Montefiore, Claude Joseph Goldsmid

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MONTEFIORE, CLAUDE JOSEPH GOLDSMID (1858–1938), theologian and leader of Liberal Judaism in England. Montefiore was a great-nephew of Sir Moses *Montefiore and a grandson of Isaac Lyon *Goldsmid. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, where he came under the influence of the master of Balliol, Benjamin Jowett, the famous liberal Christian thinker. Later he studied Judaism at the *Hochschule (Lehranstalt) fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, and under Solomon *Schechter, whom he had taken to England as his private tutor. A man of means, Montefiore did not serve as a professional scholar or man of religion but nevertheless frequently preached eloquent sermons.

In 1888 he founded the Jewish Quarterly Review, which he financed and edited, with Israel *Abrahams, as coeditor, until 1908. He was the founder in England of a radical Reform movement (Jewish Religious Union, 1902), which led in 1911 to the establishment of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue; he served as its president. In 1926 Montefiore was elected president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, an office which he held until his death. Together with the Catholic theologian Baron von Hugel, he founded the London Society for the Study of Religion, a select group of Jewish and Christian thinkers which met regularly to read and discuss papers on the philosophy of religion. A generous philanthropist, he assisted many Jewish and general good causes. He was a determined opponent of Zionism, and as president of the *Anglo-Jewish Association (1895–1921) tried to prevent the signing of the Balfour Declaration. He was president of the Jewish Religious Union and of the Jewish Historical Society of England (1899–1900). He also played a major part in the educational life of the Jewish community and beyond, and University College, Southampton, presented him with a volume of essays on his 70th birthday (Speculum Religionis, 1929).


Montefiore was a prolific writer. In addition to numerous articles in periodicals, he wrote: Aspects of Judaism (18952), sermons, together with Israel Abrahams; Bible for Home Reading (2 vols., 1897–18992); The Synoptic Gospels (2 vols.; 1909; 19272; repr. 1968), a commentary on the Gospels primarily for the Jewish reader; Liberal Judaism (1903); Some Elements of the Religious Teaching of Jesus (1910); Outlines of Liberal Judaism (1912, 19232); Judaism and St. Paul (1914); Liberal Judaism and Hellenism (1918); The Old Testament and After (1923); Rabbinic Literature and Gospel Teaching (1930); and A Short Devotional Introduction to the Hebrew Bible for the Use of Jews and Jewesses (1936). Together with Herbert *Loewe, Montefiore published: A Rabbinic Anthology (1938; repr. 1960, 1963), a collection of rabbinic teachings with remarkable notes by the two editors, one Liberal and the other Orthodox. Montefiore delivered the Hibbert Lectures (1892) on Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Hebrews.


At the center of Montefiore's thought was his complete conviction of the truth of Jewish theism. He acknowledged that the Jewish conception of God and His relation to man and that of the relation of religion to morality are akin to but not identical with Christian conceptions dealing with these themes. The distinctiveness of Jewish theism lies in its insistence on both the transcendence and immanence of God. Montefiore holds that modern Biblical scholarship has demonstrated conclusively that the Pentateuchal Code is not Mosaic, homogeneous, and perfect. Yet this does not mean that the conception of law in religion should be abandoned. Man discovers the Law within him but it is also revealed to him.

Montefiore was very suspicious of Jewish nationalism because of its "narrowness" and its betrayal, in his view, of Jewish universalism. He was so much at home in England that his affinities were much closer to his native land than to the community of Israel throughout the world.

The greatest cause of offense to traditionalists was Montefiore's leaning toward Christianity. He viewed Christianity entirely sympathetically, and seemed to look forward to the religion of the future as embracing all that is good in both Judaism and Christianity as well as in other religions.

Montefiore's main contention is that in some respects but not in others the Christian ethic is more admirable than the Jewish, and that there is a mystical, appealing note sounded in the Gospels not sounded in quite the same way in the Bible. Jesus, for Montefiore, was a great teacher but not divine as Christians have it. He was opposed to any attempt at placing the New Testament on a par with the Hebrew Scriptures or at having readings from the New Testament in any act of Jewish worship. He, nevertheless, felt that the time had come for Jews to read and understand the New Testament and even allow it to occupy an honored place in present-day Judaism. Soon after the publication of The Synoptic Gospels, Aḥad Ha-Am launched a vigorous attack against it (Al Parashat Derakhim, 4 (1921), 38–58). Aḥad Ha-Am argued that Jewish ethic, based on justice, is incompatible with the Christian ethic based on love, so that it is impossible for the same man to embrace both of them at the same time. In his very last years, when the Nazi regime was systematically persecuting German Jewry, Montefiore may have been moving away from his adamant stance on the issues of Jewish nationalism and Zionism, but died before the full impact of the Holocaust and, later, the creation of Israel, might have necessitated a full-scale revision of his views.


V.E. Reichert, in: ccary, 38 (1928), 499–520; F.C. Burkitt, in: Speculum Religionis (1929), 1–17; J. Wolf, in: La Question d'Israel (bulletin catholique), 17 (1939), 503–16; 561–72; L. Cohen, Some Recollections… (1940), incl. bibl.; W.R. Matthews, Claude Montefiore, the Man and his Thought (1956); F.C. Schwartz, in: jqr, 55 (1964/65), 23–52; A. Montefiore, in: Quest, 1 (London, 1965), 73–75; N. Bentwich, C.M. and his Tutor in Rabbinics (1966), incl. bibl.; W. Jacob, in: Judaism, 19 no. 3 (1970), 328–43. add. bibliography: odnb online; C. Bermant, The Cousinhood (1961), index; D. Langton, Claude Montefiore: His Life and Thought (2002); E. Kessler, "Claude Montefiore: Defender of Rabbinic Judaism," in: jhset, xxxv (1998), 231–38.

[Louis Jacobs]

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