MONTAGU, LILY


MONTAGU, LILY
MONTAGU, LILY (1873–1963), social worker, magistrate in the London juvenile courts, suffragist, writer, religious organizer, and spiritual leader. Born Lilian Helen Montagu in London, the sixth of ten children of Ellen Cohen Montagu and Samuel Montagu (né Montagu Samuel, later First Baron Swaythling), Lily Montagu founded and long remained the driving force behind the Liberal Jewish movement in England. In 1893, Montagu established the West Central Jewish Girls' Club with her sister, Marion, and their cousin, Beatrice Franklin, to give working-class Jewish girls social, intellectual and spiritual opportunities. Montagu led brief Sabbath services in English, and addressed contemporary issues and concerns through sermons and selected traditional prayers. From 1890 until 1909, Montagu led similar services for children at the New West End Synagogue. Their success among women led her to envision ways of religiously revivifying the Anglo-Jewish community as a whole. In 1899, in "The Spiritual Possibilities of Judaism Today," she asked all religiously committed Jews, traditional and liberal, to help her form an association aimed at strengthening the religious life of Anglo-Jewry through Liberal Jewish teachings. Influenced by claude montefiore , scholar and proponent of Liberal Judaism, and inspired by the growth of Reform Judaism in Germany, Montagu established the Jewish Religious Union (JRU) in February 1902. The Union instituted Sabbath afternoon worship services conducted along Liberal Jewish lines and held "propaganda meetings," led by Montagu, to clarify and spread its teachings. Montefiore agreed to serve as the group's official leader, thus strengthening its credibility, but Montagu assumed responsibility for daily affairs and major activities. During the next few decades, Montagu helped form Liberal Jewish congregations throughout Great Britain, frequently serving as their chairman or president. She became lay minister of the West Central Liberal Jewish Congregation in 1928, a position to which she was formally inducted in November 1944, and which she held until her death in 1963. Following Montefiore's death in 1938, she became president of the JRU, a position she held for 23 years. Montagu also helped found and eventually became president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, administering the organization's daily affairs from 1926 through 1959. At the first WUPJ conference in Berlin, in 1928, Montagu delivered a sermon in German, on "Personal Religion," at a worship service held in Berlin's Reform Temple; she was the first Jewish woman to occupy a German pulpit. Through her efforts, the number of World Union constituencies steadily increased and new Liberal Jewish congregations were created in Europe, South America, Israel, South Africa and Australia. In 1959, when the World Union's headquarters were transferred to the U.S., she was named honorary life president and elected to chair the Union's newly-established European Board. Many of her writings appear in Lily Montagu: Sermons, Addresses, Letters, and Prayers (ed. E.M. Umansky, 1985). While most British Jews continued to maintain at least a formal attachment to Orthodoxy, Montagu succeeded in establishing Liberal Judaism as an important religious force in Anglo-Jewish life. A Lily Montagu Centre of Living Judaism, housing the West Central Liberal Jewish Congregation, the European Board of the World Union, and the offices of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues (formerly the JRU), was named in Montagu's honor following her death in 1963. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: E.M. Umansky, Lily Montagu and the Advancement of Liberal Judaism: From Vision to Vocation (1983); idem, "Liberal Judaism in England: The Contribution of Lily H. Montagu," in: HUCA, 55 (1985), 309–22; L.G. Kuzmack, Women's Cause: The Jewish Women's Movement in England and the United States: 1881–1933 (1990); M.A. Meyer, A Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (1988). (Ellen M. Umansky (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.


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