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Memorial Addresses in Honour of Past Presidents: Claude Goldsmid Montefiore

Rev. Vivian G. Simmons

<plain_text><page sequence="1">ii. Claude Goldsmid Montefiore By The Rev. Vivian G. Simmons, B.A. To be invited to address a learned society of the character and standing of the Jewish Historical Society of England is, in any case, a pleasure, and under the most ordinary circumstances I should feel it an honour. But when I am asked to speak to you to-night about a man who was at once one of the very greatest Jews Anglo-Jewish history has produced, and was at the same time a father, a counsellor, and a beloved and revered friend to me for nearly forty years, this pleasure and this honour are very greatly increased. Claude Monte? fiore was one of the founder members of our Society, and was Presi? dent for the year 1899-1900, when he took for his presidential address the subject, " Nation or Religious Community."* One of the facts that ensured the wide appeal of the Jewish His? torical Society from its early days is that men like Montefiore, who were not historians in the accepted sense of the word, were able by their wide outlook and true scholarship in any Jewish field, to earn the privilege of presiding over this body and adding successively to its prestige. Further, the privilege of speaking to you about him is justified by the undoubted fact that if his studies led him seldom in the direction of Anglo-Jewish historical research, he was himself one of those rare spirits who contributed in his long and splendid life a very great deal towards the Anglo-Jewish history of his time. There is hardly any important movement concerning Israel or of interest to Jews during the last fifty years, religious, historical, philanthropic, social or educational, in which he did not play a forceful and dis? tinguished part. * Printed in Transactions, iv.</page><page sequence="2">254 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES In spite of his early attachment to the West London Synagogue? his mother was Emma Goldsmid, a daughter of Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, one of the founders of that congregation?he became increasingly aware of those many Jews in England who were unat? tached to any religious community. With the help of the Hon. Lily Montagu, and with the support of many orthodox Jews of that day, he founded, at the beginning of the century, the Jewish Reli? gious Union for the advancement of Liberal Judaism. This new body, mainly through the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, introduced into Anglo-Jewish history a new force, the effect of which is proving, and is likely to prove in the future, a considerable influence upon Jewish life in this country. This Society will appreciate the fact that he was perhaps the first man who undertook the great, though perhaps thankless, task of enlightening the English Jew about the religion of Christianity and its relation to Judaism. His books on Judaism and St. Paid and The Religious Teaching of Jesus, in addition to his great work on the Synoptic Gospels, brought before the world a Jewish scholar who interpreted Judaism for Christians and Christianity for Jews with a power and a sincere understanding which would have been sufficient by themselves to give him an enduring niche in the temple of religious-historical learning. Yet he was not an historian, strictly speaking, for he had certainly not the historic outlook. His attitude was always that of the spiritual, sometimes even the prophetic, thinker who had a teaching, a message to proclaim. His was a unique personality, and his death last year left unfinished a life's task for which it will be extremely difficult to find a successor. Born in 1858, his life was transformed when he was twenty-one by the death of his brilliant elder brother, Leonard, whose place he was required to take in the family life. The death of his father four years later led him, who might have come to be merely a modest, lovable scholar, to assume the twofold responsibility as head of a noble Jewish house and the inheritor of a great fortune. While speaking of his family?he was a great-nephew of Sir Moses</page><page sequence="3">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES 255 Montefiore?no picture of him would be complete without a mention of the reverence he always showed and the pride he always felt for his kinsfolk, his remembrance of family events, and his piety, in the German sense of the word, for his parents and predecessors. In 1892 he delivered the Hibbert lectures at Oxford : The Origin and Growth of Religion as illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Hebrews. This book was one of the first attempts on the part of a Jew to interpret the history of the Bible in accordance with the conclusions of that day upon the higher and the lower criticism; and the work remains substantially as a monument of learning and inspiration which no serious student of ancient Jewish history, even after fifty years, can fail to read with profit and admiration. In 1896 he published the Bible for Home Reading, a work which, with its scholarly introductions and its simple and appealing comments, became as widely known in non-Jewish circles as among our own people. By far the greatest and most lasting influence upon his life from his college days, was Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol, whose pupil he was, whom alone he spoke of always as the Master, and whom he loved and revered all his days. To Solomon Schechter, whom Montefiore brought over to England from Rumania, he owed for the most part his early Rabbinic knowledge, though it was Dr. Frankel of Berlin to whom was due much of his affection for Jewish learning. But it was Jowett who urged him to prepare the Hibbert lectures, and who suggested that he should devote his life to making Judaism (as Jowett put it) " a more living religion, and to investigate its rela? tion with other religions ". The result of these different forces set him upon the path of attempting to interpret for more modern unlearned Jews the Rabbinic outlook on life; and it was this task which remained until the very end of his life one of the most lively of his literary interests and one of the profoundest sources of his ethical teaching. His books on The Old Testament and After, Rabbinic Literature and Gospel Teaching, and his Rabbinic Anthology published soon after his death, not only entitle him to fame as a scholar and as a Jewish literary historian,</page><page sequence="4">256 MEMORIAL ADDRESSES but place him in that rare category of Jewish writers who are, as he was, pre-eminently, something less than a pure scholar in the nar? rower meaning of the word, and yet a great deal more than a scholar in the best and widest sense of the term. He was in truth a remarkable blend, or perhaps I ought to say a mixture, of Hellenism and Hebraism. Never a pagan in any sense, he was always first and last a Jew with a strong sense of obligation to his fellow-Jews?he was yet deeply influenced by Platonism in particular and by the Greek outlook in general. With this he com? bined so full and accurate a knowledge of the Hebrew Bible as falls to the lot of few Jewish scholars to acquire. Take these two great sources of culture together, add to them a profound if somewhat secondhand knowledge of Rabbinic thought; add further the influence of his early upbringing in the old, narrow and somewhat rigid school of English Jewish Reform in which Rabbinism was anathema; and yet again his moving love of English poetry, and his acquaintance with most of the outstanding Christian as well as Jewish minds of his generation, and you have some indication of the intellectual and spiritual make-up of this remarkable man. This is no place to record his far-flung and unceasing philanthropy. Wherever there was need, be the object a great Jewish institution or a Jewish family, a Christian society or a national call, his generosity was amazing. I can testify of my long experience?and I knew only of a tiny fraction of his great-hearted charity?that his right hand never knew what his left hand was doing. Or need I remind you that he was the moving spirit for many years in that magnificent rescue and protective work for women and children in Jewish communities here and all over the world which made his name revered for his never-ending effort and compassion for the outcast, the sinner, and the hopeless? Or what shall I say of his lifelong interest in education of all kinds? Perhaps some of you do not know of the wonderful and persistent fashion in which he supported students of every kind?in particular by sending us at the university books he knew we could not afford to buy?one of his many ways of encouraging Jewish</page><page sequence="5">MEMORIAL ADDRESSES 2^/ learning. Indeed, his love of learning for its own sake?lishmah? and his profound respect for the learning of others was one of his most lovable characteristics. At the same time, his friendships show that he had always the most sensitive appreciation of the unlearned, the humble person, the simple person, the simple believer. Indeed, he remained himself a child always, in the purest sense of the word. Nor can I speak now of his perfect and unwavering faith which communicated itself to many who heard him speak?in private and in his innumerable sermons and other public addresses. He was a man of prayer; he walked with God. With all the material comforts which were at his disposal, and his independence of worldly anxieties, his belief in the spirit dominated his life and all his purposes. Such was Claude Goldsmid Montefiore whom this Society has very fittingly chosen to honour with Moses Gaster and Adolf B?chler on this memorable occasion. Just as he touched the most practical affairs of life with his inexpressible charm, humour and deep spiritual vitality, so with a much-needed reminder of that sweet humility of his which I can only faintly imitate, I hope that among the more definitely historical and biographical accounts of other great men in Israel recorded in the Transactions of this Society, may be included this imperfect tribute to his life and work. His varied achievements for Judaism and for humanity will stand as the record of one who was a great Jew and a great Englishman. It does not fall to the lot of every great man to be so beloved by his contemporaries that his very name stands for those abiding qualities of heart and mind which I have attempted to describe. Those of us who feel his loss so deeply day by day are comforted by the knowledge that it is these qualities which contribute, beyond scholarship or any kind of renown, to that Kiddush Hashem which remains the holiest of Jewish purposes, and to the precious name of Anglo-Jewry which Claude Montefiore by his life and example so perfectly upheld. s</page></plain_text>