To the Jewish community and general population at large, the Maharal of Prague is the revered, mystical medieval rabbi who created the Golem to protect the Jews in the Prague ghetto. But the Maharal’s true contribution to Jewish life has little to do with the legend of the Golem.
The acronym, MaHaRaL, stands for Moreinu HaRav Loew,* whose full name was Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel Loew (1520 – 1609). The Maharal is also known by the title of his most distinguished publication, Gur Aryeh (Ahl HaTorah) – “The Little Lion on the Torah.” His use of the title Gur Aryeh is a reference to Jacob’s Biblical blessing of his son Yehuda (Judah) and is significant either by reason of the fact that Loew is a derivitive of the German word for lion or an allusion to the Maharal’s ability to trace his lineage back to King David.
While the Maharal is credited with being well-versed in kabbalah (hence his assumed ability to create a Golem), his studies and commentaries in Torah and Talmud are highly regarded. The Maharal stressed the importance of understanding the p‘shat, mainly the simple, literal meaning of the words. He was also well-versed in Aggadah, the non-halachic, homiletic passages of the Talmud.
The genius of the Maharal is acknowledged by Jews from many walks of life. His work had a significant influence on the Vilna Gaon (Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720 – 1797), and he was the great-grandfather of the founder of Chabad Chassidim, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (“Baal HaTanya,” 1745 – 1812). The Maharal was also well-known and respected outside of the Jewish community. He communicated with the astronomer Tycho Brahe and had a memorable audience with the Emperor Rudolf II of Austria.
*alternatively spelled Lowe
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