About the Collection |

Samuel Montagu and the Western Hebrew Library

In the 1890s, Sir Samuel Montagu, the then Liberal MP for Whitechapel, gave his library to the New West End Synagogue. This collection forms the core of the Western Hebrew Library. Montagu (1832-1911) came to London as a young man from Liverpool and founded a bank with his father's financial help. He became one of the most affluent and important leaders of Anglo-Jewry.

In 1887 he founded the Federation of Synagogues despite already being a member of the United Synagogue and of the New West End Synagogue. This was an umbrella organisation for the Orthodox congregations of immigrant Jews from Russia.


Image courtesy of Sarah Montagu

Throughout his life he was a collector, with a keen appreciation of works of art and was thoroughly aware of the importance of preserving artistic heritage for future generations. In fact, in 1894 he "persuaded the government to exempt from death duties works of art and gifts to universities, museums and art galleries". Montagu always expressed his generosity in acts of philanthropy, often to help poor Jewish immigrants and other members of his East End constituency. His donation of the Library to the New West End Synagogue, with its treasure trove of early Hebrew prints, was typical of his practical beneficence. With this donation, he had been instrumental in the development of the New West End Synagogue, which opened in 1879, and he was a member from the start. His library helped to secure the intellectual foundation for the Orthodox tradition of the synagogue, something, which Montagu valued above all else.

As a man versed in Jewish learning, Montagu was able to appreciate the best products of Jewish intellectual endeavour. This is proven by the fact that the collection encompasses the products of the Ashkenazi and Sephardi worlds, with books printed in places as varied as London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Cracow, Lisbon, Leghorn and Smyrna: a true intellectual map of the Jewish world from the 15th to the 19th century.




We believe that a collection such as this, ranging over the whole of Jewish knowledge and almost four centuries of Hebrew printing is a vital resource to be treasured. Our exhibition will take visitors through some of the highlights of this collection, allowing them to peer through a window into this "world of printed words."


The Collection in numbers:

over 1300 volumes
over 70 places of publication
dated from 15th to 20th century

The books incorporate a wide range of topics including:

biblical texts and commentaries
rabbinical literature
halakhah, minhag
responsa literature
philosophical works
mysticism, kabbalah
grammatical works, dictionaries






New West End Synagogue, St Petersburgh Place, London, Built 1877-1879, architect George Audsley












New West End Synagogue, main fa├žade