Moses Haïm Montefiore: The Moroccan Who Defended Jews around the World

Moses Haïm Montefiore was born in Livorno in Tuscany (Italy) in 1784 into a Sephardic family, composed of father Joseph Elias Montefiore and mother Rachel Mocatta. He is the eldest of his six siblings. His family lived a modest life in a district of London before he was elected sheriff of that city, and later president of the Council of Deputies of British Jews, a position he held for 39 years.

Moses Haïm Montefiore left school early to work for a merchant to help his family. He held several positions and within a few years became one of the largest licensed Jewish brokers and merchants in London, notably as a result of the partnership with his brother Abraham, a silk merchant, and then with his father-in-law, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty, which became one of the most famous families in the business world. He was active in various fields, particularly in banking and insurance.

He visited Jerusalem for the first time in 1827. He dedicated his fortune to help his needy Jews in the “Holy Land” and elsewhere. He traveled the world to defend the cause of the oppressed Jews and to denounce the racial segregation to which they were subjected in many countries, including England, using his strong relations with the Kings and Heads of State who had great respect for him.

Montefiore defended the Jews of Damascus who were accused of the murder of a Christian priest. For this purpose, he traveled to Egypt to meet with the Khedive and to free those who were still in detention. He also traveled to Istanbul and obtained a decree from Sultan Abdul Majid to protect the Jews of the Ottoman Empire from the same accusations of ritual crimes and their consequences.

It is thanks to him that the deprived Jews living outside the walls of the Holy City were able to enjoy proper irrigation systems, decent houses, a windmill and decent living conditions.

Montefiore did not exclude Morocco from his journeys. For example, he had a meeting with Sultan Mohammed IV in 1864, to defend his co-religionists against the anti-Semitic practices from which they suffered within the Cherifian kingdom. Numerous sources indicate that he is of Moroccan origin. In this connection, the Moroccan researcher and historian Mohamed Knebib has confirmed that he came from a Moroccan Jewish family from Essaouira and was one of the Sultan’s merchants before settling in Italy and subsequently in Great Britain.

Thanks to his many humanitarian initiatives and charitable works, many hospitals, streets, temples, universities and awards bear his name, as a result of his contributions on behalf of Jews around the world. Montefiore was also mentioned in many important publications and famous songs.

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