Montefiore, Judith (Lady) née Barent Cohen, 1784—1862
Judith Montefiore was born in London on 20 February 1784, the daughter of Levi Barent Cohen (1747-1808), a wealthy Dutch merchant settled in England, and Lydia Barent Cohen, nee Diamantschleifer (d. 1818). From an early age, she studied foreign languages, eventually achieving fluency in French, German, and Italian, and she read and translated from Hebrew. Raised in a Jewish family, she took her religious education to heart and became a lifelong advocate for Jewish culture and tolerance.
On 10 June 1812, Judith Barent Cohen married Sir Moses Haim Montefiore (1784-1885; ODNB), an up-and-coming stockbroker and financier, and then also a captain in the 3rd Surrey Local Militia. In the early years of their marriage they established themselves in proximity of both their families, including her sister and brother-in-law, Nathan Meyer Rothschild (ODNB).
In 1816, after the end of war with France, the Montefiores set off for the continent, travelling in France and Italy, returning to England after three months abroad. A second trip begun in October 1817 and lasting until May gave them the opportunity to visit Moses Montefiore’s birthplace at Leghorn and, more broadly, confirmed the invigoration they both derived from travel. As was her practice from the first of her travels, Judith Montefiore kept a journal of her next sojourn in 1821, a summer tour of Scotland. Back in London, she supported her husband’s work in the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community of London. A third continental tour followed in 1823.
At home on both sides of the channel, Judith and Moses Montefiore frequently travelled between London and Paris in the years to come, for business and for pleasure. In late 1826 they began planning for a long-anticipated extended journey to the Holy Land. They set out in May 1827, travelling overland to Italy, and by sea to Malta, Cairo, and Jaffa, where they arrived on 16 October, four days before the battle of Navarino, in which British, French, and Russian action against the Turkish fleet boosted the Greek cause in their War of Independence. The Montefiores entered Jerusalem on 17 October and toured the Western Wall of the ruined temple the following day, experiencing, as Judith Montefiore wrote in her journal, ‘a sentiment of veneration and interest amounting to awe’ (194). While she kept travel journals of all her travels, such was the importance of this one to her that, several years after the events it describes, she had it printed and bound as Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine, by Way of Italy and the Mediterranean (1836). A second visit from November 1838 to August 1839 had a philanthropic purpose, the Montefiores endeavouring to support agricultural projects in Palestine, and Judith Montefiore again privately published her journal with appendices detailing the project correspondence, as Notes from a Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine (1844).
Further travels to Damascus (1840) and Russia (1846) are recorded in unpublished diaries. Judith Montefiore’s only other publishing project was her anonymous The Jewish Manual, or, Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery (1846). Besides travel, she devoted most of her time to philanthropic causes. She died at East Cliff Lodge, Ramsgate, on 22 September 1862 after a period worsening health.
Breger, Jennifer. ‘Judith Montefiore’. Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. Online.
Diaries of Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore Comprising Their Life as Recorded in Their Diaries from 1812 to 1883. Ed. L. Loewe. 2 vols. London: Griffith Farran Okeden & Welsh, 1890.
Dwor, Richa. ‘Montefiore, Judith, Lady Montefiore (1784–1862)’. ODNB.
Monetefiore, Judith. Notes from a Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine, by Way of Italy and the Mediterranean [Not Published]. London: Printed by Joseph Rickerby, Sherbourne-Lane, 1844.
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