Sir Moses of Montefiore
The Montefiore Family: From Piceno to Promised Land
On 4th November 1884 the New York Times celebrated the 100th birthday of Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) But who is this man?
Montefiore. The history of this name takes us back three centuries, to 1563, when a Jewish family of businessmen fled from Montefiore dell’Aso to Ancona.
In 1630 an inscription in gold on a ritual silk robe donated to the synagogue of Ancona confirms their presence as rich businessmen at that time. It reads: Rachel, wife of Leone Judah Montefiore embroidered this with her own hands.
For centuries Ancona had been host to the biggest Jewish community in central Italy, after Rome.
They were Jews from Spain, the East and from Roman cities. Up to the time of time of the earthquake in 1690 it had been a Florentine commercial city, the second most important Adriatic port after Venice, and was linked with the major oriental ports. Because of the commercial significance and the pivotal location, Jews were accepted. In fact, when, in 1569, Pope Pius V expelled the Jews from all church territories, he made an exception of those in Rome and Ancona.
From 1200 the Jews in Le Marche contributed to the flowering of the town and its local commerce. At that time there were 60 small Jewish communities which in small pockets all over the region. They were needed by businesses, the magistrature and noble families, to finance the daily life of the citizens. They were artisans, professionals, agricultural land owners as well as business men and as prejudice would have it, by necessity as money lenders. It was a period of intense commercial activity, and in Ascoli the first lending bank in Le Marche was established in 1297. “ As Ascoli is abundant in money, ….so that men are not reduced to poverty, so the city can offerloans, and lend money to all, with interest and documentation.”
Ascoli was also the location of the first ‘Monte di Pieta’ in Italy in 1458. These organisations were run by the Catholic church and were essentially pawn shops, where the poor could bring articles and receive money for them at moderate interest. This, of course undercut the Jewish money lenders and were considered morally superior to them. The period of persecution of the Jews began. Ghettos grew up from the middle of the 14th century and everywhere Jews were expelled and oppressed.
With the decline in business opportunities for them, the Montefiores left Ancona and moved to Livorno, which, thanks to the tolerance of the Medici had become one of the most important ports in the Western Mediterranean. By the middle of the 18th century they had become rich and influential businessmen, and based their business in London. From here began a stellar growth in their fortunes.
Moses Montefiore, from being simply a very young, successful trader, became a ‘broker’ or agent for the London Stock Exchange. He worked for the East Indies company and for the Rothschilds.
As well as working for them, he also became a member of the family, and they were probably the most eminent figures in the early days of Capitalism.
In 1824, at the age of 40 and at the height of his financial success, he abandoned finance and dedicated himself to philanthropic activity, which further increased his popularity. We owe to him the end of slavery in the Empire: in 1885 he financed, along with the Rothschilds, government compensation for planters in the colonies who were no longer permitted to own slaves. In 1846 Queen Victoria made him a Baronet.
The world was becoming more nationalistic, and Moses started a series of foreign journeys on diplomatic missions in defence of Jews in Europe and in the Ottoman Empire. Where money was not enough, words and negotiations took over. This powerful and self-confident man impressed and charmed people.
He was an enlightened conservative, and he had the idea, for the first time, that Jewish people should become independent and thereby make themselves free citizens in their own country, and not simply financiers for others. The idea of Israel was born. This story began three centuries earlier in a little village in Le Marche.
Transcription of article from New York Times
Montefiore and the Jews.
(from the London Times)
Montefiore is the beautiful name of a little town on the eastern slope of the Apennines in Ascoli Piceno. According to a family tradition confirmed by the records of the Synagogue, the Montefiores were at one time settled in Ancona, the seaport of the district, and it is conjectured, therefore, that they came to Ancona from the Picentine village set among hills overgrown by flowers. The name is in German exactly represented by Blumberg, which is a Jewish family name, but Jewish surnames in Northern Europe must be used with great caution as a guide to the origin of the older and less accidental southern names. From Ancona the Montefiores migrated to Leghorn, and in the middle of the eighteenth century Moses Haim Montefiore travelled from Leghorn to London and settled in Philpot Lane. He begat 17 children, one of whom became a merchant and travelled for business purposes to Leghorn, taking his wife with him. There Moses Montefiore was born, but he was reared in England.
Montefiore has done his utmost to encourage agriculture in Palestine, and although his efforts have been slow in producing successful practical results, they bid fair to bear fruit at last. More obvious and immediate were the services he rendered in the Damascus affair in 1840 and in Morocco in 1864. At Damascus the Jews had been accused of using human blood in kneading Passover cakes. Montefiore proceeded to Constantinople, demonstrated before learned Moslems how repugnant was the charge to every principle of Judaism, and thereupon the Sultan issued the celebrated edict of the 12th Ramazan, which discusses and refutes the inveterate slander. In Morocco the Jews had been frequently oppressed, and were in 1863 in special danger from a false charge of murder having been successfully brought against some of their number by a European. At the age of 79 Moses Montefiore crossed the desert to the Moorish capital, was received by the Sultan in grand audience, and made so favourable an imoression on sovereign and people hat the Jews for many years enjoyed comparative immunity from onslaughts. In 1860 Montefiore started a subscription in the columns fo the Times for the relief of the Christians in Syria, and collected over £20,000. In 1871 he remitted £18,000 for the relief of famine in Persia. Twice on behalf of his co-religionists he went to Russia, and his interviews with two Czars were not without at least temporary effect. Pilgrimages to Roumania and Rome, the latter on behalf of the boy Mortara, who was, in consequence of the treachery of a maidservant, baptized, torn from his mother’s care, and reared as a priest, proved failures, but the Mortara incident hastened the loss of the temporal power.
(The New York Times)