Rebbe Meshulim Feish Lowy (1921-), also known as the Tosher Rebbe, was born in the village of Tosh (Nyírtass) in Hungary. Descended from a dynasty of Hasidic rabbis, he is the grandson of the founder of the Tosher Hasidic sect. Today, he is the Grand Rabbi of the community, which is based in the Montreal suburb of Boisbriand. The Tosher are the only Hasidim whose rabbinic headquarters are located in Montreal. A Holocaust survivor, the Tosher Rebbe immigrated to Canada in 1951 with a number of followers. Initially settling in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood, the group obtained a federal government loan in 1963 enabling it to relocate to the suburb of Boisbriand. The Tosher are the only Hasidic group living outside the city. Their aim in doing so is to escape the external influences that are unavoidable in urban settings, and indeed the Tosher live very much apart from modern secular society.
The Tosher Rebbe is known to Hasidic Jews worldwide because of his advanced age, the successful isolation of his community and his status as one of the last surviving Hasidic rabbis to have been born in Europe between the World Wars. He is also considered a tsadik (a righteous person), and as such, visitors from across North America seek him out for advice and counsel. To the community in Boisbriand, the Tosher Rebbe is both a spiritual leader and a civic leader, involved in the day-to-day affairs of his community.
In 1979, the Tosher of Boisbriand attracted public attention in Quebec when they submitted an application to obtain separate municipal status for their community, with the aim of applying their religious rules to municipal life. Despite initial support from the Quebec government, the project was suspended after being denounced in the media and by public opinion as an attempt at “ghettoisation.” The Tosher made the front page once again during the 1995 Quebec referendum, when they diverged from the position generally held by Quebec’s Jewish community by declaring their support for Quebec sovereignty. Today, the Tosher community continues to thrive and develop.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin, translated by Helge Dascher.
Shaffir, William. Kiryas Tash. Online.
Shaffir, William. “Boundaries and Self-Presentation among the Hassidim: A Study in Identity Maintenance.” New World Hassidim: Ethnographic Studies of Hasidic Jews in America. Janet S. Belcove-Shalin (dir.). Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.
Shaffir, William. “Separation from the Mainstream in Canada: the Hassidic Community of Tash.” Jewish Journal of Sociology 39, No 1-2 (1987): 46-62.
Weinfeld, M., W. Shaffir and I. Cotler. The Canadian Jewish Mosaic. Rexdale: John Wiley & Sons, 1987.
*The images are courtesy of Prof. William Shaffir, Dr. Steven Lapidus, and the JPL-A.