The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Robert Alter
"This collection of Golem stories written in the early twentieth century by Yudl Rosenberg provides a valuable inside perspective on the shape of the legend."—Robert Alter, author of Imagined Cities
Lewis Glinert
"Given the enduring attraction of the Golem myth to the Jewish and general public, this book is an important addition to the corpus of Jewish cultural texts in English translation." —Lewis Glinert, Dartmouth College
Midstream - Moshe Moskowitz
"Thanks to an erudite and insightful introduction and adroit translation by Curt Leviant, English readers will, for the first time, be able to enjoy a book of wonderful tales describing the heroic and humorous deed of Yossele, 'the claymener goylem'."—Moshe Moskowitz, Midstream
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300143201
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 8/4/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Curt Leviant is the prizewinning author or translator of more than two dozen books, including six critically acclaimed novels. His translations from the Yiddish include Isaac Bashevis Singer’s More Stories from My Father’s Court and five volumes of Sholom Aleichem collections. He has won the Wallant Award for his fiction and several national and international writing fellowships.

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Read an Excerpt

The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague

By Yudl Rosenberg

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2007 Curt Leviant
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-12204-6

Chapter One

Publisher's Preface

DEAR READERS! I am herewith presenting you with a delightful and precious treasure that until now had lain hidden for some three hundred years in the great library of Metz. That the Maharal had miraculously created a living golem from loam and clay was an oral tradition well known to everyone. However, over a period of time, people began expressing doubts to the point where enlightened men were already denying this entire incident and dismissing it as nothing but a folk legend.

But the fact is that when the great gaon, our saintly master, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, of blessed memory, the author of Known in Judah, was the Rabbi of Prague, he established the truth of this story: that in the attic of the Great Synagogue lay the golem whom the Maharal had created. It is widely known that one day Rabbi Landau fasted and went to the ritual bath. After commanding ten of his students to recite Psalms on his behalf, he wrapped himself in his tallis and tefillin and ascended alone to the attic. The gaon spent a long while up there. When he descended, his face was marked by terror and dread. He proclaimed that henceforth he was making even more stringent the Maharal'sprohibition that no one ever dare go up to the attic.

However, after several decades many people once again began to doubt the truth of the story because this incident was not recorded in any book of Jewish history. But eventually the truth surfaces. And now all Jews will know and realize that this entire matter was written down by the Maharal's son-in-law, the great gaon, our saintly master, Rabbi Yitzchok Katz, of blessed memory, as can be seen by some stories herein and by the Maharal's remarks printed at the end of the book.

But all this has long been stored in the great library of Metz along with many other of the Maharal's books in manuscript, and I thank God for helping me to acquire this copy from my kinsman, Rabbi Chaim Scharfstein of Metz. I have spent a lot of money on this and, besides the cost, I have worked hard to prepare this book for publication. And so I hope that every seeker of knowledge will be grateful to me for this labor. Whoever sees this book will surely not be able to put it down and will find a place for it in his library.

The publisher, The insignificant Yudl Rosenberg of Warsaw

Chapter Two

Bill of Sale

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 book that was copied from the holy manuscript of the renowned gaon, our master, the saintly Rabbi Yitzchok Katz, of blessed memory, son-in-law of the saintly Maharal, of blessed memory, who indited in his holy manuscript some of the great wondrous deeds, marvels and miracles that his father-in-law accomplished in the city of Prague, when he created the golem and used him to save the Jews from various misfortunes, especially the calamity of the blood libel.

This book was located here in the great library of the holy community of Metz. I sold a copy of this book at full value to my kinsman, the aforementioned illustrious rabbi of the city of Warsaw, to be his possession, and his alone, in perpetuity.

From this moment on I am placing an absolute injunction upon myself never again to sell to anyone else another copy of the above manuscript.

At the same time I announce to the public that I am in possession of another long manuscript by the holy Maharal about the supreme sanctity of the Sabbath, entitled The Greatness of Israel, which comprises more than one hundred octavo pages. I will sell this manuscript to the first person who offers 800 crowns. Any interested buyer is directed to my kinsman, the above-mentioned gaon and rabbi from the city of Warsaw.

The first of Adar, 5669 [1909] here in the holy city of Metz Chaim Scharfstein

Chapter Three

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

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 accuse him of murdering the child and using his blood for ritual purposes.

In Worms too, that Passover, people secretly plotted a blood libel against the Maharal's father, the above-mentioned Rabbi Bezalel.

Here is what happened:

A Christian carrying a dead child in a sack, stole into the Jewish quarter intent upon casting the corpse through a small window into the cellar of Rabbi Bezalel's house. Rabbi Bezalel's wife was pregnant then, in her seventh month, but during the Seder of the first night of Passover she suddenly felt birth pangs. A big tumult ensued in the house and amid cries and shouts some men ran outside to summon a midwife.

At that moment, the Christian carrying the dead child in a sack was not far from the house. Seeing men running toward him in a panic and loudly shouting, the Christian thought they had discovered his plot and were hastening to seize him. So he turned and fled to the Christian neighborhood.

He was so frightened and confused he kept running at breakneck speed even after he had reached the Christian part of town because he thought the Jews were still after him to seize him.

But the police and night watchmen, noticing a man running helter-skelter and carrying something in a sack on this shoulders, and seeing far off the men from Rabbi Bezalel's house also rushing in the same direction, assumed he was a thief fleeing with stolen goods and that the others were in pursuit to retrieve the theft.

The policemen caught and searched him. When they saw what he had, they brought him to the chief of police, where he was vigorously interrogated. Only then did the man confess that he had brought the dead boy there in order to accuse Rabbi Bezalel of the blood libel. The police arrested and brought the man to judgment.

News of this salvation immediately spread through the entire city. Rabbi Bezalel prophesied regarding the newborn boy, saying: "This one will comfort us and save us from the blood libel." He named the boy Yehuda Leib, after the verse: "Judah is a lion's whelp; on prey, my son, have you grown."

Chapter Four

The Maharal's Battle Against the Blood Libel

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 battle against the enemies of Israel who mocked and insulted us because of the blood libel until he attained the upper hand and triumphed over them.

King Rudolf promised the Maharal he would not permit any court in his land to level the accusation of ritual murder against the Jews. When the Maharal was appointed rabbi of the holy community of Prague, it was a calamitous time for the Jews and they suffered greatly from the blood libel. On account of that despicable accusation, the blood of many Jewish souls innocent of any blame was gratuitously spilled like water. Thereupon, the Maharal gave an order to spread the word openly to all the nations that he was prepared to stand straight like a wall to battle against the blood libel with all his might and to exculpate his fellow Jews from this despicable false accusation.

Chapter Five

The Maharal's Suggestion to Have a Disputation with the Priests

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, he suggested that the disputation should stretch over a thirty-day period. Each day, ten priests would submit their questions and claims to the cardinal in writing; and each day the Maharal would come to the cardinal with his written answers.

The cardinal was amenable to this. When the disputation began, and during the entire thirty days, all the Jews in Prague recited the complete Book of Psalms daily at dawn in all the synagogues and houses of study and fasted on Mondays and Thursdays.

Chapter Six

The Disputation

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 great hostility to an apostate and always lie in wait to kill him? 5. Why do Jews exult over all the other nations on account of their great Torah? Can't the other nations exult even more because they are good by nature and by birth, and hence they didn't have to be burdened with the heavy yoke of such a great Torah, for they have no need for it?

For the first question the Maharal presented incontrovertible evidence from the Bible and the Talmud that the Jews consider blood extremely abominable and impure. Blood is prohibited and abhorred even more than fat, and so all the more the blood of a human being which defiles even by proximity. Purity and cleanliness are deeply rooted in and fundamental to the Jewish religion. So how can a Jew even possibly consider using human blood for ritual purposes and for fulfilling a religious precept?

For the second question the Maharal replied that first of all only the Sadducees' sect, which worked hand in hand with King Herod and the wicked Roman authorities who ruled in Jerusalem, took part in the death sentence of Jesus.

The Roman hatred of Jesus of Nazareth was very great, for the Roman rulers considered Jesus a rebel against their government, one who sought to free the Jews of the Roman yoke by means of a revolt and war, and then be crowned as their king.

However, the real Jews, namely, the Pharisees and the Essenes, did not recognize Herod's kingship and had no desire to take part in this trial.

Second, the Maharal replied that anyone who seeks revenge against the Jews because of the unjust death sentence against Jesus of Nazareth is truly a heretic, an unbeliever who has no faith in Divine guidance, Divine Providence, and God's dominion in this world.

This may be better understood by means of a parable. A mighty king had an only son who had many enemies in the capital city. These enemies once falsely accused this son of insulting and defaming the honor of his father, the king. The son was then imprisoned. Because of his conduct the judges sentenced him to die by hanging.

His father, the king, clearly knew that all this was a lie, just a false accusation by his enemies. Nevertheless, the king remained silent and voiced no protest.

Later, the judges' deputies came to carry out the sentence and put the king's son, who had also been subjected to hideous torments, to death in the presence of the king. The only son pleaded with his father, the king, and said: "Save me, father. Rescue me from the hands of these murderers, for you know the truth-I never insulted or defamed you." His father, the king, remained silent; he did not even say a word but watched the deputies murdering his son without cause. Moreover, the king did not contradict the deputies' remarks that they were doing this at his behest.

Now let us examine this matter. Who is more culpable in the death of the son-the judges who erroneously sentenced him to death for the sake of the king's honor, or the king, who knew the truth, and didn't even lift a finger to signal, Let him go, whereupon the son would have been freed at once? Without a doubt one can conclude that the king himself was responsible for his only son's death.

Now let us return to our subject. The moral of this parable is obvious to everyone. Christianity declares that Jesus of Nazareth was the beloved only son of God. So then if the judges, believing that the son rebelled against his father and disparaged his honor and his teaching, rendered an erroneous judgment, where was the father's compassion? The Bible states, "As a father has compassion on his sons." When the son pleaded with his father, why didn't he save him from that cruel death? The son was killed gratuitously-solely for his father's honor and for violating his commands and his teaching.

Now if we assume that his father was powerless to save him or that all this was done without his father's knowledge, we demean thereby his father's honor, for it is improper-indeed absolute heresy-to think thus of God.

Yet Christian doctrine holds that Jesus was obliged to suffer this punishment and experience this cruel death by the will and resolve of God his father-even though he committed no transgression whatsoever-so as to atone for Adam's sin, to the benefit of all adherents of Christianity, who will not have to suffer the scourge of hell after their death but will ascend straight to the Garden of Eden.

In keeping with this view, then, Jesus died by the will and resolve of God in heaven. And, surely, according to Christian doctrine, Jesus agreed and wished for this, just like Isaac the son of Abraham wanted to be sacrificed on the altar in order to accede to God's will.

According to Christianity's tenets, it is obvious that the death sentence of Jesus brought relief and deliverance and eternal benefits to all adherents of the Christian faith. Why, then, should the Christians blame the Jews for this? And why do they believe in taking revenge against them and repaying evil for good?

And even if the judges who sentenced Jesus to death did not have that beneficence in mind but only harm, they still can in no way be held culpable, for the judgment was handed down from heaven and their sense went askew when they mistakenly sentenced Jesus to death.


Excerpted from The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague by Yudl Rosenberg Copyright © 2007 by Curt Leviant. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1 Publisher's Preface....................5
2 Bill of Sale....................8
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....................10
4 The Maharal's Battle Against the Blood Libel....................13
5 The Maharal's Suggestion to Have a Disputation with the Priests....................15
6 The Disputation....................17
7 "A Man Who Excels at His Work Shall Attend upon Kings." This Is the Maharal....................31
8 How the Maharal Created the Golem....................34
9 How Yossele the Golem Carried Water for Passover....................39
10 How Yossele the Golem Caught Fish for Rosh Hashana....................41
11 For What Purposes the Maharal Used the Golem....................44
12 The Maharal's First Miracle with the Golem....................46
13 The Astonishing Tale of the Healer's Daughter....................50
14 The Wondrous and Famous Story Known as "The Daughter's Misfortune"....................67
15 A Very Amazing Tale About a Blood Libel by the Priest Thaddeus Which Caused His Final Downfall and His Banishment from Prague....................95
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....................113
17 The Astounding Story of the Torah that Fell to the Floor on Yom Kippur....................127
18 The Attack on Yossele theGolem....................130
19 An Awesome Tale About the Ruin near Prague....................138
20 A Wondrous Tale About Duke Bartholomew....................143
21 The Last Blood Libel in Prague During the Maharal's Lifetime....................156
22 How the Maharal Brought About the End of the Golem....................182
23 The Maharal's Remarks Concerning the Golem....................187
24 A Miraculous Event Pertaining to the Maharal's Engagement....................196
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