From the time of his arrival in Canada in 1907, this populist Orthodox rabbi cut a controversial figure in Montreal’s Jewish community. Born in 1878 in Kovno, Lithuania, he emigrated to Palestine and then the United States to avoid conscription in Russia. When he was offered the position of Chief Rabbi of the United Orthodox Congregations of Montreal, he left the United States for Canada. In short time, Glazer laid claim to the office of Chief Rabbi of Montreal and stepped forward as the first rabbi to defend the interests of the city’s impoverished downtown immigrants. These developments displeased the Jewish establishment, and a fierce rivalry sprang up between Glazer and the Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Cohen, who was closely connected with the established “uptowners”. The power struggle between the two men reflected the class conflict within the Montreal Jewish community. The situation came to a head over a dispute in the kosher meat industry: following a disagreement over the granting of kosher slaughter licenses (an affair that would anticipate the kosher meat wars of the 1920s), Glazer was assaulted in his own home.
A committed social activist, Glazer lent his support to labour organizations and immigrants, and established the Montreal Hebrew Old People’s and Sheltering Home in 1910 to assist the community’s orphans and elderly. Working as a rabbi to the poor paid only a meagre salary, and Glazer thus supplemented his wages through fee-based services such as dispute settlement and the arrangement of marriages and divorces. One of the founders of the Keneder Adler, Montreal’s Yiddish newspaper, Glazer took part in efforts to combat anti-Semitism by speaking out against an inflammatory speech given by Joseph-Édouard Plamondon. Worn out by the endless struggles in which he was involved and discouraged by the failure of attempts to unite the Jewish community of Montreal, Simon Glazer returned in 1918 to the United States, where he died in 1938.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin, translated by Helge Dascher.
Poutanen, Mary-Anne and Jason Gilliland. “Mapping Work in Early Twentieth-Century Montreal: Rabbi Simon Glazer, Social Mobility, and the Jewish Community.” 2009 Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting. Carleton University, Ottawa. 2009.
Robinson, Ira. Rabbis and their Community: Studies in the Eastern European Orthodox Rabbinate in Montreal, 1896-1930. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2007.