Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg, born in 1859 in the village of Skaryszew, Poland, received a traditional Hasidic education in literature and cabbalistic studies. In 1913, he emigrated to Toronto at the invitation of the Polish Jewish Congregation. When he arrived in Montreal in 1919, he became the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Orthodox Congregations of Montreal, a coalition of synagogues serving immigrant Ashkenazi communities too impoverished to hire their own rabbis. Although exposed to lay ideas and interested in politics, economics and the sciences, Rosenberg adhered to an ultra-Orthodox interpretation of Judaism. Though he wrote extensively, his most significant contribution to the literature would become his translation from Aramaic to Hebrew of The Zohar, a classic work of Jewish mysticism. Rosenberg viewed the project as a first step toward a renewal of cabbalistic tradition. The translation represented his main contribution to the Hasidic community with which he was associated, and in which he neither assumed a traditional rabbinic role nor attracted followers.
Rosenberg played an important role in Montreal’s kosher meet disputes (1923 to 1925). At a time when the community had lost control over this sector, he was invited to oversee the production of kosher meat. Meanwhile, Rabbi Hirsch Cohen led the foundation in 1922 of the Jewish Council of Montreal (Va’ad Ha-’ir), which was intended to provide strict supervision of the kosher diet. Conflict arose between Rosenberg and Cohen, leading to legal action that was settled only in 1925, when Rosenberg realigned himself with the Va’ad Ha-‘ir. Rosenberg served as Vice-Chair of the Rabbinical Council until his death in 1935. He was the grandfather of the prominent Montreal writer Mordecai Richler.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin, translated by Helge Dascher.
Lapidus, Steven. “The Forgotten Hasidim: Rabbis and Rebbes in Prewar Canada”. Canadian Jewish Studies Journal/Revue d’études juives canadiennes, vol. 12, 2004.
Robinson, Ira. Rabbis and their Community : Studies in the Eastern European Orthodox Rabbinate in Montreal, 1896-1930, Calgary, University of Calgary Press, 2007.
Robinson, Ira. “Kabbalist and Communal Leader: Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg and the Canadian Jewish Community”. Canadian Jewish Studies Journal/Revue d’études juices canadiennes, vol. 1, 1993, p. 41-58.
*Images courtesy of Dr Lawrence Rosenberg and family, the Jewish Public Library Archives and Steven Lapidus.