Sir Moses Haim Montefiore 1784-1885, the most famous Jewish personality of the 19th century, was one of the first truly global celebrities. He was a humanitarian, philanthropist, campaigner for Jewish emancipation and a Zionist, before the word existed. He was the world’s unofficial ambassador for the Jewish people, pioneering a diplomatic approach to Jewish persecution. Partly due to his business partnership with his brother-in-law, Nathan Mayer Rothschild, Montefiore was successful enough to retire at forty. He then became a fearless defender of Jewish rights worldwide, negotiating with pashas and popes, sultans and tsars. Moses Montefiore became the living embodiment of national unity in the Jewish world.


Moses Montefiore visited Israel no less than seven times, travelling in his legendary carriage. He had a visionary commitment to the advancement of agriculture in Israel and purchased the first Jewish land outside the Old City of Jerusalem in 1855. This area was eventually renamed Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Yemin Moshe. It became the cornerstone of modern Jerusalem. He also purchased the orchard in Jaffa in order to encourage agriculture. This was regarded as the beginning of Israel’s citrus industry. It is now known as the Montefiore Quarter of Tel Aviv. When the shekel was reintroduced as Israel’s currency,  Moses Montefiore was honored by being featured on the notes along with the other founding fathers of Israel: Edmond de Rothschild, Theodore Herzl, Zeev Jabotinsky, Chaim Weizman and David Ben Gurion.


Moses Montefiore was a wine lover. He drank a bottle of wine every day and lived to be nearly 101 years old. On his visits to the Holy Land, both communities and individual households used to take pride in presenting him with their best wine as a sign of welcome. There is even a grape variety named after him. He enjoyed fine wines and his relations invested in wine. Montefiore’s nephew, Nathaniel Rothschild, purchased Chateau Mouton. Futhermore, the brother of his brother-in-law purchased Chateau Lafite and the nephew of his brother-in-law  founded the modern Israel wine industry. If Sir Moses ensured wine was on the table, his wife, Lady Judith Montefiore, took care of the food. She was the author of the first ever Jewish cookbook in English called ‘The Jewish Manual.’


The ancient family crest in Italy included a cedar tree, hills and the Lion of Judah. Moses Montefiore was knighted by the Queen of England, who also granted his coat of arms. He insisted on having the word ירושלם (Jerusalem) written on the banners. He was a patriotic Englishman, a proud Jew and a lover of the Land of Israel.

The life & times of Sir Moses Montefiore show him to be an inspiring model for present day Israel. Here was a man who was religious & moderate; who had strong values of social justice and helped Jews, regardless of whether or not they were members of his community, and non Jews; who maintained his strong Sephardi background as he moved through many different worlds, Jewish & non-Jewish; who bridged the Sephardi/ Ashkenazi and secular/religious divides, and for whom wealth was a blessing that came with an obligation to be philanthropic.”  International Conference on ‘Moses Montefiore: The Man Behind The Windmill’, held at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem 2013.