Friday, May 20, 2005

Death of Bishop Hugh Montefiore

Unaccountably, I mssed the death of Bishop Hugh Montefiore last week (13 May), at the age of 85. Hugh Montefiore was the son of a great- great-nephew of Sir Moses Montefiore, but the family was nevertheless still one of England's eminent Sephardi aristocratic families. The house in which he grew up is now the Israeli Embassy in London. Hugh converted to Christianity as a teenager, while a student at one of England's great boarding schools, Rugby. He apparently saw a vision, and that was that. He went on to be one of the Anglican church's more colourful clergymen, and eventually a bishop - this in a church not lacking in colourful clergy! He was the vicar of the Cambridge University Church in the late 1960's, and every so often would be invited to speak at the Jewish Society after Friday night dinner (I very much doubt that such an invitation would be extended today ...) On such occasions, he would come with black yarmulke and join the bentsching with gusto.
While his conversion was a cause celebre in Anglo-Jewry, it was perhaps not as sudden as is generally held. His biography reveals that his mother dabbled in different religions, and was not averse to frequent church attendance. The most intriguing fact (for me, at any rate) was his appearance, which looked like that of an Anglican Bishop out of central casting: over six feet tall, with blue eyes and white hair, the very last thing he looked like was what in fact he was - a Samech-tet ("Sephardi tahor").

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