When Topol Fled From ‘Fiddler’… Twice

Chaim Topol was originally disgusted by 'Fiddler on the Roof'. Soon after changing his mind, war in Israel took him off the stage...

Israeli poster for the 'Fiddler on the Roof' feature film, starring Chaim Topol. From the National Library of Israel Ephemera Collection

By Zack Rothbart

Chaim Topol recalled that the first time he ever saw Fiddler on the Roof, “I nearly fled from the theatre with my hands to my ears.”

It wasn’t a two-bit off-Broadway version of Fiddler Topol had seen, either. He was in New York not long after the show opened and saw the original Tevye, Zero Mostel, in action. Though Topol remembered feeling that he was “in the presence of a genius” when he saw Mostel’s Tevye on a different occasion, that first show was an “off-day” for Mostel in Topol’s opinion. The veteran American actor had cracked inappropriate jokes off the cuff, turning Anatevka into “the shtetl Madison Avenue style,” according to Topol, who described it in his autobiography as:

“…reek[ing] both of the old golah (diaspora) as represented by the Russian Pale of Settlement, and the new one, as represented by New York: it seemed to reflect some of the worst features of both…”

His overall feeling regarding the show at the time? “Ugh!”

He also didn’t think it would work in Israel where, he assumed, the sensitivities and propensities were more in line with his. It wasn’t until seeing veteran Russian-born Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky in the role of Tevye (known as “Tuvia” in Hebrew) that Topol was moved by the story and reconsidered a previous request he had rejected to take on the role in the Tel Aviv production of Fiddler.

Shmuel Rodensky as Tevye, 1967 (Photo: Dan Hadani). The Dan Hadani Collection, The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Rodensky’s portrayal was more authentic and less comical, and when the older actor could no longer do all of the weekly shows, Topol – then in his late 20s – assumed the role.

Not long after, Topol was called to audition for the role of Tevye in the London production of the show. He had memorized the songs and much of the choreography for the audition, but his English was very poor.

Israeli ad for the original Fiddler on the Roof album, which Topol used to learn the show’s songs. From the Yossi Alfi Archive at the Israeli Center for the Documentation of the Performing Arts, accessible online as part of a collaborative initiative between The Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the National Library of Israel and the University of Haifa

“I didn’t speak English and had a vocabulary of about fifty words – most of them swear words; but I managed to get by and I was told at the end of the day that the part was mine,” he later recalled.

After months of practice and private English tutoring, Fiddler on the Roof, starring 31 year-old Chaim Topol as Tevye the Milkman, opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London on February 16, 1967.

A man of many faces: Chaim Topol in 1967, the year Fiddler opened in London. From the Chaim Topol Archive, accessible online by courtesy of the family and as part of a collaborative initiative between The Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the National Library of Israel and the University of Haifa
Bearded for his role as Yevye in London, this photo was taken of Chaim Topol on a return visit to Israel in late 1967 (Photo: IPPA Staff). The Dan Hadani Collection, The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Just about three months into the successful run, tensions began to build in the Middle East and war increasingly seemed imminent. Every night after his performance, Topol would rush to his dressing room to listen to the news.

His contract had specified that he would not work on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, yet there was no “war clause”. After hearing the news that war had in fact finally erupted, Topol nonetheless told the show’s producer that he needed to take leave, and he “fled” to Israel.

Topol of course didn’t know that the war would only last six days. After reporting for duty in Tel Aviv and then finding himself in Jerusalem following its reunification and then in the Golan Heights, he promptly went back to being Tevye at Her Majesty’s Theatre, after only being absent for about a week. Following the war, Topol recalled how Israelis “suddenly began to think of themselves and speak of themselves as Jews,” while Jews abroad took pride in the war’s miraculous results.

Celebratory Israeli Air Force flyover, July 1967 (Photo: Dan Hadani / Colorization: MyHeritage). The Dan Hadani Collection, The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

“Jews who had seen Fiddler once came back to see it a second and third time, and some of the performances in June and July 1967 took on the character of a victory celebration,” he recounted.

A few years later, when preparations were being made to create a film version of Fiddler on the Roof, Chaim Topol was cast as Tevye, beating out legendary stars including Walter Matthau, Danny Kaye, Richard Burton and even Frank Sinatra.

According to the film’s director, Norman Jewison, Topol possessed “that don’t-mess-with-me pride that the Tevye of my imagination had”.

“Chaim Topol was made for this part. Not only is he a fine actor, but there was a strain of dignity. It was the Israeli in him, the pride of being Jewish that really struck me. When he said, ‘Get off my land,’ you could see him stiffen up and stand as tall as he could. There was a strength that epitomized the hope that these people would somehow create a country of their own.”


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

Revealed: Rare Documentation of the Portuguese Inquisition

A recently discovered manuscript documents the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition’s tribunals, mainly in Lisbon. Recorded on the pages are trials conducted by inquisitors and others against newly converted Christians accused of continuing to practice Judaism in secret…

The Portuguese Inquisition

In 2020, the Portuguese Parliament declared March 31 to be the official Memorial Day for the Victims of the Inquisition. This unprecedented initiative by the parliament in Lisbon is indicative of the government of Portugal’s desire to acknowledge the historical trauma of the many that were tortured or punished over the years by the monarchy and the Inquisition.

In 1536, at the request of King John (João) III of Portugal, the Catholic Church initiated the Inquisition following a mass influx into the country of anusim (Jews who had been forced to convert) who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. The forced conversions and persecution by the Inquisition tribunals brutally cut off hundreds of thousands of Jews from their religion, although the exact number of Jewish victims is unknown. The Portuguese Inquisition included particularly cruel punishments often carried out before large crowds that gathered to watch autos-da-fé (public penance rituals for heretics and non-believers). Trials ceased after about 250 years, although Portugal’s Inquisition was only officially abolished in 1821.

A page from the manuscript describing auto-da-fé trials in Lisbon. The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, the National Library of Israel

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel have revealed a manuscript from the 18th century comprising about 60 pages documenting the first 130 years of the Inquisition tribunal’s activity, mainly in Lisbon. These pages document the trials conducted by inquisitors and others, who often questioned whole families of converts accused of continuing to practice Judaism in secret.

Evidence of the tribunals in Lisbon leaps from the pages of the bound manuscript discovered by the Central Archives. Entitled Memoria de todos os autos da fé que setem feito em Lisboa (“An Accounting of All the Autos-da-Fé that Took Place in Lisbon”), it includes dozens of pages in Portuguese succinctly documenting the autos-da-fé held in the Portuguese capital between the years 1540–1669, with a brief mention of trials that took place in the city of Tomar. Next to the exact dates and locations of the trials the manuscript cites the names of the priests who delivered the sermons. The sermons served as a means of encouraging religious discipline among the Christian masses and were a significant part of the trial, so much so that they were later printed and disseminated separately as a further form of commemoration.

Title page of the auto-da-fé sermon of the priest Phillippe Moreira, printed in 1646, the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, the National Library of Israel

The manuscript also contains the numbers of men and women accused of heresy and cites the amount of people burned at the stake. Among those prosecuted were “New Christians” accused of “Judaizing.” Yet, it appears from the recently discovered pages that religious practice was not the only reason for the persecutions. “Old Christians”’ (defendants who came from families without any Jewish background) were convicted of sodomy, bigamy, possession of forbidden books, and sacrilege. The punishment mentioned in the pages is exile aboard “a galley ship”, essentially meaning slave labor.

It should be noted that over the centuries, most of the anusim in Portugal abandoned any sign of their Jewish roots that might betray them—circumcision, immersion in the mikvah, and the observance of Jewish holidays. Some, however, continued to observe Jewish rituals in their homes in secret, or commemorate holidays, often a number of days after the actual date. For example, to confuse the inquisitors, some would secretly celebrate Yom Kippur and Passover belatedly, or light Shabbat candles inside pottery vessels to conceal the flames. Children under the age of 12 were not permitted to attend these clandestine religious ceremonies in order to keep them from revealing secrets that might betray their families.

These discoveries shed light on the realities of a complex chapter of Jewish history as well as on the devotion of Iberian Jewry to the observance of religious precepts, even in the direst of times.

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What Made This Top Russian Jewish Author Descend into Madness?

Lev Levanda spent decades advocating for Jewish assimilation into Russian culture. It all changed after pogroms shook the empire...

Lev Levanda, seen here in the 1860s, was a leading promoter of "russification", yet ultimately concluded that his life's work was "without purpose". Photo from the National Library of Israel's Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection

In 1888, Lev Levanda, one of Russia’s most renowned Jewish writers, died in an insane asylum outside of St. Petersburg. He was 53 years old. In the decades before the pogroms of 1881-82, he, along with many others, had called for “russification” as a solution to the “Jewish Question”. Russification meant that Jews should speak Russian, study in Russian schools, join its cultural life; in other words, love Russia. All that came to a crashing end with the pogroms of 1881-82, and the subsequent antisemitic legislation known as the May Laws.

Levanda’s life is significant in our own day for a variety of reasons. Through Levanda we can learn a great deal about Russian Jewry of the 1880s. He was a central figure in a brilliant generation of maskilim, Jewish intellectuals of the 1860s, who were the first Jews to enter Russian culture in large numbers. He was one of the fathers of Russian-Jewish literature (creative writing and journalism by and about Jews in the Russian language). However, in the 1880s, after the pogroms, he began to write differently, expressing the anger of a cultural insider who had been rejected by his adoptive parents. Levanda’s choices help us piece together a history of Jewish discourse about Russia, Russian literature, and Jewish culture in the key decade after the pogroms of 1881-82.

Illustration of Jews being harassed during a pogrom in Kiev, while police look on. Published in the February 4, 1882 edition of The Penny Illustrated Paper (Public domain)

In his day, Levanda was widely known thanks to his literary output. Among his major novels are Seething Times (Goriachee vremia), The Grocery Affair (Delo bakaleinykh tovarov), Sketches of the Past (Ocherki proshlogo), The Big Fraud (Bol’shoi Remiz), The Magnate’s Anger and Mercy (Gnev i milost’ Magnata), and Avraam Iezofovich (1887). In 1860, he was one of the original founders of Rassvet, the first Jewish newspaper published in the Russian language, and he was also a consistent contributor to Voskhod, the long-standing Russian-Jewish newspaper established in 1879. Besides Jewish newspapers, Levanda also contributed to Vilenskii Vestnik (The Messenger of Vilna), a paper later known for its antisemitic bent.

Levanda’s initial reaction to the pogroms was fury.  However, once the initial shock of the pogroms passed, Levanda reexamined his ideas and found them wanting. He began to express new views in the Russian-language press, using the pseudonym “W”, though it is unclear why he needed a pseudonym at all given that many knew the author’s true identity, and the censors ripped apart some of his articles in any case.

Himself a Russian-language author, Levanda had often used sarcasm, irony, and skaz narrative (use of a voice other than the author himself), just as Russian authors did. But now, in the 1880s, he used these tools not to affirm his affiliation with the Russian literary tradition, but to mock it. Instead of showing confidence in the attainment of the great nineteenth-century value of progress – the triumph of reason over superstition, prejudice, and oppression – Levanda put his doubts into print. In fact, his writings from this period reflect a mind racked with pain.

Portrait of Lev Levanda printed in Vilna, ca. early 1860s. From the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel

The titles of his articles in the 1880s give an indication of his mood. “Flying Thoughts of One Unable to Grasp It” (“Letuchie mysli nedoumevaiushchego”), “Modest Conversations about Last Year’s Snow” (“Skromnye besedy o proshlogodnem snege”),  “On the Subject of How a Mountain Gave Birth to a Mouse” (“O tom, kak gora rodila mysh”), and “Convoluted Speeches” (“Bezsviazye rechi”).

He was especially agonized by the nefarious role of Russian literature in the persecution of Jews. Formerly his moral lodestar, Russian literature was now a tool of his enemies. It had been used to betray its ideals of universalism and ethical idealism. Simultaneously, Levanda turned his bile on the community of writers who projected optimism. He recoiled at their frivolous attitude toward serious issues, referring to their attitude as concern with ”last year’s snow”.

Focusing on a famous line from Alexander Pushkin’s poem, “The Prophet”, in which the great Russian author refers to “burning the hearts of people with the word,” Levanda condemned Jewish journalists, despite being one. By mocking a poem that for Russians of his generation represented a sacred promise to help the underprivileged, Levanda committed blasphemy.  By criticizing Pushkin and Russian society, Levanda indicated that the promise of social-progress (as projected in the Pushkin poem) was a lie. The poem reflected Levanda’s rage at Russian literature. Pushkin, who previously represented everything good, had also turned upside-down.

Portrait of Alexander Pushkin by Pyotr Sokolov, 1836 (Public domain)

Levanda continued his assault on Russian literature by reinterpreting Nikolai Nekrasov’s famous poem, “Who Lives Well in Russia?” For Levanda’s generation, Nekrasov represented the idea of moral progress. Levanda purposefully distorted the poem, thereby reversing Nekrasov’s reputation and possibly disowning the entire Russian literary tradition. In an article from June 1881, he quotes Nekrasov’s poem, adding his own subjective commentary in parentheses at the end of each line:

You are poor (in bread)
You are rich (in drunken stupor)
You are powerful (in appetite)
You are powerless (in will)
Mother Russia!

Levanda pummeled other sacred cows, such as the Jewish youth on which he had placed so much trust to help enact social change. However in 1885 he depicted a different group, one that betrays traditions and family honor for the sake of material success:

“The wild flow of the present day, having washed away the stable, proper, and comfortable home of earlier days, left in their place a huge, full, joyless, and thin swamp, in which creatures with human form, one uglier than the next, dawdle, flounder, rise from the water, cling, press against one another, push, and strangle each other, so that each holds himself somehow on the smelly surface, although at the price of the others’ destruction.”

Levanda also expressed disappointment in Russian officials, another category of people in which he had placed his faith. From his previous beliefs in the good nature of Russian officials, to the promise of Jewish youth, the value of Jewish journalism and, above all, Pushkin and Russian literature, when it became clear that his former ideals were empty of promise, Levanda disowned them.

He also began to seek new ideological solutions to the problems of his day. For a brief moment he became enamored with Zionism, or more precisely, Hibbat Tsiyyon and its goal of developing a Jewish home in the Land of Israel. In 1884, his article, “The Essence of the So-Called ‘Palestine’ Movement (A Letter to the Publishers),” appeared in the volume, Palestine: a Collection of Articles and Information about the Jewish Settlements in the Holy Land, edited by Vasily Berman and Akim Flekser.[1]

The clothing of these late 19th century Zionist pioneers in Rehovot reflects Russian influence. Part of the Israel Archive Network project, made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

Levanda hailed the successes of the fledgling movement that no one had expected would survive. The Zionists, he wrote, had forged a new path, started something practical by settling in the Land of Israel. Levanda raved about a change in psychology, underscoring the difference between generations. Earlier, he wrote, Jewish intellectuals (including himself) sought solutions in theory; they wondered, how to solve the “Jewish Question”? Their answer depended not only on ideas, but also on the ruling powers. Since these theories had brought few results, the new generation turned to praxis.

Levanda explained:

“Has the solution to the Jewish question progressed from the time of Haman to our present day? […] The thing is this, through bitter experience, I have become convinced that theory, useless theory, will not drive the Jewish Question out of the vicious circle where it got stuck at the very beginning of its appearance. Our national instinct whispers to us: ‘Try to introduce practical action, basing it not on words, but actions from which one may expect results.’”

Nonetheless, Levanda only tenuously attached himself to the movement, and certainly did not assume a leadership role. In fact, before long, Levanda cut his ties with Hibbat Tsiyyon, rejecting its ideology and focusing on Russia, and the more general cultural achievements of Jewish diasporas.

“In its essence Jewish national identity composes an exceptional phenomenon in history so much so that, despite logic and the most convincing theories, a definite territory is perhaps more harmful than useful. Jewish national identity strengthened itself and became crystalized precisely at the time when the Jewish people’s land had been taken away.”

Although Levanda seemed to advocate something like “diasporism,” the view that the Jews have developed more effectively outside of the Land of Israel than in it – he did not focus on this idea for long.

During the mid-1880s, the seeds of his nervous illness were growing. As a child, the folklore scholar Mortkhe Rivesman saw Levanda in Vilna and wrote about him:

“The patriotism of L. O. Levanda and many other Jewish ‘russofiles’ declined significantly. One should presume that the break in his sermonizing about ‘assimilation’ with the Russian people who had become the anchor of autocracy shook his entire spiritual world. He even became a Proto-Zionist and died from a painful spiritual ailment at age 53.”

Simon Dubnov describes meeting Levanda in 1886:

“Finding myself in Vilna, I considered it my duty to visit L. O. Levanda who was ill. I was warned about the writer’s strangeness; during the last years he had locked himself in and avoided meeting people, but I wanted to see the author … the bard of enlightenment and russification who had turned into a Proto-Zionist before my very eyes.

The conversation was lifeless until I mentioned his articles, The Fates of Jews in Congress Poland, that had been published in Voskhod. […] Here my partner became animate and bragged with a child’s exclamation. ‘Of course I was called upon to write such things because I know Polish literature well.’ And then again a strange coldness wafted from the twisted figure of this man who was far from old (he was only 52) with his obviously disturbed soul. With a mournful feeling I left this living symbol of the extinguished torch of ‘enlightenment,’ and a bit more than a year later, I read in Voskhod about Levanda’s death in a psychiatric hospital near Petersburg.”

Observers give us a good perspective, but the emotions that Levanda felt may be perceived from his own expression. He doubted, worried, and suffered. One can grasp his emotional condition by examining his response to the suggestion to celebrate his 25th anniversary as a writer. In this exchange of letters (we only have Levanda’s letter to Alfred Landau, the editor of Voskhod, and the Hebrew poet Yehuda Leib Gordon), we perceive Levanda’s emotional loneliness as well as his refusal to consider his literary work as an achievement or service to the Jewish people.

Landau believed that Levanda had improved the lives of thousands of Jews who had learned Russian from reading him, and wanted to recognize Levanda’s career.

On June 16, 1885, Levanda replied to Landau, refusing any honors:

“I do not want it [a celebration] because it is not the time for anniversaries, because I am not in the mood for celebrations now, because if I don’t care to recognize the fact that the Jewish public has been reading me for 25 years, they shouldn’t cheer that I’ve been writing for them for 25 years, but, alas, without purpose. I know more than anyone else about it, and therefore I do not acknowledge any services rendered on my part and did not correct anything through my writing. It’s sad, but true, and the truth is more valuable to me than holy incense, especially one undeserved.”

Levanda wanted the anniversary to pass without notice, as it seemed inauthentic to him. Incidentally, Levanda detested Landau personally which probably also contributed to the former’s hostility. Levanda’s assertion that he wrote “alas, without purpose” is somewhat difficult to understand logically. Jews, the vast majority of whom were Yiddish speakers, had in fact rushed to learn Russian. By saying that his 25 years of writing had no purpose, his point was to imply that integration into Russian culture ultimately had no purpose. This claim was obviously influenced by the pogroms, which, as far as he was concerned, had invalidated his decades of literary activity.

Lev Levanda’s disappointment alone could explain his insanity, but other factors clearly contributed, as well: his inescapable emotional reaction to the pogroms, potential feelings of guilt, resistance to physical integration with Russians, and his apparently ultimately fruitless soul-searching. These multiple and overlapping factors illuminate his degenerative emotional condition.

Following the bloody pogroms and enactment of the so-called May Laws, antisemitic legislation that impeded the movement, business, and education of Jews in Russia,  Levanda saw his dream and life’s work shatter before his very eyes.  Russian Jews, led by Levanda and others, had been living in an illusion all the while.

His emotional journey and descent into madness ultimately reflected the dilemmas, disillusionment and despondency of at least one entire generation of Russian Jews.

A version of this article was originally published in Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History. It appears here as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

Judith Montefiore on How to Cook Like a Proper Jewish Lady

The name Judith Montefiore is probably not famous enough in Israel. A brief search of the National Library archives revealed that not only was she an equal partner in her husband’s charitable endeavors, but she was also likely the anonymous editor of the first Jewish cookbook published in England…


A portrait of Judith Montefiore alongside the book she most likely edited...

It would be difficult to imagine a more chauvinist cliché than “behind every successful man is a woman.” However, in the case of Sir Moses Montefiore, it is entirely true. Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore’s joint charitable work preceded Prince Harry and Meghan Markle by some 200 years. And even though Sir Moses generally received most of the glory, Lady Judith was a full and equal partner in all his activities and decisions. In the mid-19th century, during her own lifetime, she received much more credit, not only from the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, but throughout the world.

The Montefiore family crest, from the book Mizmor Shir Hanukat Bayit, the National Library of Israel

The recent renaming of the footbridge crossing the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv from Gesher Yehudit (“Judith Bridge”) to Gesher Yitzhak Navon (“Yitzhak Navon Bridge”) was a good reason to dig through the Library archives in search of one of Jewish history’s most important women. Judith Montefiore was not only the figure behind the most significant financial contributions to the Old Yishuv in the Land of Israel, but she also worked to promote Jewish life everywhere while even engaging in diplomatic missions.

Portrait of Sir Moses Montefiore sitting opposite a portrait of Judith. This image is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

Among the National Library of Israel’s holdings is a copy of the first-ever Jewish cookbook and housekeeping guide published in England. Released in 1846, The Jewish Manual: Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery (With a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette) lists only “A Lady” as its editor. Since its publication, the book has been attributed to Lady Judith Montefiore, although there is no documentation or concrete proof to support this hypothesis. Not many Jewish women in Victorian England held the title of Lady, but there were a few possible candidates.

“Edited by A Lady.” Front page of the book The Jewish Manual: Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery. From a digital copy held at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Beyond being a Jewish cookbook that—as the editor states in the introduction—instructs its readers on the art of preparing quality, delicious meals while following strict Jewish dietary laws, it is also a guide for the middle-class Jewish homemaker. The reader, of course, must have at least one maidservant to assist her in the management of the kitchen, household, and personal care—nothing out of the ordinary for any proper Jewish Lady. In the introduction, the anonymous editor notes that the book is written for young women as a guide to managing a rich and diverse table, the foundation for a happy family as well as successful social interactions.

The first part of the book is devoted to various Jewish recipes, or perhaps more correctly, the preparation of dishes in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. The book also includes recipes for specifically Jewish dishes, mainly of Spanish, Dutch and German origin, places that happened to characterize the food served at the Montefiore home. Anyone looking for recipes for Eastern European delicacies, such as gefilte fish, chopped liver, latkes or borscht, will be disappointed, as the massive Jewish migration from Eastern Europe to the West only began in the 1880s.

No soy sauce and ketchup. The Jewish Manual, from a digital copy held at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC

In this section of the book, the editor not only includes recipes but also a few tips for the sophisticated hostess. For example, the anonymous editor recommends not cooking with soy sauce or ketchup, which “inferior cooks” tend to add to their stews. Rather, these sauces should be placed on the table, and each guest may add them to their own taste.

The last part of the book is devoted to personal hygiene. According to the editor, while a woman’s intelligence is the true source of her beauty, she should also nurture her body. Toward this end, the book includes quite a few recipes and tips for facial, lip and skin care, including advice on keeping hands white and smooth.

Renewed interest in the book led some amateur historians to connect The Jewish Manual to Judith Montefiore. More thorough research revealed that the book’s recipes correspond to the type of cuisine served in the Montefiore home, but the connection did not end there. Careful perusal of the book reveals that the “Lady” who edited it was a member of the upper class, in addition to being a world traveler who also visited Palestine, from where she brought a recipe for soup. Judith Montefiore visited the Land of Israel in the mid-nineteenth century no less than five times while accompanying her husband. She was captivated by the charm of the Holy Land and even learned Arabic, in addition to Hebrew and four or five other languages ​​she already knew.




Here is the recipe for “Palestine Soup”, a classic local dish featuring Jerusalem artichokes, from Lady Judith Montefiore’s cookbook:

Recipe for Palestine Soup. The Jewish Manual, from a digital copy held at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC


There is no conclusive proof that Judith Montefiore is the mysterious “Lady” behind the book, but we believe her to be. The Montefiores donated the funds to renovate Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and after his beloved wife’s death in 1862, Sir Moses Montefiore built a tomb on their estate in Ramsgate, Kent, modeled on that very edifice. Upon his death, he was buried there alongside her.