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• Moses Montefiore calls on the Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe.

By GEOFFREY WHEATCROFT [TLS] – One evening in October 1840, the people of Constantinople saw an unlikely sight. Wending slowly through streets filled with horses, donkeys and camels, as well as a noisy human throng, came a procession of six soldiers and six torchbearers preceding two carriages. They were heading for the palace of Abdul Mecid, the very young man, not yet twenty, who had recently succeeded as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, not to say Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe. His visitor was Sir Moses Montefiore, a hugely rich financier who had come from London representing the British government, the mightiest power on earth, but also on behalf of a people then far from mighty in temporal terms, though much older than the Ottomans, England or Islam.

Months earlier, an emergency meeting of the Board of Deputies of British Jews had considered the news which had swept through – and horrified – Jewish communities everywhere. An Italian friar had disappeared in Damascus, and several Jewish families had supposedly been implicated in a case of ritual murder. This was the ancient “blood libel”…: the belief, which had entered European folk mythology in the Middle Ages and spread to Muslim lands, that Jews used the blood of Christians to bake Passover bread.

As these reports circulated in European newspapers, the first man to challenge them was Adolphe Crémieux of the Consistoire Central des Israélites, the French equivalent of the Board of Deputies. But he carried little of the weight of Montefiore, a standing and esteem which only grew with his many travels, to Jerusalem, St Petersburg and Morocco, where he would go almost as a plenipotentiary, received by rulers as he sought to help his fellow Jews. His national and international fame was immense by the time he died in 1885 aged a hundred, and he lived so long that he saw many hopes raised and then dashed.

Continued at the Times Literary Supplement | More Chronicle & Notices.

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