Moses Montefiore

  • Issue: March 1981
  • Designer: R. Beckman
  • Stamp size: 25.7 x 40 mm
  • Plate no.: 11
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

Of Moses Montefiore it was said "He loved the people, and his people loved him". In whichever city or country Jews were attacked, victimised or abused in the course of the 19th century, there on the scene was "the Squire" personally intervening to protect them against their rulers or the mob; having harsh decrees annulled; refuting libels against them; protecting their rights and improving their religious, civic and economic situation in his own generous fashion. Not all his efforts were successful, but never did he give up for a moment or spare any effort to lift the spirits of his fellow-Jews. He was always there to share his noble Jewish pride with the inhabitants of the ghettos of Eastern Europe or North Africa, pressing for equal rights for the deprived and strenuously opposing the attacks of religious reform and assimilation on Jewish faith and tradition.

His devotion to Judaism and Jewry was equalled only by his love of the Land of Israel. He visited the country for the first time in 1827 and returned six more times -the last time at the ripe old age of 90.

Moses Montefiore was born in 1784 in Leghorn, Italy, to a distinguished Sephardic family living in London. He achieved fame in Victorian England where he spent most of his active life which ended at the venerable age of 101. He made most of his wealth on the London Stock Exchange thanks, in the main, to his connections with the Rothschilds. By the time he was 40, he had established himself as a wealthy English Gentleman, which permitted him to take up office in a country whose drawing-rooms, municipal and government offices were being thrown open to distinguished Jews, while he simultaneously held the position of President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Montefiore was the first English Jew to be knighted and within a short time he became the "uncrowned king" of the Jewish people throughout the world. He interceded personally on behalf of the Jews of Turkey and Morocco, Russia and Georgia, Hungary and Persia, Italy and Syria. Wherever he went, he was accorded respect by the authorities and the oppressed Jewish masses made him into a living legend. In his life he combined messianic vision with Zionist action decades before the Zionist movement was founded. On the occasion of his seven journeys to the Holy Land he was distressed to find there only a poor insignificant community resigned to their lot. Following his second visit, he did not stop at distributing charity but decided to take vigorous steps to increase the Jewish population and enable it to become economically self-supporting. As early as 1839 he realised the possibilities of developing the Galilee area and submitted plans to the Egyptian and Turkish authorities and then began to support families in Tiberias and Safed. He longed to see Jerusalem restored to its former glory and there he bought land, set up medical, religious and social institutions including lodgings for the poor known as the "Peaceful Dwellings"

The first Jewish residential area outside the walls of the Old City was built at his initiative and was later called "Yemin Moshe" in his honour. He was also responsible for the famous windmill, which has since been converted into his memorial in reunited Jerusalem.

He was a man of many plans, not all of which came to fruition in his time, including the provision of a reliable water-supply system and railway to Jerusalem. He did, however, live to see the first six Jewish colonies established and thus "the Squire" became the standard-bearer of the "Return to Zion" and the historic Katowitz Conference of the Hibbat Zion movement was held on his 100th birthday. He spent the last years of his active life in the English town of Ramsgate, where he built a synagogue and yeshiva (talmudical college); although he had no pretentions to distinction as a Hebrew scholar, he had an unshakable belief in a merciful God who would restore His long-suffering People to Zion.

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Moses Montefiore