal or provincial services; all hospitals and welfare facilities relied on individual philanthropy and denominational charities. Journalist Esmond Isaacs complained in the Jewish Times that the Baron de Hirsch Institute depended upon foreign sources to finance local charity. He accused Montreal Jews of not living up to their obligations of the mitzvah (which fulfills a Torah commandment to help someone come closer to God through an act of kindness) and therefore of not taking responsibility for fellow Jews or the larger community, for that matter.[24] All the same, the Baron de Hirsch Institute served not only as a community centre but offered a range of services to newcomers: from temporary lodging, medical care, and burial in its cemetery, to library facilities and English courses for school-age children, as well as adults.[25] Learning English gave newcomers advantages in a competitive job market. To meet some of the pressing demands, Montreal’s Jewish elites founded new charities such as the Malbish Arumim Society, the Hebrew Young Ladies Sewing Society, and the Hebrew Consumptive Aid Society, along with diverse health-care facilities, which included the Mount Sinai Sanatorium in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts (1909) and the Herzel Dispensary (1912).

As in other cities in Canada, Britain, France, and the United States, Jewish immigrants settled in close proximity to each other;[26] in Montreal, they recreated shtetl life in the corridor along and around “the Main” or St. Lawrence Boulevard.[27] Immigrant families took in relatives as well as landsleit (those from their home towns in Eastern Europe). In Esther Goldstein Kershman’s unpublished memoirs, she describes her family home on Colonial Avenue in Montreal as a place where extended family and newly arrived immigrants found shelter. Her father, Sandor Goldstein, rented out the third floor, his parents inhabited the lower level, and Esther lived with her family on the second storey. Newcomers from her parents’ village in Korev, Poland, often occupied Esther’s bedroom, located off the kitchen. Sandor’s brother had purchased the adjacent building.[28] Such clustering promoted mutual aid, niche economies, and eventual economic independence and social mobility. The community’s spatial proximity to Montreal’s central business district and its mixed neighbourhoods encouraged links to the larger community.

Their strategic locations helped shops operated by families such as the Steinbergs, Pascals, and Reitmans become commercial empires, and their owners, household names across Quebec and Canada.[29] Although less known in the world of business, Sandor Goldstein’s work history reveals his own advancement from factory hand to factory owner. Upon arriving in Montreal, Goldstein laboured over a sewing machine for six years in order to bring his wife and family from Poland. He eventually opened a small tailor shop on the Main, which later became a women’s clothing business, Miss Style, with retail outlets across Canada.[30]

Immigrants purchased clothing, shoes, food, kosher meat, and Yiddish newspapers and books at Jewish businesses, which lined the Main or St. Lawrence Boulevard. However, more than goods were being sold in these stores. They served as important meeting places where customers exchanged information and neighbourhood gossip, and discussed problems.[31] Newcomers and their families patronized Yiddish theatre, worshipped in synagogues, which also functioned as community centres,[32] and sought out the services offered by institutions as well as numerous organizations that they had created. These included day schools, a Yiddish Public Library (today the Jewish Public Library), the Arbeiter Ring or Workmen’s Circle, and mutual aid societies (or landsmanschaft), which catered to widows, children, and the ill, as well as provided free loans to those who wanted to establish small businesses. In 1915, at a meeting that would lead to the formation of the Canadian Jewish Congress four years later, members of seventy-one organizations attended “representing 16 synagogues, 6 labor unions, 10 sick benefit societies, 18 loan syndicates, 8 cultural, 5 political organizations, and 8 charitable societies, representing the great majority of the local Jewish population.”[33]

More integrated immigrants offered advice to newcomers, thus easing their adaptation to Quebec.[34] There were many meeting places that encouraged encounters between established and newly arrived neighbours. One such site was Dufferin Park, located in the heart of the Jewish community near the corner of St. Urbain and Dorchester (presently René Lévesque) Streets. Educating their children in local Protestant schools both facilitated integration into the larger community and encouraged social mobility. That Jewish children filled the classrooms of the Mount Royal, Dufferin, and Aberdeen Schools resulted in frequent conflicts between the Jewish community and Protestant school commissioners over who ought to take responsibility for the education of Jewish pupils, for the refusal to hire Jewish teachers in Protestant schools, and the failure to recognize Jewish holidays. The very public and militant students’ strike at the Aberdeen School in February 1913 pushed the Protestant school board to begin addressing some of these issues. By January 1914, the commissioners hired three Jewish teachers, and within the decade, they employed over seventy.[35]

Rabbi Glazer’s Own Immigration Narrative

Rabbi Simon Glazer would have felt at home ministering to these newcomers; he was, as David Rome has argued, “from the heart of the immigrant Jewish society” himself.[36] Like many in his five congregations, Glazer had an extensive travel history. Born 21 January 1878 in Kovno, Lithuania, one of eight children, to Rebekah Fisher and Abraham Elijah Glazer, he attended Talmudic colleges in Tauroggen, Euragoly, and Rossyiani, where students typically studied seventy hours a week receiving a solid foundation in Talmudic learning.[37] A year after obtaining his rabbinical diploma (rabbinical ordination or semikha attesting to his ability to adjudicate Jewish law[38]) in 1896, Glazer, like so many young men of his generation, left Lithuania to avoid military service in the Russian army, immigrating first to Palestine and then to the United States.[39]

Figure 2

A young Simon Glazer, taken by the Kramer Studio, Des Moines, Iowa

Source: Jewish Public Library Archives

-> See the list of figures

Competition to be spiritual leaders of Orthodox synagogues newly established by Eastern European newcomers was fierce amongst the immigrating rabbinate from Europe to the United States and Canada. On the advice of Kasriel Sarasohn, editor of Die Yiddishe Gazetten, Glazer studied English and secular subjects for four years in New York before assuming his rabbinical duties. Becoming fluent in English and receiving a secular education in New York after his Talmudic studies differentiated Glazer from his confreres, who typically struggled with the language. His newly acquired although excellent language skills conveyed a facility with English that opened up doors to the larger community.[40] Another way to ensure a rabbi’s position was, in the words of David Rome, “by virtue of personality, energy, aggression, sufferance and even intrigue. Much of this was public scandal, with leaflets, press attacks and even searing court actions.”[41] Primary sources demonstrate that Simon Glazer embodied these characteristics and instituted such tactics in Montreal.

In 1902 at age twenty-four, he married Polish-born Ida Cantor, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Rabbi Isaac Cantor and Rose Rachel Friedland, in Buffalo, New York. The eldest of seven children, Ida was only four years old when her family migrated to the United States in 1888.[42] She would have helped him enormously in his adjustment to North American life. Notwithstanding the economic barriers impeding the ability to live in “Jewish time” in the New World, scholar of Judaic studies Ira Robinson has argued that Eastern European immigrant rabbis both adapted to and contested conventional North American customs: “There was no Eastern European Orthodox rabbi who was so ‘accommodationist’ that he ceased being countercultural with respect to mainstream North American mores, and there was no ‘resister’ who was not changed in significant ways by his encounter with ‘America.’”[43] In 1907, when Simon Glazer accepted the position in Montreal, he was serving as a rabbi in Toledo, Ohio. According to Robinson, he wanted to leave Toledo to minister to the much larger and quickly growing Jewish immigrant community of Montreal.[44] Glazer was twenty-nine years old when he, along with Ida and their three children, Babel Benedict, Albert, and Jeannette, travelled to Montreal so he could take up his new duties. Two more children, Edith and Charles, were born in Montreal (1913 and 1915) before his departure to Seattle, Washington, in 1918.

We know very little about his family life. Ida Cantor Glazer is never mentioned in his journal, and she is invisible in the city’s Jewish press. Nor do we know anything about the emotional world of the Glazer household; his journal is devoid of any references to the domestic sphere. We know that their offspring frequented local Protestant public schools.[45] Babel, Albert, and Ginette attended Mount Royal School; the youngest daughter, Edith, was a pupil at the Aberdeen School; and we can suppose that the rabbi’s wife, being the daughter of a rabbi, was well prepared for her role when she married Glazer. As a rebbetzin or rabbi’s wife, she observed Jewish laws and practices, attended synagogue, and entertained as well as provided meals to visitors on Shabbat and Jewish high holidays all the while managing a household as well as additional dinner guests on a limited budget.[46] Equally, as the mother of five children, Ida was likely occupied with childcare and housework. According to Leah Rosenberg, being the rabbi’s children was not easy, especially for daughters: “The daughters of a rabbi had a particularly hard time. We seemed to be the property of the congregation. A rabbi, at that time, was entirely accountable for the behaviour and sins of his children.”[47]

The Glazers’ numerous relocations between 1907 and 1918 allowed the rabbi to insert himself into and remain within the heart of the Jewish immigrant community both geographically and socially. These geographic locations made it easier for congregants to seek his help. The moves also served to better accommodate his growing family: two residential moves fall close to the dates of the births of Edith and Charles. Figure 4 shows the location of the rabbi’s homes between 1909 and 1918. In May 1909, the Glazer family moved from 951 to 538 St. Urbain Street. Three years later, they relocated to another dwelling on St. Urbain Street, where they remained until 1915, when Glazer and his family took up residence on Laval Street. Another move was made in 1918 to Sherbrooke Street East, before they returned to the United States. Such frequent relocations were not uncommon in early twentieth-century Montreal, being a city of tenants. In an early application of HGIS, Gilliland showed that most household moves in late nineteenth-century Montreal were over short distances, within neighbourhoods rather than between neighbourhoods, and household expansion and the need to be close to employment opportunities both played major roles in decisions to relocate.[48] Changing residence can also be a way of exhibiting one’s social status in the community. Evidence suggests that each time the rabbi moved, it was to a slightly larger house on a slightly higher-status block.[49] Figure 4 also illustrates the proportion of the Jewish population in each census district in 1901: the darker the colour, the greater the proportion. In this case, the darkest, representing 8–16 per cent Jewish, are highly concentrated in areas diverse in business activities, rent levels, and ethnicity. In 1901 the Jewish population represented 0.7 per cent of Greater Montreal; by 1911 it had grown to 2.9 per cent. [50]

Figure 3

Simon and Ida Glazer as a mature couple

Source: Jewish Public Library Archive

-> See the list of figures

Rabbi Glazer at Work

The sites of the maps created from Rabbi Glazer’s journal show a strong and not very surprising correlation of his homes, his congregants, his activities, and the immigrant Jewish community.

Figure 5 locates all of the locations of the places Glazer visited (asterisks), as well as the home addresses of those who came to visit him at his house (solid circles) in 1909. This map corresponds with the spatial patterning of Jewish Montreal in the early twentieth century (recall figure 4). Most of Glazer’s known work-related activities took place in the Jewish community clustered along the St. Lawrence corridor, where he also lived. The ringed symbol on the map represents the “mean centre” of all of his activities, which is calculated by taking the average of all latitude and longitude coordinates of all activities. The mean centre is located just north of the corner of St. Lawrence Boulevard and Ste. Catherine Street and just a few steps away from his second residence (9 May 1909), suggesting that the rabbi was strategically located in the community for maximizing interactions and limiting travel time from home. All of his work activities, like the Jewish community itself, were highly clustered around St. Urbain Street and St. Lawrence Boulevard.

Figure 4

Glazer’s sequence of residences in Montreal and clustering of Jewish population

Percentage Jewish population by district as reported in census of April 1901

-> See the list of figures

Figure 5 emphasizes the expanse covered for visits by, and to, the rabbi. They reveal at least two interesting patterns. The majority of the visits he made were within a short walk of his home. Nearly 80 per cent of the places that Rabbi Glazer called on were within one kilometre, or a ten- to twelve-minute walk of his home. Likewise, about two-thirds of all visitors to the rabbi’s home were within one kilometre. Furthermore, a mere 5 per cent of all visits were of a distance greater than two kilometres (or a twenty- to twenty-five-minute walk) from origin to destination. Even though the electric streetcar ran along St. Lawrence Boulevard and St. Urbain Street at this time, it would have been unnecessary to pay for transit or to use a private vehicle to accomplish most of the rabbi’s work.

Figure 5

Locations of visits to and from Rabbi Glazer’s home in 1909

-> See the list of figures

Nonetheless, his life, and that of his family, would have been difficult as a result of his heavy workload and uncertain income: “A career as a rabbi meant hardship, indignity and even scandal in the disorganized, destitute immigrant community of the fin de siècle.”[51] A study by Kimmy Caplan of orthodox rabbis’ salaries in the United States confirms their meagreness—far below that of their Reform counterparts—and the ways they sought additional income by providing a miscellany of religious services for which they charged (circumcision, bar mitzvah marking a boy’s transition from a minor to being responsible for fulfilling the Torah’s commandments, marriage, and funerals), overseeing the lucrative Kashruth (supervising the slaughter and certifying products as kosher), giving eulogies, arbitrating disputes, performing divorces, and writing and publishing.[52] Ira Robinson’s portrait of Yudel Rosenberg (the maternal grandfather of novelist Mordecai Richler), who took over from Simon Glazer as chief rabbi of the consortium of Orthodox synagogues in 1919, reveals that he functioned as a mohel or ritual circumciser, mediator, writer, and supervisor in the kosher meat business in order to increase his earnings.[53]

Since small Orthodox Eastern European synagogues in Montreal could not individually support a rabbi, several of them formed an association and chose one rabbi who could serve as its chief.[54] The salary Glazer realized from this position made up approximately half of his income, according to the accounts at the end of his journal; the remainder came from miscellaneous activities. Although extremely difficult to determine without a systematic study of Orthodox rabbinate income, Glazer’s salary seems to reflect Caplan’s findings for the United States.[55] Glazer’s accounts show that his income in 1909 was $1905; a year later, it had increased to $2500.[56] The journal does not reveal whether he received remuneration in kind, such as food and poultry, but that would have buttressed his income. If we compare Glazer’s declared revenues to those of other Montreal rabbis, both Herman Abramovitz and Hirsch Cohen reported incomes of $3600 and $3000 respectively to the 1911 census taker. Although some of the work was an integral part of his responsibilities to the synagogue (collecting alms for the poor and distributing charity), Glazer, like Protestant clergy, charged for services that included celebrations of marriages, births, and deaths, adjudicating disputes, and writing letters for members of his congregation. That said, clearly only rabbis could perform divorces and supervise Kashruth. From these activities, he received $1048 in 1909, which contributed to more than half of his total earnings.

Figure 6 maps the rabbi’s and co-religionists’ visits related to marriages and business. The rabbi’s work focused on marital issues more than any other activity, with business dealings coming second. The map also highlights the three places most frequented by Rabbi Glazer. Not surprising, the halls where he conducted wedding ceremonies (Auditorium Hall and Standard Hall) are featured prominently, as does his involvement with the Shaare Tefilah Synagogue also referred to as the Austro-Hungarian Shul.

Figure 6

Reasons for visits and places frequented

-> See the list of figures

Rabbi Glazer and Montreal’s Jewish Elites

Simon Glazer was a complicated and ambitious man who exasperated Jewish elites by his refusal to display appropriate deference to their social authority as well as to the structures they had established for communication and cooperation, or even to acknowledge the specificity of Canadian Jewish life. David Rome has described him as a “one-man Canadian Jewish Congress” who challenged the status quo, especially the dominance of the Baron de Hirsch Institute.[57] Glazer’s attitude was in large part a response to elite criticism of the Yiddish-speaking newcomers who, according to lawyer and “uptowner” Maxwell Goldstein, not only established ghettos but “form their own synagogues … and have had the temerity to select their own chief rabbi.”[58] Glazer further alienated his religious counterparts when he declared himself chief rabbi and tried to impose his authority over other rabbis by claiming the right to license kosher butchers and to issue Jewish divorces.[59] In a letter to the editor of the Jewish Times, “An Onlooker” likely represented the view of many Jewish elite:

I have in mind one particular individual in our midst, who is always on the lookout for newspaper notoriety; in fact, could hardly exist without it. This man, who is quite a newcomer, is the cause of most of our troubles, and since his arrival, the Jewish community has been brought into more newspaper notoriety of an unflattering nature, than for many years past. Now, Mr. Editor, can nothing be done to put a stop to this adventurous “rabbi’s” unpleasant activities? Surely we Jews cannot stand by, and see this man playing ducks and drakes with our honour in the manner he is doing, without making some kind of protest.[60]

In a subsequent letter published the following week, the “Onlooker” suggested that Montreal had only three rabbis—Meldola de Sola, Herman Abramowitz, and Nathan Gordon—and no chief rabbi.[61] Such discourse served as direct attacks on Simon Glazer, who had claimed this status, and on Jewish newcomers who recognized his position as chief rabbi. Long-established members of the Jewish community were especially averse to his title of chief rabbi and nominated alternatively Hirsch Cohen as the leader of Eastern European rabbis. Glazer contested Cohen’s prominent position gained by virtue of Cohen’s status as head of the Talmud Torah schools, Jewish chaplain at the city jail, and as the long-standing Orthodox rabbi of the kosher meat trade, which resulted in an intense rivalry between Cohen and Glazer over its remunerative rewards.[62] Consequently, many of Glazer’s initiatives met with strong resistance. Nonetheless, Glazer was imbued with radical ideas about social relations and remained an untiring crusader of social justice. He used his position as chief rabbi to advocate the fair treatment of immigrants, better labour relations, and removal of tariffs on imported food such as matzos, to comment on the Jewish school question, and to confront anti-Semitism. In an article published in Der Veg, Glazer spoke for many immigrants when he attacked the condescension of English-speaking Jews toward him and their Yiddish-speaking counterparts:

You who consider yourselves spokesmen for Canadian Jewry, who created a Jewry in Canada for you? Who built the institutions from whence you now draw honour? Who cleared up, washed and polish St. Dominique, Cadieux and other streets for you? …

Did you leaders of today ever try to crawl over shaky steps in tenements to look for a minyan? Go to seek out the lonely, the poor, the sick? Did you ever try to feed your children on the wages paid by small synagogues on the Jews streets? Did you ever sacrifice an hour of your repose for those who are truly the people? …

Be satisfied with your portion. You have taken for yourselves Sherbrooke Street, Stanley Street and McGill Avenue. Keep them and enjoy each other.

Leave Cadieux Street and St. Dominique Street in peace.[63]

Ministering to His Congregations

For Glazer, the synagogue was central to Jewish community life: “the one institution capable of representing the entire spectrum of the Jewish community and the only institution that could be organized into a federation within the structure of American society.”[64] Although Glazer wrote about his vision of communal organization in 1921 after he returned to the United States, his rabbinical work between 1907 and 1918 suggests that such a community model informed much of what he tried to achieve while he was in Montreal. According to Keinouke Oiwa, Glazer attributed “the ‘misery’ and ‘filth’ he saw every day in the streets and homes … to the absence of a central religious organization with any authority.” Furthermore, his image of Jewish communal life was at the heart of his “self-appointed mission.”[65] Joseph Schultz and Carla Klausner contend that his capacity to weave together diverse elements of the Jewish community in Kansas City was perfected in Montreal, where as chief rabbi of five Orthodox congregations he sought to centralize the Orthodox Jewish community. Glazer argued against a separation of the Jewish community from the larger one, as represented by the kehillah—a model wherein religious and lay organizations would form a federation under the leadership of a chief rabbi or a board made up of both religious and secular elites. Religious scholar Steven Lapidus has argued that Eastern European rabbis brought with them to North America a distrust of the kehillah where it had originated. Such councils wielded tremendous power over their members, were prone to corruption, and reinforced the chasm between the wealthy and poor.[66] It is no wonder that Glazer rejected the kehillah model, arguing that labour unions and fraternal associations would never subordinate their needs to those of a board. Glazer also considered that the economy was “so interconnected that it was impossible for any religious or ethnic group or section to separate itself and work independently with regard to labor or any other branch of secular enterprise.” Consequently, the synagogues, he reasoned, which represented all of the sundry elements of the Jewish community, had to be organized into a federation.[67]

Provisioning the Poor

Rabbi Glazer’s charity work and ministrations to the poor took diverse forms: from canvassing donations around Jewish high holidays intended for the poor, issuing funds to pay for basic needs as well as hospital cards, to promoting the establishment of institutions such as the Jewish Home and Orphan Asylum (officially, the Montreal Hebrew Orphans’ Home). In one of those rare public moments of collaboration, Glazer, Rabbi Herman Abramowitz, and Mark Workman organized the purchase of land located at the corner of Evans and Cecil Streets in the St. Lawrence corridor to erect a home for Jewish orphans for which Mortimer Davis, Mark Workman, Moses Vineberg, and others paid.[68]

Glazer took a particular interest in the plight of immigrants. Notwithstanding the real economic vulnerability of newcomers who came to Montreal and felt by the city’s entire working class, Rabbi Glazer’s arrival in the city in 1907–8 coincided with an economic crisis. Many of the Eastern European immigrants who made up his constituency would have found it extremely difficult to make ends meet. He advocated their interests in numerous ways. For example, Glazer wrote to the federal minister in charge of immigration regarding the recognition of American passports presented by Jews to Russian authorities, sought help for particular families, and intervened in cases involving the deportation of Jewish immigrants. He spoke out against the wretched conditions (vermin, stench, and overcrowding) to which immigrants were subjected at the Detention Hospital in Quebec City: “But they were persistent in making me listen to their story of woe, how filled of vermin the shed was, how unwholesome the food was, how they are being dealt with as prisoners, as if though it was a crime to knock at the gate of a country which has not yet even touched the edges of its hidden treasures, which is rich enough to shelter and support hundreds of millions of people, and which is even not half explored.”[69]

Glazer wrote about an encounter with a group of newcomers—some speaking Yiddish—in Quebec City’s Lower Town: “I noticed a wagon-load of men, women and children, herded together like so many animals after a circus performance, guarded by men in uniform, and dragging along indifferently … I found myself in what might be hereafter known as the ‘Vale of Tears.’”[70] That same month, he inscribed in his journal that he had begun a campaign to create an Immigrants’ Aid Society.[71] Shortly thereafter, he founded the Hachnossat Orchim and the Moschav Zkenim Society to serve immigrants and the aged respectively.[72]

Some of his interventions highlighted episodes of anti-Semitism and regulated members of his congregations. In 1909 Glazer asked a school nurse to provide him with a list of Jewish pupils attending Protestant schools who “suffered from uncleanliness of the body … [to] co-operate with the efforts of the school in the somewhat difficult and delicate task of improving the conditions of these children and of their homes.”[73] The reference to uncleanliness was, according to historian Ellen Ross, euphemism for having lice.[74] The superintendent of schools denied this request on the basis of protecting the privacy of the parents.[75]

Officiating at Religious Activities

Religious commemoration of birth, coming of age, marriage, and death (the bris milah or circumcision, bar mitzvah or obligation to observe the commandments, nuptials, and burials respectively) were important life-cycle events in Judaism, in the Jewish community, and even for non-observant Jews. These ceremonies not only reinforced religious practice, Jewish culture, and identity, but they also provided legal proof of an individual’s status in Canada, certainly important to the Jewish diaspora. In Quebec, parish registers were also civil documents. Rabbi Glazer officiated at these activities, most of which took place away from the synagogue, and earned him $189.50 in 1909.[76] Most newlyweds paid him $2 to $3 to officiate at their nuptials, while others gave much more. For example, Glazer charged $6 to solemnize the Stramberg-Novick wedding and $10 for the Cohen-Friedman nuptials. He routinely carried out these ceremonies at the Standard Hall, Auditorium Hall, and the New Modern Hall, or at the home of the bride. Occasionally, he wedded couples in his office or in the Beth Israel Synagogue, Quebec City. He officiated at the marriage of couples representing a range of social classes. On 3 September 1912, for example, Glazer conducted the marriage of twenty-two-year-old lawyer Lyon W. Jacobs, the eldest son of Fanny Gittleson and fur importer William Jacobs, and twenty-one-year-old U.S.-born Sarah Florin, the only child of dry goods merchant Benjamin and Esther Florin. The wedding took place at the home of the bride’s parents on Prince Arthur Street.[77] Compare that to the very modest wedding of coal merchant Philip Dubrovsky and Fannie Alouf whom Glazer married in his office.[78] Dubrovsky had arrived in Canada from Russia in 1905 and Alouf in 1907. By 1911 they had both become Canadian citizens. Glazer also participated in the bris milah, which typically took place at the baby’s residence; he directed funerals at the homes of the deceased.

The Business of Kosher Meat

When Simon Glazer moved to Montreal in 1907, the provisioning of kosher meat to both non-observant and observant Jews was thought to be a $3 million business.[79] It provided employment to hundreds of Jewish Montrealers as shohtim (ritual slaughterers), butchers, and supervisors (rabbis) who certified that the meat had indeed been prepared according to the traditions of Halacha or Judaic law. Overseeing Kashruth offered immigrant Orthodox rabbis an opportunity to increase their income and, at the same time, according to Ira Robinson, to access power within the community.[80] This was not lost on Rabbi Glazer, who inserted himself into the kosher meat business soon after his arrival in the city. Rabbis—Hirsch Cohen in particular—who had been regulating the commerce of Kashruth resisted making room for newcomers such as Glazer; and those who challenged the status quo by establishing their own system of Kashruth quickly became embroiled in disputes over the legitimacy of the kosher meat.[81] In light of the potential earnings involved in the kosher meat trade, disagreements sometimes became physical, as in the case of three men, Abraham Neanton, B. Blumenthal, and one Macaroffsky (likely Aaron Makarovsky, who married Wolf Goldsman’s daughter Rose the same year), whom Glazer accused of assaulting him in his home office. He had refused to grant a licence permitting Wolf Goldsman to slaughter; according to Glazer, Goldsman had an unsavoury reputation. The alleged aggressors “told me that I was not the Czar of Russia,” to which Glazer responded, “I told them that they were in an enlightened country, and that I would have the law on them.”[82] More common were accusations that the meat was traif or not kosher.

As the younger rival, Simon Glazer publicly challenged Hirsch Cohen and fellow rabbis at every opportunity. Given that Jewish practices sometimes conflicted with municipal by-laws, Glazer sought to remedy these discrepancies by working within the system already in place. This strategy mirrored his vision of a Jewish communal life integrated with the larger society. In spring 1908, when the Markets Committee at city hall held hearings on the kosher meat issue, Glazer demanded that regulated butchers hold a special permit issued by a chief rabbi (meaning himself). Rabbis De Sola and Abramowitz denied Glazer’s status as chief rabbi and argued that the city has no business controlling the kosher meat industry, since it was a religious matter only.[83] Two weeks later, Rabbi Cohen headed the newly created Montreal Board of Kashrut to issue cards to butchers attesting to their official certification as ritual slaughterers and to ensure that the mashgichim or overseers made random visits. The board’s rabbinical committee included Rabbis Meldola De Sola, M.B. Lauterman, Hirsch Cohen, H. Blitz, and Herman Abramowitz, but not Glazer.[84] This surely was an attempt by the established rabbinate to assert both its power and vision of the independence of the Jewish community. It also reminded Glazer of his place in the kosher meat pecking order. Not deterred, Glazer responded four months later by publishing his own list of kosher butchers. Those not on the list sued him for defamation and claimed, “The position he has arrogated to himself as Chief Rabbi gives him no standing. His pretensions have been repudiated by the older and more informed rabbis of the city … He is conversant with the English language and, as one who aspires to leadership among his people, should be careful, to make himself acquainted with and observe the law of the land.”[85]

It was relatively easy to send circulars denouncing meat slaughtered by rivals as traif, to attack a rabbi’s credentials in the local newspaper, as Cohen and his supporters had done regarding the legitimacy of Glazer’s certification. Glazer’s journal entries reveal a lengthy dispute with Cohen over his efforts to control the shohtim, as well as over his support of “uptowners” who sought to keep the wages of the ritual slaughterers low. According to Lily Laxer Bernstein, members of the Jewish community viewed Cohen’s position on these matters as a smokescreen to maintain the financial reimbursement he received as rabbi to the kosher meat industry.[86] Glazer responded to Cohen’s accusations by passing around his own circulars and suing the Keneder Adler for $20,000 for its alleged derogatory statements. The libel suit was eventually settled out of court when Glazer dropped the case and each party agreed to pay its own legal costs.[87] Many “downtowners” (who were themselves the focus of unfavourable judgements by the “uptowners”) and Jewish butchers (some sought better remuneration for their work and others wanted the opportunity to work as ritual slaughters) endorsed Glazer’s efforts to take on the Jewish establishment so publicly.

His quest to oversee the kosher meat business took Glazer to local markets, to city hall where he informed the mayor about the by-law concerning the killing of poultry, and even to the jail and courthouse.[88] Glazer counselled Sholem Lamdan, a shohet whom police had arrested and incarcerated for illegally slaughtering chickens at his home on St. Dominique Street. His defence of Lamdan provided another opportunity to publicly combat Hirsch Cohen, since Cohen was also one of the official chaplains at the Montreal jail. Yet it was Glazer who, upon discovering that Jewish prisoners had no phylacteries (box attached to forehead and dominant arm with straps) and taliths (prayer shawls), informed both the jailor and Premier Gouin[89] about the religious accoutrements required by observant Jewish prisoners in jail.[90] And it was Glazer again who told Cohen to bring these items to the jail.[91] This surely must have been an affront to Cohen, coming from such a brash and younger rival. S.W. Jacobs, a lawyer and spokesman for the established Jews, objected to Glazer’s handling of the Lamdan affair, including Sholem Lamdan’s release from prison that he had arranged. Keinosuke Oiwa suggests that the older established members of the Jewish community showed more concern about Glazer’s involvement in the affair than about Lamdan’s incarceration.[92]

In 1912 Rabbi Glazer began supervising Kashruth at a new kosher meat market on the corner of St. Dominique and Prince Arthur streets, thus challenging the Montreal abattoirs, which were undercutting Jewish wholesale meat dealers.[93] His success made him, according to David Rome, “absolute master of the Jewish meat trade in Montreal.”[94] Since Halacha also involved a variety of food and beverage products, little escaped Glazer’s attention, as his journal attests, whether it was the proper preparation of soda or the supply of matzo for Passover. Here again, he took on the Toronto bakery, which produced matzo, and a business in which Rabbi Cohen had invested, according to the Canadian Jewish Times.[95]

Family and Marriage Counselling

Like Protestant and Catholic clergy, Glazer mediated marital and family disputes. As a rabbi, Glazer was remunerated for interventions that ranged from counselling to authorizing gets or Jewish divorces. In Quebec, neither Catholics nor Protestant couples could divorce easily, and rates, especially among Catholics, were very low—only private bills in Parliament granted divorces[96]—but such an option was much broader in Jewish law. It permitted divorce if either the husband or the wife had not met the responsibilities associated with or defied the marriage contract.[97] In 1909 Glazer received $122 for issuing divorces; it was a lucrative service, since he charged couples between $8 and $17.[98] Rabbis had much to say about the reasons to perform gets, their purpose, and the consequences for women and children if no divorce was sought or given.[99] That said, a divorce could not be granted without the participation of the husband.[100] It also required the convening of a rabbinical court or Bet Din to bestow the get, composed of three men, not all of whom had to be fully qualified rabbis, as long as one of them knew what to do.[101] Therefore, Glazer did not depend on local rabbis, whom he had alienated, to serve on this court with him. Nonetheless, Glazer was prudent in deciding which marriages he would terminate. He was reputed as one who “never grants a ‘get’ unless the case be a real deserted woman.”[102] You will remember that Glazer refused to divorce the Sosins, whom we met in the introduction. Seemingly, it was Mrs. Rosenberg Sosin, a singer at the Starland Theatre, who had requested the divorce. As he described the couple, “She was a woman about town when he married her. He became a gambler after their marriage. Both claimed to belong to the set of ‘progressists.’ I refused to grant divorce or right of.”[103] Four days later, Glazer had a change of heart and performed the get; they were young and “not going in the right path,” at least together.[104] He charged the Sosins $9 for his efforts.

Not unlike clergy of other religions, Glazer had an ambiguous view of family life and of gender. On the one hand, he counselled couples to stay together, even in cases of spousal abuse. On the other hand, Glazer performed gets in cases of desertion, yet he could be particularly critical of women who contested divorce and whatever pressure he may have applied, as the following case reveals. Even though Ike Wittenstein had married Lena without having divorced his first wife Gina, Rabbi Glazer did not condemn him for being a bigamist. Rather, he saved his acerbic words for Lena, describing the scene when he performed the get as “pitiful” and Lena as “an old woman being ready to do her utmost only to get him away from his first wife.”[105] In cases where women resisted divorce, Freeze shows that patriarchal norms ensured that “male testimony carried greater weight than that of a woman.”[106] Others resisted Glazer’s moral rectitude, challenging his denunciation of particular conduct. He called the police when three men, whom he had publically criticized for allowing a brother to marry another brother’s wife, had arrived at his home office and allegedly threatened him.[107]

Rabbi Glazer went to great lengths to keep some couples together, as the Crystal case attests. While he never identified the “most heinous accusation” that Mrs. Crystal and her daughter had made against Mr. Crystal, the process of successfully reuniting the family included several appointments of couple counselling and at least one trip by foot to the Crystal house at midnight in the rain.[108] The task of resolving marital disputes sometimes involved couples signing contracts that stipulated the behaviours to which they had both agreed. The Brofsteins consented to the following:

We the under signed agree and bind ourselves to hold the peace and live up to the following conditions.

(1) The husband shall never again lift his hand against the wife.

(2) The husband shall provide for all expenses necessary to maintain a house and table.

(3) The wife shall never again go to court for recourse unless he strikes her again.

(4) The wife shall withdraw charges pending against the husband.[109]

Glazer was also active in helping abandoned women locate husbands who had left Europe alone to immigrate to Canada. While it was understood that once a spouse earned enough money to pay for his family’s journey to North America, they would be reunited, this was not always the case. Many men likely found it difficult to save enough money from their meagre earnings for steamship fares, resulting in delayed family reunification; others established relationships in Montreal with women who were not their wives. Historian Gur Alroey’s study of Jewish women’s migration reveals that while desertion by husbands was widespread, in most cases families were reunited. A woman who was left behind permanently had few alternatives: she could save the fare to travel to Canada to find her husband; remain married, an agunah or anchored woman, and shoulder all of the responsibility for the children without any possibility of a change in status or fortune; or obtain a divorce through a rabbi.[110] A divorce allowed her to apply for a separate passport and to remarry.[111] The abandoned wife still required that her husband grant the get; without it she could not marry again. In 1909 Rabbi Glazer performed a get or divorce for at least six couples caught in this situation. He could facilitate the divorce and see that it was delivered to the wife. For example, after receiving a letter from Rabbi Frieman of Aptan in Russia regarding Mayer Fox, who had immigrated to Montreal from Poland in 1905 and worked in a factory as a tailor and having deserted his wife Hinda of Lipokatz, Rabbi Glazer wrote back that Fox had agreed to grant his wife a divorce.[112] Less surprising was his refusal to marry couples of mixed religions, even if a Christian offered to convert to Judaism. “Assimilation,” he wrote, “is on the increase with the tendency in the favor of embracing Judaism among the non-Jewish elements.”[113]

Settling Business Disputes

Glazer’s journal reveals that adjudicating disputes in 1909 involved much wider practices, such as arranging clauses for arbitration, and took up a great deal of his time and was especially profitable, earning him an additional $205.50.[114] A number of the disputes involved partnerships. For example, he received $2 for assisting in an amicable dissolution of the Lawson Brothers’ business; they sold fancy goods in a store on St. Catherine Street.[115] Others were more difficult to resolve and sometimes required several attempts before a settlement was reached. In the case of Steinberg versus Trachtenberg, Glazer wrote in his journal, “Case extraordinary one settled after much labor.”[116] He charged them $5 for his efforts. A dispute between Dr. Sperber and M. Goldstein was especially onerous, and he charged $25 for mediating it. The conflict resolution involved M.L. Morris and H. Lehrer who acted as arbiters for each of the two parties and took all night to reach a settlement.[117] Three days later, Goldstein protested the decision, which had been rendered.

Simon Glazer’s sense of social justice included support of workers’ organizations and unions such as the Jewish Butcher’s Employees Association of Montreal in 1909 and needle trade workers in their labour disputes against clothing manufacturers, some who were prominent members of the Jewish community. Many of the needle trade workers were members of his many congregations. The manufacture of clothing in Montreal was an important sector of the economy, having grown substantially as the result of low capital and labour costs.[118] In the 1910 cloak-makers’ strike, Glazer publicly denounced factory owner Alan J. Hart in a sermon that he gave at the Lagauchetière Street Synagogue and repeated in the Canadian Jewish Times as a response to Hart’s condemnation of both the rabbi and the strikers.[119] A particularly lengthy and acrimonious strike took place in January 1917, when 3000 workers laid down their tools in thirteen union shops of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. A month later, the strike had grown to include 5000 employees from sixty-four firms. For the workers, control of the workplace was central to the labour stoppage; for the manufacturers, it was control over hiring and firing. Eventually both parties agreed to establish a committee to investigate the strike.[120] Glazer’s reputation for resolving disputes was well known, as witnessed by repeated requests to intervene in labour disputes involving the garment industry. According to an article published in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, giving a biographical sketch of Rabbi Glazer on the eve of his departure from the city, Sidney Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, T.W. Crowthers, the federal minister of labour, and Mayor Médéric Martin had appealed to him to assist in ending the bitter 1917 labour action.[121]

He also supported small Jewish shopkeepers who protested their obligation to close their businesses according to the laws related to Sunday closings. Glazer presented a petition to the city’s mayor arguing, “They are today obeying both the religious and civil law, with the result that they have to keep their stores closed practically one third of the year. It is manifestly impossible for them to continue in business under the present conditions: They cannot make both ends meet, and I believe that if the true state of affairs were known there would be no objection in permitting them to keep open part of Sunday.”[122] According to historian Paul Laverdure, Quebec passed a weakened version of the federal law just before it was enacted in 1907 allowing Jewish retailers to open on Sundays as long as they closed on another day.[123]

Fighting Anti-Semitism

Although there are only a few references to anti-Semitic incidents and discourse in his 1909 journal, Simon Glazer was well known in the Montreal Jewish immigrant community for his fight against such discrimination. Anti-Semitism was a persistent feature of Jewish life along and around the St. Lawrence Boulevard corridor. Jews faced snubs and taunts, which could erupt into street altercations, as well as a rhetoric that racialized Jewish newcomers, maintaining that they could not be assimilated and representing them as a threat to the Christian character of Quebec. While the established, well-to-do members of the Jewish community had integrated with mainstream society, newcomers attracted attention by their language, class identity, and poverty, therefore reinforcing the popular association of outsiders with wretchedness, crime, and disease. Jewish elites shared this prejudice.[124] Class divisions within the urban Jewish community placed elites and working-class Jews at odds, especially when workers favoured labour militancy. Such militancy added to fears that the Jewish community as a whole was a potential danger. Glazer wrote letters to newspaper editors addressing anti-Semitism in Quebec and Canada, in addition to challenging the prejudices expressed by Jewish elites toward Eastern European immigrant co-religionists. He also contacted municipal, provincial, and federal politicians to represent the needs of Jewish newcomers and to right wrongs.

The first decades of the twentieth century saw a sharp increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and the virulence of anti-Jewish discourse. Protestants who supported passage by Ottawa of the Lord’s Day Act in 1906, prohibiting commercial activities on Sunday, lashed out against Jews who complained about the consequences of Sunday observance for them. Montreal newspapers printed anti-Jewish letters and editorials with growing frequency, and desecration and vandalism seemed on the rise.[125] In 1908 and 1909, Glazer opposed the vitriolic anti-Semitic articles, which had appeared in the French-language newspapers La Libre Parole and L’Action sociale respectively. A year later, he publicly debated notary Joseph-Edouard Plamondon following his 1910 venomous speech at a gathering of the Association Catholique de la Jeunesse Canadienne-Française in Quebec City denouncing Judaism and evoking no less than the blood libel as evidence of inherent murderousness of Jews everywhere.[126] This speech, and its subsequent publication as a pamphlet, provoked several instances of street fighting and vandalism between Jews and Catholics and spurred the provincial Jewish leadership to sue Plamondon for libel, claiming that such language incited violence against Jews, which potentially threatened lives and at the very least livelihoods.[127] Montreal’s Jewish elites refused to either acknowledge Glazer’s efforts or support his determination to challenge such an outrageous example of anti-Semitism. In what became known as the “Plamondon Affair,” Glazer not only sent a telegram immediately to the federal minister of justice requesting that he intervene,[128] but Glazer’s series of letters condemning Plamondon’s remarks were published in the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil. Newspaper clippings show that he challenged Plamondon on his grotesque misrepresentations of the Talmud.


By using a multi-disciplinary methodology to examine Simon Glazer’s journal in a detailed way, we learn not only about the diarist himself but so much more. The innovative approach of integrating and examining qualitative texts together with household registers and cartographic sources in HGIS is still relatively rare in urban historical scholarship.[129] This use of HGIS to map the rabbi’s movements, as well as those co-religionists who sought his help, provides a new window onto the early twentieth-century Jewish community in Montreal as it was on its way to becoming the most important one in Canada.

This article makes a novel contribution to the HGIS literature in Canada, particularly the limited HGIS scholarship that recognizes that “actors are mobile, not only residentially mobile, but continuously mobile as they move through their daily lives.”[130] Integrating data gleaned from Glazer’s diary with the comprehensive geodatabases of the MAP HGIS project not only allowed us to document his residential mobility, but also allowed us to uncover and visualize the materialization of his social mobility as expressed through periodic residential moves of his family to larger homes on higher-status blocks, all while remaining firmly centred within the geographic core of the Jewish community. The maps reveal how the Jewish population was tightly concentrated near the geographic core of Montreal, confirming what others have written about Montreal as a “segregated city.”[131] However, they also contribute an additional layer to our understanding of ethnic segregation by revealing how the rabbi’s daily social interactions were restricted primarily to geographically concentrated spaces within the city.

Geographers have argued that urban historical studies “need to expand our analytical focus from the static residential spaces captured in census-based studies to other places and times in people’s daily lives.”[132] Another contribution resulting from the integration of diary data with the MAP geodatabases was the mapping of Glazer’s everyday social interactions. Reinterpreting the diary through a spatial lens allowed us to visualize the complicated relationships Glazer established with elites as well as his daily efforts to both earn a living and achieve some degree of social mobility. To earn more income, Glazer tapped into well-known community structures—the kosher meat business, mediation, counselling, issuing gets, and officiating at Jewish events. Undoubtedly the rabbi was complex, determined, energetic, ambitious, and irascible. While Ida looked after the home and children, Glazer doggedly pursued his rabbinical duties and a range of economic activities to support his growing family and to increase his power and influence.

He was an elite himself although never recognized as such by those he challenged publicly. In his quest for social justice and for an influential position in the city’s Jewish community, he disputed Jewish elites’ traditional claims to power. Glazer was a force to be reckoned with, as his encounters with Rabbi Cohen and Montreal’s Jewish elites suggest. He was, in the words of Keinosuke Oiwa, “at once a political orator, writer, ritual expert, teacher, judicial expert, mediator, family counsellor, social worker, and philanthropist. One may wish to explain his extraordinarily energetic lifestyle partly by his personality, partly by his desire for power. Rabbi Glazer, as he appears in the pages of his diary, was indeed an aggressive man, full of anger and ambition. He seems to have been unusually confident and intransigent about his own sense of social justice, and his image of Jewish communal life; he seems to have believed firmly in his self-appointed mission.”[133]

Nonetheless, after eleven years in Montreal, Rabbi Glazer left the city “worn down by over a decade of relentless opposition and strife” for more lucrative positions in U.S. synagogues in Seattle, Kansas City, and New York, where in 1938 he died at the age of sixty.[134] Despite his efforts in Montreal, Glazer failed to unite the Jewish community, which remained divided by class, ethnicity, language, politics, culture, and geography.[135] Armed with skills honed in Montreal, Glazer pursued similar goals in the United States with the same energy, ambition, and determination. In Kansas City he instituted a vision of community he had imagined for Montreal, uniting the Orthodox synagogues around charity, Hebrew instruction, and Kashruth.[136]

By geocoding his moves and daily activities and mapping and analyzing them in an HGIS, we learned that Glazer advanced his social and economic position by embedding himself in the heart of Jewish Montreal, making connections, and getting business, all within a short walk of his home. The mapping of Rabbi Glazer’s journal shows a localized community of exchange and primary forms of sociability. Jewish clustering in a mixed neighbourhood and close to Montreal’s central business district promoted mutual aid, economic independence, and social mobility. The maps have allowed us to demonstrate individuals moving around and interacting in a complex space, as well as the rabbi’s reach to the entire city. Moreover, this article demonstrates the broader value of using HGIS as a “new way of doing history.”[137] The HGIS offered us new ways to examine, visualize, and interpret complex socio-spatial processes and patterns in early twentieth-century Montreal, thereby offering a new understanding in Canadian urban history.