Yehuda Loew — The Maharal

(1525-1609)


Yehudah Loew of Prague, also known as the Maharal, was one of the outstanding Jewish minds of the sixteenth century. He wrote numerous books on Jewish law, philosophy, and morality, and developed an entirely new approach to the aggada of the Talmud. The Maharal rejected the idea that boys should begin instruction at an early age, insisting instead that children be taught in accordance with their intellectual maturity.

He was held in great esteem by his contemporaries and has had a profound impact on all streams of Judaism. Rabbi 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 Chasidut, on the other hand." Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, and a direct descendant of the Maharal, bases much of his famous work - the Tanya - on the teachings of his great grandfather.

Ironically, he is credited with the creation of a golem, an activity he would probably have opposed. A golem is a human figure created from clay and brought to life by use of the Ineffable Name of God. Since the letters of that name were considered to be the original source of life, it is thought possible for one knowledgeable in the secrets of the Divine Power to use them to create life.

Discussions of golems go back to the Talmud. Rava is said to have created such a man. In the sixteenth century numerous golems were said to have been created, but in each case their power increased and threatened human life, so they were destroyed by their makers.

Yehudah Loew of Prague was said to have created a golem to protect the Jewish community from Blood Accusations. It was close to Easter, and a Jew-hating priest was trying to incite the Christians against the Jews. The golem protected the community from hard during the Easter season. However, the creature threatened innocent lives, so Yehudah Loew removed the Divine Name, thus rendering the golem lifeless.

Today someone who is large but intellectually slow is sometimes called a golem. Pete Hamill has written a book called Snow in August about a golem created in the late 1940's in Brooklyn.

The Maharal was very active in community work. He did much to improve social ethics. He was a far-seeing educator whose many ideas for educational reform struck deep chords in many people.

His resting place in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague is still visited today by thousands of people.


Source: Gates to Jewish Heritage; Jewish Prague; OU.org