Letter to Moses Montefiore from Jerusalem Residents
"To establish a land, to endow the abandoned legacy of
Jerusalem, the holy city, that should be planned and built
With the help of God
To his Excellency, our master, saviour, the honourable master and saviour! Until now, our eyes have been longing and our ears attentive to the bells of his carriage, and our hearts have been anguished because it did not arrive. Behold! Our joy is so great at this time, since what we hoped for finally happened. As the Angel of God, our master came, our saviour arrived, but our joy is still incomplete, and we stand between hope and fear, between happiness and fright, for our only wish and salvation will be to eat from the fruit of our toil, to work the holy land with the sweat of our brow, and all this hard work, we will do and suffer, we and our women. Therefore, if we find favour in the eyes of our Lord, and in the eyes of our master, and he listens to our pleas, so we will be joyous and happy in the land, we will be present and will not wish to exchange our part with the great rich men and businessmen of the land, but if his ear does not hear our cries, so we will be miserable, oh, how we will be! On what will we live, our wives and our children, therefore, we bow before the honourable master, with tear-filled eyes, we beg for our lives and our poor souls, which are almost entirely consumed by hunger, Please! Our master, let your mercy upon us be wakened, and if not for us, for our wives and children and we take it upon ourselves to work hard so we can keep our families alive with our hard work and gain favour from the Lord and our master.
This is a letter written by the Jewish residents of Jerusalem to Sir Moses Montefiore, requesting financial support. They explain that they are on the verge of hunger: “How will our wives, children and babies live if they are consumed by hunger?” They express their desire to work for their livelihood and request Montefiore’s help in finding work. They address Montefiore as “master, saviour... and Angel of the Lord.” The letter is not dated nor are there any signatures. It is, in fact, possible that the letter was a draft, and it is thus not known who was asked to sign or whether it was ever sent.
There are hints in this letter as to when it was written. For example, “our eyes have been longing and our ears attentive to the bells of his carriage, and our hearts have been anguished because it did not arrive” may be a reference to Montefiore’s second visit to Israel in 1839, during which he was prevented from visiting Jerusalem due to an epidemic. Likewise, the writers’ professed interest “to eat from the fruit of our toil, to work the holy land with the sweat of our brow” may relate to Montefiore’s plan during his visit to wished to lease some land from the Ottoman ruler which the Jews from Jerusalem could farm.
The letter gives us an understanding of the dire economic situation of the Jewish residents of Jerusalem in the nineteenth century and their hope that Montefiore would help them. Israel was ruled at the time by the Ottomans, however, the rulers had no interest in developing the land and taking care of its residents. The Jewish population suffered both dire living conditions and discrimination. The Jewish population of Jerusalem was comprised of Jews from the Middle East, and from the middle of the eighteenth century, European Jews who started settling in the city, many of whom lived on the Halukka funds (charity sent to the Jerusalem community from Jews in the Diaspora). These funds were not, however, sufficient, and many of the Jews lived in great poverty. This letter is an example of an attempt by the Jews of Jerusalem to receive funding for new work opportunities, which would enable them to provide a better life for their families.
Jewish History teachers can use the resource to teach about the life and work of Sir Moses Montefiore and the living This letter can also be used to teach about the conditions of nineteenth-century Jerusalem.
This letter is also an example of the strong connections between the Jews in Israel and in the diaspora and as such can be used in Jewish Studies lesson on these connections in the past and today.
Teachers can also use this in a different context, when teaching about the importance of charity and philanthropy. They can also show this letter when teaching about the importance of work and self-suffiency versus relying on charity. Teachers can discuss this topic by presenting the Rambam's (Maimonides) levels of charity and demonstrating this with the request of the people of Jerusalem presented in this letter.
What language is the letter written in?
Who wrote the letter?
What were the writers’ hopes for Jerusalem?
What problems were the writers facing?
What are they requesting in the letter?
Reading Between the Lines
What does the title tell us about the people who wrote the letter?
How do they intend to fulfil their goals?
Why did the writers ask for work rather than money?
Describe what life was like for the people who wrote the letter.
Why do you think the letter is unsigned?
At this time, many Jews living in Jerusalem, relied on charity for their living.
Is this the way the writers of this letter want to live?
The writers of this letter are not asking Sir Moses Montefiore for charity, they are requesting assistance towards supporting themselves financially.
What do you think about this request?
Does Israel still request and receive money from Diaspora Jews today?
Who gives money?
Where does the money come from?
How is that money used in Israel?
How is this different from the money Montefiore gave to the Jewish residents of Jerusalem in the nineteenth century?
Why do people in the Diaspora give money to Israel?
Create a multi-media presentation that shows how Jewish charities in your country support needy individuals and organisations in your country and in Israel.
Create a presentation to show how Jerusalem has changed since the nineteenth century.