United Talmud Torahs of Montreal

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United Talmud Torahs of Montreal
Montreal, Quebec
Type Private Jewish day school
Religious affiliation(s) Jewish
Established 1896
President Adam Weinstock
Director Dr. Laurence Kutler
Ellie Grumberg
Grades K-11

United Talmud Torahs of Montreal (Hebrew: בתי תלמוד תורה‎‎) is a private coed Jewish day school system that includes an elementary (United Talmud Torah) and a high school (Herzliah High School), located in the Snowdon neighbourhood of the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough in Montreal, Quebec. Its high school is known as Herzliah High School (Hebrew: הרצליה‎‎). Herzliah and United Talmud Torah's campus in the Saint-Laurent borough (known as the Beutel campus) was closed down and consolidated with the Snowdon campus in 2011. Two additional elementary school campuses existed in the Côte Saint-Luc neighbourhood and Chomedey, but were closed down and merged with the other branches.


Founded in 1896 by Rabbi M.A. Ashinsky, classes initially were taught in the Yiddish language, later in Hebrew. The first class had but twenty students, all of them boys (girls were first admitted only in 1911), and one teacher. In 1903, Talmud Torah School was housed in its own building for the first time.

In 1917, six individual Talmud Torah schools merged as the United Talmud Torahs of Montreal. Ground was broken in 1930 for the first new building of the school, financed by a fundraising initiative with major community support; the building was erected on the corner of Saint-Joseph Boulevard and Jeanne-Mance Street in the Mile End neighbourhood. Over 1,300 students were enrolled.

The high school was opened in 1946 and the first classes were held with Melech Magid, who had been a teacher and principal with the United Talmud Torah schools since the early 1920s as the full-time Educational Director.

In 1959, a new campus on Saint-Kevin Avenue in the Snowdon district was opened, with the Saint-Joseph Boulevard building closing shortly afterwards. In 1962, an elementary school opened in the town of Saint-Laurent.[1]

In the early 1970s, French became a significant language of instruction at both the elementary and high schools. In the 1990s, all four Herzliah/UTT campuses were renovated. In 2000, Herzliah’s Judaica Program for students with little or no Jewish elementary school experience, was established as an addition to its program.

In 2011, the Beutel campus in St. Laurent (both high school and elementary) were closed and merged with the Snowdon campus, because of increasing financial problems and decreasing enrollment.[2][3] A merger of the Herzliah/United Talmud Torah schools with JPPS/Bialik, another Jewish school system and long the primary competitor with Herzliah/UTT, was announced in February 2011, but was soon rejected.

Arson in the elementary school library[edit]

On April 5, 2004, a few hours before the beginning of Passover, a fire was set in the UTT (the elementary) St. Laurent campus' library. Approximately 15,000 books, along with all of the library’s furniture and computers were destroyed in the fire, causing more than $600,000 in damages. The perpetrators left a note on the school door and contacted a local TV station, stating their attack was in response to Israel's killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin on March 22, 2004.

United Talmud Torah library after attack


At the time, this received worldwide attention. One 18-year-old Muslim Sleiman El-Merhebi, and one Christian Simon Zogheib, were later charged with arson and conspiracy.

Sleiman El-Merhebi pleaded guilty to arson in January 2005 and was sentenced to 40 months in prison in exchange for prosecutors dropping a conspiracy charge. Police charged Rouba El-Merhebi Fahd, the boy's mother, for acting as an accessory after the fact because she tried to arrange for her son to leave the country and go to Brazil after he set fire to the library. She was convicted in 2008 and served 12 months probation. Charges against Zogheib were dropped due to insufficient evidence in October 2004. A court-ordered reporting ban limits available information on the case against Zogheib.


Russell Crowe made a donation to help rebuild its library to help the school get back on its feet after hearing about the incident. Prime Minister Paul Martin responded to the attack, saying "we must utterly condemn this cowardly and racist act and draw together to fight such an abomination."[4] Jean Charest, the Premier of Quebec, called the arson intolerable. "Burning a school is in itself a vile act, because it touches the future of our society, but when it is done in the name of racism and intolerance, every Quebecer must stand up and denounce it to ensure this never happens again," he said in a statement. Irwin Cotler, who is a graduate of United Talmud Torah, also responded to the incident, saying "anti-Semitism is not something new to me. But this kind of racist hate, this kind of violence, an attack of this nature, that was never something that we could have contemplated at that time as students." HarperCollins, Random House and other leading publishers have donated books to rebuild the UTT library.

Donations from across Canada, the United States and Israel helped to rebuild the library which reopened in December 2004, named the Azrieli Library in honor of Stephanie Azrieli (wife of David Azrieli), UTT’s school librarian from 1975 to 1985. Further funds went into improving the safety and security of the school, with the installation of exterior lights, a new fire alarm and a security camera system.

In accordance with Jewish law, on November 30, the remnants and ashes of some 250 library books burned in the fire were buried in a Jewish cemetery in Dollard-des-Ormeaux.

Awards and rankings[edit]

Herzliah Snowdon Campus was named #1 Jewish high school in Montreal and was also ranked the #2 English private high school in the city in 2003. In 2008, the Ministry of Education of Quebec announced that Herzliah High School ranked #1 among English private high schools with a 100% graduation rate.

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ Arnold, Janice (2 January 2008). "UTT St. Laurent campus to stay open". The Canadian Jewish News. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  2. ^ Arnold, Janice (14 October 2010). "St. Laurent UTT/Herzliah to close next year". The Canadian Jewish News. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  3. ^ Seidman, Karen. "UTT-Herzliah to leave St. Laurent Archived October 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine." (Archive). Montreal Gazette. October 12, 2010. Retrieved on April 23, 2016.
  4. ^ Hamilton, Graeme (6 April 2004). "Anti-Israel letters found at site". National Post. Associated Press. 

External links[edit]