The Eccentric Canadian Rabbi Who Popularized the Golem Legend and Translated the Zohar

Oct. 20 2022

While few today believe that kabbalists ever had the power to create a golem—a humanoid fashioned from clay that would do the bidding of its maker—many are familiar with the story that the 16th-century talmudist Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (a/k/a the Maharal) created a golem to defend the Jews of Prague against anti-Semitic attacks. The legend has even become popular in the modern-day Czech Republic. But, although the outlines of the legend can be traced to medieval Jewish works, and even to the Talmud itself, the association of the golem with Judah Loew seems to have originated in 1909 with the Polish-Canadian rabbi Yudel Rosenberg. Allan Nadler reviews a new study of this colorful figure:

Ira Robinson’s new biography paints a rich and extensively researched portrait of Yudel Rosenberg, the deeply learned but highly eccentric chief rabbi of Montreal, who moonlighted as a faith healer, magical-amulet salesman, oracle, halakhic innovator, ḥasidic storyteller, and the most aggressively enterprising kosher-chicken-slaughterhouse supervisor in Canadian Jewish history.

The magnitude of [Rosenberg’s book on the Golem’s] influence is such that the late scholar of both Kabbalah and modern Hebrew literature Joseph Dan deemed it “the most important 20th-century contribution of Hebrew literature to world literature.” Still, the work that has elicited the greatest interest among kabbalists and scholars of Jewish mysticism, from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook to Gershom Scholem, was Rosenberg’s Hebrew translation of the Zohar [from its original Aramaic], featuring his deeply learned commentary, Sefer Zohar Torah. This commentary was intended to make the esoteric core text of Kabbalah accessible to the widest possible Jewish readership in anticipation of the messianic age, which Rosenberg predicted, with characteristic brashness, would occur one year after the appearance of its introductory volume.

Rosenberg’s revised translation also dared to include corrections to the Aramaic original based on a surprisingly modern text-critical, historical approach. . . . Rosenberg’s intrepid exercise in critical scholarship was however fatally undermined by the web of fabrications he wove regarding his source for Zohar Torah: [the] fictional Imperial Library of Metz. Rosenberg’s fabrications hardly ended there.

As it happens, Rosenberg’s own most famous descendant was his maternal grandson, the Montreal author Mordecai Richler.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Canadian Jewry, Golem, Zohar


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy