The History behind Sir Moses Montefiore

Born to a Merchant Family
Moses Haim Montefiore was born on the 24th October 1784, while his parents were in Leghorn (Italy) on business. The son of Moses Haim and Rachel Lumbroso de Mattos Mocatta, Montefiore entered the world at the home of his great uncle and godfather, Moses Haim Racah...he was in fact the first of eight children.

The Montefiore family had resided in Italy since the sixteenth century. Montefiore's grandfather, Moses Vita Montefiore was a merchant who settled in England in 1758. He lay the groundwork for the fortune and the social standing that the family would enjoy in England for the next two centuries. The Mocatta family, whose origins were also Italian, had settled in Holland but went to England at the invitation of William of Orange.
A Civil Partnership
Montefiore married Judith Cohen on June 10, 1810. She was the daugher of Levi Barenth Cohen, considered to be the wealthiest Jew in England, and probably the world. Each of them was nearly 28 when they married. This was the wedding of an Ashkenazi, or German, Jew to a Sephardic, or Spanish Jew. The Montefiore marriage represented a perfect union of the two groups. When Judith died on September 24, 1862, they had shared more than 50 years together.

According to Myrtle Franklin and Michael Bor in their book, Sir Moses Montefiore, "Moses' marriage to Judith was the most important event in his life. They shared the devoted care in the observance of the practices and customs of their religion. She became the inspiration behind his bold and perspicacious missions that made him a major figure in Jewish history, rather than merely a wealthy financier, and shared all the risks and dramas in travelling abroad."

A Successful Banker, Financer and Jewish Hero

Sir Moses Montefiore - picture in the Harpers Weekly magazine.

A Proud Englishman & Jew
Montefiore intended to show his loyalty to England in a public way. As a handsome young man of 6 feet 3 inches, and from a family of pristine distinction, Montefiore volunteered for the local militia in 1809. He became a captain in the Surrey Militia from 1810 until 1814. For 30 to 40 days each year militia members served in active duty, which consisted primarily of learning to play the bugle and studying the French language. Montefiore's connection to the Rothschild family, known for its wealth and influence on banking throughout Europe, began in 1812 when he became Nathan Mayer Rothschild's stockbroker. Rothschild had married Hannah Cohen, the sister of Montefiore's wife Judith, in 1806. His work as a stockbroker led him to achieve great prosperity. Franklin and Bor note that, "Moses' diaries are crammed with references to rumours of war, the health of kings and emperors, governments' policies, house calls on royalty and cabinet members, and entries on international politics and conflicts between nations."

A Legacy of Faith

Montefiore's journey to the Holyland

Jewish philanthropy and the Holy Land were at the centre of Montefiore's interests. He travelled there by carriage and ship seven times, sometimes accompanied by his wife. In Montefiore's time, these voyages was arduous and not without danger. He made his last journey there at the age of 91.

The Ramsgate Synagogue

Sir Moses Montefiore bought a plot of land and commissioned his cousin, architect David Mocatta, to design his own synagogue, which was opened with a grand public ceremony in 1833. Judith Lady Montefiore died in 1862 at the age of 78. She was buried in the Mausoleum which was commissioned by Sir Moses and built just 15 paces from the Synagogue (see adjoining photograph).  When Sir Moses died in 1885 he was just 3 months short of his 101st birthday and in accordance with his wishes, he was buried alongside his wife.

Praised by all

When Montefiore died in London on 28 July 1885, he was just 3 months short of his 101st birthday. He was praised from all quarters. His legacy included the liberation of countless Jews from persecution, the construction of new hospitals, a school for girls in Jerusalem, and countless other projects. Montefiore's companion and personal secretary, Dr. L. Loewe, wrote of his friend by saying:

"Sir Moses had fought so sturdily in youth the battle of life, and afterwards devoted himself with such unwearying ardour to the task of combating hatred, persecution, and fanaticism, of severing the bonds of physical and moral slavery, and of aiding in the establishment of religious toleration all over the world. His unparalleled devotion to the sacred cause of humanity in general, and the unclouded halo of a spotless integrity which encircles his name, will ever afford a splendid example for emulation no less than the dauntless courage with which he set to work for the rescue of the suffering and oppressed."