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Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero

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Overview

Humanitarian, philanthropist, and campaigner for Jewish emancipation on a grand scale, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784–1885) was the preeminent Jewish figure of the nineteenth century—and one of the first truly global celebrities. His story, told here in full for the first time, is a remarkable and illuminating tale of diplomacy and adventure. Abigail Green's sweeping biography follows Montefiore through the realms of court and ghetto, tsar and sultan, synagogue and stock exchange.

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Moses Montefiore

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Overview

Humanitarian, philanthropist, and campaigner for Jewish emancipation on a grand scale, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784–1885) was the preeminent Jewish figure of the nineteenth century—and one of the first truly global celebrities. His story, told here in full for the first time, is a remarkable and illuminating tale of diplomacy and adventure. Abigail Green's sweeping biography follows Montefiore through the realms of court and ghetto, tsar and sultan, synagogue and stock exchange.

Interweaving the public triumph of Montefiore's foreign missions with the private tragedy of his childless marriage, this book brings the diversity of nineteenth-century Jewry brilliantly to life—from London to Jerusalem, Rome to St. Petersburg, Morocco to Istanbul. Here we see the origins of Zionism and the rise of international Jewish consciousness, the faltering birth of international human rights, and the making of the modern Middle East. With the globalization and mobilization of religious identities now at the top of the political agenda, Montefiore's life story is relevant as never before.

Mining materials from eleven countries in nine languages, Green's masterly biography bridges the East-West divide in modern Jewish history, presenting the transformation of Jewish life in Europe, the Middle East, and the New World as part of a single global phenomenon. As it reestablishes Montefiore's status as a major historical player, it also restores a significant chapter to the history of our modern world.

2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Runner-up

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Editorial Reviews

The Tablet
Deeply impressive...Green never allows the reader to lose sight of Montefiore's truly pioneering achievements, or of his courage, generosity, and farsightedness. In writing about this incomparable life, Green has produced an incomparable book. More than a biography, Moses Montefiore takes its place as one of the essential works on modern Jewish history.
— Adam Kirsch
Publishers Weekly
A world-famous humanitarian, philanthropist, and campaigner for Jewish emancipation, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784–1885) was born into London’s Sephardic merchant elite and knighted by Queen Victoria. Aided by his brother-in-law Nathan Rothschild, Montefiore made a fortune on London’s stock exchange by age 40 and dedicated the rest of his active life to aiding Jewry around the world. He sailed to the Middle East to intercede for Damascus and Rhodes Jews accused of blood libel; to St. Petersburg to lobby Czar Nicholas I for Jewish emancipation; and to the Vatican to plead for the release of Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish Bolognese boy seized by the Catholic Church after a forced baptism. The private Montefiore painted by Green is not without warts. Though happy in his marriage, he may have fathered several illegitimate children, and the Orthodox Montefiore cut a brother off for joining a Reform synagogue. An Oxford history fellow and descendant of Montefiore’s nephew, Green offers a perceptive, solidly researched biography with expressive period illustrations attesting to Montefiore’s global celebrity. His image graced the cover of Harper’s Weekly for his 99th birthday. 46 b&w photos, 4 maps. (Mar.)
Canberra Times

This massive and absorbing biography by Abigail Green does [Montefiore] full justice. In a brief review, however, it is impossible even to enumerate all the issues in which Montefiore was deeply committed. The sheer range of his activities in many countries made him one of the first truly global superstars, and it is astonishing that no full biography of him has previously been written.
— Robert Wilson

Haaretz

[An] extensive and engaging biography...Moses Montefiore's remarkable life is both a Jewish story and an international one, even if today, Montefiore, if he is remembered at all, is remembered almost exclusively in Jewish circles.
— Shalom Goldman

Tablet Magazine

Deeply impressive...Green never allows the reader to lose sight of Montefiore's truly pioneering achievements, or of his courage, generosity, and farsightedness. In writing about this incomparable life, Green has produced an incomparable book. More than a biography, Moses Montefiore takes its place as one of the essential works on modern Jewish history.
— Adam Kirsch

Times Literary Supplement

If one of the most famous men of his age is now barely a name, that may in part be because his astonishing life's story has never been properly told before; as Abigail Green's splendid biography shows, it is as rich, complex and absorbing as a nineteenth-century novel...This is a marvelous book, as absorbing as it is learned.
— Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Jewish Tribune

The achievement of this book is in combining sumptuous production, with over five hundred large format pages; especially the fascinating illustrations and quality of content, given the meticulous scholarship, delving into dusty archives in many languages, the clear empathy with and celebration of her subject's warmth and self sacrifice stylishly described. As a scholar of early humanitarianism, Abigail Green has risen to the challenge of describing the life of the man who molded what was then a novel idea.
— Yerachmiel Rubin

Jewish Book World
A well-researched and beautifully written biography, Abigail Green's Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero presents for the first time the full story of the preeminent champion of Jewish emancipation on a global scale. Green illuminates Montefiore's life in the UK and his engagement in European and Middle Eastern diplomacy on behalf of his Jewish brethren in all its complexity.
The Economist
Green's account is often entertaining...Green, herself a twig on the Sebag Montefiore family tree, is more interested in historical themes she thinks have been neglected: how Montefiore used piety, philanthropy and publicity to rally sympathy on a global scale, paving the way for today's campaigns and interventions on behalf of humanitarian causes.
Washington Times

[A] mammoth warts-and-all account of Montefiore and his times.
— Priscilla S. Taylor

Jewish Ideas Daily
The name [Moses Montefiore] alone conjures up story-book images of a horse-drawn carriage from which a pious Victorian benefactor alights to bribe a local official, endow an orphanage, or dedicate a windmill. Abigail Green's brilliant new biography--elegantly conceived, exhaustively researched, crisply written--presents a far more complicated and fascinating picture.
Wall Street Journal

Green writes deftly and tells Montefiore's story with an admirable thoroughness...Moses Montefiore is mercifully free of academic theory. It is exactly what a good biography should be—fair and illuminating without ever descending to hagiography.
— Walter Laqueur

New Republic

[An] erudite, intelligent, and graceful biography of Moses Montefiore...A daughter of a Sebag-Montefiore herself, [Green] has had access to some family archival sources not available to her scholarly predecessors, but her kinship to her subject is never uncritical. When Moses Montefiore waxes pompous in his proconsular grandeur (a not infrequent occurrence); when he dons rose-tinted glasses about the prospects of his Palestinian enterprises; when he fails to treat his underlings with the consideration and remuneration they merited; when he intolerantly slams the door of acceptance against those, including members of his own family, who wanted to reform contemporary Judaism; when the trail of the great patriarch leads to extramarital dalliances—Green tells it like it most certainly was. The result of this sympathetic candor is a portrait rich in human complexity from which Montefiore's profound importance for the history of the Jews rises at last above mere ritual veneration...Green's book is a rich gift to history—and not just Jewish history—for its account not just of what Moses Montefiore did or did not do, but also of what he was. Her pages are most memorable when they simply bring the old boy to vivid life amid all the complexities and perplexities of his great self-imposed calling.
— Simon Schama

Literary Review

[An] intriguing and well-researched book.
— Leslie Mitchell

Jewish Telegraph

It would be hard to find words grand enough to describe Abigail Green's history of her relative Sir Moses Montefiore. "Admirable," "dignified," "comprehensive": all of them are true and so much more.
— Rabbi Brian Fox

Jewish Chronicle

Abigail Green (an Oxford don who is also a Sebag-Montefiore) has brilliantly synthesized a wealth of other sources, many of them never before used by Montefiore scholars. The picture that emerges is sombre and in some respects shocking.
— Geoffrey Alderman

Niall Ferguson
Abigail Green is without doubt the most brilliant rising star in modern European Jewish history. Her biography of Moses Montefiore, one of the great torch-bearers of Jewish emancipation, redefines the role played by Jews in the prehistory of globalization, as well as the history of philanthropy. She is a profound historical thinker and a marvelous writer into the bargain. This is a masterpiece of scholarship and historical imagination.
Todd Endelman
An absolutely first-rate biography of the nineteenth-century champion of imperiled Jews. Green's account of Montefiore's faith and his attachment to the land of Israel is especially compelling. Written in a lively manner, this book will have broad appeal.
Derek Penslar
This magisterial biography illuminates the life of one of the most important, yet least understood, figures in modern Jewish history. Green shows that European religious sensibility, liberal humanitarianism, and Great Power politics were indispensable preconditions for Jewish emancipation and twentieth-century Jewish politics. Gracefully written, yet supported by massive erudition, Green's book deserves a wide readership.
David Feldman
An elegant, accessible, and intellectually impressive book. Sir Moses Montefiore was a dominant presence in Anglo-Jewish society, a towering figure pressing Jewish interests on the international stage. Green explores Montefiore's public work as well as his family life and religious beliefs, and provides an innovative account of Jewish politics in nineteenth-century Europe.
Jewish Telegraph - Rabbi Brian Fox
It would be hard to find words grand enough to describe Abigail Green's history of her relative Sir Moses Montefiore. "Admirable," "dignified," "comprehensive": all of them are true and so much more.
Jewish Chronicle - Geoffrey Alderman
Abigail Green (an Oxford don who is also a Sebag-Montefiore) has brilliantly synthesized a wealth of other sources, many of them never before used by Montefiore scholars. The picture that emerges is sombre and in some respects shocking.
Tablet Magazine - Adam Kirsch
The most impressive book I've read this year is Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero...Green's book, however, is not just the biography of a Jewish worthy: it is a wide-ranging study of Britain's liberal imperialism at the zenith of its moral influence, and of the emergence of a modern Jewish consciousness.
Washington Times - Priscilla S. Taylor
[A] mammoth warts-and-all account of Montefiore and his times.
Wall Street Journal - Walter Laqueur
Green writes deftly and tells Montefiore's story with an admirable thoroughness...Moses Montefiore is mercifully free of academic theory. It is exactly what a good biography should be--fair and illuminating without ever descending to hagiography.
New Republic - Simon Schama
[An] erudite, intelligent, and graceful biography of Moses Montefiore...A daughter of a Sebag-Montefiore herself, [Green] has had access to some family archival sources not available to her scholarly predecessors, but her kinship to her subject is never uncritical. When Moses Montefiore waxes pompous in his proconsular grandeur (a not infrequent occurrence); when he dons rose-tinted glasses about the prospects of his Palestinian enterprises; when he fails to treat his underlings with the consideration and remuneration they merited; when he intolerantly slams the door of acceptance against those, including members of his own family, who wanted to reform contemporary Judaism; when the trail of the great patriarch leads to extramarital dalliances--Green tells it like it most certainly was. The result of this sympathetic candor is a portrait rich in human complexity from which Montefiore's profound importance for the history of the Jews rises at last above mere ritual veneration...Green's book is a rich gift to history--and not just Jewish history--for its account not just of what Moses Montefiore did or did not do, but also of what he was. Her pages are most memorable when they simply bring the old boy to vivid life amid all the complexities and perplexities of his great self-imposed calling.
Literary Review - Leslie Mitchell
[An] intriguing and well-researched book.
Canberra Times - Robert Wilson
This massive and absorbing biography by Abigail Green does [Montefiore] full justice. In a brief review, however, it is impossible even to enumerate all the issues in which Montefiore was deeply committed. The sheer range of his activities in many countries made him one of the first truly global superstars, and it is astonishing that no full biography of him has previously been written.
Haaretz - Shalom Goldman
[An] extensive and engaging biography...Moses Montefiore's remarkable life is both a Jewish story and an international one, even if today, Montefiore, if he is remembered at all, is remembered almost exclusively in Jewish circles.
Jewish Tribune - Yerachmiel Rubin
The achievement of this book is in combining sumptuous production, with over five hundred large format pages; especially the fascinating illustrations and quality of content, given the meticulous scholarship, delving into dusty archives in many languages, the clear empathy with and celebration of her subject's warmth and self sacrifice stylishly described. As a scholar of early humanitarianism, Abigail Green has risen to the challenge of describing the life of the man who molded what was then a novel idea.
Times Literary Supplement - Geoffrey Wheatcroft
If one of the most famous men of his age is now barely a name, that may in part be because his astonishing life's story has never been properly told before; as Abigail Green's splendid biography shows, it is as rich, complex and absorbing as a nineteenth-century novel...This is a marvelous book, as absorbing as it is learned.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674048805
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2010
  • Pages: 540
  • Sales rank: 1,067,589
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Abigail Green is Tutor and Fellow in History, Brasenose College, University of Oxford.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps vii

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Note to Readers xv

Introduction 1

1 Livorno and London 9

2 Making a Fortune 24

3 A World beyond Business 43

4 The Road to Jerusalem 60

5 Rise, Sir Moses 85

6 The Land of Milk and Honey 112

7 The Damascus Affair 133

8 Unity and Dissent 158

9 Winds of Change in Russia 174

10 Trial and Error 199

11 The Crimean War and After 228

12 The Mortara Affair 258

13 Grief and Sore Troubles 282

14 Mission to Marrakesh 300

15 Building Jerusalem 320

16 Crisis in Romania 339

17 Fading Glory 359

18 The Final Pilgrimage 380

19 End of an Era 403

Conclusion 421

Appendix A Barent-Cohen Family Tree, Showing Judith's Cohen and Rothschild Relatives 426

Appendix B Montefiore Family Tree 428

Notes 431

Archives Consulted 517

Index 519

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Revival of a Forgotten Humanist and Philanthropist

    Abigail Green paints, with much dexterity, a balanced portrait of her ancestor, Moses Montefiore, a key Jewish humanist and philanthropist of the nineteenth century, whose undeniable accomplishments sank into oblivion under the relentless pressure of time. Montefiore started his career in finance in London and was related to financial prodigy Nathan Rothschild through his marriage to Judith Barent-Cohen, sister of Rothschild's wife. After becoming wealthy in the City, Montefiore progressively questioned the materialism of his socio-economic circles and looked for a higher purpose outside the business world.

    To her credit, Ms. Green sheds a light on a dimension of Jewish emancipation that lies outside the traditional framework of emerging nation-states. Ms. Green masterfully revisited poorly studied developments within the Diaspora that took place decades before the birth of Zionism. Montefiore, a deeply religious man, came quickly to the understanding that Jewish emancipation would benefit tremendously 1) from outreach to enlightened Christian communities and 2) from persuasive advocacy within the highest spheres of different political entities. Ms. Green shows clearly how Montefiore leveraged the media, voluntary civic associations, and representative Western governments to mobilize opinion and diplomatic influence to stop, or at least mitigate, systematic persecution of specific Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East. To his credit, Montefiore did not limit his philanthropy to transnational Jewish causes, which helped him reach out to Christian and Muslim decision-makers.

    In summary, Ms. Green highlights how Montefiore blazed a trail for others to advance the cause of human rights whose violations remain a scourge in too many countries to this day.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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