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Falk, Samuel Jacob Ḥayyim

FALK, SAMUEL JACOB ḤAYYIM (c. 1710–1782), kabbalist and adventurer, known as the "Ba'al Shem of London." Falk, who was born in Galicia, was intimately connected with leaders of the Shabbatean sectarians for many years, e.g., Moses David of Podhajce. He became known early as a magician, escaped burning as a sorcerer in Westphalia, was banished by the archbishop elector of Cologne, and about 1742 made his way to England. Here he achieved notoriety in both Jewish and non-Jewish circles for his kabbalistic practices based on the use of the mysterious Name of God, hence becoming known as a *Ba'al Shem ("Master of the [Divine] Name"). He had a private synagogue in his house in Wellclose Square, and also established a kabbalistic laboratory on London Bridge where he carried out alchemical experiments which aroused some notice. Among those who were attracted to him, was the international adventurer Theodore De Stein, who claimed to be king of Corsica and hoped to obtain through Falk's alchemical experiments sufficient gold to enable him to "regain" his throne. He was also in touch with, among others, the Duke of Orleans, the Polish Prince Czartoryski, and the Marquise de la Croix. On one occasion, Falk is said to have saved the Great Synagogue from destruction by fire by means of a magical inscription which he inscribed on the doorposts. On the other hand, he was denounced as a Shabbatean heretic and fraud by his embittered contemporary Jacob *Emden. He was, at the outset, on the worst possible terms with the official London community. However, in the end he became reconciled with it and received the support of the Goldsmid family. As a result of this, or possibly of success in a lottery, he died in relatively affluent circumstances, leaving a considerable legacy to Jewish charities and an annual payment for the upkeep of the chief rabbinate in London. Much light is thrown on his personality and activities in the semi-literate diary of his henchman Hirsch Kalish, preserved in manuscript in the Adler Collection in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, N.Y.; one of his own kabbalistic notebooks is in the library of the bet ha-midrash in London. Toward the end of his life, his portrait was painted by the distinguished Anglo-American artist John Copley. This is now frequently reproduced erroneously as the portrait of the famous *Israel Ba'al Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism.


C. Roth, Essays and Portraits in Anglo-Jewish History (1962), 139–64; idem., Mag Bibl, 124–5; Wirszubski, in: Zion, 7 (1942), 73–93.

[Cecil Roth]

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.