2 Kislev 5778
20 November 2017
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London School of Jewish Studies

Judah Touro: an outstanding philanthropist


This week, on the 13th of January 163 years ago in 1854, Judah Touro, a most outstanding philanthropist in America, died at the age of 79.Judah_Touro_Tophat_Oval_Portrait

Judah Touro was a successful merchant who built a flourishing business, accumulating great wealth. He became a great philanthropist, particularly after he was seriously wounded in the battle of New Orleans in 1815 where he served as a civilian volunteer in the American Army.

After his recovery Touro took great interest in the distribution of his fortune to the poor and destitute. He also supported many institutions, Jewish as well as non-Jewish. However, his heart went out to the poor of Israel and he donated $60 000 to be used at the discretion of Sir Moses Montefiore, who had made seven journeys to Eretz Yisrael. Together with Gershom Kursheedt , an advisor to Judah Touro on Jewish affairs and a trustee of Touro’s bequest, Montefiore initiated the building of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the first settlement outside the walls of Jerusalem.

The name “Mishkenot Sha’nanim” derives its name from Isaiah 32:19: ”My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places”.

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The manuscript of the sermon by Rabbi Joseph Nissim ben Hayyim Jacob Burla given at the dedication of Mishkenot Sha’ananim in 1860.

The first buildings with 16 apartments, 2 synagogues (one for Ashkenazim the other for Sephardim), a Mikveh, a well with a small hand pump from England, individual gardens and the Montefiore windmill were dedicated in 1860. At that occasion, Rabbi Joseph Nissim ben Hayyim Jacob Burla (1828 – 1903), the Av Beth Din of Jerusalem as well as a rabbinical emissary and preacher,  gave a sermon in which he praised the efforts of Montefiore and Kursheedt.

The sermon he preached at the consecration of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim settlement is in manuscript form and is part of the 135 documents in the Manuscripts Collection of LSJS.