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Kahanovitch, Israel Isaac


KAHANOVITCH, ISRAEL ISAAC (1872–1945), Canadian rabbi and communal leader in Winnipeg. Born in Grodno, Poland, Kahanovitch studied at the yeshivot in Grodno and Slobodka, Lithuania. He received his semikhah at age 20 from the leading halakhic authority, Rabbi Jehiel Michal Epstein, author of the Arukh ha-Shulḥan. In the wake of the 1905 pogroms, Kahanovitch moved to North America. For one year he served as rabbi in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and then moved to Winnipeg, where he lived out the rest of his life.

On the strength of his rabbinic learning, his speaking ability, and extraordinary energy, Kahanovitch was widely recognized as the rabbinic authority of Winnipeg, and he exercised influence across western Canada. A passionate advocate for Jewish education, he established groups for Talmud study and was actively involved in the creation and support of the Winnipeg Hebrew Free School first established in 1907 and in the construction of a proper building to house the school. Although a Mizrachi Zionist at heart, Kahanovitch participated in communal functions with secular Zionists. He served on the National Executive of the Zionist Organization of Canada and regularly attended the Zionist congresses in Canada. He also looked to strengthen Jewish communal bonding by supporting the Canadian Jewish Congress (cjc) at the national level, both in its first incarnation at the end of World War i and when it was revamped in the 1930s to counteract the bitter antisemitism and restrictive immigration policies of Depression-era Canada. He was elected a delegate to the first cjc meeting in Montreal by an overwhelming majority. At the local level, shortly after his arrival he was the prime mover behind the establishment of the United Hebrew Charities in Winnipeg and hoped in vain for a kehillah-type organization.

Kahanovich was appreciated by those in smaller Jewish communities across western Canada who struggled to sustain local Jewish community life and institutions. At a time when travel was often difficult and rabbinic authorities few and far between, Kahanovich supported the creation of a Jewish school in Regina, attended a teachers' conference in Saskatoon, and traveled to tiny Melville in Saskatchewan to dedicate a new synagogue, to name just a few of his activities outside of Winnipeg

While highly regarded, Kahanovich's authority on matters of supervision of kosher slaughtering did not go unchallenged. His most serious challenger was Rabbi I.D. Gorodsky who also held a rabbinic position in Winnipeg between 1911 and 1919. But Kahanovitch remained a beloved figure among Jews, religious and secular, in Winnipeg and across western Canada. In 1927 a number of communal leaders established a special committee to raise money to increase Kahanovich's salary, when a rumor circulated that he was going to leave Winnipeg. His funeral in 1945 was attended by a crowd of about 5,000, about one-third of the total adult Jewish community of Winnipeg.


A.D. Hart, The Jew in Canada (1926), 154; M.S. Stern, in: The Rabbi I.I. Kahanovitch Memorial Volume (1984), 93–114.

[Richard Menkis (2nd ed.)]

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