The Maharal of Prague in English – Judah Loew ben Bezalel
The Maharal of Prague in English, or Judah Loew ben Bezalel, also called Loewe, Low, or Levai, was born either in the year 1512 or 1526, and died on the 17th of September 1609 and was popularly known by Judaism scholars as the “Maharal of Prague,” or just “The MaHaRaL”, which is the Hebrew abbreviation for “Moreinu Ha-Rav Loew,” which means “Our Teacher,” or “Rabbi Loew”. He was a well-known Talmudic scholar, a philosopher and a Jewish mystic, who for the major part of his life was a top Rabbi in cities like Prague, which is located in Bohemia, and Mikulov located in Moravia.
In the Torah as well as the Talmudic scholarship world, Leow is renowned for his works about Jewish mysticism, and philosophy, including Gur Aryeh al HaTorah, which is a super-commentary about Rashi’s Torah commentary. There is a 19th century myth about him, which opines that he was the creator of “The Golem of Prague,” which is a form of animate being created out of clay.
Rabbi Loew was laid to rest at the “Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague” which is located in Josefoy where you can still visit his grave and tombstone which are still intact. Braude, Lowy, Loewy, Loeb, Keim, Pfaelzer, Lowenstein, and Oppenheimer are his defendant’s names.
Biography of The Maharal of Prague
There’s a probability that the Maharal was born in the town of Poznan, Poland, although Perels mistakenly informed Rabbi Bezalel (Loew) who is an indigene of the Rhenish Worm town, that Worms, which is located in the Roman Empire, was his hometown. There is no consensus about his date of birth as some sources list it as 1512, while some think it is 1520, and others 1526. Jakob ben Chajim who was his uncle was Reichsrabbiner i.e. “Rabbi of the Roman Empire”, and Chaim of Friedberg, his brother was a well-known rabbinical scholar. Scholars have not being able to find any documentary evidence pointing to the fact that he undertook any form of religious education, bringing them to the conclusion that he was a remarkable autodidact.
His family was made up of his wife named Pearl, their six daughters including a son named Bezalel, who grew up to be a Rabbi in Kolin, but died in the early 1600s. Bezal was a man of great wealth, which can probably be attributed to his father’s hugely successful business enterprises. In 1553, he took up a rabbinical position to become the “Landesrabbiner” of Moravia which is located at Mikulov (Nikolsburg), supervising community activities. He was responsible for deciding the tracate of the Talmud to be studied in every community under that province. He was also responsible for revising the community laws on the process of election and taxation. Long after his retirement from Moravia at the age of 60 in the year 1588, he was still considered an authority by the communities.
When he was in Moravia, one of his major activities involved fighting against slanderous slurs against legitimacy (Nadler) spread across the communities against particular families and was even capable of destroying the chances of finding life partners for children from those families. Even his family was not immune to this phenomenon. He denounced the phenomenon using one out of the two annual grand sermons in 1583, between Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
In 1588 he relocated to Prague, where he once again accepted a position as a rabbi, serving as a replacement for Isaac Hayoth who was retired. He wasted no time in reiterating his opinion about Nadler. He received audience from Emperor Rudolf II on the 23rd of February 1592, which he attended in company of his brother Sinai and Isaac Cohen his son-in-law. Also in attendance was Prince Bertier. From all indications, it appears that the conversation was centered on Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah. The emperor found this subject very fascinating.
The Maharal relocated to Poznan in 1592, where he had won election to become Poland’s Chief Rabbi. It was in Poznan that he created the “Netivoth Olam” as well as some part of “Derech Chaim”.
In line with the tradition of the Jews, Maharal’s family is descended on their father’s side from the Exilarchs of Babylon (in the time of geonim), which means they also have roots with the Davidic dynasty.
He relocated to Prague at the twilight of his life, where he later died in the year 1609. He was laid to rest at the “Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague”.
“Low” and “Loew” are names derived from the German word Lowe, which means “lion”. It is a substitute name for the Hebrew name Judah or Yehuda, and this name which originally comes from the Judah tribe, is traditionally linked to a lion. In the Bible book of Genesis chapter 49, verse 9, Jacob refers to Judah his son as Gur Aryeh when he wanted to bless him, which means young lion. The Hebrew name as well as its substitute are also combined as one as part of the Jewish naming custom, as can be seen in this situation. Gur Aryeh al HaTorah a Hebrew name which means “Young Lion [commenting] upon the Torah” is what they call the classic work of the Maharal’s about the Rashi commentary on the Torah.
Bohemia’s Coat of Arms
The Maharal’s grave located in Prague is well-decorated using a herald shield combined with a lion and two tails that are intertwined known i.e. “queue fourchee”, with reference to both his first name as well as Bohemia, the arms with two a double-tailed lion.
The number of Talmudic rabbinical scholars taught by the Maharal in Moravia, is largely unknown, however, the major followers from the Prague era include Rabbis “David Ganz” and “Yom Tov Lipmann Heller”. The latter promoted his teacher’s Mishnah study program by the masses, he was also able to compose his “Tosefoth Yom Tov” which is a Mishnah commentary that was incorporated into practically every edition of the Mishnah that was published in the past 100 years with this idea in mind. Though David Ganz died at an early age, he was able to produce “Tzemach David” which is a work comprising of both Jewish and general history, he also wrote about astronomy. Both Gannz and the Maharal maintained contact with the well-known astronomer, Tycho Brahe.
“Schneur Zalman of Liadi” who was the founder of “Chabad Hasisiam,” was one of his numerous descendants. Through this lineage, he became the ancestor of quite a number of well-known Jews, including “Yehudi Menuhin”, who was a well-known violinist, and “Menachem Memdel Schneerson,” who was the seventh “Rebbe of Lubavitch”. Also, Maharal is the forefather of “Rebbe Nachman of Breslov”.
The tittles of his works on holidays were inspired I Chronicles chapter 29 verse 11, which goes thus “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, and the might, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and on the earth [is Yours]; Yours is the kingdom and [You are He] Who is exalted over everything as the Leader”. They did not preserve the book of “greatness” aka “gedula” which was about the Sabbath, but they preserved the book of “power” also known as gevurah, which is “Gevurath Hashem”, the book of “glory” also known as “Tifereth Yisreal”, as well as the book of “eternity” or “victory” also known as “netzach” which is “Netzach Yisrael”.
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