College history

judith-lineJudith Lady Montefiore died in 1862. At first, Sir Moses had intended to perpetuate her memory by building a theological college in Jerusalem with ten houses for the students, who would be provided with a library and granted an annual subsistence allowance.

 
Shortly afterwards, he changed his mind and decided to build the Judith Lady Montefiore College on land adjoining his own country house and synagogue in Ramsgate. His wish was
 

to promote the study of the Holy Law … as a memorial of his sincere devotion to the Law of God … and as a token of his love … for his departed consort Judith, Lady Montefiore.

 
The College was originally intended for ten elderly retired scholars. In Sir Moses’s own words,

to provide for the accommodation of ten persons distinguished for their great learning in the Holy Law and piety.

 
He prayed
 

May God in his mercy and goodness, grant that the inhabitants of the intended College may devote themselves to the study of his Holy Law and may they find peace and happiness in their dwellings.

 
The Elders of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation in London assumed the religious and temporal administration of the Judith Lady Montefiore College in 1885 after the death of Sir Moses.

It was found impracticable to fulfil the Sir Moses’s detailed instructions because of their very demanding nature – for few scholars could be found to agree to live under his specified regime. Sir Moses’s curriculum set out the texts to be studied during each hour of the day; and it required the scholars to start learning at 5.00 am and to continue, with breaks, until midnight, when the tikkun prayers were to be recited.

And so the College was transformed into a seminary for training young men who wished to serve the community as rabbis, hazanim and teachers of religion. The trustees of that time, many of whom had known Sir Moses personally, were convinced that this was the course that he himself would have favoured in such circumstances.

The College’s most productive period came after the Second World War, when Haham Solomon Gaon, in partnership with the Torah Department of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, revived the College as a training school for future rabbis, ministers and teachers, with its main intake comprising young students from the then threatened Jewish communities of North Africa. Many of the College’s graduates now serve as rabbis and teachers throughout the Sephardi world. Those best known in London include Rabbi Martin van den Bergh, Rabbi Israel Elia, Rev. Zvi Amroussi, Rev. Halfon Benarroch and Rev.Yossi Houri.

The College was moved to London from Ramsgate in the 1960s. Ramsgate, by then no longer having a Jewish community, was not thought a suitable environment in which to train young men for the ministry; also it proved ever more difficult to find teachers willing to live in Ramsgate. The College closed its doors some twenty years later when the flow of students from North Africa ceased, their families having all emigrated to Israel. By that time, the College was also heavily in debt. It was re-opened as a college to promote advanced Torah learning in 2005.

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