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WAHL, SAUL:

A remarkable personage who, according to tradition, occupied for a short time the throne of Poland. The story connected with his reign is as follows: Prince Nicholas Radziwill, surnamed the Black, who lived in the sixteenth century, desiring to do penance for the many atrocities he had committed while a young man, undertook a pilgrimage to Rome in order to consult the pope as to the best means for expiating his sins. The pope advised him to dismiss all his servants and to lead for a few years the life of a wandering beggar. After the expiration of the period prescribed, Radziwill found himself destitute and penniless in the city of Padua, Italy. His appeals for help were heeded by nobody, and his story of being a prince was received with scorn and ridicule. He finally decided to appeal to Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen, the rabbi of Padua. The latter received him with marked respect, treated him very kindly, and furnished him with ample means for returning to his native country in a manner befitting his high rank. When the time for departure came the prince asked the rabbi how he could repay him for his kindness. The rabbi then gave him a picture of his son Saul, who years before had left for Poland, and asked the prince to try and find the boy in one of the many yeshibot of that country. The prince did not forget the request. Upon his return to Poland he visited every yeshibah in the land, until finally he discovered Saul in that of Brest-Litovsk. He was so captivated by the brilliancy and depth of Saul's intellect that he took him to his own castle, provided for all his wants, and supplied him with all possible means for study and investigation. The noblemen who visited Radziwill's court marveled at the wisdom and learning of the young Jew, and thus the fame of Saul spread throughout Poland.

When King Bathori died (1586) the people of Poland were divided into two factions: the Zamaikis and the Zborowskis. There were quite a number of candidates for the throne, but the contending parties could agree upon no one. There existed at that time in Poland a law which stipulated that the throne might not remain unoccupied for any length of time, and that in case the electors could not agree upon a candidate an outsider should be appointed "rex pro tempore" (temporary king). This honor was then offered to Radziwill; but he refused, saying that there was a man who belonged to neither party, and who in wisdom and goodness was far superior to any one else he knew. That man possessed only one very slight shortcoming, and if the Diet would make his election unanimous, he (Radziwill) would acquaint it with his name. Accordingly, Saul's name was solemnly proposed; and amid great enthusiasm, and shouts of "Long live King Saul!" Wahl was elected to this high office. The name "Wahl" was given him from the German word "wahl" (= "election"). Traditions disagree as to the length of his reign. Some state that he ruled one night only; others make it a few days. All, however, are agreed that Saul succeeded in passing a number of very wise laws, and among them some that tended to ameliorate the condition of the Jews in Poland. Although this story can not be supported by any historical data, it gained a firm place in the belief of the people.

Bibliography:
  • Hirsch Edelman, Gedullat Sa'ul, London, 1844;
  • S. A. Bershadski, Saul Wahl, in Voskhod, 1889;
  • M. A.Getzelten, Po Povodu Legendi o Yevereie, Korolie Polskom, in Razsvyet, 1880, No. 41;
  • Eisenstadt, Da'at Kedoshim, p. 84; St. Petersburg, 1897-98;
  • Karpeles, Jewish Literature and Other Essays, pp. 272-292, Philadelphia, 1895.
S. J. Go.
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