Claude Goldsmid Montefiore (1858-1938) was the grandson of Sir Isaac Goldsmid, one of the founders of the West London Synagogue. He was brought up in the heart of the Reform movement. After taking a first class degree at Oxford Montefiore pursued a career of scholarship and philanthropy. In 1892 he delivered the Hibbert lectures on "The Growth and Origin of Religion as illustrated by the Ancient Hebrews" which helped establish him as a leading scholar. His theological research led him to re-evaluate his own perception of Judaism.
In the late 1890s Montefiore met Lily Montagu, then a young woman of twenty-five. Lilian (Lily) Montagu (1873-1963) was the daughter of Samuel Montagu, later Lord Swaythling. Lord Swaythling was the founder of the Federation of Synagogues and Lily consequently had an orthodox upbringing. Highly religious, Lily came to realise that orthodox Judaism did not meet her spiritual needs.
Lily Montagu and Claude Montefiore were to have a great influence on each other. In 1899 Lily published an article on "The Spiritual possibilities of Judaism today" in the Jewish Quarterly Review. Many Jews responded to her call for a new approach to their religion and began a series of meetings. Lily appealed to Claude Montefiore to lead a movement on liberal lines and in 1902 the Jewish Religious Union was created. Montefiore was the first President. Israel Abrahams, Reader in Rabbinics at Cambridge, was on the Committee.
The JRU did not intend at first to replace the services offered to Jews by existing congregations, but rather wished to encourage a revival of interest in religion through meetings, lectures and publications. However as the 1900s progressed so did the desire amongst members to establish their own synagogue and have a full congregational life. In 1910 a site for the congregation was found in Hill Street on the site of a disused chapel. In 1911 Rabbi Israel Mattuck was appointed Minister.
Israel Mattuck (1883-1954) was born in Lithuania and educated in America at Harvard and the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati. When Montefiore consulted leaders of the American Reform movement for advice on finding a Minister Mattuck was recommended. He first preached for the Union in June 1911 and was swiftly invited to become Minister by the Council. The Union had by then added the words "for the advancement of Liberal Judaism" to its name. Mattuck was inducted to his position by Montefiore in January 1912.
Dr Mattuck proved a dominant force in the JRU. "While Montefiore and Lily Montagu had laid the foundations of Liberal Judaism in Great Britain, it was he who largely created the edifice in terms of the specifics of its theology, liturgy ritual and much else." John Rayner "150 Years of Progressive Judaism in Britain" Mattuck made radical introductions to worship: equal rights of worship to men and women; confirmation for both sexes at the age of 16; Lily Montagu was a reader in the Synagogue - one of the first women to take such an active role and a source of inspiration for women later in the twentieth century to go onto become rabbis. Large numbers of people were attracted to the synagogue, which in 1925 moved to a larger building in St. John's Wood Road.
In 1926 the World Union for Progressive Judaism for founded. Mattuck was Chairman, Montefiore President and Lily Montagu Secretary. All three were enthusiastic, dedicated workers. They preached and gave talks; attended conferences; wrote books and corresponded at great length. They were significant in establishing practical co-operation with the Church of England and other Christian denominations. Israel Mattuck was a key figure in the creation of the London Society of Jews and Christians. They were also passionately interested in social justice and did a lot of work with the poor and destitute. Montefiore worked with the Society for the Protection of Women and Children and the Jewish Approved School. Lily Montagu at the age of nineteen was a co-founder of the West Central Club which provided classes for the underprivileged. She was also a pioneer of the Youth Club Movement and the National Organisation of Girls Clubs. She was one of the first women in the country to become a magistrate.