This collection of over four hundred large-format tributes, and hundreds more in eight bound volumes, is owned by the Montefiore Endowment. It contains a mixture of manuscript and printed tributes, many of which are decorated and illuminated. Most are written in Hebrew, English, Italian, German and Hungarian: others are in Dutch and Swedish. Much may be learned from them about the self-perception, hopes and expectations of those who sent them. They illustrate the special position of Sir Moses Montefiore as a symbol of the national and spiritual aspirations of the Jews of his day. A research paper on the Testimonials commissioned by the Montefiore Endowment, by Dr Francois Guesnet of the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department of University College London is available on this website Testimonials Research Paper
Most of this collection of written tributes sent to Sir Moses Montefiore, starting in the 1840s and continuing until 1884, is deposited on medium-term loan in University College London’s Special Collections Library, where it is available to scholars; a few testimonials have been retained in the Montefiore Library in London and included in the catalogue of Montefiore Artefacts. Details of access to the U.C.L. Special Collections Library may be found at www.ucl.ac.uk/Library/special-coll/.
With comparatively few exceptions, high-quality scans of the Testimonials together with transcriptions and metadata are now available on this website when you browse the collection of testimonials. Search the testimonials. You can also access the collection on http://digitool-b.lib.ucl.ac.uk.
The project of publishing the Testimonials online together with transcriptions and the research paper would not have reached its present stage of virtual completion, or even have been started, but for the untiring efforts of Dr Roger Bilboul, a member of the Montefiore Council. Sally Style, the Montefiore Librarian, also helped greatly with the internet presentation and related matters. The Montefiore Endowment thanks them both for their valuable contributions.
Introducing the Testimonials
Sir Moses Montefiore Bart. was the most famous English Jew of his time, probably of all time. Passionate in his beliefs, both as a Jew and as an Englishman, he became a legend in his own lifetime throughout the entire Jewish world. He was respected by kings and potentates; and was venerated by impoverished Jews in the shtetls of Eastern Europe as well as in the mellahs of North Africa and the Middle East. He was born in 1784 and died in 1885, aged 100. As a young man, his uncle Moses Mocatta secured him a position as one of the only twelve brokers allowed to practise on the London Exchange. He married Judith Cohen, sister-in-law of Nathan Meyer Rothschild; and that connection helped him to make his fortune before the age of forty. Montefiore then retired from the Stock Exchange and devoted the rest of his long life to the interests of poor and oppressed fellow Jews.
Jews in many countries saw Sir Moses as their chief spokesman. Bertrand Russell, the eminent philosopher, wrote in his autobiography that, as a little boy, his grandmother (widow of Lord Russell, the former Prime Minister) told him that she would ‘take him to see the most famous Jew in the world’. Early Zionists (‘the Lovers of Zion’) who urgently needed funds to settle Jews in the Holy Land, printed thousands of portraits of Sir Moses to sell in Eastern Europe as an unique act of homage. His charities and benevolent foundations at home were on a large scale; and in visits to Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, Rome, Russia, Romania and Turkey, he did what he could to relieve the persecution of Jews in those places. He was knighted ‘for these noble services’ by Queen Victoria in 1837 and was made a Baronet in 1846.
The most famous of the many journeys Montefiore made abroad was in connection with the Damascus Affair. The pernicious slander that the Jews require the blood of a Christian for making their Passover matzah was revived in Damascus in 1840; and that resulted in a fierce persecution of the Jews of that city. Sir Moses, with the active support of Lord Palmerston, visited the Ottoman Governor of Egypt and managed to obtain the release of the imprisoned Jews. He also received a firman (royal proclamation) from the Sultan of Turkey, guaranteeing his protection against similar charges to all the Jews in his Empire. On his return to London, Queen Victoria honoured Sir Moses by giving him the privilege of supporters (heraldic animals) to his coat of arms. Because of his passionate love of God and of Jerusalem, he added the Lion of Judah holding a banner bearing the word Jerusalem (in Hebrew letters) to his arms. Sir Moses Montefiore’s love of Zion was demonstrated by his seven visits to the Holy Land, undertaken at a time when such journeys were long, difficult and dangerous. His first visit, during which he was able to spend only four days in Jerusalem, took ten months to complete. Sir Moses actively encouraged agriculture there and endowed hospitals and alms-houses.
Great Britain with its Empire was then at the peak of its power and influence in the world. The sight of a fellow Jew being honoured by the British Queen and cordially received by the mighty kings and princes of the world captured the imaginations of oppressed Jews everywhere; and it is no wonder that they sent him elaborate tributes – a flow that started in 1840 and reaching its peak in 1884 when Sir Moses was one hundred years old.