Monday, August 3, 2009

Sir Moses Montefiore

Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) had an extraordinary impact on the world.

Beginning a career in general business, Montefiore quickly gained one of the 12 brokers licenses allowed to Jews on the London Exchange. When Montefiore retired from business in his early 40s, he was already a wealthy man.

Moses Montefiore’s philanthropic endeavors and his willingness to step forward to defend his fellow Jews won him great admiration and fame. He sought the liberty of Syrian Jews imprisoned in Damascus for a blood libel and went to Russia to beseech the Czar for leniency toward the Jews. He was viewed by Jews the world over as their protector and leader.

Montefiore and his wife, Judith, supported Jewish and non-Jewish institutions in England. In Ramsgate, where they lived, they built a synagogue and a Sephardic yeshiva.

Montefiore is most revered, however, for his charitable work in the land of Israel, which he personally visited seven times. He supported industry and education, but also sought to make the Jews of Israel more self sufficient. Among the famous Montefiore endeavors are the windmill in Yemin Moshe and the building of the neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, both of which were unique for being outside the walls of the Old City.

A Sephardic Jew, Montefiore’s observance of Jewish law was strengthened by his love of the Land of Israel. He was famous for traveling in his horse drawn carriage with his own Torah and shochet (ritual slaughterer) and for bringing his own dishes and food to banquets.

Montefiore was knighted by Queen Victoria, served as the Sheriff of London and was president (1835-74) of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In 1846, he received a baronetcy. Sir Moses Montefiore passed away just a few months before his 101st birthday.

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