A Great Rabbi and His Surprising Interactions with Renaissance Humanists

On the final page of an autograph book (a bit like a modern-day yearbook) belonging to the Huguenot humanist Jacques Bongars is a note in Hebrew signed by Judah Seligmann Wahl of Venice and dated 1585. Seligmann—who identifies himself as a rabbinic judge in the city of Prague—states that he taught Hebrew to Bongars and another French Protestant and trained them in reading the Jewish Scriptures at the suggestion of Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, better known as the Maharal. Joanna Weinberg considers what this document, and other evidence she has gathered about the Maharal and his interactions with Christians, suggest about his views of the non-Jewish world:

The Maharal was famous or notorious both for his uncompromising legal rulings . . . and for his promotion of an enlightened educational program that overturned traditional modes of study. . . . [H]is writings defy quick generalizations. A systematic theologian, the Maharal viewed the world both celestial and human through the prism of opposites that may complement or contradict one another. On the whole he used the classical rabbinic sources as the backdrop for his longwinded and inelegant but original discourses. Though he discouraged the study of humanist literature, he permitted the pursuit of scientific disciplines such as astronomy, which, [he believed, could] enrich understanding of Torah and aid the upstanding Jew in combating philosophical ideas inimical to Judaism.

Within [the Maharal’s theological] system there was a clear and distinct polarity between Jew and Gentile, who, according to the Maharal, reside on different levels of existence. . . . [Nonetheless, the historian] Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson . . . argued that the Maharal’s notion of the nation as a kind of natural organism suggests that he had somehow imbibed the arguments of [certain] Christian confessions and sects, particularly those of Bohemia and Moravia. . . .

Bartholomäus Scultetus, the mayor of the town of Görlitz, a renowned astronomer [and] cartographer, and a colleague of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler . . . kept a diary. On March 6, 1585, he entered a rather surprising bit of information—that on his way from Prague to Poland the Maharal had met him in the Blue Lion Inn in Görlitz and proceeded to give him a lecture on the Jewish calendar, part of which Scultetus incorporated into [one of his works]. Apparently, the meeting went well, for in the entry for April 15, 1600—that is, fifteen years later—Scultetus jotted down casually: “This evening Rabbi Judah, the Loew, dropped by to see me.” . . .

[It seems, then, that] the Maharal’s theological ideology [about the innate difference between Jew and Gentile] remained purely theoretical in multinational Prague, where he not only prayed and served his community but strayed into the worlds of the other.

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More about: Christian Hebraists, History & Ideas, Maharal, Renaissance

Hamas’s Tactics of Attrition and Extortion Are Paying Off

Feb. 21 2020

In January, the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visited Iran after promising the Egyptian government that he would not. Cairo responded by cutting exports of cooking gas and tires to the Gaza Strip. Facing a possible domestic crisis, the terrorist group recently resumed sending balloon-borne explosives into Israel, and allowed other jihadists to fire rockets. The move succeeded, despite retaliatory strikes by the IDF, writes Elior Levy:

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, Israeli Security