Stern, Harry Joshua

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STERN, HARRY JOSHUA (1897–1984), Canadian Reform rabbi. Stern was born in Eragoly, just outside Kovno, Lithuania. One of eight children, Stern describes in his memoir growing up in a traditional family and studying at his local ḥeder. After his mother died, Stern's father remarried and had four more children. Between 1906 and 1908 the family moved, in stages, to Steubenville, Ohio, from where Stern applied to study at Hebrew Union College. Unlike most of his fellow students, Stern was fluent in Yiddish and, like his role model, Stephen *Wise, became a Zionist, even though Zionism was treated with disdain by most huc faculty. Stern earned a bachelor of Hebrew literature from huc in 1919, a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1920, and was ordained in 1922.

Stern assumed his first pulpit in 1922, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He developed a reputation for oratory, interfaith work, Zionist activism, and social welfare. In 1927 he moved to Montreal's Temple Emanu-el, where he remained until his retirement in 1972. Stern preached the principles of Reform Judaism with an emphasis on the social responsibility. During the Depression he chastised factory owners, including some of his own congregants, for firing employees in order to hire cheaper labor in the rural areas. Stern also supported adult education, establishing the College for Jewish Studies the year after his arrival. Stern hired Jews of various stripes, including avowed socialist David *Lewis, to teach both adults and children. Stern also exchanged pulpits with Protestant ministers. Even more remarkably, Stern had regular contact with French Catholics. His first meeting did not occur in Quebec but rather on a ship where Stern, traveling with some students to Palestine in 1929, met the Quebec Jesuit Joseph Paré, who was also traveling with students to Rome. The two continued their contact and on several occasions in the 1930s tried to turn the Quebec Church hierarchy against antisemitism. Because of these contacts, the Canadian Jewish Congress assigned Stern a prominent role in its Joint Public Relations Committee. If little headway was made during the 1930s, it was hardly for lack of effort. Stern also championed the end of discrimination at McGill University and in housing.

In the postwar years, Stern continued to work for better Jewish-Christian relations, calling on Jews to recognize the prophetic quality of some of the teachings of Jesus the Jew, and on Christians to abandon their negative attitudes to the Jewish faith. A number of volumes of Stern's sermons have appeared in print. Biographical details are contained in K.I. Cleator and H.J. Stern, Harry Joshua Stern: A Rabbi's Journey (1981). Stern received numerous awards for his work in Jewish-Christian relations.


Who's Who in Canadian Jewry (1965), 93; G. Tulchinsky, in: M. Van Die (ed.), Religion and Public Life in Canada (2001), 313–28; P. Anctil, Le Rendez-vous manqué (1988).

[Richard Menkis (2nd ed.)]