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LOEW, JUDAH BEN BEZALEL (ca. 1525-1609).

Talmudic scholar and astronomer in Prague. He was greatly interested in science, an unusual pursuit for a rabbi of his time. Rabbi Judah’s advanced views were evident in his many books, in which he criticized the state of Jewish education and expressed ideas which centuries later became known as Zionism. Known in Jewish scholarship as the Maharal, he published about 20 books, the most famous of which is a commentary on Rashi. He was considered extraordinary, and many legends are woven around his personality. The most famous of these tells about the creation of the Golem, an automaton made of clay and brought to life by the Maharal’s use of the secret name of God. According to this legend, the Maharal used the Golem during times of stress to save the Jewish community from persecution and evil decrees. As soon as the Golem had fulfilled his mission, the Maharal would return him to his lifeless state. The legend of the Golem has been the theme of many poems, novels, and plays.

Jewish folklore is rich with anecdotes about the wisdom of the Maharal, and the miracles that he performed. His interest in alchemy was probably at the root of his fame as a miracle-maker. Rudolph II of Austria, who took an interest in astronomy and hoped to become wealthy by the use of alchemy, discussed the subject with the Maharal. A statue of the Maharal was erected in front of the city hall of Prague.

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