Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero Hardcover – Mar 15 2010
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Abigail Green is without doubt the most brilliant rising star in modern European Jewish history. Her biography of Moses Montefiore, one of the great torch-bearers of Jewish emancipation, redefines the role played by Jews in the prehistory of globalization, as well as the history of philanthropy. She is a profound historical thinker and a marvelous writer into the bargain. This is a masterpiece of scholarship and historical imagination.
An absolutely first-rate biography of the nineteenth-century champion of imperiled Jews. Green's account of Montefiore's faith and his attachment to the land of Israel is especially compelling. Written in a lively manner, this book will have broad appeal.
--Todd Endelman, author of The Jews of Britain, 1656-2000
This magisterial biography illuminates the life of one of the most important, yet least understood, figures in modern Jewish history. Green shows that European religious sensibility, liberal humanitarianism, and Great Power politics were indispensable preconditions for Jewish emancipation and twentieth-century Jewish politics. Gracefully written, yet supported by massive erudition, Green's book deserves a wide readership.
--Derek Penslar, author of Shylock's Children
An elegant, accessible, and intellectually impressive book. Sir Moses Montefiore was a dominant presence in Anglo-Jewish society, a towering figure pressing Jewish interests on the international stage. Green explores Montefiore's public work as well as his family life and religious beliefs, and provides an innovative account of Jewish politics in nineteenth-century Europe.
--David Feldman, author of Englishmen and Jews
Green offers a perceptive, solidly researched biography with expressive period illustrations attesting to Montefiore's global celebrity. (Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2010-01-25)
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 (Jewish Telegraph 2010-01-29)
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.
--Geoffrey Alderman (Jewish Chronicle 2010-03-04)
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.
--Adam Kirsch (Tablet Magazine 2010-03-09)
Green's account is often entertaining...Green, herself a twig on the Sebag Montefiore family tree, is more interested in historical themes she thinks have been neglected: how Montefiore used piety, philanthropy and publicity to rally sympathy on a global scale, paving the way for today's campaigns and interventions on behalf of humanitarian causes. (The Economist 2010-03-27)
[A] mammoth warts-and-all account of Montefiore and his times.
--Priscilla S. Taylor (Washington Times 2010-03-26)
The name [Moses Montefiore] alone conjures up story-book images of a horse-drawn carriage from which a pious Victorian benefactor alights to bribe a local official, endow an orphanage, or dedicate a windmill. Abigail Green's brilliant new biography--elegantly conceived, exhaustively researched, crisply written--presents a far more complicated and fascinating picture. (Jewish Ideas Daily 2010-04-16)
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 be--fair and illuminating without ever descending to hagiography.
--Walter Laqueur (Wall Street Journal 2010-04-29)
[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 dalliances--Green 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 history--and not just Jewish history--for 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.
--Simon Schama (New Republic 2010-06-10)
[An] intriguing and well-researched book.
--Leslie Mitchell (Literary Review 2010-06-01)
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.
--Robert Wilson (Canberra Times 2010-07-03)
[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.
--Shalom Goldman (Haaretz 2010-08-01)
The most impressive book I've read this year is Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero...Green's book, however, is not just the biography of a Jewish worthy: it is a wide-ranging study of Britain's liberal imperialism at the zenith of its moral influence, and of the emergence of a modern Jewish consciousness.
--Adam Kirsch (Times Literary Supplement 2010-12-03)
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.
--Yerachmiel Rubin (Jewish Tribune 2011-02-17)
A well-researched and beautifully written biography, Abigail Green's Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero presents for the first time the full story of the preeminent champion of Jewish emancipation on a global scale. Green illuminates Montefiore's life in the UK and his engagement in European and Middle Eastern diplomacy on behalf of his Jewish brethren in all its complexity. (Jewish Book World 2011-04-01)
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.
--Geoffrey Wheatcroft (Times Literary Supplement 2011-08-10)
About the Author
Abigail Green is Tutor and Fellow in History, Brasenose College, University of Oxford.
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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.
Abigail's Green narrative is masterfully constructed, tracing, through Montefiore's progress, the various challenges and crises that helped transform the Jews' status in Europe and the Middle East. Montefiore first rose to international renown in the 'Damascus affair', a blood libel started by a French consul in Syria and which arose in the middle of a major diplomatic tussle between Egypt, Turkey, and the Great Powers. The campaign and travels of Montefiore and a handful of companions, not all Jewish but including Christian evangelicals, led to the liberation of a whole group of Syrian Jews who had been unjustly imprisoned and tortured. Sir Montefiore and the London Board of Deputies, seconded by Jewish scholars, journalists, and lawyers in France, Germany, the USA, and beyond, later intervened in an attempt to halt the expulsion of thousands of Jews from Russian rural regions, to reverse the forced conversion of a boy in the Papal States, and to halt pogroms in Romania. They also tried, often less successfully, to come to the aid of the small Jerusalem community, an odd group mostly composed of devouts and scholars that was surprisingly resistant to change and the encroachments of modernity.
Green's biography of Montefiore thus offers both a portrait of evolving Jewish communities throughout the century, and of changing European attitudes, politics, and debates on human and religious rights. But her book, carefully researched and based on documents written in a bewildering multiplicity of languages, is all the more important for two reasons. First, Montefiore left a mountain of records behind him: letters, diaries, supplications from all over the world but, poignantly, most of this was burnt shortly after his death. And while he was a celebrity in his own times and, to use Green's words, ought to be 'a towering figure in modern Jewish history', he has been neglected historically because he belonged to a strand of religious Zionism that has tended to be underplayed in predominantly lay narratives of modern Jewish resurgence. And this leads to the second point Green makes. The first, modern Jewish identity to cross borders began as a religious project. Montefiore was deeply pious and so were many, though not all, of his fellow activists. His, and their sense of Jewishness was religious, not national, revolving around Judaism, not ethnicity, and it did not detract from the Jews' various national identities. Montefiore himself, indeed, was in many was quintessentially English. This has the potential to re-write, or at least qualify, much of the history of modern Zionism.
In any case, this is a highly accessible history even if it is written on a very high academic level, and a book that has appeal well beyond a Jewish public. It affords insights, finally, into changing nineteenth-century mentalities as well as simply providing accounts for a number of major pan-European affairs, offering much for the reader to ponder.
And, by the way, I purchase 3x number of Kindle editions than I used to with both hardback and paperback.
I no longer buy large hardback books irrespective of the price.
Hello publishers and authors: no Kindle, no purchase. Very shortsigned and poor commercial decision.
There's only so much Green can do for Montefiore. He was, after all, a historical personage of limited interest and importance. And she needs to be disabused of the notion that her quasi-worshipping of her long-lived, but also long-dead, relative somehow compensates for the fact that he just wasn't that significant. To be sure, riveting biographies have been written on obscure historical figures -- e.g., Hugh Trevor-Roper's unputdownable book on the extraordinary Edmund Backhouse -- but Montefiore was no Backhouse (anyway, he wasn't as interesting).
Another problem with "Moses Montefiore" is the tiresome theme that permeates the entire work -- i.e., the Jew as victim. Or is it hero? Both, I guess. Green's chapter on Edgardo Mortara was particularly egregious in this regard. I laud the Church's handling of the Mortara affair. Green is free to disagree, of course, but a little more balance would have been appreciated. And her self-righteousness! Green's attitude toward the Church reminds me a bit of how Margaret Hamilton looked (down) upon Mae West in "My Little Chickadee" -- that purse-lipped disapproval engendered by envy.
A yawner; give it a miss.
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