The Maharal of Prague zt”l, On His 401st Yahrtzeit, Tomorrow, 18 Elul


maharalTomorrow is the 401st yahrtzeit of Rav Yehuda Lowy zt”l, the Maharal of Prague. The Maharal lived from 1525 to 1609.

Born in Posen, Poland, on the night of the Pesach Seder, to a distinguished family of rabbonim that traced its ancestry to Dovid Hamelech, the Maharal was the youngest of four brothers. The Maharal married at the age of 32. He and his wife  had six daughters and one son, who was named after the Maharal‘s father, Rav Betzalel. 

In 1553, the Maharal was elected rov 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 rov in Posen, returning to Prague in 1598 to serve as its chief rabbi.

The Maharal castigated the educational methods of his day in which 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 talmidim was Rav 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 and was friendly with some of the contemporary eminent scientists.

In Prague, the Maharal established the great yeshiva known as the ‘Klaus.’ (The ancient building of the Klaus burned down about eighty years after his passing and was subsequently rebuilt and named the Klaus Shul.) The Maharal won the admiration of his great contemporaries, including the Maharshal and the Maharam of Lublin.

The Maharal, interestingly, as mentioned, also became famous among non-Jews for his great knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences. He was a friend of the astronomer Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. These in turn introduced him to Emperor Rudolph II. According to many stories, the emperor paid him frequent visits during the night, to discuss with him both politics and science, and the Maharal made use of these excellent connections to the advantage of his community whenever it was threatened by attacks or oppression.

The Maharal wrote many works on Torah. He was a prolific writer, and his works include Tiferes Yisroel on the greatness of Torah and mitzvos; Nesivos Olam on ethics; Be’er Hagolah, a commentary on rabbinic sayings; Netzach Yisroel, on exile and redemption; Or Chadash, on Megillas Esther; Ner Mitzvah on Chanukah; Gevuros Hashem on Yetzias Mitzrayim; and many others.  One of the most important of his writings is Gur Aryeh on Rashi on Chumash.

The Maharal was credited with performing nissim. The most famous story is that of the Golem which he created out of clay and which he brought to life by the use of the sheim Hashem. The Maharal averted many calamities and blood-libels through the Golem. When the Golem had performed his mission, the Maharal laid it away in the attic of the Prague Shul.

The Maharal’s kever at Prague’s Jewish cemetery is visited by thousands every year.

Few among the great people of Jewish history have been the subject of so many popular legends as the Maharal. The Maharal is the man who during one of the trying periods of Jewish history did so much for his Jewish brethren, was their spiritual leader and their spokesman, and who in his writings has left a wealth of deep Jewish thought and moral teachings. When remembering the Golem, Torah Yidden do not think of the creator of the Golem, but rather of the light he brought to Yidden and of the source of inspiration and faith contained in his writings.

{Noam Newscenter}


    Chai Elul, is celebrated as the birthday of the “two great luminaries” — Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

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