Tuesday, June 9, 2009
As extreme as the title might appear, that is exactly what will be happening in the beautiful city of Prague in September of this year. It's not a theatrical production, or a Mardis Gras, or even a Cinco de Mayo type celebration, it is the celebration of what everyone presumes to be a myth, but in reality was a series of murders conducted over a couple of years which have now been overlayed with a legend of mythical proportions in order to protect the people involved.
This year is the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Judah Loew, often referred to as the Maharal, a kabbalistic master that has been credited with the saving of the Jewish community of Prague in the sixteenth century by magically creating a Golem. For those that don't know the Kabbalah, that is the same Jewish mystical arts that Madonna is both student and adept at. A golem was an artificial human created from clay that could be brought to life through the use of magical arts. Having suffered through several persecutions, the worst being a mob led by the priest Taddeush that tore apart not only the Jewish Quarter of Josefov but several of the Jews residing there as well, Rabbi Loew and his son-in-law, along with several others decided to create the Golem. The story goes that at first he would only strike at those that tried to harm the Jewish community but then something went wrong and it started to attack innocents as well. Rabbi Loew then had to stop the creature by rubbing one of the letters (aleph) off its forehead, which caused it to die (if an artificial human can die) and then concealed its body in the synagogue attic where some say it still rests today.
Strangely, the claim today is that no one knows why this story came about nor why Rabbi Loew was attributed to have made a Golem. A story which has been fairly common for the last two centuries and is now widely distributed. There really is nothing strange about it. Why do we have any of the many legends that surround famous people from the past? Because they did do something at least similar to the myth that's being told. King Leonitis did take on a massive Persian army with only 300 Spartans. Course there were several thousand others from different Greek cities but we won't destroy a good legend by mentioning them. And Helen did have a face that launched a thousand ships, but we won't mention that it was her infidelity that practically destroyed all of Greece with ten years of bloodshed. The point that I'm making is that we have our modern day myths as the result of actual historical events and the Legend of the Golem of Prague is no different.
The actual events are historically recorded, with the killing of the priest Taddeush, as well as the Archbishop, the nephew of Pope Sixtus V, and several other prominent people. These all were attibuted to a terrifying protector of Josefov that had been conjured from the dark arts by its kabbalistic master. For those interested in reading the story behind the myth, I suggest you pick up a copy of Shadows of Trinity, which can be found at the publishers website at http://www.eloquentbooks.com/ShadowsOfTrinity.html or from places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble on their websites. Truth makes a great story and as they say is often stranger than fiction.
But back to the celebration. Here is an individual that did feel he was protecting his people from the scourge of anti-semitism. No doubt that was his motive. Noble in its intent but when the loss of innocents become involved then doesn't the solution become as bad as the cause? And what did Rabbi Loew actually achieve? Yes, for a period of 19 years, the community was protected from further threats of pogroms and riots, but not long after his death, once those hate mongerers knew he wasn't coming back from the grave, they led a massive attack against the Jews of Prague. This took place during what was a dynastic war between the Catholics and Protestants (amazing that they actually took time out from killing themselves to go kill the Jews in the city) and then to celebrate their peace accord in which both churches agreed to live harmoniously in Bohemia, they burned 86 prominent members of the Jewish community at the stake claiming that they had attempted to poison the Christian leaders of these two factions and were therefore the root cause of the actual civil uprising. The reality is that once you have a Golem, then you must always have a Golem otherwise the threat that you used to achieve your intended goal is no longer there and you've actually encourage the exact opposite to occur because of retribution. The massacre of 1611 was retribution!
And was Rabbi Loew this saint of a man that was given the accolades of being Chief Rabbi of Prague? No, there's where myth has definitely taken over from reality. Judah Loew was actually turned down twice by his own community for the position of Chief Rabbi. The first time in 1587 when Rabbi Melling was elected to the position and the second time in 1604 when they elected Rabbi Ephraim. Simply, the leaders of the community and the other Rabbis didn't want him as their spiritual leader. Not only didn't they want him, in many cases they feared him. On February 23rd, 1592 Rabbi Loew was summoned to the palace to meet with the Emperor Rudolf II. I guarantee it wasn't to talk about Kabbalah as the supporters of the rabbi claim. Within a few weeks Rabbi Loew had packed his bags, packed his family and was gone to Posen, not to return to Prague until shortly before his death in 1609. Does that sound like the act of a man that was given the keys to the city as they would want you to believe? Only after several hundred years have passed, has all this been forgotten and the same man is now being celebrated as the saviour of Prague.
So for all those intending to attend the celebrations in the Czech Republic this year, think about what I've had to say. And if you are there, take the time and search for the grave of one Yakov Kahana, the real hero behind the Golem story as you discover in Shadows of Trinity. He's buried there somewhere and that's the real mystery!