The Precarious History of Jewish Education in Quebec


Source: Religion & Education, 45:1, 23-51


In Canada, the Jewish education systems reflect the local structures and institutions in which they develop. Quebec Jewish education was shaped by a linguistically and religiously divided society. Although the Jewish community of Montreal has contributed significantly in the social, political, and economic spheres of Quebec life, it remains largely unknown to the other local communities. The following article offers a historical context of the religious and social factors that have resulted in Montreal holding the highest percentage of students enrolled in separate Jewish day schools across Canada; this percentage remains more than 50% higher than the average attendance of Jewish school-age children in the USA.

Significant and complex historical factors have influenced how the Jewish community of Quebec has been organized and preserved through institutions. Quebec has the highest concentration of Jews residing in a single area, a Jewish bureaucratic system that functions in many ways as a parallel system to the provincial system, and the highest rate of Jewish day school enrolment in Canada. Reviewing an historical account of the education of Jews in Quebec reveals how the Jewish community remains somewhat isolated from other Quebecois—especially Francophone populations. This exclusion was historically actualized through a system of education based on the religious orientation of the child. This article shows how the Montreal Jewish community now holds greater autonomy in regard to the education of Jewish students than it did historically in Quebec. Even so, this situation does not always contribute to better relations between Jewish and other local communities. As one author noted, “It is not just bureaucratic contracts between the P.Q. [Parti Quebecois] and the Jewish Community that are needed, but an increase of understanding between the French of Quebec and the Jews of Quebec.” Until recently full inclusion in the social, political, and cultural life of Quebec was not a real option for Montreal Jews. Be that as it may, the institutional completeness and social insularity of Montreal Jewry has resulted in a burgeoning and vibrant Jewish day school system, rooting Montreal Jews in Quebec.

As this work focuses on the precarious history of Jewish education in Quebec, further research could include a comparative analysis of other ethno-religious schools currently operating in Quebec. Research of this kind could focus on Muslim day schools, Greek Orthodox day schools, Sikh schools, or the Armenian day school in Montreal. Such studies would show how other ethno-religious groups negotiate autonomy and come to find meaningful forums of interaction and integration with other populations living in Quebec. Case studies of the specific ethno-religious schools located in Montreal could be published together in a journal or as book chapters. These studies could act as a resource guide to local governments who are trying to assess the values and needs of local minority communities, and better address their needs in terms of education, social programing, and social integration.

A second area of research, which further explores how the ERC curriculum is being integrated into ethno-religious schools, is needed to investigate whether or not the curriculum is representative of the diverse populations of Quebec and assess how it is being taught. A qualitative approach, one that integrates the voices of ERC teachers positioned in either ethno-religious schools or public schools would be particularly useful, as it would broaden the understanding of the effectiveness of the ERC curriculum in developing a culture of inclusion in Quebec classrooms.

By identifying the historical processes that continue to influence contemporary social bonds, this analysis demonstrates how the past shapes current group identities and allows us to understand the system of Montreal Jewish education more clearly. Finding ways to improve social relations and develop inclusive forms of education requires the recognition that social dynamics are historically entrenched.

Updated: Mar. 13, 2018