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Introduction

WithMEIR SEIDLER

Rabbi Yehuda ben Betsalel Liva of Prague (1520?–1609)2 was one of the most outstanding Rabbis of the sixteenth century, the formative age of European Renaissance. Among traditional Jews he is known as the Maharal of Prague;3

the general non-Jewish public refers to him as Rabbi Loew of Prague. The omnipresent attribute ‘of Prague’ is somewhat misleading as Maharal was most presumably a native of Poznan in Poland and held rabbinical offices of considerable length (longer than in Prague) in different towns and regions in Poland, Moravia and Bohemia. However, his name is firmly associated with Prague, as he was again and again attracted to this city, which in his days became the capital of the Habsburg Empire. There he founded a Yeshiva (Torah academy) and, finally, towards the end of his life, served as chief rabbi and head of the rabbinical court. Maharal’s exceptional standing as a communal leader in his generation, as

an eminent scholar of his age and as a herald of a new spiritual awakening within the Jewish people who exerted a decisive influence on the coming generations (especially on Hassidism) is undisputed. However, Maharal’s reputation goes beyond the inner-Jewish circles. As the

High Rabbi Loew of Prague he features in the local Prague folktales and serves thus as a quite exceptional example of a Jewish sage who penetrated into the cultural heritage of his host nation.4 The literature of the Czech national revival, following some Jewish sources (albeit only of rather late origin5), celebrates him as a cultural hero: the mysterious creator of the Golem, an artificial quasi-human being, a proto-robot who influenced Western thought and literature as well as modern science fiction.6