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- 22 August, 1609 (18 Elul, 5369): yertziet of Maharal of Prague
yertziet of Maharal of Prague
Ivri Date: 18 Elul, 5369
English Date: 22 August, 1609
Judah Loew ben Bezalel ("Judah Loewe son of Bezalel", also written as Yehudah ben Bezalel Levai [or Loewe, Löwe], 1525 – Thursday 7 September 1609 (Julian, 17th Gregorian) or 18 Elul 5369 according to the Hebrew calendar)  was an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher who served as a leading rabbi in Prague (now in the Czech Republic) for most of his life. He is buried at the Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague in Josefov, and his grave with its tombstone intact, can still be visited.
He is widely known to scholars of Judaism as the Maharal of Prague, or simply as the Maharal (מהר"ל - MaHaRaL is the Hebrew acronym of Moreinu ha-Rav Loew, "Our Teacher the Rabbi Loew"). His descendants' surnames include Loewy and Lowy.
Within the world of Torah and Talmudic scholarship, he is known for his works on Jewish philosophy and Jewish mysticism and his supercommentary on Rashi's Torah commentary known as Gur Aryeh al HaTorah.
The Maharal is particularly known for the story about the golem, a myth that first appears in print close to 200 years after his death. According to the myth he supposedly created using mystical magical powers based on the esoteric knowledge of how God created Adam, but there is no contemporary evidence that this is true.
The Maharal was probably born in Poznań (now in Poland, though Pereles lists the birth town (in error) as Worms, Germany) to Rabbi Bezalel (Loew), whose family originated from the German town of Worms. His birth year is uncertain, with different sources listing 1512, 1520 and 1526 His uncle Jacob was Reichsrabbiner ("Rabbi of the Empire") of the Holy Roman Empire, his brother Chaim of Friedberg a famous rabbinical scholar. Traditionally it is believed that the Maharal's family descended from the Babylonian Exilarchs (during the era of the geonim) and therefore also from the Davidic dynasty. He received his formal education in various yeshivas (Talmudical schools).
He was independently wealthy, probably as a result of his father's successful business enterprises. He accepted a rabbinical position in 1553 as Landesrabbiner of Moravia at Mikulov (Nikolsburg), directing community affairs but also determining which tractate of the Talmud was to be studied in the communities in that province. He also revised the community statutes on the election and taxation process. Although he retired from Moravia in 1588 at age 60, the communities still considered him an authority long after that.
One of his activities in Moravia was the rallying against slanderous slurs on legitimacy (Nadler) that were spread in the community against certain families and could ruin the finding of a marriage partner (known as shidduchim within Orthodox Judaism) for the children of those families. This phenomenon even affected his own family. He used one of the two yearly grand sermons (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 1583) to denounce the phenomenon.
He moved back to Prague in 1588, where he again accepted a rabbinical position, replacing the retired Isaac Hayoth. He immediately reiterated his views on Nadler. On 23 February 1592, he had an audience with Emperor Rudolf II, which he attended together with his brother Sinai and his son-in-law Isaac Cohen; Prince Bertier was present with the emperor. The conversation seems to have been related to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) a subject which held much fascination for the emperor.
In 1592, the Maharal moved to Posen, where he had been elected as Chief Rabbi of Poland. In Posen he composed Netivoth Olam and part of Derech Chaim (see below). Towards the end of his life he moved back to Prague, where he died in 1609. He is buried there; his tomb is a famous tourist attraction.
His name "Löw" or "Loew", derived from the German Löwe, "lion" (cf. the Yiddish Leib of the same origin), is a kinnuy or substitute name for the Hebrew Judah or Yehuda, as this name - originally of the tribe of Judah - is traditionally associated with a lion. In the Book of Genesis, the patriarch Jacob refers to his son Judah as a Gur Aryeh, a "Young Lion" (Genesis 49:9) when blessing him . In Jewish naming tradition the Hebrew name and the substitute name are often combined as a pair, as in this case. The Maharal's classic work on the Rashi commentary of the Pentateuch is called the Gur Aryeh al HaTorah, in Hebrew: "Young Lion [commenting] upon the Torah".