JUDAH LÖW (LÖB, LIWA) BEN BEZALEEL (known also as Der Hohe Rabbi Löw):

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Austrian Talmudist and mathematician; born aboutthe second decade of the sixteenth century in Posen, whither his family had gone from Worms toward the end of the fifteenth century, probably in consequence of persecution; died at Prague Aug. 22, 1609; second son of Bezaleel ben Ḥayyim. His father was the brother of Jacob Worms, the chief rabbi of all the communities of the German empire, and brother-in-law of Isaac Klauber of Posen, whose grandson was Solomon Luria. Löw's elder brother Ḥayyim (see Ḥayyim ben Bezaleel) studied with Shalom Shakna. Löw had also younger brothers named Sinai and Samson, who enjoyed reputations as scholars.

His Taḳḳanot.

As Löw never speaks of himself in his books, little is known concerning his life. The assumption that he was Shakna's pupil is disproved not only on the ground of chronological difficulties, but also by his positive attitude in denouncing the pilpul, in which Shakna indulged so much. From 1553 to 1573 Löw was Moravian "Landesrabbiner" at Nikolsburg, an office by virtue of which he directed not only the affairs of the community, but especially the study of the Talmud. He caused a collection to be made of the Moravian statutes ("taḳḳanot")concerning the election of the county and district elders, taxation, and the restraint of luxury, with the purpose of supplementing and confirming them. The Moravian communities considered him an authority, even long after he had given up his office—perhaps in consequence of the persecution of the Jews in Moravia—and had settled in Prague. As such he was appealed to when the "Nadler" calumny was carried into Moravia, in consequence of which his own family suffered and against which he himself had delivered a warning discourse on the Sabbath between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, 1583 (printed Prague, 1584). "Nadler" (or rather "Nudler": comp. Grimm, "Wörterbuch") was an opprobrious epithet that cast a slur upon the legitimacy of many families.

Tombstone of Judah Löw ben Bezaleel at Prague.(From a photograph.)

Löw had undertaken to deliver the discourse because a short time previously the death of Isaac Melnik had left the chief rabbinate of Prague vacant. At the time Löw occupied a semiofficial position. He had founded the "Klaus," a Talmud school which he conducted until 1584, and he had also rendered great services to the community of Prague by regulating the statutes of the ḥebra ḳaddisha, founded in 1564, and by organizing mishnayot societies. Yet he was passed over in the election, his brother-in-law Isaac Ḥayyot, an adherent of the pilpul, being chosen chief rabbi of Prague. Löw then gladly accepted the call of his native community, Posen. In 1588, however, he was again in Prague. He was drawn thither not only by family ties (his wife belonging to the eminent Altschuler family, and his daughters being married in that city), but also by the fact that Isaac Ḥayyot had resigned his office. For a second time Löw accepted the position of rabbi. At this date (1588) he renewed and enlarged the scope of the ban which he, together with ten scholars of Prague, had pronounced in 1583 against the "Nadler" calumny. On the present occasion he acted in conjunction with Eleazar of Worms at Posen, and Mordecai Jaffe, Isaac Cohen Shapira, Joseph b. Isaac ha-Levi Günzburg, and Uri Lipman Ḥefez at Gnesen. On the tenth of Adar, 5352 (Feb. 23, 1592), Löw was commanded to appear before the emperor in the castle. He went to the audience accompanied by his brother Sinai and his son-in-law Isaac Cohen; and Prince Bertier was present with the emperor. The conversation seems to have turned on cabalistic subjects.

In the same year (but it can not be proved whether it was in consequence of the audience) Löw went back to Posen, where he had been chosen chief rabbi of Poland. Here he wrote a work on the ethics of Judaism, "Netibot Shalom" (Prague, 1596), as the second part of his Abot commentary "Derek ha-Ḥayyim" (Cracow, 1589). In Prague were also printed in 1593 two discourses he had delivered in Posen, "'Al ha-Miẓwot" and "'Al ha-Torah wa'Abodah." In the "Pesaḳ 'al 'Agunah" (ib. 1594) there is a responsum by Löw. In this work Löw is called "chief rabbi of Prague"; and indeed he became chief rabbi de jure, probably after the death of Isaac Ḥayyot (1597).

His Works.

At Prague Löw wrote between 1598 and 1600 the following works: (1) "Tif'eret Yisrael" (Venice, 1599), on the excellence of the teachers of the Torah; (2) "Neẓaḥ Yisrael" (Prague, 1599), on the Exile and the Messianic time, (3) "Be'er ha-Golah," on difficult Talmudic passages, being at the same time a defense of the Talmud (ib. 1598); (4) "Or Ḥadash" (ib. 1600), on Esther and Purim; (5) "Ner Miẓwah" (ib.), on Ḥanukkah. There was also printed at Prague (1598) the funeral sermon preached by Löw on the deathof Akiba Günzburg of Frankfort. Löw was specially active as the friend and counselor of the noble Mordecai Meisel. After suffering much at Prague from external oppression and internal quarrels, he now stood as the center of the rapidly rising community.

Löw was held in high regard by his contemporaries as well as by posterity. He is praised as the "glory of the Exile," the "light of Israel" (Gans), "the wonder of our time, in whose light our coreligionists walk, and whose waters all Israel drinks." His person even has become the center of a whole cycle of legends (see Golem), which are closely related to the Faust legends and were due probably to his ascetic, pious, retired life, to his profound knowledge, and not a little to his mysterious audience with Emperor Rudolph II.

Yet he was not among the champions of the Cabala, and none of his works is devoted to it. Although he could not reconcile himself to the investigations of Azariah dei Rossi, and understood all the utterances of the Haggadah literally, yet he was entirely in favor of scientific research in so far as the latter did not contradict divine revelation.

In addition to those of Löw's works mentioned above, the following have appeared: "Gur Aryeh" (Prague, 1578), commentary to Rashi on the Pentateuch; "Geburat ha-Shem" (Cracow, 1582), on the Pesaḥ Haggadah; discourse for Shabbat ha-Gadol (Prague, 1589). The following manuscripts are extant: "Bi'ure Yoreh De'ah," printed 1775; "Ḥiddushe Aggadot"; "Bi'urim 'al Dine Mezuzah, Ketibat Megillah, Kele ha-Ḳodesh, Bigde Kehunnah we-Sammane ha-Ḳeṭoret"; "Bi'urim 'al ha-Rif u-Mardekai."

  • Lieben, Gal 'Ed, Prague, 1856;
  • N. Grün, Der Hohe Rabbi Löw, ib. 1885;
  • Tendlau, Sagen und Legenden der Jüdischen Vorzeit;
  • E. Bischoff, Die Kabbalah, Leipsic, 1903;
  • Hermann-Teige-Winter, Das Prager Ghetto, Prague, 1903.
S. S. M. Gr.
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