Loew, Rabbi Judah (The Maharal of Prague)

June 15, 2006

The Maharal was one of the most seminal thinkers in the post-medieval period. he developed an entirely new approach to the aggada of the Talmud and it is likely that no previous author devoted so much space to the interpretation of the non-halachic thought of the rabbis of the Talmud.

He was held in great esteem by his contemporaries and has had a profound impact on all streams of Judaism. Rabbi Kook stated that the “Maharal was the father of the approach of the Gaon of Vilna on the one hand, and of the father of Chasidut, on the other hand.” He has been described as a Kabbalist who wrote in philosophic garb.

The Maharal castigated the educational methods of his day where boys were taught at a very young age and insisted that children must be taught in accordance with their intellectual maturity. Thus, Talmud and certainly not tosafot should be introduced only when the child is developmentally capable of fully comprehending what is being taught. He recommended that the system proposed in Pirkei Avot be followed.

One of his leading disciples was R. Yom Tov Heller, author of the classic mishnaic commentary, Tosafot Yom Tov, who, in his introduction informs us that the Maharal greatly encouraged group study of the Mishna. Maharal may have been the founder of Chevra Mishnayot.

The Maharal was one of the staunch defenders of the tradition and of the undisputed wisdom of Chazal and wrote a critique of Azriah de’Rossi’s Me’or Einayim. At the same time, he was fully conversant with the scientific knowledge of his time as well as friendly with some of the contemporary eminent scientists. His disciple, David Ganz, worked in the observatory of Tycho Brahe, the distinguished astronomer.

His works include a major commentary on Rashi’s commentary on the Pentateuch, volumes on Passover in all its facets, on exile and redemption, on Torah, on Pirkei Avot, on Drashot Chazal and on development of character.

The Maharal was esteemed by Jew and non-Jew alike and was summoned for an interview with Emperor Rudolph II, though the subject of the interview is still the subject of speculation.

At one time it seemed that the Maharal was best known for a fictitious creation, that of a Golem. However, with the passage of time it seems that his true enduring creations have become an integral part of the intellectual and spiritual heritage of the Jewish people.