Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Haym Solomon of Philadelphia in an 18th century Dutch responsum.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Breslau (also known as Levij Heiman van Breslau; 1741-1809), Chief Rabbi of Rotterdam, has an interesting question in his Pne Aryeh (#41). It apparently concerns the Revolutionary War financier that all Jewish kids know about, Haym Solomon (הנדיב הרר"ח שבפילידעלפיא).

A prominent Dutch Jew named Gumpel Wolfenbütel asked Rabbi Aryeh Leib about a charitable donation he received from Haym Solomon, to be given to a specific needy person. Subsequently the person's fortune changed and the charity was no longer needed. The question was, is Wolfenbüttel obligated to give the money to the individual? Or perhaps he should return the money to Solomon, so that he will be inclined to give in the future?

(He finds that according to halacha once the money was pledged, let alone sent, it is already a binding transfer and thus already given. to change that would be like breaking a vow. Thus Solomon has no claim to it - not that he was asking for its return. The man should be given the money, but since he is not in need of charity then he should dispose of it in a charitable way.)

Here is the title page of the Pnei Aryeh:

Here are two images of Rabbi Aryeh Leib; one artist was kinder than the other:


  1. How do you find this stuff?

  2. You mean the teshuva or the pictures?

  3. Either way, you do find great stuff. But I wonder about the identification of the donor as Haym Solomon. Of course it's possible, but there could have been some other "nediv" in Philadelphia whose initial was "chet."

    BTW, I find the title-page description of Reb Aryeh Leib amusing. It says that he is currently "crouching down under the burden of" Congregation Tehillat Yisrael of Rotterdam. This phrase, though obviously intended as a poetic tribute to the rabbi's weighty responsibilities, seem to have been taken from the Torah's description of the overburdened donkey that a passerby must lend a hand to.

  4. That's why I said "apparently." ;-)

    However, I think it is most likely him since the way he is spoken of repeatedly in the teshuva it is evident that he is famous, and the odds of there being two famous Reb H's in Philadelphia are not so high. In theory I could look in Rosenblom's "Biographical Dictionary of Early American Jews," which I own, which lists almost all known American Jews (obviously it cannot possibly be exhaustive) to see if another H fits the description, but I'm not going to do that!

    The phrase is amusing, but as you point out, it could not have been intended as a slight to the community, who likely included many people who were not stupid and would have taken offense if that was the intended message.

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