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

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


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict