Judith Montefiore

Livia Arndal Woods, University of Illinois at Springfield



Judith Montefiore, née Cohen, lived from 1784, or possibly 1794, to 1862 (Lipman 287).1 Her father, Levi Barent Cohen, had arrived in London from Holland about a decade prior to Judith’s birth. Her mother, Liba or Lydia Diamantschliefer, married Levi Barent after the death of his first wife, her sister. Judith was their second daughter. She received an excellent private education on a genteel English model with emphasis on polite accomplishments and modern languages. However, her home and social life also inculcated Hebrew-language skills and traditional religious priorities in the Ashkenazi tradition. Her legacy is almost always yoked to that of her husband, Moses Montefiore (and often framed in the context of their childlessness). Judith and Moses, who was a Sephardic Jew, married in 1812; their marriage is often credited with easing the way toward greater unity among England’s Ashkenazim and Sephardim (prior to the arrival later in the century of less affluent Eastern European Jews), although Lipman identified this union as just one in a late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century “spate of such marriages” (290). After their marriage, Moses not only achieved success in business but also became one of the most important philanthropists of the nineteenth century. Judith was a particularly active partner in these philanthropic endeavors, which focused—though not exclusively­—on the conditions of Jews worldwide. Two privately published journals of her travels to Palestine reflect some of these priorities and have been understood by Judith Page as narratives of “spiritual pilgrimage” and “homemaking, planting, and improvement,” respectively (126-7). It is likely their 1826-7 journey was the first or one of the first such trips made by Anglo-Jewish tourists; as a result, the trip is sometimes understood as a prelude to or early chapter in the rise of Zionism among nineteenth-century British Jews. Judith Montefiore became Lady Montefiore when Moses was knighted in 1837. Moses received a baronetcy in 1846, the same year that The Jewish Manual was published anonymously by “A Lady.” That this lady was Judith is now widely accepted, though the significance of this cookbook not only as a Jewish artifact but also as a Victorian text has been understudied. Judith’s life and work more broadly have received some scholarly attention, but this entry is unique in its focus on situating these extant writings in their broader literary critical contexts, particularly late-20th and early-21st century frameworks for locating women’s non-canonical and ephemeral writing in more familiar literary and literary critical traditions.

Travel Writing, Judith Montefiore’s Private Journals, and a “Jewish-centered world”

Prior to the turn of the twenty-first century, an “absence within the academy of a tradition of critical attention to travel writing” relegated works much more easily accessible and better known than Judith Montefiore’s private journals to footnotes in the literary critical record (Hulme and Youngs 1). However, literary scholarship over the last quarter century has turned increasing attention to travel writing and travelogues, though the genre remains “stubbornly indefinable” (Youngs 2). Much of the interest in nineteenth-century British travel writing has, for obvious reasons, focused on imperialism. Work on nineteenth-century British women’s travel writing is no exception to this, though with particular attention given to women’s travel writing as often “informed by a greater awareness of and attention to the details of everyday living arrangements and domestic concerns … [with more] value [placed] on personal observation of and contact with the daily lives of other people, especially women and children” (Wagner 175).

Of course, travel writing is a genre with particular significance for diasporic peoples and Jewish travel and travel writing is a notable topic among historians and scholars of religious studies. Literary critical analysis of Jewish travel writing as writing is a less well-developed area of study, and the bibliography of such work on Judith Montefiore’s travel journals is slim, though Galit Hasan-Rokem’s “The Jewish Tradition of the Wandering Jew: The Poetics of Long Duration” (2021) and Judith Page’s important Imperfect Sympathies: Jews and Judaism in British Romantic Literature and Culture (2004) do consider Montefiore’s travel writing in this light. As Page notes, however, a “conservatism” shared by Judith and Moses “extended to Judith’s sense of herself as a writer. She chose not to publish her travel journals, and did not consider herself an ‘author’” (124-5). The writing that Montefiore did publish for public consumption, namely The Jewish Manual, she published anonymously.

The Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine (printed for private circulation in 1836) covers an 1826-7 journey that seems to have prompted not only a public lifetime of philanthropy aimed at addressing the global plight of Jews but also a private shift toward greater observance of traditional Jewish practices for Shabbat and kashrut. Opening entries in Europe align the Montefiores explicitly and insistently with Englishness (for example: “Many persons noticed us as being English in the course of our walk”) and establish Judith’s particular attention to the lives of women and the work of women artists (16-17, 42). Though of interest for the ways these sections elide and suggest the Montefiores’ identities as Jews and their more lax approach to religious observance in the early years of their marriage, the accounts of these European travels are largely typical Victorian descriptions of local sights and delicacies. As the Montefiores leave Europe, however, their trip becomes more arduous and is complicated by war and unrest. By the time they have reached Egypt, the register shifts from a familiar Victorian tourist report to what Page calls “a Jewish mythical narrative of exile and return” (106). “At this crucial moment in her narrative,” Page argues, “Montefiore moves from a first-person to a mostly third-person narration as she connects her experience to Jewish memory and history” (113). Montefiore’s account of visiting Rachel’s tomb in the Private Journal is often noted in treatments of her life and work as a particularly compelling example of the ways she centers women’s legacies in her engagements with Jewish mythical narratives and the project of communal memory.

Unlike the pilgrimage of 1826-7, the Montefiores’ 1838 journey to Palestine was a “practical mission … the record [of which] becomes a narrative of homemaking, planting, and improvement” (Page 126-7). Reading the Notes from a Journal of a Visit to Palestine by way of Italy and the Mediterranean Montefiore, published privately in 1844 as extending the nurturing role increasingly associated with nineteenth-century British women to a “domestic” space that encompasses Palestine, Page sees a shared theme with another Jewish writer of the period, Grace Aguilar, namely in how “cultivating the land becomes one metaphor for establishing a Jewish identity” in Victorian Jewish women’s writing (130). A minor point of overlap between this travel narrative and a more familiar nineteenth-century lady traveler is the mention Montefiore makes of logistics surrounding the 1839 death of Lady Hester Stanhope (in the small village of Joun in what is now Lebanon).

Cookbooks as Literature and The Jewish Manual

The cookbook stands at an even greater remove from long-established conversations in literary studies than does travel writing. Cookbooks are very seldom incorporated in anthologies, syllabi, and general scholarship regarding nineteenth-century writing. Whereas nineteenth-century British novels will be picked up by those studying a wide variety of topics, British nineteenth-century cookbooks—with the occasional exception of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management—are generally studied only by those with an interest specifically in cookbooks or food cultures and only treated with a primary focus on the ways cookbooks are writing by a subset of such students and scholars.

Food studies emerged as an increasingly articulable interdisciplinary area in the 1990s and early 2000s, following work in cultural studies, feminist theories and the academic study of women’s work, post-colonial theory, and theoretical approaches centering race and identity that paved the way for understandings of cookbooks as significant cultural vectors deserving of rigorous analysis. The cultural historian Janet Theophano’s 2003 Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote demonstrates the particular resonance of food and cookbook studies for scholars of women’s lives and writing, though literary food studies’ understanding of food as text and the literature of food— including cookbooks—as literature beyond any particular focus on women’s or gender studies.

Within food studies and Jewish studies, Jewish cookbook traditions—of particular interest given the significance of kashrut and other food-based observances to Jewish cultures—have received some attention. The bibliography on Jewish cookbooks deepens significantly, however, with reference to late-nineteenth and early-twentieth Jewish relocations, particularly among the Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe and with special attention to the American context, as in Eileen Solomon’s “More Than Recipes: Kosher Cookbooks as Historical Texts,” for example. The Jewish Manual—as a window into the genteel mid-Victorian Anglo-Jewish community—is an outlier in this critical conversation, though it offers apt examples of the ways written recipes can work as “a domestic form[s] of the oral law” (Kendler 62).

Insofar as Judith Montefiore’s writing is analyzed as literature, it is largely her travel journals that have received close attention. However, what Page calls “Montefiore’s conviction that as a Jewish woman she could interpret and transmit the tradition” and participate in the making of communal memory in the context of her travel writing holds just as true of her anonymously published 1846 Jewish Manual, particularly as understood in the framework of food studies approaches to cookbooks as texts of communal memory (125). The book (not currently in print) is a relatively slim volume focused on familiar Victorian mores of upper-middle-class gentility in the generally implicit context of an Anglo-Jewish kitchen and home. The Manual was, as Jennifer Bregar notes, “published … fifteen years before Mrs. Beeton’s classic work The Book of Household Management and 25 years before Esther Levy produced the first American-Jewish cookbook in 1871.”

The Jewish Manual is notable in Montefiore’s writing career for its popular (rather than private) publication. This increased visibility is offset by Montefiore’s anonymity as the book’s author. In confirming her as the author of the cookbook, Chaim Raphael works from an October 10, 1862 Jewish Chronicle mention of Rabbi Dr. Nathan Marcus Adler’s mention of her authorship during discussions to plan a memorial following Montefiore’s death (29). Montefiore’s relative anonymity as the author of this cookbook heightens understandings of the text as a document of communal memory rather than an individual vision, an understanding primed by Montefiore’s editor’s preface to The Jewish Manual, which uses the first person plural throughout and articulates the recipes as an admixture of “articles in common use” as well as “extremely ancient [receipts] given to us by a person,” implied to be someone other than the book’s editor herself (vi).

In reading The Jewish Manual as a document of the religiously observant or observance-adjacent well-to-do Anglo-Jewish community surprisingly well-assimilated into genteel British circles, the degree to which the book signals detailed awareness of the “English” kitchen and addresses itself to a potential English audience (both explicitly in the preface and also in the inclusion of recipes for sauces like bechemel that are “ “not appropriate for the Jewish kitchen,” presumably on account of being dairy sauces intended to be served with meat) is significant (Manual 32). In “Cookbook Writers and Recipe Readers: Georgiana Hill, Isabella Beeton and Victorian Domesticity,” Rachel Rich identifies mid-Victorian cookbook authors as being “conscious of addressing multiple audiences,” but it does seem surprising that Montefiore might have imagined a sizeable non-Jewish readership for her cookbook (408). That such a readership might be assumed to be the non-Jewish servants and cooks employed in Jewish homes is belied by the insistently managerial pitch of the Manual.

In accordance with the laws of kashrut, the recipes in The Jewish Manual never call for both dairy and meat products, though they are not marked as or sorted into dairy, meat, or pareve (neither dairy nor meat and suitable to be eaten with both) categories. Some recipes specify a particular dairy ingredient as omitted (like “Sauce without Butter for Boiled Puddings”), but this Jewish aspect of the book is largely implicit rather than explicit (26). Though recipes are accompanied by varied descriptions and notes, the most identifiably “Jewish” of the recipes (like “A Luction, or a Rachel,” for example) are not generally remarked upon with particular attention or explanation (118).2 The most explicit reference to concerns regarding kashrut is the editor’s instruction that “it is a great mistake to imagine lard is better adapted for pastry than butter or clarified fat,” which suggests the possibility that Montefiore envisioned The Jewish Manual as a counter to assimilating urges in her community (103-4).

Judith Montefiore as a Jewish Writer

As Michael Scrivener notes, there are “striking difference[s] between the older and current literary critics” in their treatment of Jewish representation in British literature, notably the “inclusion of diverse genres, not just the novel and drama; and the broad contextualization of literary texts in terms of cultural, postcolonial, gender and feminist studies” (21). Certainly, the reclamation of Judith Montefiore as a writer works within these contexts. It is worth noting alongside Jane Gerson, however, that the “discovery” of Montefiore and of texts like The Jewish Manual is often a complicated palimpsest of “selective public memory” and forgetfulness (298). Judith Montefiore’s life and work have not been forgotten since her death, but her significance as a Victorian Jewish writer of literature has not, heretofore, been firmly established. Increased twenty-first-century interest in Montefiore suggests an opportunity to establish her more firmly in this critical conversation.

1 Though Lipman notes the possibility of the 1794 birth date, the consensus seems to fall with 1784.
2 “Luction” meaning “lokshen” kugel, a kugel made with noodles rather than potatoes.


Works Consulted

Breger, Jennifer. “Judith Montefiore.” Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, Jewish Women’s Archive, 31 Dec. 1999, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/montefiore-judith. Accessed 3 Mar. 2023.

—. “Three Women of the Book: Judith Montefiore, Rachel Morpurgo and Flora Sassoon.” AB Bookman’s Weekly, vol. 101, 1998, pp. 853–864.

Gerson, Jane. “From Bola d’Amour to the Ultimate Cheesecake: 150 Years of Anglo-Jewish Cookery Writing.” Jewish Culture and History, vol. 12, no. 1-2, 2010, pp. 297-316.

Goldstein, Andrew. Travel to the Holy Land: 1799-1831; A Case Study: The Journey of Moses and Judith Montefiore. 1998. University of Leicester, PhD Dissertation.

Green, Abigail. “Spirituality, Tradition and Gender: Judith Montefiore, the Very Model of a Modern Jewish Woman.” History of European Ideas, vol. 40, no. 6, 2014, pp. 747-60.

Hasan-Rokem, Galit. “The Jewish Tradition of the Wandering Jew: The Poetics of Long Duration.” Jews and Journeys: Travel and the Performance of Jewish Identity, edited by Joshua Levinson and Orit Bashkin, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021, pp. 171-82.

Hulme, Peter and Tim Youngs, eds. A Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing. Cambridge UP, 2002.

Kendler, Maureen. “Luction Pudding and Crisco: Early Jewish Cookery Books in England and America.” Jewish Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 2, 2010, pp. 62-65.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. The Kosher Gourmet in the Nineteenth Century Kitchen: Three Jewish Cookbooks in Historical Perspective. American Institute of Wine and Food, 1988.

Lipman, Sonia. “Judith Montefiore, First Lady of Anglo Jewry.” Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, vol. 21, 1968, pp. 287–303.

Loewe, Louis. Diaries of Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore. Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh, 1890.

Page, Judith W. Imperfect Sympathies: Jews and Judaism in British Romantic Literature and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Page, Judith W. “Jerusalem and Jewish Memory: Judith Montefiore’s Private Journal.” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 27, no. 1, 1999, pp. 125-41.

Raphael, Chaim. “The History and Mystery of The Jewish Manual.” The Jewish Manual: or, Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery, with a Collection of Valuable Recipes and Hints Relating to the Toilette, edited by a Lady. T. & W. Boone, 1846.

Rich, Rachel. “Cookbook Writers and Recipe Readers: Georgiana Hill, Isabella Beeton and Victorian Domesticity.” Journal of Victorian Culture, vol. 25, no. 3, 2020, 408–23.

Scrivener, Michael. Jewish Representation in British Literature, 1780-1840. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Solomon, Eileen. “More Than Recipes: Kosher Cookbooks as Historical Texts.” Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 104, no. 1, 2014, pp. 24-37.

Theophano, Janet. Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

Wagner, Tamara. “Travel Writing.” The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Women’s Writing, edited by Linda H. Peterson, Cambridge UP, 2015, pp. 175-188.

Youngs, Tim. The Cambridge Introduction to Travel Writing. Cambridge UP, 2013.


Selected Bibliography

The Jewish Manual: or, Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery, with a Collection of Valuable Recipes and Hints Relating to the Toilette, edited by a Lady. T. & W. Boone, 1846.

Lady Montefiore’s Honeymoon: An Unpublished Diary, edited by Lucien Wolf, Jewish Chronicle, 1902.

Notes from a Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine, by Way of Italy and the Mediterranean. Joseph Rickerby, 1844.

Private Journal of a Visit to Egypt and Palestine by Way of Italy and the Mediterranean. Joseph Rickerby, 1836.