Born in Italy but raised in London, Montefiore was taught Hebrew and the elements of his faith by his uncle. He became a stockbroker and in 1812 married Judith Cohen, thereby becoming brother-in-law to Nathan Mayer Rothschild. After 1824, he devoted himself to philanthropy and community affairs. He was influential in stimulating the rise of Jewish nationalism, the forerunner of political Zionism.
Moses Montefiore was knighted by Queen Victoria for his many achievements in the first part of his long life:
Becoming, at age 19, one of the twelve Jewish stockbrokers licensed by the City of London
Holding a seat on the London Stock Exchange
Being among the founders of the Imperial Continental Gas Association, that brought gas lighting to many cities in Europe
Being a member of the Royal Society
Being Sheriff of London
While very significant, these achievements pale before his accomplishments later in life:
He visited “Eretz Yisrael” seven times between 1827 and 1875, helping set up hospitals, establish synagogues, agricultural settlements, etc.
In 1855 he bought a plot of land outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and in 1860 he established “Mishkenot Sha’ananim,” the first residential Jewish area outside the walls, there. Built for Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, the community included a ritual bath and a (now-famous as a tourist site) wind-driven flour mill.
To help make Jews self-sufficient, he introduced a printing press and a textile factory.
He visited Russia in 1846, Morocco in 1863 and Romania in 1867 to attempt to intervene with those governments to stop persecution of the Jews.
A physical giant of a man at 6’3”, and a spiritual giant as well, and as an incredibly generous and visionary philanthropist, he earned great respect worldwide. His100th birthday was observed as a holiday in many communities.