Kiryas Tash (Town of Tash) is situated in the municipality of Boisbriand, some 18 miles or 25 kilometers north of Montreal, Quebec. The drive from Montreal takes some 30 minutes. The main street is Beth Halevy Avenue which intersects with Rivière de la Cachée, the main street which abuts the community. The town currently numbers some 300 families and the construction of additional housing units has been approved.

MAP: Road Map from Montreal

  See Also: Occupations of Kiryas Tash

The name ‘Tash’ is derived from a town in Hungary, near the Czech border, where the Tasher rebbe’s great-grandfather began gathering hassidim over a century ago. The Boisbriand community is the centre of this hasidic sect.

Upon arrival in Montreal in 1951, the rebbe and his followers settled in the Mille End area of the city, also inhabited by followers of other hassidic sects. From the Tasher’s perspective, the decision to move from Montreal was taken for practical and religious considerations: To escape the deteriorating moral climate of the city, and to be situated in a setting that would be more conducive to Torah study and a lifestyle organized around Jewish law. A Tasher explains: “So it was the foresight of the rebbe who felt that the streets were getting worse and worse and if we don’t move now, it’ll be too late. We won’t even have what to move for.”

In 1963, with the help of a loan from the federal government, the Tasher moved to their new site. The community would now be better insulated and isolated. A Tasher reflects: “What we have is precious to us and our teaching tell us that when you have something precious, you build a fence around it to better protect it.”

The 18 Tash families who left Montreal to help establish a refuge from the temptations of city life were instrumental in laying the foundation for the current self-sufficient community of close to 250 families, or 3,000 persons. The community boasts a series of institutions, including yeshivas, schools, mikvehs, a colonnaded shopping area, an ambulance service, which have enabled it to remain insulated from the mainstream. A new slaughter-house and matza bakery are currently nearing completion. As a resident boasted to a newspaper reporter: “We have everything here, except drugs, crime, and AIDS.”

In recent years, two main features have impacted upon the community: size and attention by the media. The two are not entirely unrelated. The rate of growth has been quite staggering. The Tasher applied to the authorities for zoning changes to enable them to build houses on formerly-designated agricultural lands, and when a Tasher official was asked by a Quebec tribunal about the number of children in the community, he replied: “About one child for every year and a half of marriage…. We have an average of eight now.” When asked how many couples could be expected to marry over the next ten years, he estimated at least 300 but probably more. And when information was sought about the number of children expected to be born into the community over the next ten years, he replied: “Two years ago, we had one birth per week. This year we have, on average, two children per week. Two years from now, probably four or more. Over ten years, about 1500 children.”

A series of incidents have spotlighted the community both within Quebec and internationally. A rash of publicity occurred in 1995 when the Tasher gave every indication of supporting Quebec’s separatist movement in a national referendum, much to the consternation of the organized Montreal Jewish community which had uniformly lined up behind Canadian federalism. In 1999, the community was the target of a federal revenue department raid by 25 agents and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer.  Revenue Canada alleged that the College Rabbinique de Montreal, Yeshiva Oir Hachaim  D’Tash, was involved in fiscal fraud, maintaining that the community’s charitable organization produced greatly inflated tax

receipts in exchange for donations.  Following an investigation of the Rabbinical College of Montreal, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency determined that the organization did not engage in any wrongdoing. And most recently, the community became the center of national and international attention during the wedding festivities of the Tasher rebbe’s granddaughter. Joerg Haider came on a visit to Montreal shortly after his extreme right-wing Freedom Party joined the Austrian governing coalition and made the startling announcement that he had received an invitation to the wedding. Tasher officials denied that any such invitation had been issued and also vehemently denied that Haider would be a welcome guest. Despite the denial, the damage was done: many Canadians were perplexed about the community and the Haider scandal led these hassidim to be described by one Montreal rabbi as loose cannons.

The occupational breakdown for the males has changed as the community has expanded. About 20% of the employable males work outside the community: a few own their own companies, while the majority work for others; for example, as a real estate agent, an electrician, or as employees in hassidic-owned industries. However, the majority of the men are engaged in religious-oriented work (as teachers, ritual slaughterers, and kashruth supervisors) and in religious study in the kollel (advanced Talmudic academy for married men). But there are now in the community, more than previously, small-scale, independent retail concerns which persons operate from their homes; these include clothes alterations, photography supplies, shoes, dry goods, jewelry, and computer hardware and software, As well, owing to its growth, more men are employed in various administrative and accounting positions; there are several bookkeepers and other personnel that are paid salaries. In the main, women remain at home to raise families; exceptions are those that teach in the girl’s school or are engaged in office-related work there, and the few that are employed in commercial enterprises in the community such as the supermarket and take-out restaurant.

Outsiders gazing upon these hassidic Jews – the men bearded with side-curls and wearing long black coats and occasionally fur-trimmed hats, while the women wearing high-necked and loose-fitting dresses, with kerchiefs or traditional wigs covering their hair – may think that their world has remained fixed and withstood the influences of secular forces which could be detrimental to their distinctive and cloistered way of life.

However, a great deal of change has occurred since the early 1990s: many more single and multiple-family dwellings have been built and that construction has necessitated the addition of several streets. Moreover, the enclave now features a shopping complex, with a supermarket, and a variety of stores selling books and religious articles, health-care products, and children’s toys and clothes.  Most conspicuous, perhaps, are several new buildings: a new synagogue, an office complex, a home for the aged and three educational establishments: a school for girls, a school for young boys, and a yeshiva ktana (literally, a small yeshiva) for boys aged between 13 and 17 years.

The hassidim remain optimistic about its future. Its geographic isolation has enabled it to successfully shield against untoward secular influences that are unavoidably encountered even by hassidic Jews residing in Montreal. Relations with the surrounding francophone population neither appear to be tense nor even strained. To their credit, Tasher officials have continued lubricating relations and associations with political officials at various government levels and are largely viewed by the latter as a quaint minority deserving to be left alone. As well, from the perspective of the Tasher, the magnetism of their rebbe continues to widen and penetrate to ever-larger numbers of Jews around the world.

To be sure, the enclave’s prospects are closely tied to the rebbe’s health and continued ability to provide spiritual guidance and direction. On a most promising practical note, the Tasher have secured government approval for the establishment of a new sub-division adjacent to the community, and construction is scheduled to begin as early as January, 2005.