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Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero [Hardcover]

Abigail Green

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Book Description

March 15 2010

Humanitarian, philanthropist, and campaigner for Jewish emancipation on a grand scale, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784–1885) was the preeminent Jewish figure of the nineteenth century—and one of the first truly global celebrities. His story, told here in full for the first time, is a remarkable and illuminating tale of diplomacy and adventure. Abigail Green's sweeping biography follows Montefiore through the realms of court and ghetto, tsar and sultan, synagogue and stock exchange.

Interweaving the public triumph of Montefiore's foreign missions with the private tragedy of his childless marriage, this book brings the diversity of nineteenth-century Jewry brilliantly to life—from London to Jerusalem, Rome to St. Petersburg, Morocco to Istanbul. Here we see the origins of Zionism and the rise of international Jewish consciousness, the faltering birth of international human rights, and the making of the modern Middle East. With the globalization and mobilization of religious identities now at the top of the political agenda, Montefiore's life story is relevant as never before.

Mining materials from eleven countries in nine languages, Green's masterly biography bridges the East-West divide in modern Jewish history, presenting the transformation of Jewish life in Europe, the Middle East, and the New World as part of a single global phenomenon. As it reestablishes Montefiore's status as a major historical player, it also restores a significant chapter to the history of our modern world.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (March 15 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674048806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674048805
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 17.4 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 885 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #525,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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.
--Niall Ferguson

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revival of a Forgotten Humanist and Philanthropist June 14 2010
By Serge J. Van Steenkiste - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Abigail Green paints, with much dexterity, a balanced portrait of her ancestor, Moses Montefiore, a key Jewish humanist and philanthropist of the nineteenth century, whose undeniable accomplishments sank into oblivion under the relentless pressure of time. Montefiore started his career in finance in London and was related to financial prodigy Nathan Rothschild through his marriage to Judith Barent-Cohen, sister of Rothschild's wife. After becoming wealthy in the City, Montefiore progressively questioned the materialism of his socio-economic circles and looked for a higher purpose outside the business world.

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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emblematic Nov. 15 2011
By reader 451 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Moses Montefiore was born in 1884 in a well-to-do Italian merchant family that had emigrated to London. He made a fortune in banking during the Napoleonic Wars, and soon became a leader in a British Jewish community that was just getting organised. Montefiore was made a Sir in 1837, and a baronet in 1846. He lived well into the nineteenth century, and his career is emblematic of the gradual emancipation and social ascent of a whole strata of Britain's, and even Europe's, Jewish community. But he and his wife Judith are also important because they pioneered their times' nascent international Jewish activism. For the first time, Jewish communities and their leaders were organising relief campaigns for their coreligionists in various lands, agitating through the press and through political networks for equal rights, and generally fighting persecution. Montefiore was a pioneer in such endeavours, and his activities were important in shaping the Jewish sense of nationhood that emerged later in the century.

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.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No Kindle Edition Aug. 11 2012
By KBR88 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I realise this isn't a review about the book, but still deserves a comment. I can't understand why there is no Kindle edition for this book. It's not a bestseller, it doesn't have "mass appeal" and is the perfect book for digital distribution.

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.
5 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More Hagiography Than Biography Sept. 15 2010
By Athanasius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Moses Montefiore may have been a hero to 19th century European Jews, but he's been understandably and justifiably forgotten; almost totally unknown today. Abigail Green's effort to have her ancestor recognized as a man of our time, and not just a man of his own time, reminds me somewhat of William Pritchard's long-ago biography of Randall Jarrell, which sought to have the outrageously neglected poet reevaluated. I suspect that Green will meet with as little success as did Pritchard.

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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