Tag Archives: Tanakh

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: Isaac Leeser and Warder Cresson

Isaac Leeser

Isaac Leeser

Isaac Leeser (1806-1868) was born in the Germanic kingdom of Westphalia. Growing up, he received both a religious Jewish education, as well as a secular German one, and was fluent in Latin, German, and Hebrew. He immigrated to the United States at the young age of 17 and lived with his wealthy uncle. While working in his uncle’s business, Leeser started to teach Judaism in his local synagogue, and vocally defended his religion when it was under attack in the public sphere. By age 22, he was quite well known, and was invited to take over Philadelphia’s Congregation Mikveh Israel, one of America’s oldest Sephardic synagogues. Leeser introduced American Jewry to the German custom of delivering a sermon between prayers (something now common in all synagogues). He wrote a book about Judaism in 1829 but found no publisher willing to print it. So, he started his own press, establishing the Jewish Publication Society. In 1845, he published his English translation of the Torah – the first by a Jew. Eight years later, he published a complete English Tanakh. This translation was the authoritative Jewish version for decades, and is still widely used today. Leeser helped found some of America’s first Jewish schools, seminaries, and magazines. He was also a civil rights activist and worked hard on behalf of all minorities. He is regarded as one of America’s most important Jewish pioneers.

Michael Boaz Israel, aka. Warder Cresson

Michael Boaz Israel, aka. Warder Cresson

In 1840, Leeser met a wealthy farmer named Warder Cresson (1798-1860). Cresson was a very religious Quaker, a preacher and writer. After some discussions with Leeser, Cresson took a deep interest in Judaism. In 1844, he was appointed America’s first consul in Jerusalem. This brought him face-to-face with Judaism and he grew close to Jerusalem’s ancient Sephardic community. He started writing for Leeser’s magazine, The Occident, and even began doing counter-missionary work to stop Christian proselytizing of Jews. In 1848, Cresson converted to Judaism, was circumcised, and took on the Hebrew name Michael Boaz Israel ben Avraham. Upon his return to Philadelphia, his wife divorced him, sued him, and sought to have him declared insane. The case made headlines across the US. Cresson ultimately won the suit, proving his absolute sanity and wisdom. He returned to Jerusalem, married a Sephardic woman and had three kids. In 1852, he established a Jewish agricultural colony – predating the Zionist movement by several decades, and in fact, helping to inspire it. He continued writing on Jewish topics, and died as a respected and prominent leader in Israel’s Sephardic community. His original tomb and burial place on the Mount of Olives was recently rediscovered.

Words of the Week

Just as the olive yields oil for light only when it is pounded, so are man’s greatest potentials realized only under the pressure of adversity.
– The Talmud