Magazine article Midstream

Yudl Rosenberg: Rabbi and Writer of Hebrew Fiction

Magazine article Midstream

Yudl Rosenberg: Rabbi and Writer of Hebrew Fiction

Article excerpt

Yudl Rosenberg, born in Poland in 1859 (the same y year as Sholom Aleichem), was considered a young It "ilui" (genius) for his early mastery or Talmudic and rabbinic texts. He served as a rabbi in Warsaw until he immigrated to Montreal in 1913, where until his death in 1935, he was considered one of the luminaries of the Orthodox world in Canada. He wrote 27 books, almost all of them in Hebrew, translated sections of the kabbalistic text, the Zohar from Aramaic into Hebrew, and a number of fictional works, none under his own name. But he is best known for his classic collection of interlocking stories about the Maharal (the chief rabbi of Prague in the late 1500's) and the golem he created. That book, The Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague with the Golem, became a best seller and was widely read in Europe and translated into Yiddish, German, and even into North African Judeo-Arabic and Judeo-Persian

As an Orthodox Jew, and a rabbi at that, it was not befitting for Rosenberg to be writing fiction. So for the golem book he concocted a scenario claiming that he bought a copy of the manuscript written by the Maharal's son-in-law, Rabbi Isaac Katz, about his father-in-law's adventures with the golem. This three-hundred-year-old manuscript supposedly came from the great Library of Metz--a thoroughly non-existent place. The ruse of a discovered manuscript (like that of Defoe with Robinson Crusoe or Jonathan Swift with Gulliver's Travels) was accepted by the public--indeed, there are still some people today who believe that Rosenberg was not the author of the book.

Before Rosenberg's 1909 publication of his book, the golem legend had the Maharal creating the golem to be used for domestic purposes. Rosenberg's innovation was to have the golem serve not only the Marhal but the Jewish people--to protect and defend them against the blood libel accusation. …

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