18 January 1855 Lydia Montefiore, aunt of Sir Moses Montefiore, confesses faith in Yeshua #otdimjh #onthisday

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From Wikipedia  – Montefiore is a surname associated with the Montefiore family, Sephardi Jews who were diplomats and bankers all over Europe and who originated from Morocco and Italy. Notable people with the surname include:

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Montefiore Family Tree – Lydia is one of ‘five others”

One Montefiore name is missing from this list, on whom we focus today – Lydia, an aunt of Sir Moses. Bernstein (pp.371- 382) gives details here:

Dutch version here:

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Montefiore, Lydia, was born a Jewess, and was the aunt of Sir Moses Montefiore, Bart. Her parents were orthodox Jews, and she was taught strictly to observe the Sabbath as a sacred day, as well as the feasts and fasts, and other ceremonies prescribed by the law of Moses. Early in life she was instructed in the duties enjoined by the rabbis on Jewish women. At the same time she had instilled into her youthful mind the lofty idea of the Unity of God, and the pre-eminence of the Jews.

After the death of her parents she visited America, and some of the countries of Europe, but finally took up her abode in Marseilles, where she remained until her death. “In March 1854,” writes Mr. J. P. Cohen, “I arrived in Marseilles as missionary under the auspices of the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews, and in the following month I was introduced to Miss Montefiore by a lady who felt a deep interest in her spiritual welfare, but before doing so she said, ‘You will find her an out-and-out Jewess, and a great bigot.’

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Sir Moses Montefiore

“On entering her house the lady said, ‘I have brought an Israelite, Mr. Cohen, and his wife to see you.’ She received us very kindly, and after the ladies had had some conversation, observing the Bible on a small table by her side, I said, ‘You read your [372] Bible, I see.’ ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘it is my greatest comfort.’ I took the sacred volume and read Isaiah liii., and at the close asked her what she thought of that wondrous chapter. ‘I should like to hear your opinion upon it,’ replied Miss Montefiore.

I told her I could unhesitatingly say that it referred to the life and death of the Messiah; and that it had been literally accomplished in the person of Jesus, whom I believed to be the promised Messiah. ‘Then you are a Christian,’ she said. ‘I am happy to say I am,’ was my reply. ‘God has graciously opened my eyes to behold in Jesus my promised Redeemer.’ Turning to the lady who had introduced us, she angrily said, ‘I thought you told me they were Israelites?’ ‘So they are, true Israelites,’ replied the lady. A short pause ensued, and from the quivering of Miss Montefiore’s lips and flushed cheeks, I could plainly see that her Jewish pride was roused, and with much vehemence she said, ‘I think it is most insulting to call on people, and try to convert them from the faith of their fathers. Why not let every one remain in the religion in which they were born? I must tell you I am a thorough Jewess: I was born a Jewess, and I have lived eighty-three years as a Jewess, and hope I shall die a Jewess.’ But quickly recovering her composure she said, ‘I repeatedly hear Christians say that they love the God of Abraham. I cannot conceive how they can do that, and not keep the law which He gave to His servant Moses. If Christ has done away with the law of Moses, how can He be the Messiah?’

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Montefiore family mausoleum, Ramsgate, Kent

I replied that this was one of the many [373] erroneous ideas the Jews have of Christ. He did not come to destroy the law, or the prophets, as the Jews seemed to think, but to fulfil all that the law and the prophets wrote concerning Him. It was He who made known the true meaning of all the Mosaic ordinances and institutions. He explained their righteous precepts, the latter of which at the time of His coming the scribes and Pharisees had rendered of none effect through their traditions. Besides, I told her that God had promised to make a new covenant with us, and to write His law in our hearts. Here she rather abruptly interrupted, and asked where that new covenant was to be found. ‘It is not in my Bible,’ she said. ‘Pardon me, it is in your Bible,’ and I shewed her Jer. xxxi. 31-33, which she read with evident surprise.

“We conversed for a long time; Miss Montefiore shewing great interest in all I said, and as we were about to leave she pleasantly remarked, ‘I cannot understand how a Jew who believes in Jesus can still be an Israelite.’ I told her not to think I ceased to be a Jew because I believed in the Lord Jesus, far from it; He was a Jew Himself; all His first disciples were Jews; He personally preached only to Jews; and it was not till the Jews refused to listen that His apostles were sent to the Gentiles. She seemed much pleased with this piece of Scriptural truth, and on bidding her adieu, she asked us to call again, and said, ‘I shall be pleased to see you at any time, except on the Saturday, which day I set apart for prayer and Bible reading.’ [374]

“I soon paid her another visit, and after a little talk about passing events our conversation turned on repentance, which appeared to be her favourite topic. I said, ‘What we want most is to have our sins forgiven; not always to be repenting of them, but to forsake them altogether. God did not say to our fathers when in Egypt, “When I hear you repenting I will save you,” but He says, “When I see the blood I will pass over you” (Exod. xii. 13). The blood was Israel’s security then, and it is the blood now that makes atonement for the soul (Lev. xvii. 11). ‘And without shedding of blood there is no remission.’

“After a little hesitation she said: ‘We have no priest, no temple; the place appointed where alone it was lawful to offer sacrifice is inaccessible to us (Jews). Surely the Almighty will not require of us that which we cannot perform; He will mercifully accept our prayers, our fastings, our observance of the Sabbath, and the reading of the law, as I do daily, as a substitute for performing the law.’ ‘Dear madam,’ I said, ‘let me beg of you not to rely on such bruised reeds, nor build your soul’s salvation on such sinking sand; they are but vain excuses; they may quiet your conscience, calm your fears, and lull you into a false security, which you may only discover when too late.’

“The following will shew her idea of repentance. In writing to a friend in March 1853 on this subject, she said: ‘You say repentance is not sufficient for forgiveness of sins. Then why did King David say to God, “Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; Thou delightest not in burnt offerings; the [375] sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise!” Let us follow God’s commandments, and do unto others as we would they should do unto us, and be patient under all adversities. But the last, I fear, I am deficient in, for I am often very irritable and impatient.’

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“It was wonderful to see how her views of the Messiahship of Jesus became daily more distinct.

“I have just returned from a visit to our aged friend, Miss Montefiore, after having had a most interesting conversation, or rather, I might say, a Bible reading with her. I was greatly pleased to observe that her tone, when speaking of the Saviour, was much milder than in any of my former visits; and her anxiety for the truth was so great that it gave me real pleasure to be with her. She said: ‘All I want to know is the truth. I shall receive nothing, unless I see it plainly revealed in my Bible.’ She expressed a wish to read the New Testament, and asked where she could procure one. I told her I daily expected some Bibles and Testaments from London, and that as soon as they arrived I should be most happy to supply her with one.

“About this time the cholera was raging in Marseilles, and hundreds were daily cut down by this most painful epidemic; and not feeling well myself, our friends strongly advised us to leave the town for a few weeks. During our absence the Spirit of God worked mightily in this lady’s soul.

“On our return we heard she had frequently enquired after us, and often said, ‘I miss them much, [376] I hope they will soon return.’ Accordingly Mrs. Cohen did not lose any time, but called upon her at once, and was received by Miss Montefiore with great affection. Having been reminded of the near approach of the Day of Atonement, and ‘without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin,’ she said, ‘Yes, I know it, and feel it more than ever. I once kept the Day of Atonement with fasting and prayer, in the vain hope of making propitiation for my sins, but I am beginning to feel I want something better than the blood of bulls and goats to atone for them. I often repeat those words, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” ‘Unbelief,’ she said, ‘has been, and still is, our sin; the veil is still over our people’s eyes; but it shall be removed, for God has promised it. They will not search the Scriptures as I do.’ With clasped hands and uplifted eyes she said, ‘I’ll tell you what I say to the Anointed One (Jesus, I mean), “If I have done or said anything against Thee, pardon, oh pardon me, for I did it in ignorance.”‘ This was indeed good news to us, and we earnestly prayed God to deepen these convictions, to teach her by His Spirit, and give her much grace to impart them to her Jewish friends and relatives. The New Testament which I promised, but was unable to give her on account of our sudden and unexpected departure, was supplied her by a friend during our absence, the reading of which proved a great blessing to her.

“A few days before Yom Kippur she said, ‘The more I read my Bible, the more I am beginning to [377] feel my being born a Jewess can never save me; I must have something better than my fastings and prayers.’ Every visit I paid her I could see a considerable change in her sentiments respecting the Lord Jesus. It was pleasing to me, who had prayerfully watched her for so many months, to observe how gradually her Jewish prejudices disappeared, her views of the Gospel becoming more and more clear, and her love for Jesus increasing daily. It was in the beginning of October 1854, she expressed a wish to be baptized, provided it could be done very secretly, on account of her position. She said, ‘I should not even like my servant to know of it’ (who had lived in her service four years). I told her to remember that ‘the fear of man bringeth a snare,’ and that Jesus Christ tells us that, ‘Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in Heaven’; I also advised her to read the tenth chapter of St. Matthew, at the same time to make it a matter of serious prayer before God, and I would do the same, and that we would converse more on this subject at another time.

“Let me here remark that Miss Montefiore had a niece in England, who had already embraced Christianity, and her heart’s desire and prayer to God for her aunt was, that she might be saved. Every letter she sent her aunt contained some exhortation to search the Scriptures; she also forwarded her religious books; but the contents of the letters were soon forgotten; nevertheless, I believe that the first link in the chain of human agency in Miss Montefiore’s [378] conversion was to be found in this niece’s persevering prayers for her aged relative. Not having heard from her aunt for a year, and knowing nothing of our Christian intercourse, the lady was surprised and thankful to receive the following letter:—

October, 1854.

“‘Dear L.,—I have at last taken courage to reply to some of your letters, dates n’importe. I have read “The Book and its Story,” the missionary’s aid for converting the blind and the stupid. I read it with much interest, and I pray ardently it may bring the whole world to believe, as I now do, that Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, was ordained to be crucified to take away all our sins; and that by believing in Him we shall be saved. Madame R. lent me the Old and New Testament bound together. The Old Testament I almost knew by heart, but the New I had never before read. I have studied it closely during many evenings, which has sorely pained my eyes; but, oh, how plainly and typically the Bible shews the coming of Messiah! I have thought so long since, before you endeavoured to bring me to believe. Oh, my dear L., had God so ordered your abode close to me, I should have listened better than by your letters, and perhaps been baptized ere now. Pray keep very secret the words of this letter. I cannot say more. My heart is too full.

“‘My country residence of ten weeks did not improve my health. The fatigue was too much for me at my time of life. I continue very feeble. The Lord’s will be done! If He heals me, I shall be healed; [379] if He saves me, I shall be saved. Thanks to our Heavenly Father the cholera is over at Marseilles. I have lost my poor landlady, she died in the country, leaving Marseilles to escape the cholera. I went with regret, as I was not afraid. I completed last week my eighty-first year, so excuse the defects, for my age’s sake. “He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him.” Amen.—Your truly affectionate,

“‘Lydia Montefiore.”

“‘What word can express my surprise,’ writes that lady, ‘at the declaration contained in the former part of this letter! An actual declaration in the belief of a crucified Redeemer! Over and over again did I read the words, “And I pray ardently that the whole world may believe, as I do now, that Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, was ordained to be crucified to take away all our sins, and that by believing in Him we shall be saved.” Could this be from one of whom it was said only two years before, “She is an out-and-out Jewess?”

The Lord did at last convince her that Jesus was the Messiah of whom Isaiah spoke in his liii. chapter, as he writes: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and by His stripes we are healed. He was cut off out of the land of the living.”‘ Her desire for immediate baptism daily increased; and she frequently made it a subject of conversation with her Christian friends. At a subsequent visit she said to me, ‘The Lord has given me a deep sense of my former sins, but I have rolled them all on Jesus for pardon, and[380] now I shall not be happy until I am baptized.’ I again told her seriously to consider the step she was about to take, in declaring she was not ashamed of Jesus; and asked her whether she had made up her mind to endure persecution for Christ’s sake. She said, ‘My confidence is in God; He will not lay more upon me than I am able to bear.’ The conversation that day was more about faith in God, and less of man, which I was very glad to hear.

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At another visit, when speaking about baptism, I said, ‘Now, suppose you are baptized, and your friends should ask you whether it was true,—what would you say?’ She said, ‘I would tell them it was quite true, and that I felt assured, if they searched the Scriptures prayerfully, as I had done, God would remove the veil from their eyes, as it has pleased Him to remove it from mine; and then they would also believe in Jesus, the true Messiah, and in the power of His resurrection, as I have done.’ It was truly delightful to see how gradually the fear of man subsided, and her confidence in God daily grew stronger. I accordingly introduced the Rev. J. Monod, who very kindly visited her several times; his visits were much blessed to her; and having been satisfied with her faith in Christ, he baptized her on Thursday, January 18th, 1855.

“We spent the previous evening with her, and I read St. Paul’s conversion, and the sufferings of our Saviour, which affected her much, and I earnestly asked God to be with us on the following day. She said: ‘How thankful do I feel that the fear of man is entirely removed from my mind, so much so that I [381] have not only told my intentions to my servant, but have given her leave to publish it abroad, and told her, should she meet my relations, how to tell them of it; in fact, I wish all my relations to know it, and I pray God they may be brought to the knowledge of truth ere they die.”

Reflection: This account, despite its generic form and jarring use of terms, demonstrates the trend in the 19th century for all sections of Jewish society to find faith in Yeshua, Today no less do we see Jewish people around the world and from all groups becoming believers in Yeshua,

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the genuine search and the gift of faith you gave to Lydia Montefiore, and for others in her family such as Hugh, Bishop of Birmingham. We pray for the leaders of our Jewish people, that they may come to know the greatest leader of them all, the Messiah Yeshua – in his name we pray. Amen,
FALL 1988, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 59-83
Passports and piety: Apostasy in nineteenth-century France
Jonathan I. Helfand

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About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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