Prayer in Honour of Sir Moses Montefiore, Bevis Marks Synagogue, London, 1859
This prayer was written in honour of Montefiore’s mission to Rome in April 1859 to save the Jewish boy Edgardo Mortara. A special prayer service was held in the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London prior to his trip, and special prayers were written to wish Montefiore well on his journey:
Bless Sir Moses Montefiore and his illustrious Consort. During many years they have cheerfully braved every danger, presenting themselves before mighty kings, in order to intercede on behalf of their people, and now they venture to go to a distant land for the purpose of vindicating the just cause of a persecuted brother.
The story began in late 1857 when an inquisitor in Rome heard that a young Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, had been baptized. According to Catholic law, this made the boy Catholic, and the law forbade Jewish families from raising Catholic children. In 1858, papal soldiers seized the child and took him to the Vatican, where he was placed in the care of the church. The church refused to return the boy, causing international outrage. Many international leaders, including Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I, Napoleon III of France, and US President Ulysses S. Grant tried to influence the Pope to return the child to his family. After six months of canvassing in Britain, Montefiore travelled to Rome to try and return the boy to his Jewish family. However, the Pope refused to meet with Montefiore, who returned to Britain having failed in his attempt. Mortara remained with the Christian church and later in life became a priest.
Sir Moses Montefiore was a leading member of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London. It was there that the congregation held a prayer for the success of his mission to free Mortara. The Bevis Marks Synagogue was built in 1701 by the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community. It is the oldest synagogue in Britain, and the only European synagogue in continuous use for over 300 years.
Jewish History teachers can teach about a variety of topics using this resource, for example, the famous Bevis Marks Synagogue and the British Sephardi community,
Moses Montefiore and his tireless work for Jews around the world, and the fascinating case of Edgardo Mortara.
Jewish Studies teachers can show this prayer as an interesting example of a prayer written for a special occasion and use this to discuss the role of prayer and of the synagogue.
General History teachers can use this document when studying the geopolitical situation of nineteenth-century Europe, since a deeper study of the Mortara affair shows how had become a pawn in a larger game between internal forces, such as papal power and Italian nationalism, and external forces, such as Napoleon III and other world leaders.
What is this resource?
Where did this event take place?
When did it take place?
In whose honour was the event held?
Where were they going?
Reading Between the Lines
What was the purpose of Montefiore’s mission to Rome?
Why do you think a prayer service was held?
Why was the event held in this particular synagogue?
Briefly describe the Mortara Affair.
What were the implications of the affair?
Why do you think that this particular affair was so important?
Do you think that an affair like this could happen today? Explain your answer.
Create an imaginary Facebook page in support of Montefiore’s mission to Rome.