This little booklet, entitled Album of the Great Rabbis of Israel was given out by Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim to its donors in 1946. The “transplanted” Yeshiva “on American soil” was then at 59 west 88th Street, New York.
It consists of portraits of the greatest Rabbonim, with a short description of each, starting with the Rambam, Rabbi Moses Maimonides.
But wait! That’s not the Baal Shem-Tov!!! It is actually a copy of a portrait of Dr. Hayim Jacob Samuel de Falk, known as the Baal Shem of London. The portrait was painted by the famous British portrait painter J. S. Copley and was in the possession of the Goldsmid family of London.
Compare his painting with the image above. Obviously someone read the caption a little too quickly and assumed that this was the Baal Shem-Tov and not the Baal-Shem of London.
The Baal Shem of London, Hayim Samuel Jacob de Falk, was born in Eastern Europe of a Sephardi family, made his way to England and from about 1742 lived in London. Here he became known as a dabbler in magic and an expert in the practical Kabbalah, who achieved remarkable results owing to his knowledge pf the mystery of the Divine Name. There were many stories about his extraordinary powers. He could cause a small taper to remain alight for weeks, an incantation would fill his cellar with coal, plate left with a pawnbroker would glide back to his house. Although he arrived in London penniless, he was soon in possession of great wealth and lived in a prominent house in Wellclose Square. Here he was visited by nobles, aristocrats and princes, such as the Marquise de la Croix, who had been instrumental in saving many Jews from the clutches of the Inquisition, and the Duc d’Orleans. It was reported that on a certain occasion a fire threatened to destroy the Great Synagogue in London. He averted the disaster by writing four Hebrew letters on the doorposts.
He was friends with the Chief Rabbi of the time, David Tevele Schiff, and the Goldsmid brothers, who were prominent London financiers.
Dr Falk died in April 1792, and was buried in the Alderney Road cemetery in London. He remembered the Great Synagogue in his will. He left an annuity for the Rabbi, another to the Beth HaMidrash, and 100 pounds a year to the synagogue itself. Most importantly, the Great Synagogue received two exquisite miniature Torah scrolls, in solid silver cases of the finest contemporary London workmanship. You can see these today – they are on display in the Jewish Museum in Camden Town, London.
Here are more images from the Chofetz Chaim booklet:
The Rav below, Rabbi Meir Dan Plotzky, visited London and New York in 1922 with a group of Eastern European Rabbonim from the Aguda on a fundraising mission. You can read more about this by clicking here.