JOSEPH, JUDAH GEORGE (Gershom), businessman and craftsman; b. 1798 in Exeter, England; m. Rebecca —, and they had two daughters and two sons; d. 17 May 1857 in Toronto.
The late 1830s and the 1840s saw the small Jewish population of Toronto augmented by the arrival of Jews from England, Germany, Lower Canada, and the United States. Primarily shopkeepers and skilled artisans – grocers, clothiers, jewellers, tobacconists – they sought to integrate themselves into the social and economic life of Toronto. Judah George Joseph, one of the most prominent members of this early community, was born of a family described as “highly respectably connected.” Much of his early life had been spent in the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey. He immigrated to the United States in 1829 and eventually established himself as a jeweller and optician in Cincinnati. He prospered but “his generous nature led him to become a victim of false friends” and he was swindled in business, losing most of his property. About 1840 Joseph reportedly moved with his family to Hamilton, Upper Canada. Possibly attracted by the mercantile prospects offered by Toronto, he settled there between 1842 and 1844 and opened a business on King Street near the St Lawrence Market, then the city’s leading commercial district. In addition to his trade as a jeweller and optician, he produced silverware, timepieces, mathematical and drafting instruments, and scientific equipment. Joseph observed traditional Jewish practice and closed his shop on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. He built a successful business, acquired property, and enjoyed considerable popularity as a result of his “cheerful, open-hearted and familiar” manner.
Joseph was instrumental in the formation of the Hebrew Congregation of Toronto, a small group which evidently performed no synagogal functions. In September 1849, however, Judah Joseph and Abraham Nordheimer* laid the foundation for Jewish community organization in Toronto by purchasing land for a cemetery from John Beverley Robinson*. This half-acre property, located in York Township east of Toronto (on present-day Pape Avenue), was to be held in trust for the Hebrew Congregation, which probably had the cemetery as its sole concern. In 1850 Joseph’s young son, Simeon Alfred, was one of the first to be buried there and it is possible that the lad’s illness may have motivated this purchase by Joseph who was “domestic and intensely attached to his family.”
Joseph declined to join the city’s first synagogue, Toronto Hebrew Congregation (Sons of Israel), when it was organized in 1856. The membership requirements may have seemed restrictive to Joseph; there also appears to have been a social, if not economic, gap between the cemetery trustees (established members of the city’s society) and the synagogue’s founders (many of whom, such as Lewis Samuel*, were recent arrivals). Nevertheless, as an observant Jew, Joseph continued his annual payments through the synagogue for the support of a ritual slaughterer, which was evidently a practical arrangement to facilitate his purchase of kosher meat. About 1859 the burial-ground was transferred to the synagogue (now Holy Blossom Temple), which Joseph’s son, George, joined two years later.
The glowing obituaries occasioned by Joseph’s death described him as “a good citizen and a sincere friend.” His funeral, conducted at the Jewish cemetery in orthodox fashion, was attended by a large number of people and probably provided the first opportunity for local residents to observe a Jewish ritual. Following his death, Joseph’s business was continued by his son-in-law Henry Joseph Altman of Birmingham, England, and Thomas Hawkins Lee of Toronto.
AO, RG 1, A-I-6, 25; RG 22, ser.305, J. G. Joseph; RG 55, ser.3, 1, nos.194, 255–56, 404, 1511–12. CTA, RG 1, A, 1853–57. Holy Blossom Temple Arch. (Toronto), RG 1(a): 8, 23–25, 29–31, 91, 94. Toronto Boroughs and York South Land Registry Office (Toronto), Deed no.69381. British Colonist (Toronto), 21 May 1857. Leader, daily ed., 19 May 1857; semi-weekly ed., 26 May 1857. Toronto Mirror, 29 May 1857. Toronto directory, 1846–47; 1850–51; 1856; 1862–63; 1866. 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), 41. J. E. Langdon, Canadian silversmiths, 1700–1900 (Toronto, 1966), 89. Robertson’s landmarks of Toronto, vol.3. B. G. Sack, History of the Jews in Canada, from the earliest beginnings to the present day, [trans. Ralph Novek] (Montreal, 1945; [2nd ed.], ed. Maynard Gertler, 1965), 116, 152. S. A. Speisman, The Jews of Toronto: a history to 1937 (Toronto, 1979), 12–13, 16–17, 23, 25. S. J. Birnbaum, “The history of the Jews in Toronto,” Canadian Jewish Times (Montreal), 29 Nov. 1912, 24 Jan. 1913. David Eisen, “Jewish settlers of old Toronto,” Jewish Standard (Toronto), 15 Dec. 1965, 1 Jan. 1966.