Dropsie, Moses Aaron

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DROPSIE, MOSES AARON (1821–1905), U.S. attorney, businessman, philanthropist, and patron of Jewish learning. Dropsie was born in Philadelphia to a Dutch-Jewish immigrant father and a Christian mother. He embraced Judaism at the age of 14, and ultimately became a vigorous proponent of traditional Judaism in America. Dropsie made his livelihood in the jewelry business until he was 28, when he began the study of law. He was admitted to the bar in 1851. Although his practice was largely in business law, Dropsie became a scholar in legal history and published a number of works on Roman law, including one on the trial of Jesus. Dropsie invested very early in streetcar ventures and became the president of two traction companies. He served as chairman of the commission that supervised the construction of the South Street bridge across the Schuylkill River in 1870. An early organizer of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, Dropsie ran for public office only once. He became leader and officer of many Jewish communal activities, and was an admirer and disciple of Isaac *Leeser. Their sense of mutual understanding was disturbed only by their divergent sympathies in the early days of the Civil War. Dropsie was an active supporter of Leeser's shortlived Maimonides College from its inception in 1867, the first Jewish theological seminary in America. Dropsie believed that one of the major reasons for its failure was the refusal of New York Jewish leaders to give it their full support; when the Jewish Theological Seminary was organized in 1886 in New York City, he refused to lend a hand. This resentment was one of the factors which motivated his establishing a bequest for a totally new institution for higher Jewish learning. Another factor was his anger, which he also expressed in a number of pamphlets, against what he considered to be the extremism of Reform Judaism. Dropsie's will was written in 1895, while he was serving as president of *Gratz College. He assigned his fortune to the creation of Dropsie College.


C. Adler, Lectures, Selected Papers, Addresses (1933), 43–64; B.W. Korn, Eventful Years and Experiences (1954), 187–9; H. Morais, Jews of Philadelphia (1894), 255–8.

[Bertram Wallace Korn]