Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, FRS

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Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, FRS

Hebrew: השר משה חיים מונטפיורי, FRS
Birthdate: (100)
Birthplace: Livorno, Toscana, Italia
Death: July 28, 1885 (100)
London, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Joseph Elias-Eliahu Montefiore and Rachel Abraham Montefiore
Husband of Judith Montefiore
Brother of Esther Montefiore; Sir Abraham Montefiore, of Stamford Hill; Sarah Goldsmid; Abigail Gompertz; Horatio Joseph Montefiore and 2 others

Managed by: Carlos F. Bunge
Last Updated:

About Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, FRS

Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, 1st Baronet, Kt (24 October 1784 - 28 July 1885) was one of the most famous British Jews of the 19th century. Montefiore's 100th birthday was celebrated as a national event in Britain and by Jews all over the world. His birthdays, activities and death were closely covered in the British press of the time.

Sir Moses Haim Montefiore was a banker , financier, philanthropist, Sheriff of London and determined defender of human rights. Sir Moses Montefiore's extreme largess, fearless activism on behalf of world Jewry was immeasurable. He donated large sums of money to promote industry, education and health amongst the Jewish community in Palestine. In 1839, Sir Moses Montefiore had petitioned the Khedive of Egypt for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Theodore Herzl's contribution was to make this dream a reality and establish a unified Zionist movement . Sir Moses Montefiore's beneficence essentially helped lay the foundation for modern west Jerusalem.

See Family Tree 1 and Family Tree 2

Sir Moses Montefiore was knighted in 1938 by Queen Victoria and received a baronetcy in 1846 in recognition of his services to humanitarian causes on behalf of the Jewish people.

The Montefiore Crest:

The Montefiore family like many English Sephardi families originally descended from Marrano families from Spain, Portugal, Mexico and others places. The Montefiore Family came to England in the 18th Century from Italy. They took their name from the village of Montefiore in Italy.

The first Montefiore was Judah Leon Montefiore the son of Joseph Leon who was from a converso family in Mexico. Joseph Leon's parents were Jorge Almeida and Leonor Nunes Leon de Carvajal the sister of Luis de Carvajal (Joseph Lombroso). Joseph escaped from Mexico in the 1590's with his Carvajal uncles.

Judah Leon Montefiore married Rachel Olivietti and it is from them that the numerous lines of the Montefiore family descend. Many of the English Montefiore families descend from Moses Vita Montefiore who came from Italy to England. He and his wife Esther Hannah Racah had a large family of 17 children. His most famous grandson was Sir Moses Montefiore.

Sir Moses Montefiore:

Montefiore was born in Livorno, Italy in 1784.[1] He began his career as an apprentice to a firm of grocers and tea merchants. He later left for London, and became one of the twelve "Jew brokers" in the City of London. There he went into business with his brother Abraham, and their firm gained a high reputation.

In 1812, Moses Montefiore married Judith Cohen(1784-1862), daughter of Levi Barent Cohen. Her sister, Henriette (or Hannah) (1791-1866), married Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836), for whom Montefiore's firm acted as stockbrokers. Nathan Rothschild headed the family's banking business in Britain, and the two brothers-in-law became business partners. Montefiore retired from his business in 1824, and used his time and fortune for communal and civic responsibilities. Physically imposing at 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m), He was elected Sheriff of London in 1837 and served until 1838.

Though somewhat lax in religious observance in his early life, after his first visit to the Holy Land in 1827, he became a strictly observant Jew. He was even in the habit of traveling with a personal shohet (ritual slaughterer), to ensure that he would have a ready supply of kosher meat. His determined opposition played an important role in limiting the growth of the Reform Movement in England.

In 1831 Montefiore purchased a country estate with twenty-four acres on the East Cliff of the then fashionable seaside town of Ramsgate. The property had previously been a country house of Queen Caroline, when still Princess of Wales. It had then been owned by Marquess Wellesley, a brother of the Duke of Wellington.[4]

Soon afterwards, Montefiore purchased the adjoining land and commissioned his cousin, architect David Mocatta, to design a private synagogue, known as the Montefiore synagogue. It opened with a grand public ceremony in 1833. [4]

Montefiore never had children. He died in 1885, at the age of 100.

Communal leadership

Montefiore synagogue and tomb of Montefiore in Ramsgate, England

After retiring from business in 1824, Montefiore devoted the rest of his exceptionally long life to philanthropy. [5]He was president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews from 1835-1874, a period of 39 years, the longest tenure ever, and member of Bevis Marks Synagogue.

In business, he was an innovator, investing in the supply of piped gas for street lighting to European cities via the Imperial Continental Gas Association. He was among the founding consortium of the Alliance Life Assurance Company, and a Director of the Provincial Bank of Ireland. Highly regarded in the City, he was elected as Sheriff of the City of London in 1836, and knighted by Queen Victoria in 1837.

From retirement until the day he died, he devoted himself to philanthropy and alleviating the distress of Jews all over the world. The details of his journeys overseas are well-documented. He went to the Sultan of Turkey in 1840 to liberate from prison ten Syrian Jews of Damascus arrested after a blood libel; to Rome in 1858 to try and free the Jewish youth Edgardo Mortara, baptised by his Catholic nurse and kidnapped by functionaries of the Catholic Church; to Russia in 1846 and 1872; to Morocco in 1864 and to Romania in 1867. It was these missions that made him a folk hero of near mythological proportions among the oppressed Jews of Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Levant.

Little is known about his public and political life in general Victorian society. Indicative of his civic and society standing, Montefiore is mentioned in Charles Dickens' diaries, in the personal papers of George Eliot, and in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. It is known that he had contacts with non-conformists and social reformers in Victorian England. He was active in public initiatives aimed at alleviating the persecution of minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, and he worked closely with organisations that campaigned for the abolition of slavery. A Government loan raised by the Rothschilds and Montefiore in 1835 enabled the British Government to compensate plantation owners and thus abolish slavery in the Empire.

Montefiore's 100th birthday was celebrated as a national event in his adopted homeland, Britain and by Jews all over the world. His birthdays, activities and death were closely covered in the British press of the time.

Montefiore’s life was also inextricably bound up with the town of Ramsgate, Kent, on the southeastern coast of England. In the 1830s he and Judith had bought East Cliff Lodge, a country estate (then) adjacent to the town, very much in the manner of the Victorian Jewish gentry. He played an important role in Ramsgate affairs, and one of the local ridings still bears his name. In 1873 a local newspaper mistakenly ran his obituary. "Thank God to have been able to hear of the rumour," he wrote to the editor, "and to read an account of the same with my own eyes, without using spectacles." The town celebrated his 99th and his 100th birthday in great style, and every local charity (and church) benefited from his philanthropy. At East Cliff Lodge he established a Sephardi yeshiva (Judith Lady Montefiore College) after the death of his wife in 1862. On the grounds he built the elegant, Regency architecture Montefiore Synagogue and mausoleum modeled on Rachel's Tomb outside Bethlehem (whose refurbishment and upkeep he had paid for). Judith was laid to rest there in 1862, and Montefiore himself was buried there in 1885. In recent years, the site has become a source of controversy as real-estate developers are eyeing it for commercial development.

Philanthropy in the Holy Land

Jewish philanthropy and the Holy Land were at the center of Montefiore's interests. He traveled there by carriage and ship seven times, sometimes accompanied by his wife. He visited for the first time in 1827, followed by visits in 1838, 1849, 1855, 1857, 1866, and 1875. He made his last trip at the age of 91. Montefiore donated large sums of money to promote industry, education and health. Montefiore left an indelible mark on the Jerusalem landscape with the Moses Montefiore Windmill in Yemin Moshe, named after him, which was the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the Old City walls. The funding came from the estate of an American Jew, Judah Touro, who appointed Montefiore executor of his will. The project, bearing the hallmarks of nineteenth century artisanal revival, aimed to promote productive enterprise in the Yishuv. The builders were brought over from England.

Montefiore windmill in Yemin Moshe

These activities were part of a broader program to enable the Jews of Palestine to become self supporting in anticipation of the establishment of a Jewish homeland. In addition to the windmill (to provide cheap flour to poor Jews), he built a printing press and textile factory, and helped to finance several agricultural colonies. He also attempted to acquire land for Jewish cultivation, but was hampered by Ottoman restrictions on land sale to non-Muslims. Seal of the "Kerem Moshe Montefiore uYehudit" Society in Jerusalem ("Vinyard of Moses and Judith Montefiore" Society in Jerusalem)

Following a devastating cholera outbreak in Jerusalem in 1861 due to overcrowding, Montefiore built Mishkenot Sha'ananim outside the Old City. Living outside the city walls was dangerous at the time, due to lawlessness and bandits. Montefiore offered financial inducement to encourage poor families to move there. Later on, Montefiore established the two Knesset Yisrael neighborhoods, one for Sephardic Jews, one for Ashkenazim, which were even further away.

A major source of information about the Yishuv, or Jewish community in Palestine, during the 19th century is a sequence of censuses commissioned by Montefiore, in 1839, 1849, 1855, 1866 and 1875. The censuses attempted to list every Jew individually, together with some biographical and social information (such as their family structure, place of origin, and degree of poverty).

Although Montefiore only spent a few days in Jerusalem, the 1827 visit changed his life. He resolved to increase his religious observance and to attend synagogue on Shabbat, as well as Mondays and Thursdays when the Torah is read. While his observance of Jewish law was not as strict in his younger years (evidenced by Judith’s descriptions of the meals they enjoyed in inns along the south coast of England on their honeymoon in 1812), from then on, he lived a life of piety and Jewish observance.

The Jews of Palestine referred to their patron as "ha-Sar Montefiore" (Minister Montefiore), a title perpetuated in Hebrew literature and song.


The Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York is named for him. On the second floor of the East Wing, there is a bust of Montefiore. A branch of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania also bears his name.

A number of synagogues were named in honor of Sir Moses, including the 1913 Montifiore Institute, now preserved as the Little Synagogue on the Prairie, and Temple Moses Montefiore in Marshall, Texas, the first Reform temple in East Texas.


Montefiore was renowned for his quick and sharp wit. A popularly-circulated anecdote, possibly apocryphal, relates that at a dinner party he was once seated next to a nobleman who was known to be an anti-Semite. The nobleman told Montefiore that he had just returned from a trip to Japan, where "they have neither pigs nor Jews." Montefiore is reported to have responded immediately, "in that case, you and I should go there, so it will have a sample of each" (a similar anecdote is told of Israel Zangwill.)[6]

Born in Livorno, Italy, raised in London. At 19 yrs old became one of only twelve Jewish stockbrokers. Retired at 40 yrs old. Then devoted to his family and philanthropic causes. In 1837 was elected sheriff of London and was knighted by Queen Victoria.

Geni wiki Jewish Dynasties Page

Sir Moses Montefiore registered his arms in 1819 (Argent a cedar-tree rising from rocks proper, on a chief azure a dagger erect proper pommel and hilt or of the first between two mullets of six points of the last), based on the family badge embroidered on an Ark curtain presented to the synagogue of Ancona by an ancestor in 1635. In 1831 he was allowed to add to the crest a banner inscribed with the word Jerusalem in Hebrew, to commemorate a pilgrimage. In 1841, he was granted the privilege of supporters by Queen Victoria, although he was still only a knight bachelor. The supporters were a lion guardant or and a stag proper, each supporting a flagstaff thereon hoisted a pennon forked with the word Jerusalem in Hebrew. He became a baronet in 1846 and died in 1885.

The Sephardi financier, philanthropist, and Jewish communal leader Moses Montefioree, perhaps the most famous British Jew of the nineteenth century, was born in 1784 in Livorno during a visit there by his parents, who were Livornese-born residents of London. He was raised in the British capital, and later became one of London’s twelve “Jew brokers.” In 1812 he married Judith Cohen and thus became brother-in-law and later stockbroker to Nathan Mayer Rothschild. Montefiore retired from his business activities in 1824 and devoted the rest of his long life to communal and civic undertakings.

Between 1827 and 1874, Montefiore visited Palestine seven times—no mean feat in the nineteenth century—and was deeply involved with the welfare of the country’s Jewish inhabitants. He acquired land for the Palestinian Jewish community (the Old Yishuv) and set up industrial enterprises with the idea of making the community more productive. The Yemin Moshe quarter in Jerusalem, with its famous windmill, was constructed largely because of his efforts and named after him. It had its origins in the Mishkenot Shaʾananim (Abodes of Tranquility) almshouse and was the first quarter outside the walls of the Old City.

Montefiore’s enormous energies were devoted to the welfare of Jewish communities everywhere. He played a major role in bringing the plight of the Jews of Muslim countries to the attention of the wider world. His diplomatic interventions on behalf of remote Jewish communities were aided by the power of Great Britain and by his close relations with the sources of power. Queen Victoria was fond of him, and knighted him on the occasion of her first visit to the City of London. He was the dominant figure in the English Jewish community and was president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews almost uninterruptedly from 1835 to 1874.

One of Montefiore’s more notable interventions took place during the famous Damascus Affair of 1840, when a blood libel charge was leveled at Damascene Jewry, and the community appealed to their Western coreligionists. A meeting called in July 1840 in London’s Mansion House led to Montefiore and others being sent as mediators to plead with Muḥammad ʿAlī, the autonomous viceroy of Egypt, who at the time controlled Syria. The delegation arrived in Alexandria in August and achieved the release of the nine Jewish prisoners who were still alive, as well as official recognition of their innocence. The delegation then went to Istanbul, where they managed to extract from Sultan ʿAbd al-Majīd a firman (edict) declaring that the blood libel was a calumny.

Another notable intervention by Montefiore on behalf of Jews in the Islamic world came about in 1863, when the situation in Morocco was particularly precarious. Despite his advanced age, Montefiore traveled into the Moroccan interior with a delegation of British Jews, including Haim Guedalla, who was himself of Moroccan ancestry and related to Sir Moses by marriage, to negotiate with the Alawi sultan Mawlāy Muḥammad IV in Marrakesh. Following the visit, Mawlāy Muḥammad promulgated an edict (dahir) on February 5, 1864, which promised to treat his Jewish subjects justly and protect them from oppression (text in Stillman, pp. 371–373). Even though the edict was not widely respected, its existence contributed to the long-term improvement of the situation of Moroccan Jewry.

Sir Moses’s efforts in the Muslim world were not always successful. In 1863, as president of the Board of Deputies, he received letters from the Jews of Sanʿa, Yemen, which he forwarded to the foreign secretary, Earl Russell, with a cover letter describing the Jews’ plight: “women are publicly violated in the presence of their husbands; aged and honourable members of the community are compelled to collect the excrement of dogs from the streets amid the jeers and insults of the Mahomedan; and the Jews are spoiled, insulted and tortured, until many of them have killed themselves in despair.” A few months later, after asking the India Office to intervene through the governor of Aden, Russell replied that “the political agent at Aden is unable to do anything on behalf of these unfortunate people. He describes the state of the city of Sanʿa as being one of anarchy and lewdness for some years past; and he apprehends that if it were known he was taking any steps on behalf of the Jews, their position would be rendered even worse than it is now.”

Montefiore died in 1885 at the age of one hundred. His main contributions were probably in the development of the Jews of Palestine. He gave the community generous financial and practical help for more than half a century. He helped found institutions that were of real and lasting benefit to the Jews of the holy cities. His generosity was one of the factors responsible for the considerable growth of the Palestinian community during this period. His role in international situations such as the Damascus Affair was of major significance, for in concerting Jewish political, financial, and moral assistance to remote communities, he helped prepare the ground for the much wider political cooperation among Jews that was to emerge with political Zionism.

Tudor Parfitt


Goodman, Paul. Moses Montefiore (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1925).

Hodgkin, Thomas. Narrative of a Journey to Morocco in 1863 and 1864 (London: Newby, 1866).

Lipman, Sonia, and V. D. Lipman (eds.). The Century of Moses Montefiore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

Lipman, V. D. (ed.). Sir Moses Montefiore: A Symposium (Oxford: Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, and Jewish Historical Society of England, 1982).

Stillman, Norman A. The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1979).

Citation Tudor Parfitt. " Montefiore, Moses." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 11 December 2012 <>

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Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, FRS's Timeline

October 24, 1784
Livorno, Toscana, Italia
July 28, 1885
Age 100
London, England