Book Review – Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time

Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time
By Amos Elon

Excerpted from Amazon.com:
Meyer Amschel Rothschild was born in the Frankfurt ghetto in the mid-eighteenth century, in a city more restrictive in its treatment of Jews than any in Europe. Elon brilliantly depicts Meyer Amschel Rothschild’s position there, and life on the unimaginably cramped Judengasse (the single street of the ghetto), where he lived his whole life – even after becoming one of the richest men in Germany. We read how Rothschild established his small trading and banking business, and forged an uneasy relationship with the financially obsessed Crown Prince Wilhelm of Kassel; how he pushed at and eventually broke through the restrictions that bound him and his family to the ghetto until he found himself essentially paying for the English war effort in the Peninsula in 1810. On a richly delineated canvas the emergence and secularization of a family and Western European Jewry is depicted.

As a student of both history and Judaism, I found this book’s descriptions of life in Europe (particularly Germany) in the 1700’s fascinating. Although Emancipation already had affected other European cities, Frankfurt was slow to grant even basic rights to its Jewish residents. The Rothschild family was able to build a financial dynasty despite facing restrictions on where they could live and work and being required to pay disproportionate taxes based solely on their Jewish status. The book frequently mentions that Rothschild was an observant Jew, but doesn’t speak much about how that impacted his business dealings (e.g., Shabbat restrictions, kashrut, etc.). It was also new to me that there was a Judeo-German language other than Yiddish called Judendeutsch based on Hebrew and the Frankfurt dialect of German. I rate this book a 4 out of 5.

To learn more about Meyer Amschel Rothschild, join us on Sunday, March 15 from 10:15 AM – 11:45 AM for a book discussion with congregant Ken Ackerman. Copies of “Founder” are available for loan from the CEH Library.

Laura Naide

Director of Religious Education

 

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