Moss, Celia (1819–1873) and Marion (1821–1907)

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MOSS, CELIA (1819–1873) and MARION (1821–1907)

MOSS, CELIA (1819–1873) and MARION (1821–1907), Anglo-Jewish writers and educators. The Moss sisters were born in Portsmouth, England, two of the 12 children of Amelia and Joseph Moss. Avid readers, they began writing poetry in early childhood. Their first joint publication was a book of poems, Early Efforts (1839). This was followed by two collections of short stories, The Romance of Jewish History (1840) and its sequel, Tales of Jewish History (1843). Both collections, which were highly successful, were intended to convey a positive view of Jewish history, religion, and customs to a somewhat hostile Victorian society. As the Moss sisters remarked in their dedication to the writer Edward Bulwer Lytton, they blended "fiction with historical fact, to direct the attention of the reader to a branch of history too long neglected." Celia and Marion hoped their romantic tales would "call the attention of the reader to the records of our people – to awaken curiosity – not to satisfy it." Along with their compatriot Grace *Aguilar (1816–1847), the Moss sisters were the first Jewish women to publish narratives of this kind. They hoped their work would support the struggle for Jewish emancipation, and, more specifically, they wished to encourage improvement of female education and religious reform within the English Jewish community.

In 1840 the sisters moved to London to teach; in 1845 they opened their own day and boarding school for Jewish children. That same year Marion married the French Jewish scholar Alphonse Hartog. Five of their seven children survived to adulthood; each went on to a distinguished career in scholarship, science, or the arts. In 1857 Celia married L. Levetus, the ritual slaughterer of the New Synagogue in St. Helen's; it is not known if the couple had any children. Both sisters continued to write short stories while teaching and both contributed to Isaac Leeser's Jewish American periodical, The Occident. In 1854–55, Marion Moss Hartog established the first Jewish women's periodical, the Jewish Sabbath Journal: A Penny and Moral Magazine for the Young, intended to provide mothers with material with which to further their children's Jewish education. Initially, a great success, prompting submissions of all kinds from female authors and positively endorsed by the chief rabbi of the British Empire, the journal foundered after Hartog offended the editor of the powerful Jewish Chronicle, who proceeded to write a harsh review. Funding declined and publication ceased after five issues. Hartog, who was crushed, wrote next to nothing more for the remaining 52 years of her life. After moving to Birmingham with her husband, Celia wrote a collection of stories on her own, The King's Physician and Other Tales (1865).


M. Galchinksy. The Origin of the Modern Jewish Woman Writer (1996).

[Traci M. Klass (2nd ed.)]