Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Montreal’s Kosher Bootleggers

Observant Jews smuggle kosher wine into Quebec and sell it illegally in secret locations, flouting laws they say are anti-Semitic

Print Email
Related Content

Vigor Juice

Jews and Booze, a fascinating new history of Prohibition-era bootleggers, barmen, rabbis, and cops, picks up where HBO’s Boardwalk Empire leaves off

A few years ago, on a visit to Montreal, a friend invited me for Shabbat dinner. “Bring wine,” he said.

In Montreal, all wine must be sold in Société des Alcools de Quebec-owned stores, but the nearest SAQ shop had only one shelf of kosher wine, and only two types of wine on it: Kedem Red or Kedem Chablis. I phoned my friend and got the address of a kosher supermarket, hoping that it would have something a little less Kedemy.

An elderly Hasidic man working the register told me that the supermarket didn’t carry wine. “Did you try the SAQ?” he asked. I walked up the grocery aisle in search of a different dinner gift, maybe a babka or box of cookies, when someone whispered me over. One of the bag boys, a pimply teenager in a yarmulke, was standing in the shadow of a towering wall of matzo meal products.

“Look,” he said. “There’s a place you can go.” He handed me a card with an address and phone number and stepped back into the darkness.

The address belonged to a small synagogue in the middle of a quiet, residential block. I called the number on the card, and a Hasidic man walked out from a side-entrance to greet me.

“You Jewish?” he asked.

I nodded solemnly.


He led me into the side entrance, through several doors and hallways, and down into a basement filled with empty wooden wine crates. I waited for a few minutes until a different man brought me through one last door, into a small room crowded with Hasidic men. Lining the wall was the single best selection of kosher wine I’d ever seen. “Can I make a recommendation?” the shop-keep asked and held out a nice-looking Cabernet.


A year later, the organized-crime unit of the Quebec Police Department raided a different synagogue in Montreal, Congregation Toldos Yakov Yosef Skver, and confiscated 900 liters of bootlegged kosher wine. The synagogue paid a $20,000 fine to avoid going to court.

The Hasidic community is located in Outrémont, a beautiful neighborhood with tree-lined streets and well-preserved 19th-century architecture. It was originally a predominantly francophone neighborhood and remains one of Montreal’s most well-heeled areas. I phoned Congregation Toldos Yakov Yosef Skver a few months after the bust. A woman who spoke only Yiddish answered and passed me on to two more Yiddish speakers before I finally connected with a man who told me, in heavily accented English, that his name was Shmuel Weiss.

“I wanted to know about your synagogue bootlegging kosher wine into Montreal and selling it from the basement illegally,” I asked him. “Would you be willing to talk about that?”

Amazingly, Shmuel said yes. Why were they selling the wine? For money for the synagogue. Where did they get the wine? Ontario. How did they get caught? This woman named Céline Forget. She causes many problems for us. Are there synagogues in Montreal still doing this? Yes. Meet me here, at the shul, on Friday morning and I’ll show you.

Weiss also promised that he would tell me how the Hasidic community was smuggling the wine in, and even introduce me to the people in charge of the operation. I bought a train ticket, set to arrive first thing Friday morning.

Before leaving for Montreal, I obtained Céline Forget’s email address and asked her if she could meet while I was in Montreal to discuss the illegal alcohol and her part in the police raid.

“This subject is very simple,” she wrote back. “I can answer you by email: First: Everyone in Québec who wants to import alcohol from outside the province has to register at the SAQ (Société des Alcool du Québec). Second: Everyone who sells alcohol needs a permit. Otherwise, you do illegal business. And that’s why the Hasidim were accused and had to pay the infraction amount.”

I got off the train on Friday morning and went straight to Congregation Toldos Yakov Yosef Skver, but when I showed up at the synagogue, Weiss was nowhere to be found. Two Hasidic men walked past me. “Do either of you know Shmuel Weiss?” I asked. They looked at each other, discussed something in Yiddish, and shook their heads. “What do you want with him?” one of them asked.

“He said he could help me find kosher wine,” I said. “In a shul.”

They consulted again in Yiddish before shaking their heads. “We don’t know anything about that,” they said, and turned toward the sanctuary.

For over 60 years, the Hasidic community flourished in Outrémont. In fact, after French and English, Yiddish is the most widely spoken language in the area. But in recent years, the relationship between the Hasidim and their neighbors has been marked by tension and conflict. A string of incidents, including petitions listing the Hasidic community’s consistent disregard of Montreal law, and reports of firebombs being hurled into synagogues, underline the increasingly charged nature of the neighborhood.

Indeed, on the phone, Weiss failed to mention that—in addition to her role as whistleblower of the Skver synagogue wine bust—Forget had been a Borough Councilor in Outrémont for several years. During her tenure and after, Forget was continuously at odds (to put it very, very mildly) with the Hasidic community. She had been to court to stop Hasidim from putting up an eruv (an unnoticeable thin string that enables Jews to carry objects outdoors on Sabbath and holidays) in her neighborhood, claiming that the eruv would prevent her from flying a kite outside her home. Shortly after, she filed a lawsuit to prevent a synagogue from expanding several inches into its own backyard in violation of a zoning bylaw. Then, a bit later, she was charged with assault with a weapon when, following an argument with a Hasidic community leader, she veered toward him in her car. (She swerved away before hitting him, and no injury was reported.) Forget then brought a different synagogue to court for “praying too loud” near her home. Informing the police about the illegal wine ring was thus only the most recent of episodes involving Forget and the Hasidic community.

Additionally, the conflict with Montreal’s Hasidic community goes well beyond one retired borough councilor. In an April 23 opinion piece in the Montreal Gazette, Allan Nadler, a leading Jewish figure in the area (and a Tablet contributor who has written about Jewish bootlegging), wrote about a series of articles in Le Journal de Montréal (the first of which can be found here) that dismissively describe the “medieval” and “illiterate” Hasidic community’s views of romance, education, and oral sex. The exposés were written in the wake of 15 reports of vandalism perpetrated against Hasidic homes in a town just outside Montreal; the vandalism was not mentioned in Le Journal.


The Skver dynasty was founded in Skvira, in present-day Ukraine, by Reb Yitzchak Twerski, a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov. Skver Hasidim relate that, shortly after World War II, Reb Yitzchak’s grandson, Reb Yakov Yosef of Skver, left Bucharest for America. When he beheld America’s immoral and materialistic culture, the story goes, he felt the overwhelming desire to get on the first boat back to Europe. “I would return immediately,” Rebbe Yakov Yosef allegedly told his followers, “if not for the embarrassment.”

In the absence of that option—he had, after all, left Europe in the wake of World War II—he sought to recreate European shtetl life in North America. He believed that Jews and their communities needed to be absolutely separate from their debased, secular neighbors. This attitude and the communal policies built around it have inspired Skver Hasidim to seal themselves off from the communities that surround them.

In light of this, the relationship between the Skver Hasidim and their neighbors (or anyone else seen as an “outsider”) is marked, generally, by mutual suspicion. In Outrémont, the francophones seem to see the Hasidim as crazy fundamentalists who are disrespectful of local law. In turn, the Hasidim view the francophones as godless and anti-Semitic. One McGill student, an Outrémont resident, told me that he finds the Hasidic community “fascinating.” He mentioned the way Hasidic men often sit in their mini-vans, parked along the street. “And you have to wonder,” he said. “What are they doing in there? They’re definitely planning some scheme or something.”

And as I asked around Congregation Toldos Yakov Yosel Skver for Shmuel Weiss—or for any information about kosher wine shops in Montreal, in general—it must have seemed that I was “planning” or “scheming.” I was the only person not wearing a black suit and hat, and I was asking questions about an issue that had cost the synagogue a great deal of money. Understandably, no one in the synagogue was willing to help me.

Sans Shmuel Weiss, I would need another way of finding one of these wine shops. I had no recollection of where I’d been sent by the bag boy my last time in Montreal, so I left the Skver synagogue and followed the first Hasidim that crossed my path, a mother and her two daughters, first into Cheskie’s Bakery and then down a quiet residential block. They turned a few corners and entered a house. The street was crowded with Hasidic men and women running errands for Shabbat, so I followed another Hasid, and then a third, who happened to pass a synagogue on a residential block, which happened to have a man exiting a side door, who happened to have a bottle of rosé tucked under his arm.

Inside, I immediately identified the basement as the very same one the bag boy had alerted me to three years ago. I walked from the coatroom to the smaller side-room that was cluttered with wine crates, and finally into the wine holding. Since my last visit to the shop, shelves had been added and the selection improved. The bottle nearest me was a Baron Herzog Special Edition Cabernet priced at 100 euros.

“Yes?” A short, cross-eyed Hasidic man standing at the cash-box looked up at me anxiously.

“I wanted to buy some wine for Shabbat,” I said.

“OK,” he said, and relaxed into his chair. Another few customers entered and started schmoozing. I had been hoping to ask the shop-keep some questions, but he joined the conversation and forgot about me completely.

A few days later, I introduced myself to Jeffrey Boro, the lawyer who represented Congregation Toldos Yakov Yosef Skver in the bootlegging case. He is middle-aged, short, and has a soft-spoken, genteel manner. Although not Orthodox or visibly observant, Boro—who is a celebrated criminal lawyer—clearly has strong communal ties. He has served as president of the Canadian Jewish Council of Quebec and helped the Hasidic community on numerous occasions. He told me that he sometimes serves as the “unofficial and uninvited” spokesman for the Hasidic community when they are in legal trouble.

Finally, I had found someone willing to explain how the wine bootlegging system worked. The synagogues, he explained, bring the wine in from Ontario. By doing so, they avoid Quebec taxes and utilize an Ontario law that makes wine used for religious purposes 17 percent cheaper than market price. The illegal wine shops serve a number of purposes; they make money for the synagogues and offer a selection that is far superior to that of the SAQ stores. Boro stresses that the bootlegging is not only about profit, but also about the needs of the community; observant Jews in Montreal, Boro said, have repeatedly asked the SAQ to get a better kosher selection. The SAQ constantly says it will but never actually does.

Boro believes that the Skver synagogue could have won the case, though he is somewhat slippery when it comes to the legality of the synagogue’s behavior. (“It is not illegal, per se.”) He argued, however, that the legal question is of secondary import; the more important question is why anybody cares.

“Let’s say a church elder is bringing 40 cases of wine into the church that he’d brought from Ontario to sell to his church members at a discount,” Boro said. “Would you care? No, you’d say good for them.” The Hasidic community’s problems are not the result of any wrongdoing, but rather are, according to Boro, “almost always” the result of anti-Semitism. The Hasidim are “constantly harassed and frequently misunderstood.” He cited a number of incidents, many of which involved Céline Forget.

Boro said that it was obvious that Forget had been the one to alert the police to the bootlegging operation. “She followed the file,” he said. “She made herself known. She made it clear that she wanted people to know, like, ‘Just in case you were wondering who ratted you out, it was me. I saw the truck. I took the video. I called the police.’ ”

Was the bootlegging bust of the Skver synagogue an issue of anti-Semitism? Weren’t the Hasidim actually breaking the law? Weren’t these citizens in the legal right by informing the police? I asked.

“I’m not blaming Forget for following the law,” Boro clarified. “I’m blaming her for making the lives of the Jewish people in her neighborhood as miserable and uncomfortable as possible.”

But in a country in which tax rates are higher for the sake of civil services, taxes mean something to citizens; they are wrapped up in feelings of nationalism and civic life. So, what happens when a community disregards the civic feelings of a country for the communal ties of its religion? Embodied in these bootlegging Canadian Hasidim were some very complex and important questions: How does a smaller community operate within a larger one, and what happens when the requirements or laws of the one clash with the requirements or laws of the other? While parking laws and zoning bylaws might appear inane and unimportant, to people who care deeply about their city, they are not unimportant at all. These laws form the basic foundation of good, safe cities. And who could appreciate how much a seemingly minor rule might mean to other people more than the Hasidic community? How can a community so learned in the minutiae of Jewish law get angry at another community for wanting to enforce zoning regulations?

Is this why Forget cares about the bootlegging (not to mention the parking violations, the illegal synagogue expansions, and the eruv)? Because the Hasidim were evading taxes and disrespecting their neighbors?

I emailed Forget and asked what bothered her about the Hasidim in Montreal selling wine, predominantly to other members of their synagogue. I also asked for a response to the claim made by numerous individuals that her issues with the Hasidic community stemmed from anti-Semitism.

“I thought you were interested in the alcohol issue,” she emailed back. “I see that your interest is obviously more in trying to accuse someone of anti-Semitism. Good luck!”


The customs agent read through my form. He was burly and bald, with a ruddy complexion and a generally affable manner. “What kind of work were you doing in Canada?”

I considered mentioning the wine smuggling and asking him if he knew anything about it, but decided not to. “I was doing research for an article,” I said, “on the Hasidic Jews in Montreal.”

He chuckled and leaned against the seat. “Those guys,” he said. “They come up on the train from New York all the time, with their kids and big suitcases and everything. It’s totally crazy.” He smiled at the thought of it. Then he shook his head, handed me my passport, and moved on.


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Simon Tuchman says:

This is an interesting article. I’d love to see more about the Montreal Jewish community. One small correction: you can sell wine in convenience stores and supermarkets in Quebec, not just in SAQ stores.  

    But only if they are produced in Quebec from Quebec grapes

       That is not correct. One can find wines from South Africa to Argentina in every Depanneur (corner store) in Quebec

        As has been the case before when we both have clashed, especially regarding antisemitism in Outremont Quebec, you are simply wrong on the facts. mmm I wonder why would that be??  

        Would the good professor ever try to deny the racism reported by an African American that he felt on his own flesh? 

        I don’t think he would dare. But being that the professor  is a member of the tribe and landsman, he feels he has free license to do some mental acrobatics. 

        Next chapter: The Nazis didn’t really hate the Jews they just had a general hate towards bankers, (and un-wahsed black frocked beggars in Vienna, you see.  My grandmother and her 7 kids just got caught up in the general hatred directed at bankers (and dirty Hasidim “who hate water – Mein Kamp”)  so they ended up in ashes  Other wise the Jews are just fine, just bring on the Viener schnitzel, sauerkraut, and October fest beer.  In addition let us  wash it all down with some of Wagner’s ring cycle music in the background – shouldn’t we all be appreciative about German culture?.  Ah the Germans they where just “wonderfully complicated”! 

        Be that as it may. 

        But for the facts, (to which you sometimes seem be allergic, particularly when it comes to Haredim)  of course you can find wine from Chile but it must have been bottled in Quebec, See:  
        Québec – Only the provincially-owned Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) may sell hard liquor. Wine (that is bottled in Québec or distributed through a Québec representative) and beer (that is brewed in Québec or imported beer that is distributed by a local brewer) can be purchased at dépanneurs (corner stores) and supermarkets.  

        I wonder where are the Chasidic wine smugglers of Brooklyn. Isn’t smuggling in our blood. Didn’t they teach us the art of smuggling in cheder? 

We have the same sort of situation, here, in Montgomery County, Maryland.  All wine must be bought through state liquor stores, or retailers (convenience stores, etc.) can obtain wine through the government warehouse.  Oddly enough, not only do the state stores have no problem stocking a reasonable selection of wines (although none that would sell at $140), but the secondary retailers have had very good success at having the state warehouse stock an even larger selection.  So, the system (which is, debatably, more profitable for the state) is not the problem.  Yes, there might be some level of anti-Semitism at work.  Canada actually does have a core of anti Israel/anti-Semitism, which is often manifested at the universities (although, the US is just as guilty), sentiment.  Certainly, in a province with a very large traditional Catholic population, that is not surprising.  On the other hand it may just be lazy Provincial employees.

Given the track record of the Skverer and their history of not adhering to the laws that the rest of us follow, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the Quebecois.

    It’s not only chassidim. I grew up in MTL and know that more ‘normative’ communities do it as well. Tax evasion is second only to hockey as the National Sport of Quebec. 

    zachary_baker says:

    From a journalistic standpoint it would have been useful to shed additional light on the SAQ’s approach to wine and liquor distribution; it is essentially a one-size-fits-all approach  throughout Quebec. The SAQ is a centralized bureaucracy and an SAQ outlet in Cote St-Luc (heavily Jewish suburb of Montreal) probably has much the same brands in stock as a liquor store in Chicoutimi. And it’s not only kosher wines that have such a limited presence in SAQ outlets; just try to find a decent selection of California wines there!

       Much as I respect Zachary Baker’s great expertise in all matters concerning Biblia Judaica, his deploring depiction of the wines available in SAQ stores does not quite match his peerless knowledge of Jewish books available in Montreal libraries. The selections in SAQ outlets in Jewish neighborhoods are, as a rule, far more extensive than in places like Chicoutimi (which, as it happens, no longer exists as a city: it is one of 3 townships in Saguenay) where there are no kosher wines to be found, and no Jews, but one of North America’s largest and most magnificent bicycle routes, circling Lac St. Jean; but I digress…. In the SAQ in Wilderton Shopping Centre for example, one will find dozens of kosher wines. As for California wines, more than one hundred of the finest are on the shelves of the SAQ Wine superstore in downtown Montreal, along with a much, much larger selection of French wines than one will ever find anywhere in California. Quebec has many problems, but a shortage of liquor is not one of them. And the local microbreweries produce the best beer in North America. More seriously, however, and despite my criticism of Le Journal de Montreal’s one-sided and biased coverage of the local Hasidic community in which I was very careful never to use the term anti-Semitism, many of the posts here severely exaggerate the degree of animosity to Jews in Quebec. What is far more widespread is a more general contempt for religion — ALL religion — which is the understandable consequence of the “silent revolution” of the 1970’s which threw off the oppressive legacy of some 2 centuries of the Catholic Church’s stranglehold on Quebec society. Unfortunately, the Hasidim are loathed by many not because they are Jews, but because they set off a collective allergic reaction to religion more generally; they are, alas, the victims of mis-directed, militantly secular hostility to clerics — Catholic, Jewish and Muslim — that is a central feature of contemporary, ardently secular, Quebecois society, politics and culture.  To dismiss this hostility as reflecting nothing less than rampant anti-Semitism is overly simplistic and reductionist. Quebec is a very complicated place, usually wonderfully, and occasionally maddeningly, so.

    Rabbi Moshe Pesach Geller says:

    That is about as obnoxious a post I’ve ever read, Mr. Shapiro. You give Jew haters the benefit of the doubt? Because of your judgement of Chassidim? Shame on you. Really bad karma. Really bad. Quebecois have a long, long history of Antisemitism. The mark of true, liberal democracy makes space for minorities and those who are different. You may wish to live with Kedem syrup. To demonstrate no understanding or compassion to brother Jews, no display of wisdom, let alone respect for their imperatives, reveals a callousness that betrays your own hatred. Again, shame on you. It blows me away in talkbacks how people read articles and ignore anything that doesn’t fit into their prejudices. You could be considered poster for such proclivities. Again, shame on you.

      R. Geller…

      I am somewhat confused by your reply.  I have never, to the best of my knowledge, been accused of being “soft” on anti-Semitism of any sort (including that practiced by many Charedim),  in fact, just the opposite.  People have sometimes told me that I am too sensitive to acts that may or may not be marginally anti-Semitic.

      I don’t know what your particular viewpoint is in the vast world of Jewish practice, but you should know that there is a significant body of Conservative, Reform, and others who consider the more extreme ultra-Orthodox to be, not Jewish and not in line with the path of Jewish history, but rather a set of cults that  mimic the early Christian Church, that was in the process of breaking away from normative Judaism.  

      As far as wine is concerned, my family abandoned Kedem/Maneschewitz sweet wine, decades ago (my personal preference is for Italian Kosher wines, but that’s just me) except for one pre-Passover purchase, that is necessary for our secret family recipe for haroset.

      Apparently, you did not actually read my post.  I specifically  said that there was a level of anti-Semitism in Canada, which was manifest at its peak in Quebec.  I also indicated that lazy workers could account for some of the problem.  In the real world, to paraphrase the Sage of Baltimore (a serious anti-Semite, by the way), H.L. Mencken, for every difficult and complicated question, there is a simple answer…and it is wrong.

tk_in_TO says:

Quebecers and anti-semitism, they might not have written the book on it, but they’ve sure read it over and over and over again.

I grew up Chasidic in that neighborhood. When I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s the area had only a tiny Chasidic community, but the amount of anti antisemitism was sufficient for 1930’s Vienna. I have a scar on my face to prove that. 

It’s not the wine, or the parking that bothers them. 

When I was a little kid, me and my brothers were chased out of the sand box of Bernard Park by the superintendent, because the Francophone mothers didn’t want to let their little children play with ‘dirty’ Chasidic children. My mother, an Auschwitz survivor had to go and confront the bigot in his face. One could argue he was innocent; he was just doing a ‘public service’. aye? 

Presently the Quebec government is forcing the Skver Chasidic school to hang posters on the walls of its chasidic school, of sports heros, in order to integrate the children in Quebec society. Which only proves, that in the name of progressive liberal politics, you can act in the most fascistic manner. A la,  Stalin? Pol Pot? Mao re-education camps? 

You can respond: Come on, are you comparing Quebec to those? Well I’ll let the reader make their own comparisons? 

Could it be like the Catholic church in Canada forcing their beliefs on the children of the native first nations, with the aid of the Canadian government? Well the Pope already apologized for that… let’s choose some other comparisons. 

I am glad to be deeply ensconsed  in Brooklyn NY, far far away from the hatred of Foget, where I could “foget-aboutit”, as  Borough President Marty Markowitz likes to put it (on official Brooklyn signage).  God bless America!

philipmann says:

  You have to ask yourself,what gets into somebody`s mind that make follow people around with cell phones,making sure they obey the law;Strolling along on Sukot,seeing who has a Sukah on the balcony. Or calls the cops one late summer night because some people or talking in the street below her apartment.

   The list goes on. Luckily,we have a new police chief here in Montreal,who is not at the beck and call of Mme. Forget.

   Go ahead, David,try to get an interview with the esteemed councellor. See what really drives the ( bad word).

Really? You think that Celine Forget’s problem with the Chassidim is that she does not want people evading tax law? And how about all the other problems she causes for the Orthodox community that you yourself mention in your article? If that’s your attempt at appearing objective it is not working. It only makes you seem insincere and possibly anti-Orthodox/Jewish.

Zekharye Schulman says:

With friends like David Sugarman, who needs enemies?  Sugarman clearly lacks the prequisite linguistic, journalistic or indeed ethical skills to have written a piece on this issue.  Unable to speak Yiddish, he lacks any reliable inside source from within the Hasidic community.  Presumably just as unable to speak French, he misinterprets Forget’s “civic pride” just the same.  Limited to English, he presents us with the perspectives of a gawking McGill student and a clueless border gaurd both of whom orientalize the Hasidic community as exotic and troublesome.  

I am not advocating you paint an unrealistic picture of some kind of pure and embattled underdog Hasidic community fighting against the inherently anti-Semitic world of francophone Quebec.  Neither image is realistic.  But the depiction you provide here in equally untrue, misrepresentative and ultimately harmful to Montreal’s vibrant Hasidic community.

Misha shkolnik says:

With friends like David Sugarman, who needs enemies?  Sugarman clearly lacks the prequisite linguistic, journalistic or indeed ethical skills to have written a piece on this issue.  Unable to speak Yiddish, he lacks any reliable inside source from within the Hasidic community.  Presumably just as unable to speak French, he misinterprets Forget’s “civic pride” just the same.  Limited to English, he presents us with the perspectives of a gawking McGill student and a clueless border gaurd both of whom orientalize the Hasidic community as exotic and troublesome.  

I am not advocating you paint an unrealistic picture of some kind of pure and embattled underdog Hasidic community fighting against the inherently anti-Semitic world of francophone Quebec.  Neither image is realistic.  But the depiction you provide here in equally untrue, misrepresentative and ultimately harmful to Montreal’s vibrant Hasidic community.

Dipshit socialists imposing dipshit taxes. Good for the Hasidim to expose this stupidity.

webbiest says:

There is a fairly substantial factual error here. It’s in Ontario that you can’t buy wine except at the government outlet.  In Quebec, even the tiniest grocery store can sell beer and wine.  So what really prevents a corner store from selling kosher wine?

    I may be out of date since I moved from Montreal to Israel 5 years ago, but only beer was available for sale outside of the provincial SAQ stores.

Fed_Up18 says:

Forget proves that she is, indeed, antisemitic when she refused to even make any sort of a case for herself when given the chance to do so, in public, no less.

SaraRG says:

A pox on Allan Nadler’s columns. The Orthodox community is entitled to respect from EVERYONE, Jews included!

     ??? My column in the Montreal Gazette, referred to in this article, with a link to the piece, was the only published DEFENSE of the Orthodox community.

    Why don’t you READ before cursing ?

philipmann says:

The problem with the wine selection,and the chasidim ,er,circumventing it, is old. ( David,did you you really ask this character if he sold bootleg wine ??).

   These days, Quebec has taken an anti-religious turn. The society here has been anti-religious since the sixties,and what with the Ishmailim causing a rucus,the Quebec government figures a good way to make us all get along is to restrict public funding of and access to religious education. 

    WE get caught in the cross-fire,again.



Zachary Homa says:

I graduated McGill in 2007, and as an Orthodox Jew living near campus, the Outremont Hasidish community was the most convenient place for me to find regular minyanim, kosher meat and of course, a nice variety of Kosher wine which I regularly purchased in synagogue basements or Jewish bookstores.  It was obvious to me that the whole wine selling operation was not in accordance with the law.  For one thing, in one synagogue basement, the person selling me the wine was a young teenager.  In addition, in a bookstore where I knew that I could buy wine even during the week, I would have to convince the store owner each time I knew he sold wine and that I was an agent of the government.  During those years, although I was clearly an outsider, I found a great deal of hospitality from the community, in particular from the Belzers.   That being said, I can understand why some “real outsiders” in Outremont would take exception to actions of the Hasidim within the neighborhood.

rocky2345 says:

Quebec’s Jewish community (mostly in Montreal) has been shrinking since the French language law was passed in 1976.

As far as the Hasidim go, I used to give them the benefit of the doubt, but not any more. It is appalling that some of their religious schools turn out functional illiterates who read English at perhaps a grade 3 level. As one Hasidic wag put it recently, he was illiterate in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. Then there is the problem of gay Hasidim. Yes, they do exist and the way they are treated by their fathers is also a disgrace. Google Chaim Levin to read about the horrors he went through after coming out.

In the US, the Hasidic communities of New Square, NY and Kiryas Joel, NY are among the poorest in the US, as defined by the US census. The percentage of poor residents in these communities is even higher than in East St. Louis, MO and Detroit, two cities normally associated with extreme black poverty. If the Republicans take control of the agenda in Washington in 2013, Hasidic families will be among the worst hit by the proposed welfare cutbacks. If the Hasidics want to live like they did in 18th century Poland, they just may get their wish, including the extreme poverty that went with the past.

MenachemD says:

To me this article highlights something entirely different from all the comments above (certainly the avaiable selection of wine in Montreal convenience stores is not of great moment). The broader issue to me (and I am not from Quebec) is how to relate to the confluence of two unfortunate circumstances: (a) when parts of the Jewish Community wrongly violate the local law under the pretext that the law (or at least its selective enforcement) is anti-semitic; and (b) central parties involved in the enforcement of the law are indeed acting out of anti-semitic motivations.

julis123 says:

It’s a well known fact that the haredim love to screw anyone outside their community. What could be a better example in example where they screw their fellow Jews by draft dodging and living off the dole.

Great article, David, thank you. One question: How did you arrive by train on a Friday morning? I thought there’s only 1 train from New York to Montreal and that it arrives in the evening….

susanschwartz says:

The author claims to have seen a Baron Herzog Special Edition Cabernet priced at 100 euros in Outremont; in fact, the municipality uses the same currency as the rest of the country: the Canadian dollar.He is incorrect also in stating that wine cannot be purchased outside SAQ stores: wine is widely available in grocery stores and at corner stores.
There is no organization known as the Quebec Police Department: there is the Quebec Police Force, known officially as the Sûreté du Québec. And it’s the Société des alcools du Québec, not de, as the author states.
These are not major errors, although they speak to a certain laziness on the writer’s part. And they make me wonder what else he got wrong.

    philipmann says:


     Aren`t you a reporter or something,for the Montreal Gazette?

      Actually, I read your column regularly.

Breaking laws is ok. In fact its a bigger crime to cause inconvenience on the community by enforcing the laws.  accessing the largesse of welfare state for the benefit of the community is ok too. just do not expect them topay taxes in.

I can understand if the whole point is avoiding taxes.   No difference then shipping cigarettes from one state to another to avoid taxes. However as the alcohol bureau completely chooses what alcohol to bring in and it seems to extremely limit the choice of kosher wines for whatever reason, there is some sort of religious issue here.  I understand that the synagogues are using it to make money but when the state controls  aspects of religious life then the law in unjust.   The world of kosher wines has exploded and only allowing  two wines in is either incompetence or antisemitism. 

herbcaen says:

He cited a number of incidents, many of which involved Céline Forget….lucky Celine wasnt in Auschwitz. She and Mengele would make a nice pair


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Montreal’s Kosher Bootleggers

Observant Jews smuggle kosher wine into Quebec and sell it illegally in secret locations, flouting laws they say are anti-Semitic