Jewish Missions in Canada - a HistoryBy Daniel Nessim, Chosen People Ministries, Seattle
Canada began as some sparsely populated French and English colonies in the New World, with next to no Jews present. Today, about 360,000 Jews call it home. Once Canada had no Jewish believers. Today, it would be safe to say there are at least 3000. To a significant extent this is due to the efforts of missions to the Jews that have been active in the country for almost two hundred years.
The history of missions to the Jews in Canada reflects developments around the world, especially Britain, Europe, and the United States. Missions to the Jews began with isolated, discriminatory, and coercive attempts at converting individuals. Today, it is a well-ordered endeavour utilizing various approaches in all major Jewish population centres across the country.
The fruit of that endeavour is a community of Jewish Believers in Yeshua (JBY) that has always consisted of both those who have become believers in Canada and those who have immigrated to the country. Canadian JBY have also had a significant impact on Hebrew Christianity and (later) Messianic Judaism. Notable JBY include Jacob Freshman, who established a Hebrew Christian Church in Manhattan in 1885, Shabbetai Rohold, first president of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, and Morris Chernoff, who later would become prominent in the Alliance and a modern proponent of Messianic Judaism. Others, less well-known, figure prominently in Canadian Church history.
Missions to the Jews in Canada went through a period of emergence, from 1738 to 1867, when Canada gained her independence from Britain. In that period we see both some scattered efforts at proselytizing, and a number of very significant Canadian JBY.
From 1867 to the 1967 this article will glance at the two most prominent missions to the Jews in Canada that prospered during that time. The churches, personalities behind these missions, and their methodologies are instructive to us in our desire to win Jewish people to their Messiah today.
Emergence - 1738-1867
The history of evangelism among the Jews of Canada has an inauspicious beginning.
In 1738, Esther Brandau, under the false name Jacques la Farge, secretly immigrated as a boy to the New (French) World. Once discovered, under Louis XIV's Le Code Noir (the Black Law) she was given a choice: convert to Christianity or be deported back to France. When the nuns at the convent she was consigned to were unable to convince her to become a Christian, they determined that she was deranged and returned her to the custody of the court. Thereafter, she returned to France at the King's expense.1
In 1752, a Jew was discovered aboard a French vessel bound for Acadia. He was not given the same choice as his predecessor. Aaron Hart, Commissary-General in Halifax and one of the few Jews in Canada was "shocked to learn" of the Dutch Jew at the French fortress of Louisburg, on Cape Breton Island:
The ships officers compelled him to swear on the New Testament to be a true Christian "after he had been enlightened with the truth of the Roman Catholic and horror of the Judaic religion in which he had hitherto confessed faith."2
The "success rate" of the known incidents above is 50%. But the methodology of force and coercion is completely reprehensible. The next era, from the French Revolution to Canada's independence under the British North America Act is more instructive.
In 1776, the 13 American colonies had just won their independence. Now in 1792 the French Revolution came, bringing a new order as Napoleon marched across Europe. With liberalism came the Enlightenment, and with it the Haskalah. Inexorably, events and theological predispositions conspired to arouse an interest in the fate of the Jewish nation. For many the restoration and conversion of the Jews were vital events in the sequence that would lead to the millennium. This sentiment preceded dispensationalism. Many thought that if Christianity could be fostered among the Jewish people, this would hasten the second advent of the Messiah.
It is during this time, between the French Revolution and Canada's independence, that the first tentative efforts were made to reach the Jews of Upper and Lower Canada. The first missionary we know of was the chaplain Rev. Brooke Bridges Stevens. His high ethical standards and concern for the Jewish community as a whole won him the Jewish community's respect despite his attempts at proselytizing. On the occasion of Steven's departure to England the Jews of Montreal offered him a farewell address to express "the feeling of gratitude which we entertain towards you." In reply, Stevens stated "it has still been always my opinion, that sincere proselytes can never be made by any force save the power of agreement,..."3 In addition to his efforts, it is likely that the efforts of individual Christians were responsible for some conversions. At least some Jews were baptized during these years. According to a Jewish Era article,
ůseveral Jews were baptized in Canada between 1820 and 1839, among them Henry Abraham Joseph, born in Lower Canada in 1803 and baptized in 1836, 'a retired slave dealer and free thinker,' and David Baruch, baptized in Halifax in 1838.4
These were exciting days indeed for those concerned with reaching the Jews with the Gospel.
Three JBY from this period are notable for their accomplishments in life, two of them for their heart for their brethren.
Jacob Meier Hirschfelder (1819-1902) was the first of these three immigrants to Canada. Speisman, a historian of the Toronto Jewish community, describes him as one of only three German-Jewish Toronto residents in the 1840's.5 In surviving records, he always appears with an established identity as a believer who saw himself as part of the Church. Hirschfelder first came to Canada in 1837. By 1844 he was appointed as a lecturer in Oriental languages at King's College, and soon he was a fixture upon the scene of Canadian Biblical Studies.
Charles Freshman (1819-c.1880), born the same year as Hirschfelder, immigrated to Canada in 1855. He arrived in Canada with his family and promptly found a position as Rabbi in the Jewish congregation of Quebec City. While in Quebec City he began to read a Bible, including both the Testaments, which he had received in Cashaw, Hungary, from an unnamed Jewish missionary employed by the Scottish Church. Through the agency of a Mr. Elliot, a Wesleyan minister, he eventually took a public stand as a believer in Jesus.
Soon Freshman began to take an active part in ministry among Protestant churches. He became an avid student of Wesleyan theology, as well as of English. An able evangelist and church planter, he reveals his heart for his Jewish people in his writings. At one point he mentions the "Singular Conversion of a Rich Jew, from Berlin." In another he writes of a "Lecture to the Jews" which he delivered in Detroit. Both show his continuing interest in the salvation of his "brethren after the flesh." Freshman also both gave and drew moral support from other JBY. He describes Dr. I. Hellmuth as "A friend indeed to me, and a beloved brother in Christ Jesus - 'An Israelite indeed.'"6
Isaac Hellmuth (1820-1901) was born one year later than Hirschfelder and Freshman. He was also an immigrant to Canada. Born near Warsaw, Poland, he did not grow up poor or without a thorough Jewish upbringing. Through the agency of Dr. S. Neuman, a Jewish Christian and missionary with the LSPCJ, Hellmuth became a believer while studying at the University of Breslau.7 There he was (as might be expected) promptly turned out of his home and disowned. Once in England he was greatly encouraged by Hugh McNeile, a strong evangelical, and one of the first Anglican clergymen to accept premillennialism. Thus Hellmuth inherited a keen Evangelicalism, for which he became well known. After a time in England, which was for him a place of refuge, he came to Canada in 1844, a few years after Hirschfelder, but eleven years before Freshman.
Hellmuth had a strong desire to present the Gospel to other Jews. In what amounts to the first indication of any Hebrew Christian community in Canada, Crowfoot records that "He came to know some Jewish Christians in Montreal, and they convinced him that there was a rich harvest in Canada's growing metropolis and that he was the man to reap it."8 So it was, that in 1846 Hellmuth was ordained a Deacon and Priest Anglican Church, hoping to lead the Jews of Montreal to a knowledge of the Messiah.
Hellmuth continued to serve the Anglican Church of Canada, becoming Cronyn's successor as the second Bishop of Huron in 1871.9 Despite his many other activities, Hellmuth stirred up much interest in the LSPCJ and its Canadian Auxiliary. He was thus counted as one of the influential patrons of the society's first halting steps in its noteworthy efforts to evangelize Canadian Jews. No doubt he had a hand in establishing the work of the LSPCJ in Toronto in 1863, building on the work of an auxiliary there begun in 1847.
An exciting era indeed! As Canada's Jewish population rose, so did the number of JBY. Some of them are notable in Canadian church history. As Canada's Jewish population grew, Christians increasingly aspired to win them to their Messiah. In a few instances attempts were made to establish works among the Jews. In Montreal, Rev. Stevens was active in the late 1830s. In Toronto, an LSPCJ auxiliary was set up by 1847 and in 1863 a formal LSPCJ work was set up.
Establishment - 1867-1967
The next eighty years, from Canada's independence to Israel's Six Day War were years of great growth. Jewish missions had received a lasting momentum that showed no signs of waning. The interest of Canadian Christians in evangelizing Canadian Jews grew with the rapid increase in Canadian Jewry. Whereas previous missions had been informal and sporadic, new efforts were of a permanent nature. Two efforts were to prove highly effective in not only winning Jews to their Messiah but also supporting them in their newfound faith. These were the Nathanael Institute and the Hebrew Christian Synagogue. These are the subjects of the next paragraphs, as these missions were the most significant in the country.
The LSPCJ / The Nathanael Institute
The work of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (LSPCJ) was the most notable work among the Jewish people in Canada for decades, as befitted the nineteenth century's larges mission to the Jews. The Canadian branch was also a generous contributor to the international evangelistic effort.
From 1882 the work of the LSPCJ in Canada was spearheaded by Johnstone Vicars who tirelessly laboured until his death to interest his fellow Anglicans in the work to reach the Jews.
In 1895, a deputation was sent from England [by the LSPCJ] to inspect the whole Dominion and spent several months traversing the entire country. The deputation was apparently warmly received and noted that Montreal was the most suitable and promising place for missionary endeavour. Canada's Jewish population was growing exponentially. The Jewish population of Montreal at that time was estimated at between twelve to fifteen thousand Jews. This "new" work (it built of previous Presbyterian outreach) was begun in Montreal in April 1902. Significantly, the society retained the services of Rev. Ignatius Timotheus Trebitsch who had previously worked in the small Presbyterian mission there. Thus in December 1902 Trebitsch was ordained to the work by the Archbishop of Montreal. The centre of this work was a mission house and hall near the Jewish quarter. Unlike the stable work later begun in Toronto, however, this work was to have a troubled history.
In its early days the mission apparently prospered under the leadership of Rev. Trebitsch, a Jewish believer of Hungarian descent whose father had been a wealthy and zealous Rabbi. Although an extremely unstable and ultimately self-centered individual, Trebitsch was also very capable in whatever he set his mind to do.10 Since he had previously assisted the Presbyterian mission in the same city, the work was guaranteed continuity. Thus it is no surprise that as soon as 1903 the mission was greatly cheered by its success, reporting two recent converts who apparently were expected to join the Anglican Church. In the same year Rev. Trebitsch, whose health had "broken" under the strain of the work, was superseded by Mr. D.J. Neugewirtz. Soon after a larger hall was needed in which to conduct meetings, a fertile field having been found in the large numbers of immigrant Russian Jews, some of whom had previously heard the Gospel at the society's outreach in Rotterdam. It was not long before eleven Jews had been baptized.
Rev. Neugewirtz continued the work meanwhile, expanding it to Ottawa as well as Montreal. Hopes ran high as reports came in of a "great change that has come over the attitude of the Jewish mind towards the Person and teaching of Jesus Christ." This was no doubt a byproduct of the Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment, that was opening Jewish minds to the culture and religion of the Western world. The work progressed steadily, so that in 1911 the mission employed two missionaries, Mr. Neugewirtz and Mr. B.S. Rosenthal as well as a colporteur. A branch work in nearby Ottawa was established, and encouraging results were spoken of, as activities progressed among Jewish immigrants who came mostly from Russia and Romania. Neugewirtz began a congregation called the "Hebrew Christian Church" which faltered in 1940 when he left Montreal.
As the LSPCJ's work expanded, the Anglican Diocese of Toronto established a mission there in 1912. Significantly, one of the Church's most competent workers was involved: it was opened under the auspices of the Rev. D. T. Owen. Owen would later become the Archbishop and Primate of All Canada. The director Paul L. Berman, a Jewish believer, reported goodly attendances as early as 1913, and by the early years of World War I the mission boasted a night school, dispensary, home and hospital visitation programs, mother's meetings, Sunday School classes, and occasional open air meetings.
In 1915 a number of changes took place in the Toronto work. This coincided with the loss of the mission's chairman, D.T. Owen, who left for another diocese. During this same year, Berman was removed and replaced with Rev. D.B. Langford, referred to in the Anglican Journal for that year as a Gentile minister of the highest capabilities. As a further sign of problems in the new mission, an Anglican synodical sub-committee recommended significant changes, and the mission was placed under the direction of the LSPCJ. As part of the restructuring, in 1916 the Mission leased property in a new location near the Jewish market complex developing in the Kensington area. The mission then adopted the name Nathanael Institute and took the motto "Come and See." The loss of Berman and his staff was keenly felt, however. In the next year's annual report, it was noted that because the missionaries were Gentiles, the year had been "largely one of laying sound foundations." The new foundations laid however, the Institute was destined to become one of the most auspicious centres of evangelistic outreach and Hebrew Christian community in the country. This was partly because the work received significant support and many dedicated volunteers from the Church Army, including a number of medical doctors.
By 1931 Nathanael Institute was finally able to include a Hebrew Christian missionary on the staff. This was Morris Kaminsky, a Canadian born Jew, who first appears in the 1932 Synod records as a part time worker who had been a Christian for twelve years. The Institute soon realized that all their hopes for him were well founded, and the presence of a Hebrew Christian among those they were seeking to convert increased the attendance and loyalty of the people. In part this may have been due to his fluency in Yiddish, the lingua franca of European Jews in that era. This happy arrangement continued throughout Kaminsky's studies at Wycliffe College and he was made a full time staff member upon his ordination in 1935.
Kaminsky became central to the Institute's work later that year upon the superintendent Rev. F.J. Nicholson's resignation and replacement by Rev. J.E. Ward. The resulting reorganization had Mr. and Mrs. Kaminsky move their home into the Institute facility to take charge of the actual work there. A different attitude to the work now prevailed. Previous reports frequently spoke in the context of hopes for the widespread conversion of the Jews, bringing to mind the eschatological hopes raised by the French Revolution. Now in contrast, Kaminsky's reports vibrate with a personal concern for individuals. With this new focus the work prospered.
In 1939 Kaminsky was made superintendent of the Institute, and with the assistance of his wife did a work that was effective and fruitful. That year a baptismal register began to be kept. Its first entry was for the baptism of Edward Daniel Brotsky, baptized in St. Stephen's parish, on the ninth of September 1938. Brotsky went on to a lifetime of service evangelizing his Jewish people in the United States and Canada. Also baptized in St. Stephen's was Morris Paul Chernoff, on 26th of March 1939.11 In later years, Morris and the entire Chernoff family were to have a significant impact on Hebrew Christianity in the United States, which in turn impacted Canadian Hebrew Christians.
Morris Kaminsky resigned to move to Chicago in 1955. This was his wife's home town, and he worked there at the Peniel and Aedus Community Centers. Peniel Centre was the outreach of Adat haTikvah, formerly The First Hebrew Christian Church, Presbyterian, in Chicago. Now the end of the Second World War and the revelation of the Holocaust was bringing sweeping changes to the landscape of Jewish missions in Canada. A drift towards theological liberalism in the mainline churches combined with a perception of Christian guilt for the Holocaust. The effect was to cripple the witness of the major denominational missions to the Jews. By the 1960s they were drastically changing their approach and moving towards dialogue as their primary methodology. a different kind of replacement had to be found. The Therefore Jacob Jocz (pronounced 'Yotch' as in 'Scotch') became the appropriate candidate for a church re-evaluating its commitment to Jewish evangelism. Hired in part because he was less than a militant evangelical, Jocz's leadership in evangelizing Jews was quickly undercut by theological and strategic trends in the Anglican Church. In part this change was brought about by exposure to European theology that he himself helped introduce, but not with that intent. His was a short employment, as he resigned in 1960 to teach at Wycliffe College, and the mission thereafter was renamed "The Christian-Jewish Dialogue of the Anglican Church of Canada."
The work of the Nathanael Institute, although it changed its name and function and eventually disappeared, is fondly remembered by JBY in Toronto to this day. It touched many lives, and much of the credit goes to the Kaminsky's. On a personal note, Larry Rich, who presently leads Chosen People Ministries in Canada, was greatly affected by the Kaminsky's ministry after they moved to Chicago.
The Presbyterians worked alongside the Anglican and LSPCJ missions. Their work began in 1886 when John Dunlop of the (undenominational) British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews (founded by Bonar and McCheyne in 1842) visited North America and raised considerable interest in Jewish Missions among Toronto churches.12 It may be a result of Dunlop's visit that we have records of a work conducted in Montreal by Rev. J. McCarter, until his forced resignation in 1892. He was replaced by Mr. G. Newmark, a Jewish believer, but resumed his post in 1895 when that arrangement didn't work out, and persevered until 1901 despite a lack of support. Paralleling McCarter's ministry, the Toronto Mission to Israel was established under the direction of William Mortimer Clark, Q.C., in 1894. The fate of this mission is not known and it is likely that the primary focus of the church for many years remained on converting Jews abroad.
In 1907 the emphasis on evangelizing Canadian Jews was revived when the Presbyterian General Assembly decided to commence a mission to the Hebrew people in Toronto, with the privilege of extending the work elsewhere in Canada as the circumstances may warrant. Events began to move quickly, and the next year saw the opening of a mission at 156 Teraulay St. (now Bay St.) in the heart of the Toronto Jewish Community." This would come under the leadership of Shabbetai Benjamin Rohold (1876-1931), who was recruited to become Superintendent of the mission. Rohold had previously been in control of the Bonar Memorial Mission in Glasgow, and felt that he was leaving it in good condition. He was the son of a Jerusalem rabbi, and received the best rabbinical education available in Jerusalem. He became a respected Talmudic scholar, and following his acceptance of Yeshua went to England to continue his education. No doubt it was there that he became a believer in Yeshua.
In the years he served as superintendent in Toronto, Rohold became one of Canada's most influential JBY. It is worth noting his stature as the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America's first president. He was elected on April 7, 1915. Rohold was concerned that the salvation of his people not be dependent upon their becoming Christianized in a cultural sense. Thus the mission was termed a "Christian Synagogue" and he made it clear that acceptance of the Gospel did not abolish a Jew's Jewishness. In its early years the mission had an exceptionally wide range of programs designed to reach effectively the home and life of the whole Jewish family. These programs were developed to relieve the trying conditions of a largely immigrant Canadian Jewry at the time. As the Teraulay St. facilities became extremely cramped and unhealthy, property was purchased at the corner of Elm and Elizabeth Streets. Thus in 1912 the corner stone was laid for a new mission facility that would have a long and illustrious history. One of the speakers at that occasion was Dr. Scott, after whom the mission would eventually be named.13
In 1914 when a special (the first) communion was held at the Hebrew Christian Synagogue, Rohold was able to count 114 JBY and friends who participated in the service. One year later the JBY of the city presented a petition through the agency of Dr. J. McPherson Scott to the Presbytery of Toronto, "asking permission to organize themselves into a Hebrew Christian congregation." Possibly they were inspired by the well-publicized example of the Messianic Movement in Kishinev, which had received international attention under Joseph Rabinowitz. The petition was passed unanimously. Nevertheless, Rohold was obliged to answer some telling questions. These were:
(1) Have you anything peculiar in your 'Christian Synagogue'? (2) Are you advocating what is called the 'Messianic Judaism'? (3) Have you created a middle wall of partition?14
The Synagogue remained under the direction of Sabeti Rohold until 1920, when he left "to do special work in Palestine under the British Jews Society" (sic). 1920 was also the year that Rev. J. McPherson Scott died. He had long been a key supporter of the mission and subsequently the Hebrew Christian Synagogue was renamed after him as The Scott Institute. The congregation was subsequently led by Morris Zeidman, a Polish Jew who had become a believer in Yeshua under Rohold's tutelage. Zeidman evidently gained a hearing among a significant number. In 1931 one visitor reported a Sunday School at which about seventy Jewish children attended, and a church service held in "Hebrew" (no doubt Yiddish), at which 125-150 were in attendance.
The formerly Presbyterian, but now independent (Scott) mission, continued under Rohold's successor Morris Zeidman. Zeidman worked hard to keep its focus on reaching the Jewish people, despite the fact that the mission had broadened its focus far beyond them. Today the Scott mission is a downtown mission, highly regarded, yet without a special emphasis on Jewish evangelism. In October of 1964, the year of his death, the last service of the old Hebrew-Christian congregation took place.15 Following these final High Holy Day services, the JBY of the congregation were scattered. As both the Anglican and Presbyterian works faltered, however, it should be noted that it would not be many years before the JBY of the city would join to form Congregation Melech Yisrael, Canada's first Messianic congregation.
If success in Canadian missions to the Jews were to be measured by the number of disciples made for Yeshua, it is not clear from the record which mission had the greatest effect. If success is to be measured by enduring results that can be perceived even at a later time, then the Nathanael Institute and the Hebrew Christian Synagogue were surely the most effective missions in Canadian history. The community they fostered in Toronto attests to their labours to this day. Their methodologies, which centered on meeting people at their points of need, and ministering to them by fostering communities and congregations for them to take part in, were remarkably forward looking. Furthermore, the fruits of their efforts are still to be seen in Toronto's community of JBY today.
. I. Harold Sharfman, The Frontier Jews: An Account of Jewish Pioneers and Settlers in early America (New Jersey: Citadel, 1977), p. 5. For a full account, see Sack, pp. 6-9.
2. Ibid., p. 27.
3. "On the Jews of Lower Canada and 1837-1838" (Montreal: Canadian Jewish Archives, 1983) No. 28, Part 1, pp. 34ff.
4. David Max Eichhorn, Evangelising the American Jew (New York: Jonathan David, 1978), p. 76 quotes Louis Meyer, Jewish Era, April 1912, pp. 49-57.
5. Stephen A. Speisman, The Jews of Toronto: A History to 1937, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979), p. 15.
6.Charles Freshman, The Autobiography of the Rev. Charles Freshman (Toronto: Rose, 1868), pp. xiv-xv, 50-51, 94, 119.
7. William T. Gidney, The History of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, From 1809 to 1908 (London: LSPCJ, 1908), pp. 167, 583.
8. A.H. Crowfoot, This Dreamer: Life of Isaac Hellmuth, Second Bishop of Huron (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1963), p. 6, 12.
9. Michael Brown, Jew or Juif? Jews, French Canadians, and Anglo-Canadians, 1759-1914 (New York: JPS, 1987), p. 46.
10. David Lampe and Laszlo Szenasi, The Self-Made Villain: A Biography of I. T. Trebitsch-Lincoln (London: Cassell, 1961), pp. 12-17.
11. Morris Kaminsky, Nathanael Institute Baptismal Register, begun by Morris Kaminsky. To be found in the Church of England archives, Toronto.
12. John Dunlop, Memories of Gospel Triumphs among the Jews during the Victorian Era (London: Partridge, 1894), pp. 469-470.
13. Scott Mission, Who, When? Where? A brief history of the Scott Mission (Toronto: Scott Mission, 1986), p. 1.
14. Sabeti B. Rohold, Missions to the Jews. Historical Sketch. The Story of Our Church's in Israel. (Toronto: Christian Synagogue, 1918), p. 16.
15. Paul R. Dekar, "From Jewish Mission to Inner City Mission: The Scott Mission and its Antecedents in Toronto, 1908 to 1964," Toronto Studies in Religion, Vol. 3. Donald Wiebe, ed. (New York: Lang, 1987), p. 262.