Louis Loewe by M. Pittatore, 1871

Digital reproduction courtesy of Penelope Feinstein.





Born at Zülz, Prussian Silesia, (now: Biała Prudnicka, Poland)


Studied at Rosenburg, Lissa, Nicolsburg, and Pressburg


Obtained Doctoral degree from the University of Berlin


Arrived in England

1835 -

Hebrew Lecturer and Oriental Linguist to the Duke of Sussex


First met Sir Moses Montefiore, spent 10 days at Ramsgate


Declined offer of a position of Rabbi at Kassel


Spent time in Oxford, Cambridge, and Paris studying Oriental languages


Travelled extensively in Africa and the Middle East


Explored the Vatican Library and got re-acquainted with Sir Moses Montefiore


Accompanied Montefiore on his mission (Damascus Affair)


Was refused position of Chair of Hebrew at University College London


Married Emma Silberstein


Accompanied Montefiore on his mission to St. Petersburg


Headmaster of the Jews’ College


Founder of the boarding school for Jewish boys at Brighton


Naturalized as a British subject


Examiner for Oriental Languages to the Royal College of Preceptors


Principal and Director of Judith Lady Montefiore College at Ramsgate


Died in London











Louis Loewe: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 |


Louis Loewe - Biography and Timeline


Born of Jewish parents, Mordechai Ha-Levi (Marcus Jacob Loewe, Rabbi of Rosenburg, d. 1822, 5582), and Gittel (d. 1839, 5599), at Zülz, Prussian Silesia, (now: Biała Prudnicka, Opole District, Poland), on 24 June 1809 (10. Tammuz 5569), he studied at Rosenburg, Silesia, and gained a Rabbinic education at the yeshivas of Lissa, with Rabbi Hirsch Fraustadt, Nicolsburg (Mikulov, Moravia), with Rabbi Mordecai Banet, and in Pressburg (Bratislava, Slovakia), under the supervision of Rabbi Moses Sofer (Hatam Sofer). In his early years Louis Loewe studied the Talmud, which, it is said, he memorized, the Jewish Kabbalah, as well as secular subjects: mathematics, geometry and history; as well as languages: German, French, Latin, Greek, Spanish and Italian. [1] Subsequently, Loewe obtained a Doctorate in Philosophy and Linguistics from the University of Berlin. He then spent some time in Hamburg, where he was entrusted with the classification of Oriental coins in the Sprewitz Cabinet, which triggered his interest in numismatics.

His desire to continue the study of Oriental languages brought him to London in 1835. Upon arrival in England, he was introduced to John George Children, librarian at the British Museum, and to the Duke of Sussex, son of King George III, who became Loewe’s long-term patron and supporter. He made numerous acquaintances among the English upper class, laymen and scholars alike; the friendship and support of such celebrities as the Earl of Munster, Lord Holland, Sir Alexander Johnston, Sir Gore Ouseley and Professor H. H. Wilson, opened up doors to distinguished institutions of research and private collections. In 1837, Loewe spent a significant time in Cambridge (where he met Rev. E. Peacock, Rev. E. A. Browne, and the Regius Professor of Hebrew, Rev. Dr. Samuel Lee), Oxford (where he was registered at Exeter College by mistake - Jews could not attend Oxford Colleges before 1856, or hold fellowships until 1871) [2], and Paris, where he acquired a better knowledge of Oriental languages, especially Arabic, Coptic, Nubian, Turkish, Persian, and Circassian. He chose the scholarly path over that of accepting the office of Rabbi of Kassel, which he was offerred in February 1836.

Under the auspices of his patrons, the Dukes of Sussex and Northumberland, and Admiral Sir Sydney Smith, in 1836 Louis Loewe took a three-year tour to Ethiopia, Nubia, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, and Greece. In Egypt (1837) he was introduced to the Viceroy of Egypt, Mohammad Ali Pasha, who requested of Loewe a translation of a hierogryphical inscription on a small bronze figure of Isis [3]; in return, Loewe received a firman granting him the right of conducting unrestricted researches. Loewe deciphered various inscriptions on the banks of the Nile, at Thebes, Alexandria, Cairo, and elsewhere. [4] Near Safed, Palestine, he was robbed during the Druze revolt of 13 of his notebooks, which were ready for publication, and had to continue his journey dressed as a Bedouin. [5]

“An Arab, Mustapha Mahmed, took pity on Loewe and handed him a thick blanket to cover the naked body and a spear to defend himself with. Thus the bloody Loewe wandered nearly naked, hungry and thirsty into Safet. He would celebrate this day, on which he escaped death by a hair’s breadth, together with his family for years to come. On Purim his children would play ‘Bedouins’ in memory of what had happened.” [6]

On his return from the Middle East, Loewe stayed in Rome, where he studied the Vatican Library for eight months under the auspices of Cardinals Mezzofanti, Angelo Mai, and Lambruschini. [7] While in Rome, in 1839, Louis Loewe celebrated Passover with Sir Moses Montefiore (they first met in 1835 at Ramsgate), and since that time they remained in close contact – Loewe accompanied Montefiore on eleven of his philanthropic and humanitarian missions: five times to the Holy Land; twice to St. Petersburg; twice to Constantinople (where he acquired many rare books and manuscripts of the Karaite community); once to Romania, and finally, to Rome. Upon the outbreak of the Damascus Affair in 1840, Montefiore travelled to Syria, and Loewe accompanied him as his secretary and interpreter of Oriental languages. In a talk at the Synagogue in Galata, Loewe used several languages, exemplifying his polyglot skills:

“To the learned body he spoke in pure Biblical Hebrew; to the Levantines he spoke Spanish; to the Mediterranean Israelites, Italian; and to the German and Polish portion of his hearers, German,” fluently, and “without the slightest confusion, hesitation or difficulty.” [8]

For his efficient assistance to Sir Moses Montefiore, Louis Loewe was praised in a resolution passed by the Board of Jewish Deputies in 1841, and in Montefiore’s report on their mission to Russia, in 1846. Loewe was presented to Her Majesty, the Queen, on Thursday, March 25, 1841. Montefiore relied on Loewe’s help and could not have managed to run his busy schedule and maintain his rich foreign correspondence, were it not for his assistance; it is believed that whenever Montefiore wished to refuse a request, he used Loewe as an excuse: “I will first ask Dr. Loewe.” [9] The two men formed a lifelong friendship and the unique combination of their skills and influences made them ideal partners in international activities:

“Montefiore and he had each identified in the other the complement to his own powers and opportunities for the realization of projects and ideals that they held in common.” [10]

Raphael Loewe points out that his great-grandfather applied for the Chair of Hebrew at University College London in 1844, and although his appointment was recommended, it was not implemented due to the opposition of UCL’s founder and benefactor Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid to Montefiore’s views on emancipation. [11] It is worth noting that over a century later, Raphael Loewe was selected to occupy the position of Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at UCL.

In 1844, Louis married Emma, the eldest daughter of Salomon Silberstein, a merchant of Breslau, Silesia, in Prussia, by whom he had four (six? – P. Goodman) sons and four daughters. Loewe was naturalized as British subject on 12 July 1862. In 1867 he was chosen, in place of the late Benjamin Cohen, a Trustee of Lady Judith Montefiore College, the theological seminary at Ramsgate. In 1869 he was appointed Principal of the College, position he occupied until his death. He died in London on 5 November 1888 (1 Kislev 5549) at 53 Warwick Road, Maida Vale. He was buried at Willesden. [12]


[ 1] Kurrein, Jessie, Teplitz-Schönau, Louis Loewe: A Portrait, 1926, accessed online at: http://www.kurrein.com/Documents/Louis%20Loewe.htm (13 March 2012).

[2] Kurrein, p. 4.

[3] Prince Pückler-Muskau’s account of Dr Loewe’s translation can be found in “Die Rückkehr.’ Vom Verfasser der “Briefe eines Verstorbenen,” vol. 1. Egypten, p. 220, Berlin: Dunker, 1846.

[4] Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 11, p. 448.

[5] "Loewe, Louis", in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004-2012, accessed online at: http://ezproxy.ouls.ox.ac.uk:2117/view/printable/16928 (06 March 2012). Hence referred to as: ODNB.

[6] Kurrein, p. 7.

[7] Wolf, Lucien, Sir Moses Montefiore. A Centennial Biography with extracts from letters and journals, London: Murray, 1884, p. 68.

[8] Celebrities of the Day: British and Foreign, in A Monthly Repertoire of Contemporary Biography, April 1881, p. 67.

[9] Loewe, Raphael, “Louis Loewe: Aide and Confidant”, in The Century of Sir Moses Montefiore, ed. V. Lipmann, p. 107.

[10] Loewe, Raphael, p. 115.

[11] Loewe, Raphael, p. 106.

[12] ODNB.