66th IFLA Council and General
Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August
Code Number: 094-174(WS)-E
Division Number: VII
Professional Group: Library History in association with the Association of Jewish Libraries, Judaica Librarians Group, and Hebraica Libraries Group: Workshop - Session 5
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 174
Simultaneous Interpretation: No
The Hovevei Zion Tribute album presented to Moses Montefiore on the occasion of his 100th birthday
Barry D. Walfish
University of Toronto Library
Moses Montefiore, the great Jewish statesman and philanthropist, celebrated his one-hundredth birthday in 1884. Of the many tributes he received on that occasion, one of the most impressive was an album from the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) societies of Eastern Europe, in which twenty communities are represented. The album includes some thirteen-hundred signatures of communal leaders, which greatly enhance its historical value. The following paper describes the album, briefly attempts to place it in historical context and discusses its significance as a primary source for the history of the Hovevei Zion movement and of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Its provenance is also dealt with very briefly.
Sir Moses Montefiore
Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) was one of the greatest and best-loved statesmen and communal leaders in all of Jewish history. Born in Livorno in 1784, of an Italian-Jewish family that had settled in England in early eighteenth century, Montefiore belonged to the Sephardic Jewish aristocracy of the period. In 1803 at the age of 19 he became one of the twelve Jewish brokers licensed by the City of London and was allowed to have a seat on the London Stock Exchange. He married Judith Cohen, sister-in-law of Mayer Anschel Rothschild. His firm acted as brokers for the Rothschilds, which made him quite wealthy. His personal wealth enabled him to retire from the Exchange at the age of 40 and to devote himself to communal and other interests. He was among the founders of the Imperial Continental Gas Association which extended gas lighting to the major cities of Europe. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, was elected sheriff of the City of London in 1837 and was knighted by Queen Victoria when she ascended the throne. For forty years, from 1834-1874, he served as president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Montefiore visited the Land of Israel seven times between 1827 and 1875. He helped set up hospitals, agricultural settlements, built synagogues, apartments and tombs. He helped the Jewish communities in Syria, Russia, Morocco, and Romania by intervening with their governments to alleviate their suffering and persecution.
Sir Moses' philanthropic work on behalf of beleaguered and oppressed Jewish communities throughout the world brought him accolades and expressions of admiration and praise on many occasions. But no occasion in his life was marked with greater ceremony and outpourings of affection and admiration than his one-hundredth birthday, truly a remarkable milestone in anyone's life, but one which warranted extra attention because of Sir Moses' stature in the Jewish world.
The Lovers of Zion
One of Montefiore's pet philanthropic projects was settlement in the Land of Israel. He visited the Holy Land many times and supported struggling new settlements financially and politically. It is thus not surprising that he should have been held in particularly high esteem by the members of the Hovevei Zion or Lovers of Zion movement. This movement which began in Russia and Poland after the Russian pogroms of 1881 had as its goals the establishment of settlements in the land of Israel, and the encouragement of immigration to build up the Jewish population. An independent state was still not even a dream. The movement struggled along throughout the 1880s and 90s with only limited success. It was officially recognized by the Russian government in 1890. Eventually it was overtaken by the rising tide of the Political Zionist movement led by Theodore Herzl.
In order to facilitate planning and consolidate leadership and activities the Hovevei Zion sponsored several conferences. The first of these took place in Kattowitz (Katowice), Eastern Prussia (now Poland). The Warsaw group of Hovevei Zion presented a proposal for a settlement project in honor of Montefiore. It was originally intended that the conference coincide with the 100th birthday of Montefiore which fell on October 27, but the conference had to be delayed and was not held until November 6 of that year.
Among the fundraising projects by the Hovevei Zion was the sale of a photograph of Montefiore along with a poem in his honour penned by the famous poet Judah Leib Gordon. Thousands of these were sold and funds used to support the settlements of the Biluim, or early settlers of the Land of Israel.
This photograph is included in the album sponsored by the Hovevei Zion movement which was presented to him on his birthday. This album which was donated to the University of Toronto Library by Mr. Albert Friedberg and is now housed in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library,1 is the subject of this paper.
The album was presented to Montefiore at Ramsgate on his birthday by David Gordon (1831-1886), the editor of one of the most influential Hebrew newspapers of the time, ha-Maggid, and an important spokesman for the Hibbat Zion (Love of Zion) movement.
Description of the Album
The album contains paeans of praise to Montefiore and signatures of communal leaders of twenty Jewish communities ten from Poland ten from Russia. Poland is represented by the Warsaw community which instigated this project, as well as Bialystok, Brest-Litovsk, Lublin, Mezritsh, Kovno (Kaunas), Mitau, Riga, Vilna (Vilnius), and Zgierz. Russian communities represented are: Ekaterinoslav, Minsk, Moscow, Odessa, Pinsk, Poltava, Rostov-na-Donu, Staro-Konstantinov, and Vinnitsa. Individual leaves were prepared and signed in the separate communities and then all were sent to Warsaw, where the album was put together and bound. The binding is very ornate, decorated with woodcarvings in relief, including Montefiore's initials and coat of arms. Various biblical verses are included in the spaces between the carvings. The album is housed in a special wooden box, finished with leather. The binder signed his work and was obviously very proud of it. His name was Numa Nirnstein of Warsaw.
While this album is certainly important as a piece of Montefioriana, perhaps the most elaborate written tribute ever presented to the great man, it is arguably more important for the historical information it contains pertaining to the leadership of the Hovevei Zion movement and the communal structure and leadership makeup of the various communities represented in the album. The album contains some 1300 signatures from the twenty communities represented in it. (The exact figure is difficult to determine as some of the signatures are run together and are often difficult to read.) Some have only a few, others have over 200. Thus one can get an idea of the relative size of the Hovevei Zion groups in these communities. The actual signatures can tell us who the leaders of the movement were. In some cases, the leaders are well known, in other cases less so. For instance, the Warsaw sheet includes the signatures of Saul Pinhas Rabinowitz, and Hayyim Zelig Slonimski. The former was the secretary of the Hovevei Zion Warsaw branch and the latter a well-known rabbi. Among the Vilna signatories is Samuel Jacob Fuenn, a well-known author and historian, and Rabbi Jacob Joseph, who later moved to New York City and attained prominence there.
In larger towns the leaders of various societies signed and their stamps were affixed, giving us an insight into the communal structure and into the wealth of associations and charitable groups which existed in some communities. Thus for example, the sheet for Kovno (Kaunas) has the famous rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor as first signatory followed by various dayyanim (judges in the rabbinical court). For the community of Mitau there are signatures representing many cultural and philanthropic societies including: Talmud torah (supporters of Torah study), Hevrat ha-nashim mish'an la-aniyyim (the women's society for support for the poor), Hevrah Tehilim (society for saying psalms for the sick), Hevrah le-kalkalat anshe ha-tsava be-ma'akhalot kesherot (society for providing soldiers with kosher food), Hevrat ba'e shabbat (presumably, a society for providing the poor with sabbath provisions), hevrat pidyon shevuyim (society for redeeming captives) and others. Among the fifteen societies and study-houses in Kovno are: somekh noflim (supporters of the fallen), malbish arumim (clothing the naked), lehem la-aniyim (bread for the poor) and tomkhei shabbat (supporters of the sabbath). Every society affixed its special stamp or seal which sometimes had interesting designs.
The status of the signatories with regard to Hovevei Zion is not always clear. Many sign on behalf of other organizations alongside the leaders of Hovevei Zion, and quite likely were not actually members of the movement. In all likelihood they simply took the opportunity offered by the Hovevei Zion initiative to pay homage to a beloved benefactor and statesman. Nevertheless, the willingness of these communal leaders to associate their names with this project sponsored by Hovevei Zion could be an indication of the broad sympathy and support the movement had among the leadership in various communities.
Another important use these lists of signatures may have is for historians and genealogists. These may find here evidence of community members who are not attested in other sources. For some of the communities represented here, there are no yizker-books (memorial books describing the community and listing important members)(e.g., Kremenchug, Rostov-on-Don, Vinnitsa), so a list of names of communal leaders from the late nineteenth century is a precious find.
Furthermore, the number of signatures from each community, while indicative of its size can also give us some idea as to the strength of Hovevei Zion in that community. One-hundred and twelve signatures from the little known community of Kremenchug is a significant historical witness. The additional fact that two of the signatories are rabbis, one a rav mi-ta'am ha-memshalah, a rabbi appointed by the government, and the other the rabbi of the Habad community is intriguing.2 A comparison with historical works on the movement and its relative strength in various areas of Russia and Poland may necessitate revision of assessments of the relative strength and activity of the movement in these areas.
The question of provenance still remains to be discussed. This album is probably the most impressive tribute ever presented to Sir Moses. How did it disappear from the library of the Montefiore estate and end up in the possession of Mr. Friedberg? We may never know the full answer to this puzzle. But suffice it to say that after Sir Moses' death, chaos reigned in his estate and unconscionable things were done to his archives and other records. Much of his personal correspondence was destroyed by his private secretary Louis Loewe, after he had published what he felt to be the most important letters among them.3 Of the 2000 letters of tribute presented to him on various occasions, only about 400 remain. Most were destroyed.4 When the Montefiore Library was transferred to Jews' College many items seem not to have made it. This album for instance is not listed in the Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the Montefiore Library published in 1904. It is also not mentioned in the comprehensive Montefiore bibliography published by Ruth Lehmann-Goldschmidt in 1984.5 I have only found one reference and brief description of it in a book on Montefiore published by S. U. Nahon in 1965.6 That such a significant item should have gone missing from the Montefiore estate is at once disturbing and shocking. But it must have been removed at some point and made its way into the open market where it was eventually bought by Mr. Friedberg. This is as much as we can say about this item's provenance at this point in time.
In conclusion, the Hovevei Zion tribute album is a precious artifact attesting to the love and admiration felt towards Sir Moses among the broadest segments of the Jewish community, feelings which cut across denominational and political lines. At the same time it is a significant source of information about the leadership of the Hovevei Zion movement and about the makeup of many Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Some of these communities are well-known and much studied; about others we know relatively little. This volume provides important primary source material about communal structure, levels of acculturation, patterns of leadership, identities of important figures in these communities, and much more. This enhances its value as a focus for primary research.
- Shelfmark: Friedberg MSS 9-006
- A Habad rabbi is also among the Riga signatories.
- See letter by Lucien Wolf, published by R.D. Barnett, "Sources for the Study of Sir Moses Montefiore," in Sir Moses Montefiore: A Symposium (Oxford : The Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies and the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1982), 4.
- See Marilyn Lehrer and Peter Salinger, "The Testimonials and the Legend," in The Century of Moses Montefiore, ed. Sonia and V.D. Lipman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 349. According to the authors, a catalogue of these is in preparation.
- Ruth Goldschmidt-Lehmann, Ruth P. Sir Moses Montefiore, bart., 1784-1885: A Bibliography (Jerusalem: Misgav Yerushalayim, 1984).
- S.U. Nahon, Sir Moses Montefiore, Leghorn 1784-Ramsgate 1885: A Life in the Service of Jewry (Jerusalem : Bureau for Jewish Communities and Organizations of the Jewish Agency, 1965), 111.