Falk, Samuel Jacob Chaim

(c. 1710–82)
   London Cabbalist and alchemist. Falk was born in Galicia. An enthusiastic practitioner of the magic arts, he was said to have been condemned as a sorcerer in Westphalia, and was in fact banished from Cologne. Arriving in England in 1742, he remained in London for the rest of his life.
   He soon gained notoriety for the extraordinary results he claimed to achieve through use of the secret names of God. It was for this he was called the Baal Shem, ‘master of the Name’; to gentiles he was known as Dr Falcon. He lived in Wellclose Square, near the Royal Mint, and conducted experiments on Tower Bridge. Many of his exploits were recorded in the Yiddishized Hebrew and barely literate diary kept by his personal assistant, Zevi Hirsch KALISH. Falk’s fame as a wonder-worker attracted the international adventurer Theodore Stephen de Stein, who claimed to be king of Corsica. He met Falk in 1749 and together they conducted alchemical experiments in Epping Forest.
   Falk prospered, although the reason for his wealth is not known; it is believed that much of his money came from a winning lottery ticket. He was strongly disapproved of by the official Jewish community in London. However, the breach was healed in his old age and he spent the last years of his life in the company of respectable bankers and scholars. On his death he left large sums to charity and a bequest of an annual sum for the upkeep of the chief rabbinate in London.
   A portrait of the Baal Shem of London, painted by John Copley, an American artist, was later erroneously reproduced as the portrait of the great founder of Chassidism, ISRAEL BENELIEZER BAAL SHEM TOV. Because of this, on the walls of very Orthodox Jewish families, pride of place is sometimes given to the picture of Falk, the charlatan.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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