Horowitz Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Horowitz Surname Meaning

The Horowitz family has been one of the most illustrious rabbinic families in Jewish history.

A family tree has traced Horowitz origins back to the 12th century. The Sephardic surname of this family was BenVeniste. This later changed to Horowitz after their expulsion from Spain and their subsequent immigration in the 16th century into the small town of Horovice near Prague in the then German province of Bohemia. From that time forward rabbis of this family were to be found in Jewish communities in Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire.

There have been numerous spelling variations of this surname. The three most to be found in America have been Horowitz, Horwitz, and Hurwitz.

Horowitz Surname Resources on The Internet

Horowitz Surname Ancestry

  • from Jewish emigrants
  • to America and England

The patriarch of the Horowitz family line is considered to be Aaron Meshullam Horowitz, founder of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, who lived in Horovice and Prague in the early 16th century. He had eight sons who began to spread this rabbinical family more widely in the Jewish diaspora in Europe and also into Palestine.

There is one Rabbinic Horowitz line that is not related on the male side. This is the extensive family of Rabbi Naftali Zyi Horowitz, founder of the Ropshitz Hasidic dynasty in Poland in the early 1800’s. His mother was a Horowitz by birth and he adopted her maiden name.

Horowitzes started arriving in America in the late 19th century.

America. The breakdown of Horowtizes in America by point of origin was approximately:

  • 44% from the Russian Empire
  • 44% from Austria-Hungary
  • and 12% from Germany.

The rabbinical streak was brought to America by Rabbi Pinchos D. Horowitz, the seventh generation descendant of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Horowitz the Nikolsburger Rebbe. He had come to Boston in 1915 during the turmoil of the First World War and had been asked to be their Jewish Hasidic leader. He was succeeded as the Bostoner Rebbe by his sons Rabbi Moshe Horowitz and Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz and by his grandson Rabbi Naftali Yehudah Horowitz.

It was in 1928 that Vladimir Horowitz from Kiev in Russia first came to America to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York. He settled in the US in 1939 and became an American citizen in 1944. He is widely considered as one of the greatest pianists of all time.

There were earlier Horowitz arrivals. Jacob Horowitz arrived on the Lower East Side of New York with his family from Hungary in 1883. He started making Passover matzohs for the local Jewish population. His descendants, the Horowitz-Margareten family, became well known for their matzohs and other Passover products.

The Horwitz spelling also occurs, notably in the Chicago area. Jacob Horwitz (originally Gurvitz) came to Chicago as a young man in 1906. In 1924 he started a company of personal injury trial lawyers which continues today with the third generation of Horwitzes. Meanwhile Reuben Horwitz (originally Gurwitch) made the journey from Latvia to Chicago in 1907.

Some Horowitzes arrived in America and changed their name to something more anglophonic like Howard.

“Moe Howard, the professional name for Moses Horwitz, was the leader of the farce comedy team The Three Stooges that first toured the vaudeville circuit and then starred in films and TV.”  

Then there were one or two that adopted the Horowitz name. Louis Tomchin came to New York from Minsk in Russia in 1903 with his young son who became known as Sol Horowitz. Sol’s son Michael Horowitz was in the 1960’s a close associate of the psychedelic drug promoter Timothy Leary and is the father of the actress Winona Ryder.

England.  Some Horowitzes made it to London in the early 1900’s.  Notable descendants have been Judge Michael Horowitz QC and Mark Horowitz, a London solicitor who was a political fixer for Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the 1970’s.  His son is the novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz.

Horowitz Surname Miscellany

Aaron Meschullam Horowitz and His Descendants.  Aaron Meshullam built the famous Pinkas Schul synagogue in Prague, so called as it was in the name of his brother Pinchas who was there to complete its construction.  Its beginnings were a prayer room in the Horowitz family house, first mentioned in writings in 1492, and this was later enlarged into a family-community synagogue.

Aaron Meshullam’s grandson R. Pinkhas ben Israel and his nephew R. Avraham ben Shabtail both moved to Poland and marked the beginning of the family’s expansion outside Prague.  Within a few decades the name Horowitz became widespread all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The members of the family became rabbis in Prague, Cracow, Vienna, Hamburg, and Nikolsburg.

The most famous of them in the 16th and 17th centuries were R. Yishayahu ben Avraham Ha-Levi, known as Shelah Ha-Kadosh (the Holy Shelah), and his son Shabtai Sheftel. 

Jacob Horowitz and the Start of the Matzoh Bakery.  In 1883 Jacob Horowitz and his family packed their belongings, traveled to Hamburg from their native Hungary and boarded a ship for America. In the small village of Doragma, the Horowitzes had been farmers. Their son- in-law, whose father was a rabbi in the nearby village of Erlau, was a Talmudic scholar.

The family, as was typical of many immigrants from Eastern Europe, settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Jacob Horowitz opened a tiny grocery store at 94 Willett Street.  However, he quickly recognized the opportunity to make Passover matzoh for the neighborhood’s rapidly increasing Jewish population. No matzoh was baked commercially at that time.  Families or synagogue congregations usually got together to make their own.

Jacob Horowitz arranged for the use of a bakery on Orchard Street by agreeing to purchase flour from the bakery owner.  He put most of his family to work making matzoh.  Sadly he died before he could observe his first Passover in New York.

It was his sons plus his daughter Regina (who had married Ignatz Margareten) who carried on the Matzoh bakery.  This family became known as the Horowitz-Margareten family.

The Horwitz Family – from Latvia to Chicago.  The family spelling was originally Gurvitch but became Horwitz somewhere along the way to America. Reuben Horwitz grew up with twelve siblings in the Rezekne township in Latvia.

“This story was a well-known one in the Horwitz family.  The twins, Bessie and Florence, had gone down to the river to watch the women do the laundry. There was a crowd around and Florence was knocked into the river. Bessie called for help and Florence was saved. But they made Bessie take her dry clothing off for Florence. Bessie was cold and naked. They were both about 10 years old. The year would have been about 1906, one year before they came to America.”

Six of the siblings came to America and settled in the Chicago area.  Reuben came in 1907 via London and Montreal.  He in fact met his wife Paulina in London and married her in Montreal.

Florence and her twin sister Bessie were the youngest of the Horwitz children and the last to leave. They arrived in Chicago around 1909, aged around 13 years. They were accompanied on their journey by their older siblings Ida and Morris.  Apparently on arrival in New York the girls worked in a glove factory sweatshop on the Lower East Side so that they could accumulate money to complete the trip to Chicago.

Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall.  Vladimir Horowitz gave his United States debut on January 12, 1928, in Carnegie Hall in New York, playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Horowitz’s success with the audience was phenomenal.  Olin Downes, writing for the New York Times, credited the pianist with both a beautiful singing tone in the second movement and a tremendous technique in the finale, referring to Horowitz’s playing as a “tornado unleashed from the steppes.”

In this debut performance, Horowitz demonstrated a marked ability to excite his audience, an ability he maintained for his entire career. As Downes commented: “It has been years since a pianist created such a furor with an audience in this city.”Downes went on to characterize the pianist’s playing as showing “most if not all the traits of a great interpreter.”

In 1933 he played for the first time with the conductor Arturo Toscanini in a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 Emperor. Horowitz and Toscanini went on to perform together many times, on stage and in recordings.

Naftali Y. Horowitz the Bostoner Rebbe.  Naftali Yehudah Horowitz is the third and youngest son of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz and succeeded him as Bostoner Rebbe in 2009.  He is a ninth-generation descendant in the male line of Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Horowitz, the 18th century Nikolsburger Rebbe.

His eldest brother, Rabbi Pinchos Dovid Horowitz, is the Bostoner-Cluster Ray of Borough Park, Brooklyn and his other brother Rabbi Mayer Alter Horowitz is the Bostoner Rebbe of Har Nof, Jerusalem.  His sister Shayna Gittel is married to the Vialopola Rebbe of Flatbush, Brooklyn and his sister Toba Leah is married to Dayan Rabbi Moshe Chaim Geldzheler of Jerusalem.

The Strange Life and Death of Mark Horowitz.  The year was 1976 and Mark Horowitz’s family in their affluent Harrow home in north London got the call from the hospital that Mark had died after a lengthy illness from colon cancer.  The family thought they were rich.  However, his millions had all been squirrelled away into Swiss bank accounts under assumed names and the money was never recovered.

His son Anthony, then aged twenty-one, recalled:

“He went to the bank in Switzerland, put all his money in a suitcase, walked to another bank and put it there. Then he died without saying which bank it was or the name of the account.  His poor wife found a leather notebook with a list of codenames. But it didn’t help her locate the money.  In the meantime other banks were chasing her for debts running into millions of pounds. She was ’wiped out.’ We went from being very rich, with a Rolls-Royce and chauffeur and servants, to being very poor.”

Where did the money go?  Anthony thinks that one of the shady, white-collar criminals with whom his father consorted managed to steal the entire amount.  Mark, a London solicitor who was known as a “secret fixer” for Harold Wilson, did mix with some dubious characters.  One such character was Eric Miller, a wealthy property developer who contributed large sums to the running of Wilson’s private office.  He committed suicide in 1977 while under investigation for fraud.

Anthony, who went on to be a successful novelist and screenwriter, does not remember his father Mark very fondly.  Cold and distant, Mark would govern their home in a Victorian and somewhat ruthless fashion whenever he was there.

Horowitz Names

  • Jacob Horowitz founded the Matzoh bakery on the Lower East Side of New York in 1884. 
  • Rabbi Pinchos D. Horowitz began the family line of Bostoner Rebbe on his arrival in Boston in 1915. 
  • Vladimir Horowitz who first came to America in 1928 is widely considered as one of the greatest pianists of all time. 
  • David Horowitz grew up in New York in the 1950’s in left wing radical circles and subsequently became one of their fiercest critics.
  • Anthony Horowitz is the British author of the best-selling Alex Rider spy novels.

Horowitz Numbers Today

  • 200 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in New York)

Horowitz and Like Jewish Surnames

The Jews were banned from England in 1290 and did not return there until the 1650’s, sometimes in the form of Portuguese traders.  They were to make their mark as merchants and financers in London and many families prospered.  There was another larger Jewish influx in the late 1800’s.

In America the early settlement of Sephardic Jews was in Charleston, South Carolina.  In the 19th century Ashkenazi Jews started to arrive from Germany.  Later came a larger immigration from a wider Jewish diaspora.  Between 1880 and 1910 it is estimated that around two million Yiddish-speaking Jews, escaping discrimination and pogroms, arrived from the Russian empire and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Some Jewish surnames reflect ancient Biblical names, such as Cohen and Levy.  Some have come from early place-names where Jews resided, such as Dreyfus (from Trier), Halpern (from Heilbronn) and Shapiro (from Speyer).  Many more surnames came about when Ashkenazi Jews were compelled by Governments to adopt them in the early 1800’s.  The names chosen at that time were often ornamental ones – Bernstein or Goldberg or Rosenthal for example.  Then the name could change on arrival in America at Ellis Island.  And finally anti-Semitism perceived could cause further changes to conceal Jewishness.

Here are the stories of some of the Jewish surnames that you can check out here.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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