Samson Wertheimer was born on the 17th of January 1658, and died on the 6th of August 1724. He was the chief Rabbi of Moravia and Hungary, as well as the rabbi of Eisenstadt. In addition to that, he was an Austrian financier, a court Jew, as well as a Shtadlan to Emperor Leopold I of Austria.
Wertheimer was born in the city of Worms, to Joseph Josel Wertheimer. Joseph was educated at the Yeshivas of Worms as well as Frankfurt am Main.
Providing Supplies for the Imperial Army
On the 2nd of December, 1684, he arrived at Vienna, and made connections with Samuel Oppenheimer, a banker who housed Wertheimer. Wertheimer often represented Oppenheimer in transactions with the government of Austria while the latter was away. As time went on, Wertheimer was able to gain Emperor Leopold I’s confidence, and he later offered a portrait of himself to both Wertheimer and his son. The Emperor also gave Wertheimer another gift of 1000 ducats on the 15th of December, 1701, for his success in helping him obtain a dowry worth 1,000,000 florins from the King of Poland when Duke Charles Philip, Leopold’s brother-in-law married the king’s daughter.
Wertheimer collaborated with Samuel Oppenheimer during the “Spanish War of Succession”, in other to acquire the money needed for the procurement of equipment for the imperial army and to supply provisions. In the wake of Oppenheimer’s failure, and death in 1703, Wertheimer was able to maintain the state’s credit and discover new income sources. On the 29th of August 1703, he was appointed by the emperor as court factor, which extended his privileges of denizenship, freedom of religious worship, and taxation immunity, for twenty years. Joseph I confirmed Wertheimer’s privileges and title, after succeeding his father on the 5th of May, 1705.
Wertheimer was able to maintain his office as a state financier and creditor under the administration of Emperor Joseph I. He maintained a personal relationship with Savoy’s Prince Eugene, whom he paid the 300,000 florins that Joseph I promised, and Charles VI added 100,000 florins. Wertheimer offered massive loans to the government in the course of the Turkish war. On the 26th of august, 1711, Charles VI recognized the title “Landesrabbiner”, which was given to Wertheimer by the Jews of Hungary. According to a contemporary account provided Abraham Levi, one of his relatives, Wertheimer was also referred to as the “Juden Kaiser”. He had ten imperial soldiers who served as sentinels in front of his house. He had a lot of palaces as well as gardens across Vienna, including a lot of houses and estates across Germany, in cities like Worms and Frankfurt am Main. He built a lot of schools and gave out large sums of money across Europe and the Holy Land. No alien Jew could stay in Vienna overnight without obtaining written authorization from him.
Wertheimer continued with his rabbinical studies. He left behind some derashot which he had delivered in his private synagogue in a manuscript, and these manuscripts reveal a lot of Talmudic knowledge. He delivered sermons at the funeral of several distinguished rabbis, such as Simchah Cohen, as well as David ben Israel, who was the rabbi of Trebitsch, the son-in-law to Rabbi Menachem Krochmal, the “Rabbi of Nikolsburg”. He entertained questions about religion from far and wide, especially questions about rituals which were transferred to him and the rabbinical court where he presided; and he often invited great authorities like Krakow’s Simeon ben Judah Löb Jalles, Jacob Eliezer Braunschweig, as well as Prossnitz’s Alexander ben Menahem ha-Levi. The “Chavath Yair”, who happened to be a grandson of the “Maharal of Prague”, had this to say about Rav Wertheimer, “since the days of Rav Ashi of the Talmud, there was no one who possessed Torah and Gedulah B’Makom Echad (Torah and secular greatness in one place) as did Rav Wertheimer.” Wertheimer was considered the greatest sage “Gadol Hador” that existed at that time.
Through his children’s marriages, Wertheimer made connections with some of Austria and Germany’s most prominent families. Isaac Nathan Oppenheimer, who was his stepson, was married to the daughter of the rich purveyor Posing, Wolf his eldest son, was married to Emanuel Oppenheimer’s daughter.
Wertheimer died in Vienna, at the age of 66. He is buried in Vienna in a small cemetery on SEA Gasse.
Wolf was actively involved in all his father’s financial dealings, and also enjoyed the prestige of his father’s office as the court factor. However, after a while he went through a great reversal of fortune. He invested huge portions of his wealth in form of loans to the Bavarian Government, and the agreed repayment term was not met, which almost led him to bankruptcy. He was only able to pay half of the interest accrued on the 150,000 florins which had been donated to charity by Samson Wertheimer, where Wolf served as a trustee. Due to his father’s 22,000 florin donation in favor of Palestine’s German Jews, he was not required to pay back any interest after the year 1733. Elector Maximilian liquidated his debts, thereby saving him from further embarrassment. In his will of 1762, Wolf stated that he was in agreement with the liquidation, despite the loss it entailed, so he could satisfy his creditors. He further aligned with his children to pay back his father’s 22,000 florin donation, though in 1759, he returned the 10,000 florins contributed by the Frankfurt congregation.
Samson Wertheimer’s grandchildren secured the 150,000 florin donation in 1769, and 40,000 florins were added by Wolf’s heirs as compensation for interest unpaid. Wertheimer’s name will be kept alive by these two Vienna and Jerusalem foundations.
Lob, Samson’s second son, married Issachar ha-Levi Bermann of Halberstadt’s daughter, who was related to Leffman Beherens, Hanover’s court Jew; which connected three great “shetadlanin”. The following were Samson’s son-in-laws: Issacbar Berush Eskeles, who was the father of Bernhard Eskeles, a Vienna banker; Frankfurt-on-the-Main’s R. Moses Kann; R. David Oppenheimer’s son, Joseph, as well as Seligmann Berend Kohn, who was popularly referred to as “Solomon of Hamburg”. Joseph Josel, his youngest son, was married to his stepbrother Wolf’s daughter. Joseph died in 1761, in Vienna, where according to reports; he was well respected for his charity as well as his Talmudic learning.
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