UCL Hebrew & Jewish Studies


28 October 2013 | 9:30 am to 5:30 pm

Visions of Judaism and Jewish Community in the 19th Century: The Impact of Sir Moses Montefiore

Old Refectory, Wilkins Building, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Montefiore Seminar Programme

For decades, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) has been a towering presence in the life of Anglo-Jewry, and for Jews (and non-Jews) in Europe and around the world. As president of the British Board of Deputies (1835-1874), he exerted a significant degree of control over the life of Jewish congregations in the United Kingdom.

His appointment as Sheriff of London and the bestowing of a knighthood by Queen Victoria (1837), and later a baronetcy, seemed to hold a promise for Jewish integration into the fabric of the British elite. Combining this success in the society at large with strict observance and a lifelong commitment to the Holy Land impressed Jews and non-Jews alike. His interventions on behalf of Jewish communities under duress and his longevity further added to his larger-than-life presence.

This seminar aims to investigate the ways in which Montefiore’s example encouraged Jews of the most diverse identifications to rethink – but also to re-assert – their visions of community: strictly observant communities and associations in Poland-Lithuania, ardent reformers in the United States, freemasons, secular nationalists, rabbis and intellectuals, but also followers of the secular, early Jewish nationalist movement, many of whom expressed their admiration in letters and tributes to Sir Moses.

Over the past years, a collection of hundreds of such tributes has been digitized at UCL and subsequently transcribed by volunteering students of the UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies. This collection, owned by the Montefiore Endowment and on loan to UCL Special Collections, has been prepared for online presentation by UCL Library Services and will be easily accessible and fully searchable in the very near future.

The organisers wish to thank the Montefiore Endowment and the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies for making this event possible.

François Guesnet