Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Heroby Abigail Green
Humanitarian, philanthropist, and campaigner for Jewish emancipation on a grand scale, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784–1885) was the preeminent Jewish figure of the nineteenth centuryand 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
Humanitarian, philanthropist, and campaigner for Jewish emancipation on a grand scale, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784–1885) was the preeminent Jewish figure of the nineteenth centuryand 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 lifefrom 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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
[A] mammoth warts-and-all account of Montefiore and his times.
Priscilla S. Taylor
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 befair and illuminating without ever descending to hagiography.
[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 dalliancesGreen 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 historyand not just Jewish historyfor 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.
[An] intriguing and well-researched book.
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
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.
- Harvard University Press
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Meet the Author
Abigail Green is Tutor and Fellow in History, Brasenose College, University of Oxford.
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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.