15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Serge J. Van Steenkiste
- Published on Amazon.com
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
- Published on Amazon.com
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
- Published on Amazon.com
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
- Published on Amazon.com
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.