Known as the Juden Kaiser (the Jewish Emperor), Rabbi Samson Wertheimer was a man of incredible accomplishment. Born in Worms in 1658, he was educated in the yeshivot of Worms and Frankfurt-am-Main. In his late twenties, he moved to Vienna, where he became an associate of the successful banker Samuel Oppenheimer. Through this association, Wertheimer gained the confidence of Emperor Leopold I of the Holy Roman Empire and eventually, after Oppenheimer’s death, became the Emperor’s financier and creditor. Wertheimer managed such affairs as provisioning the empire’s involvement in the Spanish War of Succession, arranging the dowry of a Polish princess marrying into the Emperor’s family and financing the payment of some 400,000 florins to Prince Eugene of Savoy.
In addition to his political and financial success, Wertheimer was dedicated to Jewish life and the Jewish community. He was a well-respected scholar and was given the title of Rabbi of Prague and Bohemia. Additionally, as the most powerful Jew in the empire, Wertheimer had special privileges (such as the right to reside in Vienna), as well as the right to grant foreign Jews permission to remain in Vienna overnight.
Wertheimer’s financial resources allowed him to make a serious impact on Jewish life both in Europe and in the Holy Land. He built numerous synagogues in Hungary, founded and endowed a Talmudic academy in Frankfurt-am-Main, and helped rebuild the Jewish community in Eisenstadt after the local count tried to rebel against the emperor. The synagogue there is still known as Samson’s Schule.
After his death on 17 Av (1724), at age 66, his children, who had all married into prominent families, continued his legacy of generosity.