Tag Archives: Finance

Jew of the Week: Mayer Amschel 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 one of five.

Mayer ben Anshel Rothschild (1744-1812) was born in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt. His father was a merchant and dabbled in currency exchange. The family had lived in the same house of the Frankfurt ghetto for over a century; a house with a red sign above the door. The family would thus become known as Rothschild meaning “red sign”, referring to that first house, even when they later moved to another property in the ghetto. Although his father wanted him to become a rabbi, Mayer Rothschild became an apprentice of Simon Wolf Oppenheimer, a banker and “Court Jew”. (Some say Mayer had to leave his rabbinic studies after his parents died.) From Oppenheimer he learned the financial business, and become a dealer of rare coins. This brought him into the court of the Prince of Hesse (a duchy within pre-Germany’s “Holy Roman Empire”). By 1785, Rothschild had become one of the Prince’s main bankers. The French Revolution erupted just a few years later, and Britain would handle its hiring of Hessian mercenaries in the conflict through Rothschild. This made Rothschild quite wealthy, and at the turn of the 19th century, he began loaning money internationally. This business was facilitated by the help of his five sons: Nathan in London, Jacob in Paris, Salomon in Vienna, Kalman in Naples, and the eldest son Amschel taking over in Frankfurt. As the family prospered and entered into the nobility, they adopted a coat of arms, the simpler version of which features a red shield with five arrows to represent the five sons (based on the words of Kings David and Solomon in Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth”), and a motto: concordia, integritas, industria, “Unity, Integrity, Diligence”. Mayer Rothschild also had five daughters, and instilled in all ten of his children the importance of maintaining Jewish values. Unlike other wealthy European Jews, the Rothschilds did not assimilate, intermarry, or convert to Christianity. They played a central role in easing the plight of Europe’s Jews, and later in the establishment of the State of Israel. They would amass the largest private fortune in modern history, and possibly of all time. As per Jewish tradition, Mayer and his five sons were generous philanthropists. The Rothschild model of a tightly-controlled family business, with multiple branches established by siblings, inspired many other successful banks and companies, both Jewish and gentile. Mayer Rothschild himself has been described as the “founding father of international finance”, and ranked by Forbes among history’s most influential businesspeople. Next week we will explore the lives and achievements of his sons. Click here to go to Part Two.

Rothschild and the Rabbi: Secrets of the Family Fortune

Words of the Week

The Three Financial Golden Rules of the Rothschild Family:
1. Keep a third of your wealth in securities (stocks, bonds, cash, etc.), a third in real estate, and a third in jewels and physical goods. [Based on the Talmud, Bava Metzia 42a.]
2. Stocks should be like a cold shower: quick in, quick out.
3. Always leave 10% for charity. [Based on the Torah law of ma’aser, or tithes.]

Left: the grave of Mayer Rothschild in the Jewish cemetery of Frankfurt; Right: the Rothschild house in the Frankfurt ghetto, once home to some thirty family members.

Jew of the Week: Muriel “Mickie” Siebert

The First Woman of Finance

Muriel Siebert - the First Woman of Finance

Muriel Siebert – the First Woman of Finance

Muriel Faye Siebert (1928-2013) was born to a Jewish family in Ohio. At 22, having dropped out of university, and with just $500 in hand, she moved to New York City. Siebert got a job on Wall Street making $65 a week, and quickly moved up the ranks. Frustrated that she earned only a fraction of what her male colleagues did, she decided to buy her own seat in the New York Stock Exchange (with a price tag of $445,000). After two years of hard effort, during which time she faced severe sexism and anti-Semitism, Siebert became the first woman to do so, and the first woman to own a stock brokerage. She would remain the only such woman for 10 years (among over 1300 males!), and continued throughout to fight for equal rights – not only in salaries and opportunities, but even basic necessities like a ladies bathroom. In 1977, Siebert was appointed New York’s Superintendent of Banks (another first), overseeing over $500 billion in finance. Under her watch, not a single New York bank failed, at a time when a great many others did. From there, Siebert ran for the Senate, but was unsuccessful. She returned to her brokerage and continued working into her old age. Both a feminist and a great philanthropist, Siebert gave millions of dollars to the cause, helping countless women open their own businesses and find success in the world of finance. She served as president of New York Women’s Agenda, developing a popular program called ‘Financial Literacy for Women’ (which was later adopted to New York’s high school curriculum). Siebert was awarded 19 honorary doctorates, and was elected to the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Sadly, the ‘First Woman of Finance’ passed away last Saturday after a battle with cancer. Click here to see a recent interview with Muriel Siebert.

Words of the Week

In youth, one learns to talk; in maturity, one learns to be silent. This is man’s problem: that he learns to talk before he learns to be silent.
– Rabbi Nachman of Breslav