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The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague

The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague

Yudl Rosenberg
Translated from the Hebrew and Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by Curt Leviant
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague
    Book Description:

    This collection of interrelated stories about a sixteenth-century Prague rabbi and the golem he created became an immediate bestseller upon its publication in 1909. So widely popular and influential was Yudl Rosenberg's book, it is no exaggeration to claim that the author transformed the centuries-old understanding of the creature of clay and single-handedly created the myth of the golem as protector of the Jewish people during times of persecution.

    In addition to translating Rosenberg's classic golem story into English for the first time, Curt Leviant also offers an introduction in which he sets Rosenberg's writing in historical context and discusses the golem legend before and after Rosenberg's contributions. Generous annotations are provided for the curious reader.The book is full of adventures, surprises, romance, suspense, mysticism, Jewish pride, and storytelling at its best. The Chief Rabbi of Prague, known as the Maharal, brings the golem Yossele to life to help the Jews fight false accusations of ritual murder-the infamous blood libel. More human, more capable, and more reliable as a protector than any golem imagined before, Rosenberg's Golem irrevocably changed one of the most widely influential icons of Jewish folklore.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13472-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxxiv)
    Curt Leviant

    The wordgolemis an ancient one, probably more than three thousand years old. It makes its first—and only—appearance in the Bible, in a slightly different form in Psalm 139, verse 16: “Your eyes have seen my unformed limbs [or embryo,golmi].” Hundreds of years later the word as we know it,golem,is used in the Talmud, where it means “unshaped matter” or “unfinished creation,” and, in one case, in Ethics of the Fathers 5:9, the opposite of a wise man—a boor, a simpleton, which anticipates the much later evocative Yiddish expression “leymener geylem” (literally, a...

  5. [Illustration]
    (pp. 1-2)
    (pp. 3-4)
    Yudl Rosenberg
  7. 1 Publisher’s Preface
    (pp. 5-7)
  8. 2 Bill of Sale
    (pp. 8-9)

    I HEREWITH INFORM THE GENERAL public that it is forbidden to reprint this book without my permission, for I purchased it at full value and I own it in perpetuity. Therefore, I am displaying the bill of sale for this book for everyone to see:

    Praised be God

    My signature below is testimony, as efficacious as one hundred valid witnesses, that I, the undersigned, Chaim Scharfstein of the holy community of Metz, have sold to my kinsman, the illustrious rabbi and scholar, our master Rabbi Yehuda Yudl Rosenberg, rabbinic judge and spiritual leader of the holy community of Warsaw, the...

  9. 3 The History of the Great Gaon, the Holy, Supernal Maharal of Prague, May the Memory of that Righteous, Saintly Man Be a Blessing for Life in the World to Come
    (pp. 10-12)

    THE HOLY MAHARAL WAS BORN in Worms in the year 5273 (1513) during the first Seder of Passover. His saintly father, Bezalel, of blessed memory, was an extremely righteous man. With his very birth the Maharal brought salvation and deliverance to the world. The Jews were then suffering from unrelenting persecution by the Christian nations, who claimed that the Jews needed Christian blood for their Passover matzas. Hardly a Passover festival occurred in the lands of Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, and Spain without a dead Christian boy being thrown into a hidden corner of a rich Jew’s property in order to...

  10. 4 The Maharal’s Battle Against the Blood Libel
    (pp. 13-14)

    IN THE YEAR 1572, THE MAHARAL was invited from Posen, where he had been the rabbi, to become Chief Rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of the holy community of Prague. He had already achieved world fame on account of his great wisdom in all branches of knowledge and in all the languages. And because of this he was beloved and admired by the learned gentiles.

    The Biblical verse “A man who excels at his work shall attend upon kings” described him, for he was also esteemed and respected by King Rudolf. Therefore, it was within his power to...

  11. 5 The Maharal’s Suggestion to Have a Disputation with the Priests
    (pp. 15-16)

    AFTER THIS, THE MAHARAL WROTE a letter to the cardinal of Prague, Jan Salvester, requesting an invitation for a debate concerning the blood libel. He declared he was prepared to offer incontrovertible proof that this was fundamentally untrue and that it was just a despicable false accusation.

    The cardinal responded that he agreed and was prepared to participate. A few days later, the cardinal summoned three hundred learned priests to the disputation. When the Maharal learned of this, he sent a message to the cardinal. Debating face to face with three hundred priests, he wrote, was beyond his strength. Rather,...

  12. 6 The Disputation
    (pp. 17-30)

    MANY QUESTIONS AND CLAIMS were raised during this disputation pertaining to Judaism and Christianity, and it was all recorded—from beginning to end—in a voluminous book of history.

    Above all, the disputation reached a pitch of excitement regarding the following five questions:

    1. Is it true that Jews are required to use the blood of Christians for the Passover holiday?

    2. Should Jews be blamed for the murder of Jesus of Nazareth?

    3. Since Jews consider Christianity as idol worship, are they obliged, according to the tenets of Judaism, to hate Christians?

    4. Why do Jews hate and display...

  13. 7 “A Man Who Excels at His Work Shall Attend upon Kings.” This Is the Maharal
    (pp. 31-33)

    ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE MONTH of Shevat, King Rudolf sent a canopied carriage to the Maharal, accompanied by two high-ranking ministers, who gave him an entry pass into the king’s palace. The Maharal rode with them to the king’s citadel where he was given a royal welcome. The king spent an entire hour conversing with him, but the Maharal did not reveal what they had discussed. Afterward the Maharal was sent back home with equally great honor. He returned from his visit to the king happy and of good cheer.

    “As for now,” the Maharal declared, “I was...

  14. 8 How the Maharal Created the Golem
    (pp. 34-38)

    THE MAHARAL ASKED A QUESTION during a dream, inquiring what power would enable him to fight his adversary, the priest. The answer came from heaven: “You will create a golem made of clayey loam and order him to destroy the evil tormentors of Jews.”

    The Maharal’s reaction to this was that these words contain combinations of names through whose power one can always create a living golem from clay. He then secretly summoned me, his son-in-law Yitzchok ben Shimshon Ha-Cohen, and his illustrious student, Yaakov ben Chaim Sasson Halevi, and showed us the heavenly response he had received after his...

  15. 9 How Yossele the Golem Carried Water for Passover
    (pp. 39-40)

    BUT PERELE, THE MAHARAL’S WIFE, peace upon her, could not resist making use of Yossele the golem a day before Passover Eve to help her with holiday preparations. Unbeknownst to the Maharal, she motioned to the golem to fetch water and fill up the two large barrels that stood in a special room that had already been cleaned and made ready for Passover and into which no one entered prior to the holiday. Yossele quickly seized the yoke and the two buckets and dashed off to the well to bring water. But no one was around to notice what he...

  16. 10 How Yossele the Golem Caught Fish for Rosh Hashana
    (pp. 41-43)

    THE MAHARAL HIMSELF ONCE made the same mistake his wife, the rebbetsin, had made in using the golem to bring water for Passover. The rabbi used him to catch fish for Rosh Hashana, an incident that also ended in laughter.

    Several years later, because of a great storm and freezing weather, there was a lack of fish in Prague for Rosh Hashana. The morning of the eve of the festival had already arrived and there was not a fish to be had in the city. This caused the Maharal such great distress he gave himself dispensation to use the golem...

  17. 11 For What Purposes the Maharal Used the Golem
    (pp. 44-45)

    THE MAHARAL USED THE GOLEM only to save Jews from distress, and through him he performed many wondrous and miraculous deeds. Most of all, Rabbi Loew used the golem to fight against the blood libel, which was quite widespread during his time, and from which false accusation the residents of Prague and its environs suffered a great many calamities. Whenever the Maharal had to send the golem to a place of great danger, where it was not safe for him to be seen by anyone, he placed an amulet written on deerskin upon the golem, which made him invisible.


  18. 12 The Maharal’s First Miracle with the Golem
    (pp. 46-49)

    IN PRAGUE LIVED A VERY WEALTHY communal leader, known as the “primus,” named Reb Mordechai Meisl, to whom a gentile butcher owed five thousand kroner. Reb Mordechai, a moneylender by profession, emphatically demanded a repayment of the loan. But since this butcher either did not want to repay his debt or was unable to, he came up with a wily stratagem: he would accuse Reb Mordechai of blood libel, for which the latter would be imprisoned, whereupon the butcher would cease being hounded to pay his debt.

    In the city outskirts, a slaughterhouse used by both Christians and Jews stood...

  19. 13 The Astonishing Tale of the Healer’s Daughter
    (pp. 50-66)

    IN PRAGUE THERE WAS A JEWISH healer named Mauritzi who, although estranged from Judaism, was still considered a Jew. He had a fifteen-year-old daughter who strayed from the straight and narrow path and was lured to convert out of her faith and become Christian.

    One night, during the Intermediary Days of Passover, she ran away from her father’s house to the infamous priest Thaddeus, who had a reputation as a virulent anti-Semite. He ceaselessly planned stratagems to spread a net at the feet of Jewish girls who would then fall into his trap and convert.

    This incident was connected to...

  20. 14 The Wondrous and Famous Story Known as “The Daughter’s Misfortune”
    (pp. 67-94)

    IN PRAGUE LIVED AN IMMENSELY wealthy and honored wine merchant named Reb Mikhli Berger. Only in his cellar were the choicest wines available and only from him did all the priests and army officers purchase their wine. This merchant had a beautiful and intelligent sixteen-year-old only daughter who managed the wine shop and supervised the sale of wine, for she was fluent in several languages and could deal with all kinds of people.

    Even the priest Thaddeus, infamous as a vicious anti-Semite, always bought his wine there. But he cast his evil eye on this only daughter, who always sat...

  21. 15 A Very Amazing Tale About a Blood Libel by the Priest Thaddeus Which Caused His Final Downfall and His Banishment from Prague
    (pp. 95-112)

    THIS AMAZING INCIDENT TOOK place in the year 5345 (1585 ). In Prague, opposite the Great Synagogue stood a very old and tall building that looked like a king’s palace from bygone days. It was known as the Five-Sided Palace because of its pentagonal shape. Each of its five walls faced a different street and each wall had five tall, thick pillars made of hewn stones. Five large, wide windows were set between the pillars, and on the roof stood five tall towers which had carved images, indicating that this palace was built when people still worshiped the sun. And...

  22. 16 The Marvelous Story of the Wonder of Wonders that the Maharal Revealed to the Two Berls Whose Two Children Were Switched by a Midwife
    (pp. 113-126)

    IN PRAGUE THERE WAS a children’s teacher called “Big Yekl” who engaged two orphan lads from Romania to work as assistants in his school. Both were named Berl; one, with a swarthy face, was called “Black Berl,” and the other, ruddyfaced, was called “Red Berl.” The two Berls were very fond of each other and cooperated in every aspect of their lives, even sharing all their food. They found favor both in the eyes of the teacher and the townfolk, for they did their work faithfully and honestly. That is why they managed to save up some money for a...

  23. 17 The Astounding Story of the Torah That Fell to the Floor on Yom Kippur
    (pp. 127-129)

    IN PRAGUE, IN 1587, A SAD incident occurred on Yom Kippur after the Mincha Torah reading in the Great Synagogue, where the Maharal prayed. One of the congregants, who was honored with the mitzva of lifting up the Torah, let it slip from his hands and the Torah fell to the floor. This sorely grieved and depressed the Maharal.

    First, he ordained that everyone who had witnessed the Torah falling was to fast on the day prior to the Eve of Sukkos. However, the Maharal understood that his moral obligation would not be fulfilled with such fasting, for the Rock...

  24. 18 The Attack on Yossele the Golem
    (pp. 130-137)

    DURING THE MAHARAL’S TENURE as Chief Rabbi of Prague, whenever Jews quarreled they had the despicable custom—habitual with them—of insulting and denigrating one another with the epithet “nadler.” This term was uglier and far worse than “bastard,” for “nadler” suggested that pure Jewish blood did not flow in that person’s veins. This insult had taken root among them during the Expulsion from Spain and Italy, when many Jews were forced to apostatize and pass into the gentile community. After the decree of Expulsion was annulled these Jews returned to their faith in other lands.

    Many of these Conversos...

  25. 19 An Awesome Tale About the Ruin near Prague
    (pp. 138-142)

    NEAR PRAGUE, CLOSE TO THE ROAD that leads into the city, stood an old ruin. In former times this building had been a gunpowder factory. On account of its location near the road, the authorities had to be careful of passersby. Moreover, because it was old and full of cracks and breaches, the government did not want to repair the building. Instead, they moved the factory further away from the city, to a building between the army barracks and the king’s castle.

    Owing to this neglect, the building became more and more dilapidated and it remained a ruin for a...

  26. 20 A Wondrous Tale About Duke Bartholomew
    (pp. 143-155)

    A VERY WEALTHY DUKE ONCE LIVED in a big beautiful village several kilometers east of Prague. He owned ten villages and many fields and forests. The duke’s village had a spacious park where one could meditate and in whose midst stood a small palace with a high tower topped with a short spire. Surrounding the palace was a thick wall and a deep, magnificent moat over which, at one point, hung an iron drawbridge suspended by thick chains. This palace was absolutely empty. Nothing was in it. But in the middle of it two long marble headstones lay side by...

  27. 21 The Last Blood Libel in Prague During the Maharal’s Lifetime
    (pp. 156-181)

    THREE YEARS PASSED IN PEACE and, thanks to the Maharal, neither Prague nor the rest of the country experienced any blood libel tragedy—for the enemies of Israel trembled with fear upon hearing of the wondrous deeds of the Maharal who, by virtue of his great wisdom, was able to uncover all mysteries.

    Nevertheless, in 1589 another terrible blood libel took place in Prague. Here is what happened:

    A very rich man of a good family named Reb Aharon Gins lived in Prague. He was both learned and prosperous. In him Torah learning and eminence were combined. He had three...

  28. 22 How the Maharal Brought About the End of the Golem
    (pp. 182-186)

    AFTER THE PROMULGATION OF King Rudolf’s new law abolishing blood libel trials in his domain, the Maharal noticed a period of calm. Another Passover holiday had come and gone, and nowhere in all the king’s realm was there a hint of the blood libel misfortune. Then the Maharal summoned me, his son-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchok Katz, and his student and assistant in the rabbinic courtroom, Rabbi Yaakov Sasson Halevi, who with me had participated in the creation of the golem. “From this day on,” the Maharal told us, “there is no longer any need for the golem, since blood libel trials...

  29. 23 The Maharal’s Remarks Concerning the Golem
    (pp. 187-195)

    MY SAINTLY TEACHER AND father-in-law, the Maharal, of blessed memory, said:

    1. According to the law, the golem is not obliged to perform any of the mitzvas, even those incumbent upon a woman and a slave. But for the sake of appearances the Maharal ordered the golem to obey several mitzvas for everyone to see.

    2. The golem did not even have the slightest hint of either the good or the evil impulse. Everything he did stemmed from his great dread that he would immediately cease to exist. All his actions were like those of an automaton.

    3. Performing tasks...

  30. 24 A Miraculous Event Pertaining to the Maharal’s Engagement
    (pp. 196-198)

    THE GREATLY HONORED, WEALTHY, and renowned Reb Shmelke Reich from the holy community of Worms took the Maharal as a husband-to-be for his daughter, Perele, when he was fifteen years old. He sent him to Przemysl to study in the yeshiva of the gaon Maharshal, of blessed memory.

    Meanwhile, however, the father-in-law, Reb Shmelke, had become impoverished.

    When the Maharal was eighteen, his father-in-law-to-be wrote to him: “Because a young man of eighteen is a candidate for marriage, and because I am unable to offer you a dowry, I don’t want to bind you to honor your engagement contract. Therefore,...

  31. NOTES
    (pp. 199-220)
  32. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-222)