Skip to main content

Quebec

QUEBEC

QUEBEC , Canadian province. Quebec is Canada's second largest province and the only one of Canada's provinces with a French-speaking majority. It is also home to Canada's longest-established Jewish community. In 2005 it has a Jewish population of approximately 94,000, making it the province with the second largest Jewish community in the country.

Quebec's first Jewish settlers accompanied the British military during the Seven Years' War when it captured the vast territory from the French in 1760. While Jews concentrated in Montreal, they were also present in other parts of what was then known as Lower Canada. Mainly involved in the fur trade and other commercial activities, as many as one out of 10 merchants in the city were of the Jewish faith. Canadian Jewish communal and organizational life traces its origins to Montreal, where in 1768 the first congregation was established – Shearith Israel – more commonly known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. By 1830 there were about 100 Jews in Lower Canada.

Because they enjoyed British legal status, Jews benefited from the privileges of the early colonial regime. But their status became the object of debate. The first major test emerged in 1807 with the election of the first Jew, Ezekiel Hart, to the Legislature by the voters of Trois-Rivières. Hart's right to sit was challenged by French Catholics who argued that a Jew could not legitimately take an oath of office which included the words "on the faith of a Christian." As a consequence he was prohibited from assuming office. It took some 25 years but on January 31, 1831, the Bill of Equal Rights was adopted by the Assembly of Lower Canada granting Jews the right to hold public office. Championed by the prominent French Canadian political reformer Louis Joseph Papineau, the Bill was received favorably by England's Parliament and became law within a year. The granting of freedoms to Jews proved to be a catalyst for the freedoms of others within the colony, directly resulting in the abolition of certain religious restrictions for Catholics.

The Jewish population continued to grow slowly and in middle of the 19th century, institutions were established to facilitate the absorption of Jewish settlers. In 1847, the Hebrew Philanthropic Society of Canada was founded and replaced in 1863 by the Young Men's Hebrew Benevolent Society (ymhbs). In the 1870s Jews from Eastern Europe began arriving in Montreal. By 1886 there were some 3,000 Jews in the province and by 1890 the imminent influx of immigrants prompted the established Jewish community to enhance relief efforts. With significant financial aid from Maurice Baron de *Hirsch, the ymhbs was renamed the Baron de Hirsch Institute with a mission to provide services to the new immigrants.

In the early 20th century, Montreal's Jewish leadership was confronted by the challenge of assisting a large influx of East European Jewish immigrants. Between the mid-1890s and the onset of World War i in 1914 the Jewish community of Quebec, largely centered in Montreal, increased nearly fourfold from 7,600 to 30,000. The fast-growing numbers contributed to rising demands for service from Montreal's existing Jewish community. In 1916 the established Jewish leadership consolidated the major Jewish community institutions with the creation of the Montreal Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.

By far the largest percentage of the early 20th century immigration was Yiddish speaking and such individuals often looked to their own *landsmannshaften, labor and political organizations and congregations, for support rather than to the Federation. The massive immigration of the Yiddish-speaking group not only altered the composition of the Montreal Jewish community but the city on the whole. By the 1920s, Yiddish had become the third most widely used language in Montreal after French and English. Based in Montreal, the country's only daily Yiddish newspaper, the Keneder Odler ("Canadian Eagle") was established in 1907 with a growing readership. Conflicts emerged between the predominantly immigrant working-class Yiddish speakers (commonly referred to as "downtowners") and the mainly English-speaking community establishment (referred to as "uptowners").

Given the demographic and political importance of the "downtowners" their views could not be ignored. Within the province's biconfessional structure of Catholics and Protestants, Jews were considered Protestant for educational purposes. This situation resulted in certain limits on the rights of Jewish students in publicly funded schools. In the late 1920s, the downtowners pressed for the creation of a publicly funded Jewish school board alongside the existing Catholic and Protestant school systems, a proposal to which the established Jewish leadership was less favorable. Although the Quebec government submitted a bill in support of the initiative, the negative reaction from the province's Catholic hierarchy prompted the administration to reverse course.

By 1931 the Quebec Jewish population grew to nearly 60,000. The economic depression of the 1930s was characterized by a significant rise in antisemitism in the province. Elements within the Quebec Catholic hierarchy disseminated antisemitism through various publications. Influenced by European fascism Catholic intellectuals such as Lionel Groulx propagated anti-Jewish sentiment. A concrete expression of the antisemitism of the decade was the "achat chez nous" ("buy from your own kind") movement which under the guise of promoting French Canadian economic progress urged a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. Antisemitism was not confined to the French Canadian population, as certain programs at McGill University imposed quotas on the admission of Jewish students.

Despite the challenges of the 1930s, Jewish community leaders aimed to address the problem of badly needed services. The construction of the Jewish General Hospital with a substantial financial contribution from Sir Mortimer B. *Davis ensured quality health care for subsequent generations of Jews. Today the Jewish General is Quebec's most multiethnic hospital.

During the 1930s, conflict within the Jewish community appeared to wane as the growing threat of antisemitism both locally and abroad drew the community together. In 1934 the reactivation of the Canadian Jewish Congress (which first convened in 1919) under the leadership of Montreal's Samuel *Bronfman aimed to reinforce the political influence of the Canadian Jewish community to help address the plight of European Jewry. Locally, the already strained relations between Jews and French Canadians suffered a further setback around the issue of military involvement in World War II. While the Jewish community was committed to greater involvement in the war effort, French Canadians were overwhelmingly opposed to military conscription.

In 1943 the persistent ideological divisions within the Quebec Jewish community surfaced around the election of the Communist candidate, Fred *Rose (Rosenberg), in the federal riding of Cartier. Rose contended that a vote for the Communist Party would support Russia and the war effort and was thus a vote in support of the Canadian war effort. After the war, political divisions within the Jewish community diminished further as the leadership turned its attention to providing relief to East European Jews. Between 1947 and 1952, more than 4,500 Holocaust survivors settled in Montreal and benefited from the assistance of Jewish immigration aid services.

As in the rest of Canada in the aftermath of World War ii, there was some reexamination on the part of the Quebec Catholic hierarchy of its attitude towards the Jewish population. Dialogue between Jews and French Catholics were organized through the Council of Christians and Jews. But the dialogue encountered ongoing difficulties and thus initiatives aimed at fostering interfaith and intergroup understanding were spear-headed by Quebec intellectuals, writers, and elected officials. The postwar period and the challenges to which it gave rise proved a source of great cultural inspiration for Quebec Jews. Based in Montreal, such writers as Leonard *Cohen and Mordechai *Richler achieved international status with their literary works. In his popular book The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Richler offered some insight into the often difficult relationship between Jews and both English and French Canadian communities in Montreal.

During the 1950s through the 1970s, the Quebec Jewish community welcomed yet another wave of immigrants. Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries, mainly French-speaking, further modified the composition of the community. Aside from their largely Sephardi religious traditions, these Sephardi Jews often brought with them the customs of their particular countries of origin. As well as the adaptation effort put forward by the institutions of the predominantly English-speaking Ashkenazi Jewish population, the process of integration of the Sephardi population also involved the creation of a series of parallel organizations directed at specific needs of the new immigrants.

During the 1960s the Jewish community witnessed a significant expansion of its Jewish day schools, a network that existed since the early 20th century. The provincial authorities did not offer these Jewish schools public status equal to the Catholic and Protestant sectors, but in 1968 the Quebec government did declare that the funding of private Jewish schools was in the public interest and thus assumed the majority of Jewish school costs. Although funding diminished somewhat in the decades that followed, approximately half of the Quebec Jewish student population are today enrolled in Jewish schools. The Jewish schools are characterized by significant internal diversity and differences in affiliation and include Sephardi establishments and a number of educational institutions for the growing hasidic segment of the community.

By 1971 the Quebec Jewish population reached more than 120,000 persons, but declined quite sharply thereafter. During the 1970s the Quebec provincial government was more and more challenged by French-Canadian nationalists to protect and expand French language primacy in Quebec. The government responded by passing legislation aimed at making the French language the province's common language. But this was not enough for the growing body of support for Quebec independence amongst the French-speaking majority. Strongly supportive of Quebec's remaining part of Canada, many in the province's Jewish community were uneasy with the rise in nationalism and the threat of separatism. In the growing atmosphere of political uncertainty, the overwhelming number of Jews in Quebec endorsed the federalist Quebec Liberal party. Certainly the Jewish community in Quebec was unprepared for the 1976 provincial electoral victory of the separatist Parti Québécois. Quebec Jewish community leadership had few contacts with the new government and thus tensions occasionally emerged. During the 1980 referendum on sovereignty, the Canadian Jewish Congress (cjc) chose to remain officially neutral though community members voted massively in favor of Canadian unity. During the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, the cjc chose to officially endorse the federalist position. In both cases the federalist side won, but only by the slimmest of majorities in 1995. Despite the often difficult political climate in Quebec, relations between Jews and increasingly urban, secular, and educated French Quebecers have much improved and although antisemitic expression has not altogether disappeared, it is but a pale shadow of what it was less than a generation ago.

However, political uncertainty has cost the Quebec Jewish community dearly. During the 1970s through the turn of the century, as many as 35,000 Jews left the province, notably the younger, better educated, and more mobile segment of the community. By 2001 the number of Quebec Jews dropped below 95,000. This out-migration had significant consequences for the demographic condition of the community and the establishment of priorities. Amongst other issues, the departure of so many younger Jews has contributed to the aging profile of the population and the need to direct greater attention to service provision for the elderly. More than one out of five Quebec Jews are over the age of 65. Other priorities included trying to stem the departure of young Jewish professionals through enhanced youth employment services.

In 2001, immigrants constituted some one-third of the Quebec Jewish population. More recently efforts have been directed at attracting Russian and Argentinian immigration. The community profile continues to possess characteristics that set it apart from Jewish communities elsewhere in Canada and for that matter in North America. While most Quebec Jews are English speaking, Quebec has both the largest French-speaking Jewish population on the continent and the largest share of Holocaust survivors of any Jewish community in Canada. Moreover it is one of the few Jewish communities in the world where Yiddish is still spoken almost as much as Hebrew. As a result of the pressure on the population to acquire the French language, Quebec Jews are the most trilingual group in North America.

On a national scale, the exodus of many Quebec Jews, a large number to Toronto, resulted in the decline of the Jewish population of Quebec. It dropped from around 40% of the total Canadian Jewish population in 1971 to just above one-quarter in 2001. As a result, the center of national Jewish decision-making has increasingly shifted away from Montreal as witnessed by the move of the national headquarters of the cjc from Montreal to Ottawa. Still, the Jewish historic contribution of Jews to Quebec life qualifies Jews as one of the province's founding peoples.

[Jack Jedwab (2nd ed.)]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Quebec." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Quebec." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/quebec

"Quebec." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/quebec

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.