Sir Moses Montefiore’s 1846 visit to Vil’na and its reflection in local maskilic literature”

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Sir Moses Montefiore’s 1846 visit to Vil’na and its reflection in local maskilic literature”
  This article was downloaded by: [lara lempertiene]On: 24 January 2012, At: 12:05Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK East European Jewish Affairs Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Sir Moses Montefiore's 1846 visit toVil'na and its reflection in local maskilicliterature Lara Lempertiene aa  Department of History, Vilnius University, Vilnius, LithuaniaAvailable online: 24 Jan 2012 To cite this article:  Lara Lempertiene (2011): Sir Moses Montefiore's 1846 visit to Vil'na and itsreflection in local maskilic literature, East European Jewish Affairs, 41:3, 181-188 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  Sir Moses Montefiore’s 1846 visit to Vil’na and its reflection inlocal maskilic literature Lara Lempertiene*  Department of History, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania This article discusses the 1846 visit of the leading Anglo-Jewish figure Sir MosesMontefiore to Vil’na in the Russian Empire. Invited by leading figures of the city’sJewish community, Montefiore had a broader agenda at hand – the investigation of Jewish education in the empire. The visit had a profound and enduring effect on theJews of Vil’na. This was reflected in the varying literary responses, especiallyamong the city’s maskilim. It forms the central theme of this article. Keywords:  Moses Montefiore; Vil’na; maskilim; Jewish literature In April 1846 some unusual guests arrived in the city of Vil’na in the Russian Empire.They were the English baronet Sir Moses Montefiore (1784–1885), his wife Judith and his secretary Louis Loewe. For this provincial city of the Tsarist empire, this was a sig-nificant event, and even the city authorities paid considerable attention to their impor-tant guests. Montefiore’s most recent biographer, Abigail Green, has described him as“one of the many forgotten heroes of the nineteenth century,” 1  but for his contempor-aries in Eastern Europe there is no doubt he was a well-known and highly respected figure. For the Jewish community of Vil’na, this event was unprecedented, and it left a strong impression on the city’s memory for many years – in both the oral record and visual representations. Indeed, it might be said that in Jewish eyes the person of Montefiore existed on an immeasurable scale. Montefiore had been knighted and,unlike other Anglo-Jewish contemporaries, he was not forced to accept baptism inorder to receive this honour. He was also elected a sheriff of London, and waswidely recognised as the leader of Anglo-Jewry, a champion for the advancement of the Jewish Diaspora, and undertook to defend the Jews against unfair accusationsand even blood libels. 2 Montefiore was a prodigious philanthropist, who financiallysupported the Jewish community in Palestine, helping its economic and social develop-ment. He was a real hero of the Jewish world, who, as Yehuda Leib Gordon observed,was “a person whose life contains the whole picture of a century, full of the events and happenings of the nineteenth century  . . .  and outlines the relationship  . . .  of people and nations in general, and their relationship with the unfortunate tribe of Israel in particu-lar.” 3  No wonder that, on receiving the news of Montefiore’s arrival, a well-knownVil’na author, the maskil Mordechai Aaron Gintsburg, wrote, “the entire city iscovered in awe. [Everyone] is rushing to mend synagogues and public buildings,and all responsible people in the community are cleaning up their affairs and finances.It is as if the visitor was a prince of Israel, to whom each of them is required to report.” 4 ISSN 1350-1674 print/ISSN 1743-971X online # 2011 Taylor & Francis *Email:  East European Jewish Affairs Vol. 41, No. 3, December 2011, 181–188    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   l  a  r  a   l  e  m  p  e  r   t   i  e  n  e   ]  a   t   1   2  :   0   5   2   4   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   2  Montefiore began preparing for his trip to the Russian Empire in 1841. 5 He wasinvited by Dr Max Lilienthal, an advisor to the Tsarist regime, to participate in a gov-ernment commission for a reform of the Jewish education system, headed by two keyfigures, the Minister of Education Sergei Uvarov and Count Pavel Kiselev, chairman of the so-called Jewish Committee. The letter of invitation was dated 27 July 1842. At thesuggestion of Lilienthal, several Jewish communities sent Montefiore their invitationletters as well. The letter on behalf of the Vil’na Jewish community written byMordechai Aaron Gintsburg was filled with a reverence bordering on awe for Montefiore and the utmost belief in his power: “Let our eyes see the great man,whom God has vouchsafed right to execute the will of kings  . . .  They will learn therulers of other nations that we carry the image of God   . . .  Come, blessed by heavento our outstretched arms, we will embrace thy feet, and in our hearts will bear youname and memory like a seal.” 6 Despite his reservations about the Tsar’s reforms, as they might undermine thefoundations of traditional religious observance, Montefiore was ready to add hisinfluence to the commission. But many Tsarist officials, including Vil’na’s governor-general Fedor Mirkovich (who forbade the city’s Jewish community from correspond-ing with Montefiore), were against his arrival. 7 In the end, due to changes in theMinistry of Education, Montefiore did not travel to the Russian Empire in 1842, and his participation in the development of reforms was not realised, especially as Lilienthalhad actually left Russia. Nevertheless, the fate of Russian Jews continued to worryMontefiore, and he maintained a relationship with Vil’na maskilim, despite Mirko-vich’s ban. In 1845, Gintsburg corresponded with Montefiore about a book he was planning on the Damascus affair, which he hoped to dedicated to him – a request Montefiore approved. 8 Montefiore finally arrived, on his own initiative, in Vil’na in 1846, notwithstandingthediscouragementoftheRussianambassadortoLondon.Onthistrip,ashewasonpre-vious continental visits, he was accompanied by his wife Judith (1784–1862) and hissecretary, Louis Loewe (1809–88) – who is referred to as “Elizer Halevi” in Jewishsources. Montefiore had an audience with Tsar Nicholas I, who recommended he visit several cities of the empire that had large Jewish communities and asked Montefioreto then submit his observations in order that any recommendations of improvement could be deliberated. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Vil’na had the highest Jewishpopulationofanycity,anditwasinevitablyonMontefiore’sitinerary.Represen-tatives from the Vil’na community, Iudel’ Opatov and Tsvi-Hirsch Katsenellenbogen,came to St Petersburg to meet Montefiore, along with counterparts from Warsaw,Minsk, Mogilev, Shklov and Bobruisk. Together, they presented him with a welcomeletter on behalf of all Jewish communities within the Russian Empire. After spendingsome time in St Petersburg, mainly in discussion with government ministers and civilservants, Montefiore and his companions went to Vil’na. 9 Louis Loewe kept diaries whenever he travelled with Montefiore. He beganrecounting their stay in Vil’na by observing, “this is the most respected Russiancentre of Hebrew literature, and there are a number of great writers and poets amongits inhabitants.” 10 The Jewish literati of Vil’na were indeed a very significant groupin organising Montefiore’s visit and an active and visible force during it. One reasonis that the city’s literary element made up the core of Vil’na’s maskilic community,and in an attempt to prepare a worthy reception for their guests the “conservative” part of the community cooperated with this more “progressive” group and was eager to use its intellectual resources and energy.  L. Lempertiene 182    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   l  a  r  a   l  e  m  p  e  r   t   i  e  n  e   ]  a   t   1   2  :   0   5   2   4   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   2  The maskilic literary community was also interested in Montefiore’s visit and hugely enthusiastic about it for a second important reason. For, in their eyes, he wasa true example of an enlightened Jew, who was recognised in the non-Jewish world and an ardent supporter of Jewish education. Montefiore’s translator and mediator,Louis Loewe, also evoked their admiration. Polina Vengerova wrote, “Montefiore’scompanion and secretary used every minute of his stay in Russia to persuade Jewishyouths that they needed a European education. His words found resonance, asLoewe was educated in the European manner, but at the same time was also a good Talmudist. Loewe promoted these new values like no-one else. After all, he was Mon-tefiore’s companion.” 11 The impression Loewe created in Vil’na was further empha-sised by the publication, in 1847, of a sermon he delivered in Vil’na’s Great Synagogue. In the preface, the publisher, Iekutiel’ Shapiro, described how he wasmotivated to publish the text not only because of its intrinsic important, but also because of Montefiore’s reputation. Shapiro offered him the following dedication:“whose glory is and majesty is known to Israel, all the saints on high, [he is] a great leader and prince of Jews.” 12 The arrival of Western European guests in Vil’na gave the city’s maskilim theopportunity, in a variety of oral and written presentations, to speak about Jewish pro-gress and demonstrate the stagnation of traditional approaches and the need for neweducation, as well as the correction of established customs. In other words, the maski-lim wanted use Montefiore’s visit to raise the problems that were of utmost importanceto them, but that their traditional counterparts wouldn’t discuss.The maskilic literary account of Montefiore’s visit actually began before he arrived.In preparing for his arrival, the celebrated poet Abraham Dover Lebenson (pseudonym – Adam Ha-Cohen, 1784–1878) was tasked to write a poetic welcome on behalf of thecity’s community. A presentation copy of this poem was written by hand by theLebenson himself in the form of the tablets of the covenant. The Romm printing house prepared some of their editions as gifts for the guests. Lebenson was asked to compose poeticdedicationsinthesecopies.Once Montefiore’svisitwasknown,itseemsthatideo-logical differences were put aside. So, this welcome address, written by Lebenson, wasedited by rabbi Zalman Ze’ev (also known as “Rabbi Velvele”), who was usuallyunfavourable to maskilim, 13 and approved by the community’s conservative leadership.Rabbi Ze’ev was head of the welcome committee for Montefiore. But it also contained supporters of secular education, such as Tsvi-Hirsch Katsenellenbogen and NisanRosenthal, who sat alongside the official rabbi ( kazionnyi ravvin ), Israel Gordon.Respectedandwealthymembersofthecommunitywereincluded,regardlessoftheirreli-gious beliefs. The delegation that left two days before the guests were due to arrive, inorder to meet them on the Vilkomir road, was similarly and deliberately ideologicallymixed. In the words of Loewe, “the rabbis, dayans, the heads of charities and schools,all elders came to meet [Montefiore] seventeen miles outside of Vil’na and some of themwalkedfivemilesonfoottothemeetingpoint.Havingmetus,theygaveMontefioreandhis wifea poem [by Lebenson], written in thepure biblical language, forwhich Mon-tefiore thanked them from the bottom of his heart.” 14 Montefiore’s visit seems to have strengthened the bonds of Jewish society in Vil’na.He met with many prominent rabbis, such as Israel Salanter, Mordechai Mel’tser, Isaac ben Haim (head of the Volozhin yeshiva), David Luriei of Byikhov and MordechaiGimpel Iaffe. Likewise, he met with several maskilic writers, such as Gintsburg,Lebenson, Samuel Josef Finn, Benzion Berkovich, Tsemakh Landau and Ze’ev Wolf Eingorn. Others, such as Kalman Shul’man, sent him letters. Many writers who met   East European Jewish Affairs  183    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   l  a  r  a   l  e  m  p  e  r   t   i  e  n  e   ]  a   t   1   2  :   0   5   2   4   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   2  Montefiore gave him copies of their work, so, for example, Finn, who edited the journal  Pirhey Tsafon  (Northern Flowers), presented him with two issues of the journal, whichwere dedicated, “With gratitude to a great leader, Sir Moses Montefiore, on behalf of the Hebrew language.” 15 Montefiore visited traditional community institutions, leaving generous donations for each of them.They included the Vil’na’sTalmud Torahs (charitable elementaryschools),yeshivas, hospitals, batey midrash (study houses) and cemetery. He also prayed in theGreat Synagogue for Shabbat, and visited other synagogues in the city. Maskilim did not have their own synagogue in Vil’na at this time, but their presence was felt at other venues. 16 Loewe observed, “We visited the publishing houses of Romm, Rindziuskii,Konigsberg and Turkin. The hosts gave us editions of some important books, to everyone of which were attached poems by the great poet A.B. Lebenson.” 17 These were the poems that had been written before the arrival of the guests. On his return from Shabbat at the Great Synagogue, Montefiore stopped on the steps of a house, where ten girlsdressed in white performed a hymn in his honour. It was written by Wolf Tugendgol’d,known for his progressive views and a veteran censor of Jewish books. 18 ButMontefiorealsovisitedmaskiliceducationalinstitutions – privatesecularschoolsand colleges. He went to a school for boys, run by M.A. Gintsburg and Samuel Zalkind.The students read out a special prayer composed by Gintsburg in Montefiore’s honour.When they went to Shaul Perl’s girls’ school, however, the students sang a song inhonour of Lady Judith, written by Lebenson. 19 In addition to these solemn hymns,speeches and prayers, children from both schools answered questions from the visitorsabout various aspects of the curriculum – both on Jewish and general topics. In their addresses to the students, Montefiore and Loewe both called for the strengthening of the teaching of the Russian language in schools. In a letter sent to Count Uvarov after his trip, Montefiore outlined his discoveries in relation to the need for enlightenment of the Russian Empire’s Jews. He emphasised the particular place of Vil’na: In Vil’na I found schools, arranged in line with government regulations, which wereequipped with knowledgeable teachers and where the pupils responded very satisfactorilyto [questions] about various fields of study – Latin, Russian and German grammar,geography, arithmetic and history. 20 In his diary Lowe shed light on the process of the preparation of Montefiore’s memoran-dum:“all theseplaces provided the information that Montefiore used inhis memorandumto the Tsar.  . . .  The students showed commendable progress in French, Russian, Germanand Hebrew, and they particularly excelled in their knowledge of arithmetic.” 21 However, Montefiore’s visit also sounded a note of discord among the community.Lebenson, who was a major supporter of Montefiore, was unhappy with the sole role of the author of poetic panegyrics delegated to him by the community. Alongside theabovementioned poetic greeting of Montefiore on his arrival, which was reallynothing more than a flowery eulogy, he presented, on his own initiative, a proseaddress that contained complaints about the state of the Jewish community and theneed for reform. 22 This was hardly likely to be to the taste of the community’s conser-vative leadership. 23 Similarly, when a group of maskilim produced a somewhat neutralresponse in answer to questions from Montefiore, Lebenson was further dissatisfied.He therefore wrote a kind of postscript to that response. 24 Lebenson invested great expectations in the figure of Moses Montefiore. Picking upon the Western European maskilic tradition, he compared Montefiore to the biblical  L. Lempertiene 184    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   l  a  r  a   l  e  m  p  e  r   t   i  e  n  e   ]  a   t   1   2  :   0   5   2   4   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   2
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