Category Archives: Law, Politics & Military

Jews in the World of Law and Politics

Jews of the Week: Lionel and Edmond de Rothschild

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 7th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the most famous (and sometimes infamous) Jewish family of all time: the Rothschilds. This is part four of five. Click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three.

Lionel de Rothschild

Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879) was the eldest son of London’s Nathan Rothschild. After studying in university and apprenticing with family members, he entered the family business at age 28. He helped raise funds for Britain for a number of its wars, including the Crimean War, as well as to help victims of the Great Irish Famine. He would organize the largest private relief fund for the famine (which tragically took the lives of over one million people). Lionel pushed for, and secured funding, for Britain’s pivotal purchasing and construction of the Suez Canal. In 1847, he was elected to the British House of Commons. He was required to take a Christian oath and swear on a Bible, which he refused. The Prime Minister passed a “Jewish Disabilities Bill” to remove the necessity to swear a Christian oath. However, the House of Lords rejected it. Lionel resigned. He won the election again in 1850, but was stifled by the House of Lords once more; then again in 1851 and 1852. It was only in 1858 that the Lords relented, and that year Lionel took an oath on a Tanakh, wearing a kippah, and became the first Jew in British Parliament. He was reelected three more times. In 1885, after previously being refused by Queen Victoria, he was finally elevated to the House of Lords, the first Jew in that house as well.

Edmond de Rothschild

While there were Rothschilds who were vocal anti-Zionists, and some have even refused to visit the State of Israel, one of the greatest Zionists of all time was Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934). Edmond was the youngest son of Paris’ Jacob de Rothschild. He was a noted patron of arts and sciences, and founded multiple biology, chemistry, and physics institutions. He spent vast sums on art, amassing a collection of over 40,000 valued pieces, most of which would be donated to the Louvre. This continued until he was inspired by the Zionist vision, and stirred to action by horrific pogroms in Russia. Henceforth, he spent whatever money he could to reestablish a Jewish state in the Holy Land. It was Edmond’s funds that created Rishon LeZion, the first modern Jewish settlement in Israel, as well as Metulla, Ekron, Rosh Pina, and Zikhron Ya’akov (named after his father). He later established the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, through which he acquired 125,000 acres of land in Israel. Edmond spent another $50 million (equal to some $700 million today) to plant farms and wineries, drain swamps, fight malaria, build schools, synagogues, factories and electrical grids, invest in industry and economic development. He supported the Arab populace as well, affirming that putting “an end to the Wandering Jew, could not have as its result, the creation of the Wandering Arab.” Beloved by Jews (and many Muslims, too) he was nicknamed “the Famous Benefactor”. Streets and landmarks across Israel are named after him, including Tel Aviv’s central Rothschild Boulevard, the major financial, cultural, and tourist artery of the city. Until 1986, he was on Israel’s 500 shekel note.

This November is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Click here to watch Jacob Rothschild (whose life we shall explore in the final part of the series next week) speak about the Declaration and the Rothschild role in the founding of Israel.

Click here to go to Part Five.

Words of the Week

I doubt that, in the entire history of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, a period of 2,000 years, one could ever find a man comparable in stature to the incredible character that was the Baron Edmond de Rothschild – the builder of the Jewish Yishuv in our renewed homeland.
David Ben-Gurion

Edmond de Rothschild on an Israeli 500 Shekel Note (1982)

Jews of the Week: Nathan Rothschild and Jacob de Rothschild

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 7th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the most famous (and sometimes infamous) Jewish family of all time: the Rothschilds. This is part three of five. Click here for part one and here for part two.

Jacob James de Rothschild

The youngest of Mayer Rothschild’s sons was Jacob “James” Rothschild (1792-1868). He moved to Paris in 1811 and opened a new branch of the family bank in 1817. Jacob play a central role in rebuilding post-Napoleonic War France, and financing the empire’s industrial revolution. He financed some of France’s first railroads and factories, imported tea and other goods, and invested in mining and wine-making. He would become the richest man in the world, and his fortune alone (not including the rest of the family) is estimated to have been over $300 billion in today’s dollars. Jacob, too, was brought into the nobility (becoming “de Rothschild”, while his brothers in the Holy Roman Empire were “von Rothschild”). He served as an adviser to French kings, and was awarded the French Legion of Honour. Jacob also served as an ambassador to Austria. He was a noted philanthropist and arts patron, funding greats like Chopin, Rossini, and de Balzac. He and his wife were French icons, and symbols of culture and sophistication. (When King Louis XVIII refused to host Jacob’s wife because she was Jewish, Jacob stopped doing business with him.) The couple was admired by the French people, and Jacob’s funeral drew countless thousands.

Nathan Rothschild

By far the most famous of the Rothschild sons was Nathan Rothschild (1777-1836). He moved to Manchester in 1798 to start a textiles business before opening a branch of the family bank in London in 1805. In 1809, he switched his focus to dealing gold, and in 1811 won a contract to take care of British payments to their soldiers fighting Napoleon. Nathan won this contract because, unlike other bankers, careful coordination with his brothers allowed him to transport gold safely across war-torn Europe. By 1825, Nathan’s bank was so wealthy and successful that he single-handedly saved the Bank of England from a serious crisis. Nathan, too, was a philanthropist, as well as a social justice advocate, playing a key role in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. At the time of his death (from an infection), he was the wealthiest man in the world. Nathan is infamous because of a myth that he made much of his fortune by speculating on the London stock exchange one day. Supposedly, he knew that the British had won the Battle of Waterloo before everyone else, and created a false panic by selling all his bonds as if Britain had lost. This led everyone else to sell their bonds, too, before Nathan quickly bought them all for very cheap right before news of Britain’s victory came and bond prices soared. Researchers have traced this legend to an anti-Semitic French pamphlet published ten years after Nathan passed away. It has no historical basis, nor does it make any sense according to both financial and historical experts. Accurate estimates suggest that if Nathan made any money at all from knowing about the Battle of Waterloo, it could not have been more than a million pounds. Nonetheless, the legend persists and is popular among conspiracy theorists. (Nathan did make a fortune in bonds some years after the war.) Interestingly, Nathan also played a critical role in Brazil’s independence from Portugal. His son Lionel, whose life we shall explore next week, continued to run the London branch, and it would go on to become the most successful of them all. Click here to go to Part Four.

Words of the Week

It requires a great deal of boldness and a great deal of caution to make a great fortune; and when you have got it, it requires ten times as much wit to keep it.
– Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild