Maurice Abraham Cohen – Sydney’s First Jewish Educator

From Australia’s Jewish Past:

Maurice Abraham Cohen


First published in J-Wire May 18, 2021

Maurice Abraham Cohen, known as Moses, was born in 1851 in Ukraine to a Sephardic Jewish family. He was a direct descendant of Abraham De Mosso Cohen, the Rabbi who established the Spanish Jewish community of the township of Zamosc in Poland.

His occupation is noted as a linguist and a pioneer of Jewish Education in Sydney.

Morris moved to the UK to be educated at Jews College London, followed by a headmastership at the Sassoon Schools, Bombay, where he received a BA degree from the Bombay University. After completing his education he worked as the personal translator for Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts of the British Forces in what is now Afghanistan, playing an important role in the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

On arriving in Sydney in 1887, together with his wife, he took up the role of the first headmaster of the Jewish Sunday School. He went on to be appointed head of the NSW Jewish Board of Education.

He was the one-time editor of Sydney’s first Jewish weekly newspaper, the Australian Jewish Weekly. His other love was languages and as well as lecturing in Hebrew at a number of theological colleges in Australia, he was fluent and taught Yiddish, Ladino, Spanish, German, Aramaic, Amharic and Arabic. He was regarded as a world expert on the language of Urdu – an Indic language closely related to Hindi.

Masthead of The Australian Hebrew Times from TroveMaurice left quite a legacy in so much as he was one of the first European Australians to call attention to the plight of Australian Aborigines arguing for compensation and land rights, even risking his position as editor of the
Australian Hebrew Newspaper with his fiery opinion pieces on the subject. He also argued for increased non-discriminatory immigration drawing from all cultures and vehemently opposed the White Australia Policy.

Maurice died suddenly aged 72 on 26 June 1923, whilst teaching at Fort Street High School Sydney.

He was survived by his wife and six children.

From Australia's Jewish Past is written by Ruth Lilian OAM for AJHS and published weekly in J-Wire. ​