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DÉGRÈS, IRÈNE-MATHILDE, named Saint-Paul – Volume XV (1921-1930)

d. 27 Sept. 1921 in Limoilou ward, Quebec City


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JACOBS, SOLOMON, rabbi; b. 9 July 1861 in Sheffield, England, son of Michael Joseph Jacobs and Rachel Miriam —; m. 1886 Edith Cohen* in Birmingham, England, and they had a son and two daughters; d. 6 Aug. 1920 in Toronto.

Solomon Jacobs studied at the People’s College, Sheffield, and at Aria College, Portsmouth, where in 1883 he became the first minister-preacher ordained at that institution. Having served as a master at the Manchester Jews’ School and as minister in Newcastle upon Tyne, he received his rabbinical degree in 1886. At the recommendation of the chief rabbi of Great Britain, he was appointed minister of the Amalgamated Congregation of Israelites in Kingston, Jamaica. An articulate spokesman for the Jewish community there, he succeeded in having the 15-shilling stamp tax on Jewish marriage contracts withdrawn in 1895. He served as a director of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and the city dispensary and sat on the local examination board for Cambridge matriculation. Following his resignation in 1900, the Jamaica correspondent of the Jewish Chronicle (London) commented that no previous minister had “won so exalted a position as he in the entire community” and that he was “greatly respected by all the inhabitants, from the Governor downwards.”

Jacobs left Jamaica to assume the pulpit of Holy Blossom synagogue in Toronto. The oldest Jewish congregation in the city, it had been established in 1856, largely through the efforts of merchant Lewis Samuel*, and its members had included the élite among Toronto Jewry. A magnificent new synagogue had recently been completed on Bond Street, to which businessman Alfred David Benjamin* was a major contributor. Prior to Jacobs’s arrival in March 1901, however, tensions had developed between orthodox and liberal elements within the congregation over such issues as instrumental music, the use of English at services, and the segregation of men and women in the synagogue. Throughout his tenure he would be forced to act as peacemaker between the two groups. Although himself a traditionalist, he was prepared to compromise for the sake of congregational unity. As a result, he was regarded with genuine affection by the majority of members. Until his death, Holy Blossom remained closer in style to English orthodoxy than to American reform.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the Jewish community in Toronto expanded enormously. From a population of slightly more than 3,000 in 1901, it grew to nearly 35,000 in the next 20 years. The first families had been mainly British or German in origin. Since the 1880s they had been joined by increasing numbers of Jews from eastern Europe, and several new congregations were formed. For a decade after his arrival in the city, Jacobs was the only rabbi completely fluent in English, and he came to be regarded as spokesman for the entire community, not just his own members. An eloquent speaker, he was frequently quoted in the newspapers. He used his position to criticize the stereotyping of Jews in the press and the practice of drawing attention to those who appeared in court. He also spoke out against local missionaries attempting to convert Jews to Christianity. Together with his wife, he was instrumental in organizing the Jewish Girls’ Club for young immigrants.

Jacobs had set the tone for his ministry in his inaugural sermon at Holy Blossom when he informed the congregation that his approach would not be sectarian and that his efforts to alleviate human suffering would extend beyond Toronto Jewry. It is not surprising therefore that he was quickly accepted in the gentile world. He was asked to address Christian congregations and such organizations as the Overseas Club and the Theosophical Society. He attended the provincial reception for the Duke of York in 1901, was invited to state dinners tendered by the lieutenant governor, and took part in the memorial service for Edward VII at Queen’s Park in 1910. That year he was elected vice-president of the Associated Charities of Toronto, and he served on the Charities Commission, appointed by the city in 1911 to investigate the operations of philanthropic organizations. He was also a member of the advisory board of the Toronto Ladies’ Aid Society and the Association for the Care of the Feebleminded. When he believed that individuals, Jewish or not, had been unjustly accused or had committed crimes under extenuating circumstances, he often pleaded for them in court.

During World War I, Jacobs devoted his efforts to raising money for the Red Cross Society, to encouraging recruitment, and to visiting training camps and hospitals. Rabbi Max John Merritt of Montreal, in a eulogy delivered at his funeral, would attribute to Jacobs’s inspiration “the brilliant record of Toronto Jewry during the great war.” After the end of hostilities, despite the illness that would eventually claim him, he campaigned for the Jewish War Sufferers (Milkhome Korbones). His funeral in August 1920 was described by the Toronto Daily Star as having brought together “all creeds and classes,” including Mayor Thomas Langton Church*, members of the city’s religious and social élites, and an “immense crowd” of average citizens, “each individual bearing some remembrance of a kindly influence.”

Stephen A. Speisman

Private arch., S. A. Speisman (Thornhill, Ont.), Interviews with Arthur Cohen, 20 Dec. 1971; Bertha Draimin, 10 Jan. 1972; Mrs M. Goodman, 12 Jan. 1972. Daily Mail and Empire, 9–10 Aug. 1920. Jewish Chronicle (London), 1 Feb. 1901, 13 Aug. 1920. Jewish Times (Montreal), 1, 15 March 1901. Toronto Daily Star, 9 Aug. 1920. Yiddisher Zhurnal/Daily Hebrew Journal (Toronto), 8, 10 Aug. 1920. The Jew in Canada: a complete record of Canadian Jewry from the days of the French régime to the present time, ed. A. D. Hart (Toronto and Montreal, 1926). S. A. Speisman, The Jews of Toronto: a history to 1937 (Toronto, 1979).

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Cite This Article

Stephen A. Speisman, “JACOBS, SOLOMON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jacobs_solomon_14E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jacobs_solomon_14E.html
Author of Article:   Stephen A. Speisman
Title of Article:   JACOBS, SOLOMON
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   September 27, 2023