Geldern, Simon von

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GELDERN, SIMON VON (1720–1788), German adventurer and traveler. Von Geldern, who was born in Duesseldorf into a family of Court Jews (see Van *Geldern), studied at yeshivot, and also acquired a secular education. He went wandering through many countries and eventually reached Palestine where he spent six months studying the Kabbalah in Safed. Armed with letters of recommendation from Safed scholars headed with the words Kitvei Kodesh u-Meliẓot Ḥakhamei Yisrael (printed in Amsterdam, c. 1759) and with contributions from public and private charity chests, he set off on another journey, calling himself "an emissary from the Holy Land." Von Geldern engaged in the book trade, mainly selling copies of the *Zohar. Assuming the title of "Chevalier von Geldern" and posing as an Oriental sage, he led a life of adventure, gambling, and the pursuit of amorous affairs in Christian society and among royalty. His grandnephew, Heinrich *Heine, speaks admiringly of his exploits in North Africa. Von Geldern was the first person to mention the Cairo Genizah. He made an English adaptation, entitled The Israelites on Mount Horeb (1773), of a French oratorio by the Abbé de Voisinon, which in its turn was based on the Italian original by a fellow adventurer, Giacomo Casanova. Von Geldern also published a Hebrew version of the Book of Judith. He spent the last ten years of his life in the service of the grand duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. He provided Abbé *Gregoire with the material for his Essai sur la regénération physique, morale et politique des Juifs (1789). Von Geldern's travel diaries (facsimile of Ms. (original probably lost) in Schocken Library, Jerusalem) and his personal papers, including a family tree, have survived.


F. Heymann, Der Chevalier von Geldern (19632); Brilling, in: blbi, 8 (1965), 315ff; D. Kaufmann, Aus Heinrich Heines Ahnensaal (1896); Archiv fuer juedische Familienforschung, 1 nos. 2–3 (1913), 18ff., nos. 4–6, 32ff; Loewenstein, in: mgwj, 51 (1907), 205ff.; idem, in: jjlg, 10 (1912), 121; Yaari, Sheluḥei, 180, 446ff.