Rabbi Abraham de Sola, professor at Mc Gill University (Montreal, Canada)


Rabbi Abraham de Sola (1825-1882) was a Canadian Rabbi, an orientalist and a prominent scientist. Rabbi De Sola was recognized as one of the most influential leaders of Sephardic and Orthodox Judaism in America during the second half of the nineteenth century, at a time when the struggle between the Orthodox and Reform wings of the community was at an acute stage.

His father was rabbi David Aaron de Sola, a famous Rabbi from the Sephardic Community of London, and his mother was the daughter of rabbi Raphael Meldola.

In 1847, at the age of 21, Rabbi de Sola arrived to Montreal, Canada from London and there he served as the rabbi of Shearit Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese community.   In 1852 he married Esther Joseph, whose father was one of the earliest Jewish settlers in Montreal.

Rabbi de Sola soon established himself at the centre of Montreal’s English-speaking intellectual community. An eloquent, popular, and prolific lecturer and a man of broad interests. He frequently addressed the Montreal Mercantile Library Association, the Montreal Literary Club, the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal (of which he was elected an honorary member), the Montreal Mechanics’ Institute, and the Natural History Society (which he served as president in 1867-68), as well as several organizations associated with McGill University.

In 1848, Rabbi de Sola was appointed lecturer, and in 1853 professor, of Hebrew and Oriental literature at Mac Gill University in Montreal (the most prestigious university in Canada), and he eventually became the senior professor of its Faculty of Arts.  1858, in recognition of his extraordinary scholastic accomplishments, McGill conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. (legum doctor, an honorary doctorate degree)

In 1873, by invitation of President Ulysses S. Grant,  Rabbi De Sola opened the United States Congress with a prayer. He became the first British subject to open the US House of Representatives with a prayer.

Rabbi Abraham de Sola was the pioneer in what is known today as Tora uMada’, the way of looking harmoniously at Science and Judaism.

He was a very prolific writer and the author of dozens of books, articles and papers.

Among them:

“Behemoth haTemeoth: the identification and classification  of the prohibited animals of Leviticus, Montreal, 1853.

“Biography of David Aaron de Sola”, the late senior Rabbi of the Portuguese Jewish community in London, Philadelphia, 1864.

“Critical examination of Genesis III”. 16; having reference to the employment of anæsthetics in cases of labour,” published in the British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science,  Montreal 1849.

“The Day of Atonement: a sermon delivered in the synagogue Shearith Yisrael, Montreal,” published in Occident, and American Jewish Advocate Philadelphia, 1848.

“A few points of interest in the study of natural history,” Canadian Naturalist and Geologist, .1868.

“God’s judgments on earth: a sermon delivered in the synagogue ‘Shearith Yisrael’ Montreal, during the prevalence of Asiatic cholera.

“Hebrew authors and their opponents,” Jewish Chronicle London, 1849.

“History of the Jews of Poland,” Jewish Messenger, New York, 1870..

“History of the Jews of France, after Bégin and Carmoly,” Jewish Messenger New York, 1871.

“An inquiry into the first settlement of Jews in England”

“Life and writings of Saadia Gaon,” Cincinnati, Ohio, 1881

“The Mosaic cosmogony,” (creation of the universe) Jewish Messenger,  March 1870.

“Notes on the Jews of Persia under Mohammed Shah” Occident, and American Jewish Advocate,  1850.

“Observations on the sanatory institutions of the Hebrews as bearing upon modern sanatory regulations,” Canada Medical Journal and Monthly Record of Medical and Surgical Science, Montreal,  1852.

“The revelation at Sinai; its possibility and necessity: a sermon delivered in the synagogue, Shearith Yisrael,  Montreal,

“The righteous man: a sermon commemorating the bestowal of public honors on Sir Moses Montefiore, by the city of London; preached in Montreal, on Shabbat Noah 5625 , Montreal, 1865.

“Life of Shabethai Tsevi, the pseudo-Messiah . . . ,” Jewish Messenger,  March. 1869.

“Yehuda Alcharizi and the book Tachkemoni,” Jewish Record Philadelphia,  1879.

Rabbi de Sola died in New York, in 1882 and was buried in Montreal.

There is a street bearing his name: Rue Abraham-De Sola , in Côte-Saint-Luc, Montreal.

For a more detailed biography of this exceptional Rabbi and for an impressive list of his articles and publications see  this.

Rabbi Abraham de Sola delivering opening prayer at the House of Representatives on January 9, 1873