Thursday, May 7, 2009

Prague -- More on Rabbi Löw Exhibit

Golem figurines on sale in Prague. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

JTA runs an article by Dinah Spritzer with more information about the events that are being planned in Prague to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Judah Ben Bezalel Löw, a renowned scholar known as the Maharal and also the legendary creator of the Golem.

To celebrate Loew’s yahrzeit, which falls on Sept. 7, the Prague Jewish community is hosting a conference of scholars on the Maharal, and the Jewish Museum will be putting on an exhibit at the Prague Castle on Loew’s life. The exhibition runs from Aug. 5 to Nov. 8.

The show, at Prague’s most popular tourist site, will examine Loew and his legacy. One part of the exhibit will trace the development of the Prague ghetto and the Jewish cemetery during the rabbi's lifetime. An interactive installation, “Golem,” by the artist Petr Nikl, will be on view at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery from June 3 to Oct. 4.

Earlier this year, an institution dedicated to training rabbinical students in Loew’s teachings, the Maharal Institute, was opened by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Prague's Jewish Quarter.

Read full article

Dinah's article notes how closely Rabbi Löw was bound up in the legends and folklore of Prague, and particularly how the Golem myth somehow became associated with him -- more than two centuries after his death. There is no evidence at all that, however, that Rabbi Löw was involved in any magical activity. On the contrary, he condemned sorcery in the strongest of terms and even wrote that anyone who use magic for worldly reasons deserved to die.

Many other legends grew up around him, too. Indeed, so intimately linked did the Rabbi become with Prague that a statue of him was erected as part of the decoration of the art nouveau New Town Hall, built in 1910. The sculpture shows the ancient, long-bearded rabbi (he lived to about 90 -- no mean feat back in his day!) recoiling in horror as a muscular, nude young woman -- representing death -- clings to his robes and tries to gain hold of his arm.

His tomb is the most famous grave site in the Old Jewish Cemetery -- Michelle Obama made a stop there on her tour of Jewish Prague in March, and she even joined thousands who came before her and left a kvittl, or slip of paper with a prayer.

The Golem, too, became a familiar local folk figure. But the Golem story also inspired artists, writers, painters, and poets. My dear friend, the late Hungarian ceramic sculptor Levente Thury only created art works whose theme was the Golem. Among other writers inspired by the Golem story (which possible was the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) The poet Jerome Rothenberg, who frequently uses Jewish imagery and themes, wrote a powerful poem called "Golem & Goddess."

I wrote in depth about Rabbi Löw, his reality and his legend, in my 1994 book Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today, whose first section was devoted to an exploration of Jewish Prague.

PS -- Twenty years ago, the Jewish Museum in New York had a wonderful exhibition called Golem! Danger, Deliverance and Art -- which produced a marvellous catalogue book. It's out of print, but well worth getting used.

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