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Meisel (Meisl, Meysl, Miška, Akhbar, Maušel, Konír), Mordecai (Marcus, Marx) ben Samuel

MEISEL (Meisl, Meysl, Miška, Akhbar, Maušel, Konír), MORDECAI (Marcus, Marx) BEN SAMUEL

MEISEL (Meisl, Meysl, Miška, Akhbar, Maušel, Konír), MORDECAI (Marcus, Marx) BEN SAMUEL (1528–1601), Prague financier, philanthropist, and head of the Jewish community. He was considered by *Graetz the "first Jewish capitalist in Germany." Although the source of his fabulous wealth is not known, it enabled him to finance large transactions in support of *Rudolphii, to whom he was appointed counselor, during the Turkish wars. His business was based on the special privilege granted him to loan money not only against pledges but also against promissory notes and real estate. (The illegality of such practices according to Bohemian law was one of the pretexts for confiscating Meisel's estate, which amounted to over half a million florins, after his death.) He also acted as purveyor of luxuries and art objects. Meisel is first mentioned in business relations with his father-in-law, Isaac Rofe (Lékař), in 1569. Another of his business associates was Veit (Ḥayyim) Vokatý. He used his wealth for philanthropic activities of all kinds; the epitaph on his tombstone records: "None of his contemporaries was truly his equal in deeds of charity." With the support of his first wife, Eve, he built the Meisel Synagogue in 1597, for which Rudolph ii granted him tax immunity and the right to display in it the "flag of David." Rudolph further decreed that the synagogue might not be entered by officers of the law. It remained Meisel's property until his death, when it was taken over by the community. (From 1963 it housed the synagogue silver collection of the Jewish State Museum.)

Meisel purchased land for the expansion of the Jewish cemetery and the construction of a bet tohorah (where the dead were prepared for burial). He financed the building of a hospital, a bet midrash, a mikveh, and a Klaus. The tradition that he also built the Jewish town hall cannot be proved. He had the streets of the Jewish quarter paved and donated large sums to all other charities, especially for the ransoming of captives. He also sent money to Jerusalem and granted considerable loans to the Cracow and Poznan (Posen) communities (possibly because of their connections with *Judah Loew b. Bezalel).

About Meisel's second wife, Frumet (d. 1625), there is diverse information. On one hand, she is said to have supported him in his philanthropic activities, and on the other hand, she is reported to have refused Meisel's dying request to give to Judah Loew a large sum for his charities. That she was Meisel's wife is not mentioned on her gravestone. When Meisel died, childless, he willed his property to his two nephews, both named Samuel. Although the emperor was represented at Meisel's funeral, all Meisel's property was seized in the name of the emperor, his heirs tortured to make them disclose any "concealed" assets, and Meisel's will itself declared void. A lawsuit was initiated, to which the entire community became a party, claiming the right to part of the inheritance because it had been forced to pay interest on it. In the course of this lawsuit, the ḥerem was pronounced on the impoverished Meisel family and one of them was refused burial. Although the main part of the estate burned down in the conflagration of 1689, an agreement between the community and the family was not reached until 1699.

bibliography:

J.R. Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World (1965), 323–6; O. Muneles (ed.), The Prague Ghetto in the Renaissance Period (1965), index; Bondy-Dworský, nos. 859, 967–9, 971–3; H. Volavková (ed.), Guide to the Jewish Museum in Prague, 2 pts. (1948–57), index; idem, A Story of the Jewish Museum in Prague (1968), 259–66; H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 5 (1966), 219–22; B. Kisch, in: hj, 3 (1941), 86–88; 4 (1942), 71–73; G. Wolf, in: zgjd, 2 (1888), 172–81.

[Meir Lamed]

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