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Rabbi Samson’s Great Escape

Rabbi Samson’s Great Escape



Some three hundred years ago, in the city of Vienna, capital of Austria, there lived a famous rabbi, Rabbi Samson Wertheimer. (Rabbi Samson Wertheimer was born in Worms in 1658 and died in Vienna at the age of 66. Through his great friend, Samuel Oppenheimer, the great financier, Rabbi Samson was presented to the royal court and, together, they were of great assistance to King Leopold the First. Later, after the death of Oppenheimer, Rabbi Samson took over his post, which he kept also during the reign of King Joseph.)

This rabbi was renowned not only on account of his riches and high government position, but also on account of his wisdom and fine character. He was King Leopold’s Finance-Minister, and was entrusted with all the financial secrets of the country. He also supplied much of the war material for the army in the great war with Spain at that time.

Rabbi Samson used his great influence at court to benefit his oppressed Jewish brethren, and with his great wealth he supported the poor and needy. He took great pride in his Judaism, and he fought against those who told malicious lies about the Jewish people and their traditions. His piety and kindliness made him beloved by all Jews.

At that time a certain bishop (who was surely a direct descendant of the wicked Haman) won the king’s favor. The bishop could not bear to see the king giving so much honor to, and having so much faith in, a Jew. He tried all methods to place Rabbi Samson in the king’s disfavor. Try as he would, the bishop could not find any excuse to cause the king to mistrust him.

The bishop once came to the king and said: “Your majesty, there is a Jew whom you have trusted with all the wealth of the kingdom. Do you know if he is faithful and honest? Maybe he enriches himself at the king’s expense? Do you know if he has earned his wealth honestly?” The king replied: “I certainly do have faith in him. Have you any proof that he has cheated me?”

“I have no doubt whatsoever that he cheats you”; continued the bishop, “but I also have a way to prove to your majesty that my accusations are not groundless. I bribed a bookkeeper of your Jewish finance minister, and he gave me a copy of his books. I didn’t believe my eyes when I saw what a huge amount of money he has amassed! Let the king ask him how much he is worth and see what he answers you. If his answer will conform to the amount written in his books, then I will also admit that he is an honest man. But if he states a sum less than that mentioned in the books, then you know that he is a swindler. The king may then give him over into my hands, and you can rest assured that he will receive his just punishment.”

“Very well! I am willing to try out your test,” the king answered. “You will then see that all your suspicions are groundless . . .”

“One condition, I would ask of your majesty,” the bishop went on. “If it will be proven that Wertheimer has lied, he must be burnt alive, and, meanwhile, your majesty can have the furnace heated, so that the death sentence can be carried out immediately . . .”

The king allowed himself to be influenced, and the furnace was prepared. Meanwhile the king gave orders to his hangmen that, if a person, no matter who it may be, should come to them and ask in the king’s name: “Have you carried out the king’s order?” they should straight away grab him and throw him into the furnace without any questions!


The bishop left the palace in high spirits, rubbing his hands gleefully at the thought of ridding himself of his Jewish enemy, Wertheimer.

The king then had his Finance Minister Rabbi Samson Wertheimer brought before him. He did not tell him that this was a matter of life and-death, but just started a friendly discussion with him. The king led the conversation up to the point where the king asked him about his personal welfare and inquired if he was satisfied.

“Praised be the Almighty, I cannot complain,” the rabbi answered humbly.

“Do you receive suitable pay for your devoted service? About how much is your personal wealth, my good friend?” the king asked matter-of-factly.

“The king has to be told an exact amount, and that is difficult to estimate on the spot . . .”

“I don’t mean to the exact gulden,” the king interrupted. “How much are you certain of, that you have no doubts about?”

Rabbi Samson Wertheimer thought for a moment and then mentioned a certain amount.

The king could hardly restrain his astonishment and anger. Rabbi Samson had mentioned an amount roughly one-tenth of the amount he was supposed to own, according to the books. It looked as if the bishop was right. His trustworthy and reliable finance minister had apparently fooled him!

The king then told him to go to the furnace and ask the hangmen if they had carried out the king’s orders.

Rabbi Samson went to carry out the king’s order, not dreaming that he was going to a certain death.

On the way he met a Jew who was very pleased to meet him. “Worthy rabbi, today my newborn son is eight days old. I have to carry out the holy mitzvah of circumcision, and I cannot find another mohel. I beg of you, Rabbi, please come with me and perform the ceremony . . .”

In addition to his many qualifications, Rabbi Samson Wertheimer was a mohel. He was always happy to carry out this great mitzvah, and never charged any money for it. Now Rabbi Samson was at a loss what to do. “The king sent me on an errand; how can I delay? I am obliged to carry out his order . . .”

“And I have been sent by the King of Kings!” the Jew persisted. ‘The sacred mitzvah of circumcision can certainly not be delayed! I will not leave you, dear rabbi, until you grant my wish . . .”

The rabbi, seeing that such a great Mitzvah came his way, did not hesitate too long, and went with the Jew.

The house was already filled with guests. Rabbi Samson was greeted with great honor and joy. After the ceremony, a meal in honor of the mitzvah was served, and wine was drunk, with everyone expressing good wishes for a healthy life.

As soon as Rabbi Samson drank a glass of wine he felt slightly dizzy; he lay down for a while and soon fell asleep. No one wanted to awaken the honored guest . . .


That night, the bishop could not sleep. He had heard that the king had sent his Jewish finance minister to his certain death. He also had heard that the king had confiscated Rabbi Samson’s possessions; the bishop was in the seventh heaven. “I must go personally and make sure,” the bishop thought. “I will still manage to see the Jew’s bones burning in the furnace . . .” and with a devilish smirk on his face he went to the furnace . . .

“I have come to see with my own eyes if you have carried out the king’s orders!” the bishop remarked gaily.

“Aha! We are waiting for you . . .” the hangmen answered. They grabbed hold of him and started dragging him towards the furnace . . .

They took little notice of the bishop’s protests and cries . . . they stopped up his mouth and threw him into the furnace . . .


Meanwhile, Rabbi Samson woke up and hurried home. It was already after midnight, and he felt disturbed at having to leave the king’s order until the next day.

He found the house in an uproar . . . his family were worrying about him because all his possessions had been sealed by the king’s servants and they felt that they were all in great danger . . .

In the morning, straight after morning prayers, Rabbi Samson hastened to carry out his king’s command . . .

“Yes! We carried out our orders to the letter,” the hangmen replied. “You should have seen the bishop tremble . . . but it served him right . . . I always knew he was a false person . . .” one of the hangmen remarked with a smile.

Rabbi Samson remained standing, unable to understand what had happened. He ran to the king and became even more bewildered when he saw the king looking at him, as if he, Rabbi Samson, were a ghost . . .

Rabbi Samson excused himself for having been unable to carry out the royal command the same day, due to a most urgent matter, and he was forced to postpone it till the following day. He hastened to reassure the king, however, that his command had been carried out, and the bishop had been burned according to the king’s order . . . On the other hand, he could not understand why the king had confiscated all his property that he, Rabbi Samson, had so honestly earned . . .

The king suddenly broke out into uncontrollable laughter. He laughed and laughed until he could hardly remain standing. He then embraced Rabbi Samson and pressed him to his heart, and continued to laugh joyfully, tears coming to his eyes.

Rabbi Samson regarded the king in amazement and waited patiently until the king would come to himself.

Finally the king told him the whole story about the bishop’s accusation, and what a remarkable escape the rabbi had enjoyed from the certain death that the bishop had prepared for him, but had himself suffered.

“I am now assured that you are a religious, G‑dly man, whom your great G‑d has saved from a certain and unearned death,” the king said earnestly. “But tell me, why did you deny the truth and not admit the full amount of your riches?”

“G‑d forbid!” Rabbi Samson replied. “I would not tell the king a lie. When the king asked me how much I was sure I possessed, I could not state the amount in the books. That was not definitely mine. Only yesterday I had this amount, and today the king confiscated everything . . . The only certain possessions that I have are those that I have donated to charity . . . they cannot be taken away from me. I am used to giving a tenth of my earnings to charity, and therefore that is the amount that I stated . . .”

The king was extremely pleased with Rabbi Samson’s explanation.

“There can be no question any more of confiscating your properties,” the king remarked, beaming. “I grant you them once more, with pleasure. Please tell me how I can repay you for the unpleasantness I caused you so unnecessarily?” the king asked.

“The king has already sufficiently rewarded me, with his trust and friendship,” Rabbi Samson replied. “Even so, I would like to ask a favor of his majesty: I would like to build a large synagogue in Vienna, where my devoted brethren would be able to come to serve G‑d.”

Rabbi Samson’s wish was granted and a great synagogue was erected in the capital, known as “Rabbi Samson’s Synagogue.”

Rabbi Samson lived out his years in Torah study, charity and good deeds, and he accomplished a lot of good both for the Jews and for the country. Before his death he willed a large part of his possessions to charity: this “Wertheimer Fund” existed till the first World War, and gave much help to charitable causes.

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Anonymous Southfield December 16, 2016

But didn't a similar story happen to the rambam Reply

Elisabeth Gelb Victoria, BC June 12, 2016

Samson Wertheimer (1658-1724) Samson Wertheimer (1658-1724)
Our connection to Samson is via his sister (name unknown). She married Shmuel Zanvil Bachrach (1654-1739) ben Yair Chaim Bachrach & Dina Sorle (Sarah) Brillin. Yair Chaim is great, great grandson of The Maharal of Prague. This line leads to The Maharaitz, R' Yehoshua Aharon Tzvi Weinberger (my great, great, grandfather OBM Reply

Nusy Brooklyn October 15, 2015

David. Thank you very much Reply

David Wertheimer / Contract Research Sherman Oaks October 15, 2015

The Wertheimer Weiner Bacharach conspiracy? Nusy and anyopne else

Nu, so I'm sorry that this has taken me so long, but, my third cousin Ron Keenan (ne' Mother was a Wertheimer, runs a family tree website. paste this and see what you can find: after translation goto: www.myheritage dot com/site-110858741/kenan#newsfeedLocation. this website does not allow HTML codes soooo, , , , ,
I hope you have more time to devote to tour family search, but this will take you along way
Baruch attah l'shalom
David Wertheimer (DocWertheimer at Gmail dot com Reply

Peter Wertheimer Austria & Switzerland October 8, 2015

Never ever was Rabbi Samson Wertheimer called Wiener As a direct descendent (proofed with family tree and DNA-test) I actually have seen Rabbi Samon's signature more than once on contracts and other papers. He always called himself Wertheimber but never Wiener. Reply

Abraham Hoschander Brooklyn July 27, 2015

Now when I hear about it, I think that I may have heard the Zaidy having been referred to as "Shimshon Viener", having been from Vienna. But I have never seen him formally tied in to a Weiner family tree. We are definitely tied into the Bachrach family in our ancestry. That's in my tree. Reply

Nusy Brooklyn July 27, 2015

Rabbi Samson's Family tree According to a certain source my Ancestor was a descendant of Rabbi Samson Werthiemer. I don't know exactly how. I would love to see a family tree and I would appreciate if someone can send me one. That might help figure things out. Thank you. Reply

David Wertheimer Los Angeles June 4, 2015

As has been spoken of perhaps here, there is a Wertheimer family book that was written by my great Aunt Theresa and her granddaughter Willa, in 1988-89 that delineated a trip my great uncle Joe and Theresa took, (in 1951) the first of many, to Yisrael where he laid the cornerstone for Technion Institute, in Tel Aviv. He met the last hmmm, the nephew of the last first born descendant of R. Shimson Werthember, whose name was either Eric of Jonathan, (one the father the other the son) & they were in possession of an iron band bound box that had several genealogy trees that, were very detailed (in German) that went back to a Shimson Wertheimber who was granted nobility by King Maximillion I in 1510. Now I have seen, somewhere, genealogy charts on line that , if I were smarter would tell me how all of this fits in, but alas I'm not that smart any more so a lot of that stuff eludes me,
The book had, the family crest and other original documents. But Ron Kenan says they are now gone. Reply

Judith Elam Kihei June 3, 2015

It's Judith, not Edith!

I am not allowed to give you my e-mail address on this site. But the moderator told me they had already provided it to you. Did you get it from her? Reply

Abraham Hoschander June 3, 2015

I'd be delighted to Edith. Please send me your email address.

Abraham Reply

Judith Elam June 2, 2015

Abraham. Please could you email the tree to me? I would love to see it! Thank you! Reply

Abraham Hoschander June 1, 2015

Rabbi Shimshon Wertheimer was my sixth GGF and I have the complete family tree. I've have never heard that he used the name Wiener and I believe this to be wholly inaccurate. Reply

Judith Elam Kihei May 19, 2015

thank you David. As I said, the references to Rav Shimshon Wertheimer and Shimshon Wiener being the same person are in an old family sefer which describes the lineage upwards from my ggg-grandfather, Yechiel Chaim Zeev Wiener, through his mother, Perl, up 6 generations. But it stops short 2 - 3 generations of the Rav, so I am missing those generations in between......drat!

Judith Elam
Kihei, HI Reply

DocWertheimer Encino May 17, 2015

Rabbi (shochet) Shimson Wertheimber-Wertheimer-Wiener I have a 3rd cousin, Ron , , , something. he lives here in Los Angeles, and his family tree website, is the most complete that I have ever seen because there are multiple researchers digging into the family history quagmire. It seems that our particular 'Wertheimer" family was descended from a family of rabbis named 'Bacherach. Cousin , , Ron I'll get his name th'morrow also runs a chocolate-nut candy company called Himmna and I think we have, what you might be looking for. But Wiener (in German would be pronounced "Veener") I have not run into, until now. But I'll look soon and post the connection

More later, , , , , , , , , ,

M. David Wertheimer Reply

S.Bornschein Providence May 1, 2015

He is also my great x 7 grandfather - I too would like to see the link!
Suzanne Reply

Judith Elam Kihei November 4, 2014

Thank you David, I would love to get the link. He definitely was known also as "Shimshon Wiener", although not as commonly. No doubt this is because he lived in Vienna.

Judith Elam Reply

David Wertheimer October 30, 2014

Shimsohn Wiener? Judith Elam
I am not familiar with Rabbi Wertheimer using the name Wiener. There is a website operated by a third cousin of mine, Ron Keenan who has just started a chocolate nut company called Hinna. Some our line goes back to Yochanan Hasandler (of the Talmud) Born 100 Died 200, but how he figured that out and who is in between I can't quite tell you,but its in the website. Probably, except for what you're actually trying to find. I'll try and get the website link for you sometime soon.

David Reply

Judith Elam Kihei October 28, 2014

Rabbi Shimshon Wertheimer was also known as Rabbi Shimshon Wiener. I am a Wiener and we are supposed to be descended from him. I can trace the lineage back through a sefer to within 2 - 3 generations. Does anyone know how I can trace it all the way up? The name "Shimshon" appears multiple times on the Wiener tree. Reply

Abraham Hoschander NYC June 20, 2014

Rav Samson Wertheim(er) was the Gadol Hador of his day. He was known as the "King of the Jews." It was said that "since the days of Rav Ashi (of the Talmud) there was no one who possessed 'Torah Ugedula Bemakom Achas' as did Rav Samson. Reply

Anonymous philippines November 11, 2012

great story My tears fall after reading. How great is the God of Israel to his people. Blessed be he. Reply