Treasures from the London Library: Claude Montefiore: a cautious revolutionary

The founder of Liberal Judaism in Britain, Claude Montefiore, died a 'disappointed and embittered' man. Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros explores his vast collection of pamphlets bequeathed to the London Library.

Claude Joseph Goldsmid Montefiore (1858-1938), great-nephew of the financier and philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore and grandson of one of the founders of University College London, Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, was a member of the Anglo-Jewish elite who broke with Jewish orthodoxy when he founded Liberal Judaism in Britain.

In childhood Claude Montefiore suffered an attack of pneumonia, which left him with a weakened constitution. His delicate health prevented him from attending school and he was privately taught by both anti-Zionist rabbis and Protestant Christian tutors. This eclectic education planted the seeds of liberal thought that would later move Montefiore to formulate a radically new approach to Judaism. He continued his education at Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1881 with a first in Classics. As one of the top students he enjoyed a close relationship with the master at Balliol, Benjamin Jowett, a believer in religious liberalism who encouraged his pupil to approach the study of Jewish religious texts with a critical eye.

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