Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Forgotten Benefactor

Dov Bin Nun

His palaces were among the most magnificent in all of Europe, and kings and noblemen were his steady guests. But he, the wealthiest man in Germany, preferred to bestow his fortune on the yeshivos, talmidei chachamim, and impoverished souls of the generation. A century ago, everyone knew his name, but today, does anyone remember Baron Shimon Wolf Rothschild?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Frankfurt of the mid-1800s was a bastion of Reform practice and theology, but that didn’t stop the Orthodox synagogue on Frankfurt’s Buckenheimer Landstrasse 10 — located in one of the famed Rothschild palaces — from having a minyan every day, even if Baron Wilhelm Carl (Shimon Binyamin Zev Wolf ben Kalman) Von Rothschild had to pay the men to come. Baron Shimon Wolf Rothschild, the wealthiest man in Germany at the time, could have spent his fortune on any of the world’s many delights. While kings and noblemen dined at his table, when he ate alone, breakfast consisted of a roll and coffee. He could have squandered his vast resources on the passing pleasures of the world, but — unlike the other family members and barons who shared his illustrious name — he preferred to invest in tzedakah, in support of Torah and its scholars, and in everything else that keeps the Jewish world afloat. But ask around today and most people would scratch their heads, trying to place this all-but-forgotten baron, who was crowned with the titles tzaddik yesod olam, hasar hatzaddik, and kevod kedushas sheim tifarto by the gedolei hador of prewar Europe. Baron Willy, as he was known, left no male heirs and the Frankfurt branch of the House of Rothschild ended with his passing in 1901. Yet by combing through surviving 19th-century archives and digging through stacks of old documents, communal Yizkor books, and memorial pamphlets, we were able to form a picture of this largely forgotten, enormous baal chesed who supported the impoverished Jews his of own region, of Eastern Europe, and of Eretz Yisrael. Despite the winds of Emancipation and Enlightenment that swept through Germany and Western Europe at the time, the baron remained a pillar of halachic stricture and Torah scholarship, an anomaly in his upper-crust circles. And he wasn’t even raised in a religious home. In fact, he became a baal teshuvah when he was just a child.

To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you