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Sephardim in
Montefiore Census of Erets Yisrael Jewish Population

Compiled by Mathilde Tagger and Rose Feldman


  Sir Moses Haim Montefiore was born in Livorno, Italy on October 24, 1784 and died childless in England at age 100 on July 28, 1885. He was a notable British Jewish financier and philantropist.

  The first census (out of five) of the Jewish population in Eretz Israel, commissioned in 1839 by Sir Moshe Montefiore before his visit, is probably the first head count of the Jewish population since biblical time. Montefiore understood the importance of information in planning before distributing funds. Today the original registers of all the censuses are now housed at the Sephardi Centre in London after being kept for more than a century at The Jew's College (now London School of Jewish Studies). Microfilms of all the censuses are kept at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jerusalem, reels No.35115, 6151-6179.

  The part of the census dealing with the Sephardim that includes some 3,500 souls - a little bit more than half of the whole population - has been transliterated and computerized. This indexation enables us to find out not only the Jews who lived in the country for centuries but also the Sephardic families who chose Erets Israel as a refuge after the 1492 expulsion of Spain as well as all those who immigrated from all the countries where Sephardim used to live, especially from the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th such as North Africa, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Greece, Turkey etc.

  It is important to underline that the present census was conducted in then the greatest centers of Jewish population such as Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed, Jaffa but also in small places like Gaza, Haifa (only then beganning to develop), Shefar'am, Djermak (now Meron). For an unknown reason, this census also covers the Jewish population of Sidon (Saida) in Lebanon. As a continuation of this census, the Jewish population of Alexandria in Egypt was counted in 1840. This part is not included here. One can find it at:

  It was easy to divide the census between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, because in the original register all the non-Ashkenazim, the Sephardim and Oriental Jews, were given under "Sephardim" category, while the Ashkenazim were divided according to the Kollelim (Talmudic Schools) they belonged to.

  The indexation of the census shows not only the names of the family members, their age, their birth city and their marital status but also their financial status and the occupation of the family head.

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© Jeffrey Malka, 2007
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