By Michael Kent
One of the most common questions I am asked as the curator of the Jacob M. Lowy collection is “which is your favourite book in the collection?” While I am unsure if I will ever be able to pick one, there is a work in the collection which I often highlight. Visitors are not surprised when I mention it is one of our Talmuds, the written compendium of Jewish oral law codified in antiquity and arguably the most important Jewish text after the Torah, after all we have impressive volumes from Soncino from the 1400s and Bomberg from the 1500s. I often get a surprised look when instead of selecting a 500 year old volume, I pick a volume that is not even 100 years old.
The item, and one of my favourite works in the collection, is the 1919 Montreal Talmud, which’s publication was termed “the most important event in the annals of Canadian Jewry,” by Canadian Jewish Congress president Lyon Cohen.
To truly appreciate my admiration for this printing of the Talmud, one needs to understand Canadian Jewish history. While some Jews did arrive in Canada during the 1700s, large scale Jewish immigration to Canada did not begin until 1880s. In the early 1900s, the majority of Canadian Jews were actually born in Eastern Europe.