Monday, October 18, 2010

History of Jewish Missions in Canada

Excerpts from

The History of Jewish Missions in Canada
(at http://www.lcje.net/papers/2004/nessim.doc )
Presented to
The Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism / North America
Tuesday April 27, 2004
Toronto, Ontario

by Daniel Nessim


The history of Missions to the Jews in Canada is also a history of the persons involved (and) all Canadian history... is inextricably interconnected with the histories of Britain, Europe, and the United States. It is a history that includes... 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.

As Canada and its Jewish and Christian communities have changed, so have missions to the Jews. Old works have been thoroughly transformed or struggled and soldiered on (Scott Mission, Toronto Jewish Mission). New works have thrived and contributed great energy. This is instructive to us today, as we continue to change and adapt to the challenges that lie before us.

The history of evangelism amongst the Jews in 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 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.

French power in the Canadas was about to be curtailed, however. In 1759, the year that the British defeated the French in Quebec City, two Jewish Christians faced one another in battle. On the British side, General Wolfe, sailing up the St. Lawrence, depended on his Admiral Alexander Schomberg, leading the troops in the frigate Diana, to sneak up on the French. It appears that Schomberg, an Anglican, had adopted Christian faith by choice in England. Nevertheless, he was known to the troops as “Wolfe’s Jew.” He was the first of the British ashore and distinguished himself as he led the troops up the bluffs to conquer Québec. Who did he face but Brigadier General Gastogne François de Lévis, descendant of Henri de Lévy, Duke of Ventadour, who was Viceroy of New France (1625-1627) and a member of a family of New Christians that “openly hinted of their Jewish ancestry as represented by their centuries-old coat of arms.”

It is during the 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.

Jacob Meier Hirschfelder (1819-1902) was ... one of only three German-Jewish Toronto residents in the 1840’s. European born, he was yet an Anglican. There is no record of his conversion in Canada, so it is not known where he was converted. 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 and lived either in Montreal or Quebec City until 1842. When he was a youth of only twenty-two years, presumably preparing to move to Toronto, he advertised in the Toronto Patriot of August 8, 1841. There he offered instruction in Hebrew and German. His abilities even at that young age must have been impressive. 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.

Hirschfelder was not one to avoid issues. Whereas few Canadian teachers of biblical languages in that period published, he was not afraid to enter the academic fray, as his publications attest. In 1874, when Hirschfelder published on the issue of creation, John Marshall, a Judge in Nova Scotia, wrote an impassioned rebuttal. It appears that Hirschfelder was a proponent of the “Gap” theory. Marshall, evidently not a Hebrew student himself, criticized Hirschfelder for his “vanity” in presuming to criticize several instances of mistranslations in the English Bible - putting “himself above the eminent translators.” Far from being lax in his esteem of Scripture, however, Hirschfelder had a strong commitment to its authority. In this his concerns converged with those of the conservative Judge Marshall. He was clearly one who identified himself both with Christianity and Christian culture. There is no evidence that he had any concern with evangelizing the Jewish community or maintaining relations with it. Rather, the impression one has is that Hirschfelder had a lot to gain academically by professing Christianity, and actually did quite well for himself as a professor whereas he would not have done so without converting, and is considered by some as the father of Biblical Studies in Canada. Nevertheless he did not disdain his Jewishness. Thus in some ways he remains an enigma.

Charles Freshman (1819-c.1880), born the same year as Hirschfelder, immigrated to Canada in 1855. He arrived in Canada with his family, he 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. His openness to Christian doctrine must have been evident, for he was solicited not only by Mr. Elliot, a Wesleyan minister, but at least two women, Mrs. McLeod and Miss Clapham, who would visit him and his wife and pray for her salvation (interestingly unaware that he was still not a Christian). Through the agency of a Mr. Elliot, he eventually took a public stand as a believer in Jesus.

Soon Freshman became thoroughly enamoured with the Wesleyan Methodists, and began to take an active part in ministry among Protestant churches. He became an avid student of Wesleyan theology, as well as of English. Because of his facility in German, however, he eventually found himself a missionary to the Germans in Canada. The type of work he performed over the years was recorded in his own words in 1868:
It will be eight years next conference since I began the German work in Canada. Then there was not a single German Wesleyan Methodist. Now, thanks be to God! (sic) we have eight missionary labourers in the vineyard, several local preachers and class-leaders, and over two hundred members in the society . . . Then we had not a single church or appointment; now we have twelve churches, and thirty congregations, . . . Besides all this, other German churches, which were becoming cold and dead, have been awakened and quickened through our instrumentality.

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.’”

As is often the case, it appears that after his death Freshman’s burden to reach his own people lived on in the next generation. A small item in 1882 in the Jewish Messenger of New York indicates that “Freshman” had proposed to begin a Hebrew Christian movement. This was the work of his son, Jacob Freshman, who had moved to the city in 1881 and began a mission there. Evidently his work bore fruit as he dedicated the “Hebrew Christian Church” on October 11, 1885, billing it as the “First Hebrew Christian Church in America.” If Jacob Freshman did not get this overwhelming concern for evangelizing the Jewish people from his parents, it would be difficult to account for. His labours were widespread, and he organized bands to “pray and labor for the salvation of his brethren” in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and Montreal. According to Glaser, the mission that Jacob started was eventually instrumental in winning Leopold Cohn over to Christianity. Leopold Cohn in turn established the American Board of Missions to the Jews. A.E. Thompson, writing in 1902, thus stated that through him “[t]he foundation was being laid for a great work in America which others have commenced to build.”

Isaac Hellmuth (1820-1901) was born one year later than Hirschfelder and Freshman, but 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. 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 continued to serve the Anglican Church of Canada, becoming Cronyn’s successor as the second Bishop of Huron in 1871. Far from losing all interest in his Jewish brethren, and 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. Incidentally, the central Canadian bishopric was of great importance in the Anglican Church. While in this post he furthered a plan initiated by the faculty and graduates of [the financially troubled] Huron College to found a University of which the College would be a part, to meet the needs of the western counties, now rapidly increasing in population.

Hellmuth was the key facilitator in establishing both Huron College and the University of Western Ontario.

In Montreal, Rev. Stevens was active in the late 1830s. By 1847 there was an LSPCJ auxiliary in Toronto, and by 1863 a formal LSPCJ work.

The next eighty years 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. Beginning in the 1870’s there were “literary reverberations in Canada of the interest of Gentile Britishers in a restoration of Jews to their homeland.” Whereas previous missions had been informal and sporadic, new efforts were of a permanent nature.

The LSPCJ was the most notable work among the Jewish people in Canada for decades. It 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. A Good Friday sermon published by him demonstrates his great sympathy for the Jewish people. Nevertheless, in what appears typical for the time, the sermon also serves to illustrate why Gentiles sometimes did not make the best of missionaries to the Jews. Vicars used uncomplimentary stereotypes of Jews and Judaism. Thus he refers to the Jews in the tract as his late sister-in-law’s “perverted, persecuted and perishing people” (she was a Jew who had converted to Christianity).

As the LSPCJ did its work, in 1912 the Anglican Diocese of Toronto finally established a mission there. ...In 1915 an Anglican synodical sub-committee recommended significant changes which led to the mission being placed under the direction of the Anglican LSPCJ. This coincided with the loss of the mission’s chairman, D.T. Owen, who left for another diocese. As part of the restructuring, in 1916 the Mission leased property at 91 Bellevue Avenue. In this new location, near the Jewish market complex developing in the Kensington area, the mission adopted the name Nathanael Institute and took the motto “Come and See.”

The new foundations laid, the Institute was destined to become one of the most auspicious centres of Hebrew Christian life in the country until the 1960’s. This was doubtless because the work received significant support and dedicated volunteers, including a number of medical doctors who supplemented its adequate staff. In its surviving baptismal register, it records as its first entry the baptism of Edward Daniel Brotsky, baptized in St. Stephen’s parish, on the ninth of September, 1938. Also baptized in St. Stephen’s was Morris Paul Chernoff, on 26th of March, 1939. Both of these men, and the entire Chernoff family, were to have an immense impact on not only Canadian Hebrew Christianity, but also American.

The Presbyterians worked alongside the Anglican and LSPCJ missions. This work began in 1886, 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. Eight years later the Toronto Mission to Israel was established under the direction of William Mortimer Clark, Q.C., by 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. It may also be a result of Dunlop’s visit that we have records of a work conducted in Montreal by Rev. J. McCarter. Forced to resign in 1892, being replaced by Mr. G. Newmark, a Jewish believer, he resumed his post in 1895 when that arrangement didn’t work out, and persevered until 1901 despite a lack of enthusiastic support

Eventually, the emphasis on evangelizing Canadian Jews was revived about 1907. At that time the General Assembly, meeting in Montreal, 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.” The “exceptional Mr. Shabbetai (sic) Benjamin Rohold” was recruited from Glasgow to become Superintendent of the mission.
In the years he served as superintendent in Toronto, Rohold (1876-1931) became one of Canada’s most influential JBY. 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 very much formed in light of the condition of 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.

At the same time as work was going so well in Toronto, Rohold was key in establishing the Spitzer family in Winnipeg. Hugo and his wife moved there in 1911 and within a year, in alarm, the Winnipeg Jewish community was seeking to dissuade the Spitzer’s supporters and noting “several” converts.

In 1914 when a special (the first) communion was held at the “Hebrew Christian Synagogue,” Rohold was able to count “114 JBY, (Jewish believers in Yeshua), 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.” It is quite possible that their motivation came from the well-publicized example of the Messianic Movement in Kishinev, which had received international attention under Joseph Rabinowitz. The petition was passed unanimously, evincing a high degree of trust by the Presbytery in the stability and quality of the Hebrew Christian community. 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?

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.

Incidentally, it is worth noting Rohold’s stature as the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America’s first president. He was elected on April 7, 1915.
Other missions are also to be noted. Two were launched during the 1890’s. In Toronto, the Toronto Jewish Mission was established in 1894. It had its origins in a women’s prayer group established six years before by Jacob Freshman. This mission was led by Henry Singer, who also from 1899 on helped at the newly formed work amongst the Jews in Hamilton (Hamilton Friends of Israel).

Edward Brotsky, who attended Toronto Bible College at the Kaminskys’ (probably the Nathanael Institute’s) expense went on to run a storefront mission to the Jews of Toronto from 1944-1947. In 1947 he moved to Winnipeg to help the Spitzers, and when arrangements did not work out there he entered the pastorate.
The First World War, falling in the middle of the period we are looking at, brought two significant changes with it. First, Jewish immigration ceased, and secondly, so many of the mission’s volunteers volunteered for military service that the work suffered in both Toronto and Winnipeg. Thus the effort in Toronto sputtered during these years.

Following World War I, missions continued to maintain their leadership role among JBY. They were influential in the emerging Hebrew Christian community for two reasons. First, they employed those JBY who were themselves most concerned with the conversion of other Jews. These JBY became key figures in the emerging community. Second, the missions were located in urban centres with significant Jewish populations, and had numerous resources such as meeting facilities at their disposal.
In Montreal little happened during these years, despite the fact that it had the largest Jewish community in the country. In 1915 a Presbyterian mission to the Jews was re-established there under Rev. Elias Newman. There Henry Bregman, who had once been a rabbi, worked for a year and a half from the autumn of 1921.


The end of the Second World War brought with it sweeping changes to the landscape of Jewish missions in Canada. A combination of theological liberalism and perceived Christian guilt in the Holocaust crippled the witness of the major denominational missions. By the 1960s they were drastically changing their approach and moving towards dialogue as their primary methodology. Non-denominational missions continued as before, more easily adapting to the new realities of work among the Jews.
In Toronto, the Anglicans, with their flagship work at the Nathanael Institute, had been led by Morris Kaminsky since 1939, but when he resigned to move to Chicago in 1955 a different kind of replacement had to be found. Hired in part because he was less than a “militant ‘evangelical,’” Jocz was an appropriate candidate for a church re-evaluating its commitment to Jewish evangelism. Thus Jocz’s leadership in evangelizing Jews was quickly undercut by theological and strategic changes 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.”

Also in Toronto, 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. 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.

Out of the dust of the Holocaust and liberal ambivalence to Jewish evangelism, a new era was dawning in Canada. By the late 1970’s both Chosen People Ministries and Jews for Jesus were active in Toronto, taking the place of previously active ministries, and working in the same sphere as some of the more enduring but smaller works such as the Toronto Jewish Mission and Hamilton Friends of Israel.

Based on our survey of the history of Jewish missions in Canada, we can see a clear development. From the beginning of the 20th century, it is clear that the most effective missions were successful at creating community amongst the JBY associated with them. Whether or not these communities were congregations, in some cases this resulted in the effects of their work surviving their own existence as institutions.

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