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Honouring Rabbi Dr. Wilfred Shuchat zt"l at the Rabbinical Assembly

05/09/2019 02:33:49 PM


Rabbi Adam Scheier

I am grateful to the Rabbinical Assembly and the conference organizers for the opportunity to speak about our beloved Rabbi Shuchat zt”l.


An important piece of Rabbi Shuchat’s legacy for our congregation and community is through the books that he wrote, in particular the one documenting the history of the Shaar. In that book, he records the conversations that took place in the late 19th Century between Shaar leadership and the Seminary. (At that time, the Shaar was entering its second half-century, and the Seminary was finishing its first decade.)


The Shaar engaged Reverend Bernard Kaplan, and his installation – on June 16, 1898 – was a moment of significant connection between the synagogue and the seminary. The leadership of the seminary – the president, Joseph Blumenthal, the head of the faculty, Rev. H. Pereira Mendes, and the dean, Rev. Bernard Drachman, all made their way up to Montreal for this occasion. The relationship continued when the congregation searched for a new rabbi a few years later, and Dr. Solomon Schechter recommended that one of his students serve as a High Holiday rabbi as an interim measure. That student rabbi, Herman Abramowitz, ended up staying for almost half a century.


The connection with the Seminary and the Conservative movement remained strong under Rabbi Abramowitz’s leadership. One example was in 1933, when Rabbi Abramowitz arranged a series of lectures in Montreal in honour of the Seminary’s 50th anniversary. Essentially the entire JTS faculty made their way up to Montreal at some point or another that year – according to a synagogue bulletin article at the time, “from October to April of that year there were 32 total lectures.”


When Rabbi Abramowitz fell ill in 1945, the synagogue turned to the placement arm of the RA to find a replacement. Rabbi Shuchat’s first appearance at the Shaar was, in his words, bashert. He was visiting Montreal, his hometown, to officiate at the wedding of a childhood friend; somehow, the leadership of the synagogue found out about the visit and conveyed a message to him, in Rabbi Abramowitz’s name, inviting him to assume the pulpit for that Shabbat. He agreed, and served our community – first as assistant rabbi, then as rabbi, then as rabbi emeritus – for the next 73 years.


He would refer to his rabbinate – his legacy – as “enlightened scholarship and dignity and decorum in worship.”


For many years, the connection with JTS was strong. On the occasion of Rabbi Shuchat’s 25th anniversary at the Shaar ( which coincided with the congregation’s 125th anniversary) one speaker quoted the words of Dr. Solomon Schechter: “There is one thing more important than modernity and that is eternity.” During that year of celebrations, over 1000 people came to see Rabbi Dr. Louis Finkelstein present an honorary degree of doctor of laws from JTS to Roland Michener, the Governor General of Canada. Leading members of the congregation were named Fellows of the Seminary. The Shaar, the Conservative Movement, the RA, JTS, Camp Rama – they were all one, for all intents and purposes. In a large part, Rabbi Shuchat’s leadership was behind this vision.

In his book, he wrote the following:  “From about 1898 to 1976, relations with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America were front and centre at the Shaar Hashomayim.”


Of course, he wrote this book in the early-1990s. What transpired what that Rabbi Shuchat was also open and forthright with criticism when he felt it was deserved. The relationship between the synagogue at the Seminary was strained in the late 1970s, as Rabbi Shuchat was a member of the Commission on the Ordination of Women for the Jewish Theological Seminary. He authored the dissenting minority report.


Rabbi Shuchat was a champion of traditional Judaism. He was committed to mission first, and institutions second. Of course, was proud of the institutions with which he associated, in particular Shaar Hashomayim. More than 25 years after his retirement from the active rabbinate, synagogue members will recall some of the highlights of his leadership: developing connections with Israel, establishing a network of home study groups, representing the Jewish community on so many occasions including at the memorial services for King George VI, being a source of stability in times of political instability in this province, and maintaining a course of tradition Judaism for a largely non-observant – but deeply intelligent and interested – membership. 


A few months ago, Rabbi Shuchat passed away. He remained a vibrant members of our daily minyan and Shabbat community until his last days. He was often the first in shul in the morning, would spend his days engaged in Torah story and writing his books on Midrash, and always made himself available to the members of the congregation and the clergy who sought his company and advice. 


On behalf of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, we are very moved by the decision of the RA to honour Rabbi Shuchat’s legacy this evening. He was a man of integrity and devotion who loved the synagogue and his community. We will continue to remember Morenu Harav Zeev ben Meir u’Breina for years to come.


Thank you.

Thursday, January 21, 2021 8 Shevat 5781