Rav Yehuda Loew, the Maharal (1525-1609). Born in Posen, Poland, on the night of the Pesach Seder, to a distinguished family of rabbis that traced its ancestry to King Dovid. He was the youngest of four brothers. The Maharal married at the age of 32 to Pearl. He had six girls and one boy who was named after the Maharal’s father, Betzalel. In 1553 he was elected rabbi of Nikolsburg and the Province of Moravia, where he remained for the following 20 years. In 1573 he moved to Prague, where he opened a yeshiva. In 1592 the Maharal accepted the position of rabbi in Posen, returning to Prague in 1598 to serve as its chief rabbi. The Maharal castigated the educational methods of his day where boys were taught at a very young age and insisted that children must be taught in accordance with their intellectual maturity. One of his leading disciples was R. Yom Tov Heller, author of the classic mishnaic commentary, Tosafos Yom Tov, who, in his introduction informs us that the Maharal greatly encouraged group study of the Mishna. At the same time, he was fully conversant with the scientific knowledge of his time as well as friendly with some of the contemporary eminent scientists. His disciple, Dovid Ganz, worked in the observatory of Tycho Brahe, the distinguished astronomer. He was a prolific writer, and his works include: Tiferes Yisrael on the greatness of Torah and mitzvos; Nesivos Olam, on ethics; Be’er Hagolah, a commentary on rabbinic sayings; Netzach Yisrael, on exile and redemption; Or Chadash, on the book of Esther; Ner Mitzvah, on Chanukah; Gevuros Hashem, on the Exodus; and many others. Rav Kook stated that the “Maharal was the father of the approach of the Gaon of Vilna on the one hand, and of the father of Chasidus, on the other hand.” He has been described as a Kabbalist who wrote in philosophic garb.
Rav Abdala Somech, rebbe of Ben Ish Chai and head of Iraqi Jewry (1813-1889). Born in Baghdad, he traced his lineage back to Rav Nissim Gaon, head of the yeshivah of Neharda’ah.
Rav Ze’ev Nachum Bornstein, author of Agudas Eizov, Rav of Elkush and Biala, father of Rav Avraham Borenstein of Sochachov, the Avnei Nezer (1885).
Today in History – 18 Elul
· Shimon HaChashmona’i was elected Kohen Gadol and governor of the Jews, 141 BCE., marking the end of the struggle for independence and the beginning of the Chashmonaim dynasty (which lasted for 206 years).
· Birthday of Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, 1698.
· The Baal Shem Tov revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 1734.
· Birthday of R. Shneur Zalman ben Baruch,the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, 1745
· Israelagreed to accept reparation money from West Germany, 1952.