Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Isack Morris (1881–1951)

by L. E. Fredman

This article was published:

Isack Morris (1881-1951), rabbi, was born on 10 October 1881 at Zagare, Lithuania, Russia, one of five children of Samuel Selig Monteviersky, storekeeper, and his wife Yarcha Frida, née Yosef. Isack qualified at a Yeshivah college, went to Britain in 1900 and anglicized his surname to Morris. After two years in the Cape Colony where he was naturalized on 2 April 1903, he reached Sydney on 11 July 1904 in the Geelong and was appointed reader of the Newtown synagogue. Late in 1905 he was guaranteed a salary by George Judah Cohen to begin services for the Newcastle Hebrew Congregation.

At the Synagogue, Bourke Street, Melbourne, on 28 March 1906 Morris married Rosie Falk (d.1915); they were to have four sons. In the same synagogue on 6 February 1917 he married Rachel Grinblat; she typed his correspondence and bore him two sons. From 1910 he had served the tiny Jewish congregation in Hobart; to augment his meagre salary, he made chocolates and hawked them in a billycart. He had a considerable impact in Tasmania, but clashed with the congregation's president Samuel Benjamin when religious and lay matters overlapped. In 1921 Morris agreed to return to Newcastle where the congregation had promised to provide a synagogue. It was built in 1927 and dedicated in September.

As a Jewish minister, Morris was reader, preacher, teacher, visitor, mohel and schochet for his small congregation. He made weekly visits to the abattoirs, using his bicycle for transport. He also travelled to preach in Sydney, and to conduct services for scattered communities. In May 1933 he organized and addressed a large public meeting at Newcastle to protest against Nazi persecution of his co-religionists in Germany. During the Depression he took a cut in his modest salary; the congregation depended on (Sir) Samuel Cohen and David Cohen & Co. Ltd for financial support.

In 1922 Morris had been re-naturalized. Active in the wider community and able 'to communicate beyond religious boundaries', he was president of the Newcastle branches of the Australian League of Nations Union and the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales. He was also an executive-member of the local Boy Scouts' Association, Free Library Movement (he was an avid reader), Newcastle Boys' High School Parents and Citizens' Association and the Australian Comforts Fund. A fervent Freemason from his Newtown and Tasmanian days, in New South Wales he was a past master, and past grand chaplain of United Grand Lodge and of Mark Master Masons, past grand inspector of works, Royal Arch Chapter, and past commander, Royal Ark Mariners.

Although from the Ostjuden, Morris had quickly developed characteristics of Anglo-Jewry—public service, adaptability, versatility, and moderate orthodoxy in observance. He was presented with illuminated addresses—on leaving Newtown (1905) and Hobart (1921), and for thirty years service at Newcastle (1946). When he retired in 1949 his colleagues—through the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth—conferred on him the title of rabbi. Survived by his wife and six sons, Morris died of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease on 12 March 1951 at Royal Newcastle Hospital and was buried in Sandgate cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Fredman, Newcastle Synagogue Jubilee, 1927-1977 (Newcastle, 1977)
  • L. Fredman, Newcastle Synagogue 70th Anniversary (Newcastle, 1997)
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, vol 3, no 5, 1951, vol 11, no 6, 1993
  • Tasmanian Mail, 10 July 1919, 5 May 1921
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 22 Apr 1950, 13, 16 Mar 1951
  • Newcastle Hebrew Congregation archives
  • naturalisation file, A1/1, item 21/24329 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

L. E. Fredman, 'Morris, Isack (1881–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Monteviersky, Isack

10 October, 1881
Zagare, Lithuania


12 March, 1951 (aged 69)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.