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Invited by the Emperor

The Maharal visits Rudolf II

In the sefer Tzemach David, a work on history by Rav Dovid Ganz, a talmid of the Maharal of Prague, we read the following: “The famous Emperor Rudolf, in his great kindness, invited Hagaon Harav Liva bar Bezalel and he welcomed him beautifully, and spoke to him face to face, as one would talk to his friend. The content of what was discussed and actually what went on at the visit are sealed and hidden. This took place in Prague, Sunday, the third of Adar 5352 (1592).”

Among the Gedolei Yisroel living at the time, this incident took place were: The Alshich Hakadosh, in Tzefas; the Sema, in Lemberg ; [R’ Saul Wohl, the legendary king of Poland for one night; the Maharam, in Lublin; the Klei Yakar; and the Rema of Fano. Just one year earlier, in 1591, Cracow had lost one of its major Rabbonim, Rav Yosef Katz, known by the name of his Sefer, She’eiaris Yosef, who was the Rema’s brother-in-law.1They married two sisters.

The protagonists of this story are the Maharal of Prague and, lehavdil, Rudolf II, Emperor of the Roman Empire. He was the son of Maximillian II of the Habsburg Dynasty. He was born in 1552 in Vienna and succeeded his father on the throne after the latter’s death in 1576. Rudolf changed his residence from Vienna, Austria to Prague, Bohemia, thereby making Prague the new capital city of his kingdom. He dedicated much time to studying many different fields of knowledge, and also collected many drawings.

Title: Portrait of Emperor Rudolf II
Date: 1590s
Author: Hans von Aachen (1552–1615)
Collection: Kunsthistorisches Museum
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Note: Rudolf at about the age he met the Maharal

At their meeting, Rudolf was forty years old, and the Maharal was double his age. He died in Prague on January 20, 1612, three years after the Maharal’s passing.

A Mekurav L’Malchus

The Maharal was known to be extremely close to the Emperor, as recorded in his Megillas Yochsin:

In his days, there was Torah and greatness together, as he was rich and close to the king, the Emperor Rudolf. Their relationship was compared to that between Antoninus and Rebbi.

The following story, appearing in the Megillas Yochsin of Rav Yosef Brandeis, relates how the Maharal’s brother, Hagaon Rav, the Rav Friedberg, was saved from death thanks to the close relationship with his brother, the Maharal, had with Rudolf:

Once, a group of armed robbers was caught and its members were then tortured terribly. They decided to falsely report that Rav Chaim was part of their gang. He was captured and ordered to be burned in fire. They then prepared the fire and brought Rav Chaim to the site. Suddenly, a man on a horse appeared, and asked to know what was happening. They told him the entire story, and that Rav Chaim was about to be burned. The man screamed at them, “Leave him alone, don’t kill this man, he’s completely innocent. You should just know that his brother is very close to the Emperor Rudolf, and if you kill him you’ll all be put to death by Rudolf.” They instantly let him free, and sent him home.

The “man” was none other than an angel sent from Heaven to save this Tzaddik.

A few days later they actually received a letter from the Emperor stating: “Whoever will touch that man will be killed.” This miracle happened to the Gaon Rav Chaim.

The Visit

In his Sefer Vaad L’chachamim (Livorno 1796), which is part two of his Sefer Shem Hagedolim (Livorno 1774), a compendium of biographical information about gedolei Torah, the gaon known as the Chida (1724-1806), writes the following:

Moreinu Harav R’ Löw m’Prague: His name is extremely well-known, and he wrote many sefarim as mentioned in part one and part two. And Hagaon Rav Naftali Hakohen (1649-1718) in a Tshuva in Sh’eilos U’tshuvos Chacham Tzvi writes, “My grandfather, Harav Loew of Prague was known to have had Ruach Hakodesh.

The Chida then writes that he heard from an Ashkenazi rav an amazing story that happened with the Maharal in which he was enlightened from the Heavens, and he mentions a meeting that took place between the Maharal and Emperor Rudolph, as described in Sefer Tzemach David.

Twelve years earlier, a sefer called the K’sav Yosher was printed anonymously, although its author is known to have been Rav Shaul Berlin (1740-1794). In it, the author makes a reference to “….the miracles that are known to all Jews in Galus, like the ones that R’ Liva performed when Emperor Rudolf invited him for a meal, and through a “Shem,” a fire descended from the heavens.”

We may speculate based on this that who the Chida referred to that he heard from “Rav Echod Ashkenazi”, about the visit of the Maharal to Rudolf. We know that the Chida met some of his family members, one of them being his uncle, R’ Saul in Amsterdam. He also met up with his uncle R’ Saul Halevi the Rav of Hague. It seems like this episode was well known to the family, and the Chida probably heard it from one of these Gedolim.

The visit was recorded just a few days after it took place by the Maharal’s student, Rav David Ganz, in his Sefer Tzemach David, as noted above. He writes that the visit took place Sunday, the third of Adar, in 5352. (February 16, 1592).

The Discussion

There is a dearth of reliable sources of information about what actually occurred during the mysterious visit mentioned by the Chida. Among the extant sources are these:

In the year 1850, a book by the name of Sipurei Niflaos was printed in Yiddish, which includes six incredible stories. On the cover page, its anonymous author writes, “We copied all this from Hebrew, to let everyone know Hashem’s wonders.” The fifth of these stories was titled “Der Hoicher Rebbe, R’ Liv und der Graf,” or “The great rabbi and the count.” The story is about the Maharal and a count, in which the Maharal performs similar wonders.

Another reference to the visit appears in Sefer Shemen Tov,2Shemen Tov, Piotrkow 1915, page 119. where there appears a letter written by the Kitover Rav, in which he mentions the following story that he heard from his father, Hagaon Rav Elisha Yitzchok, the rav of Kimpulung: The Emperor Rudolf complained to the Maharal about the contradictory feelings within him. On the one hand, he hated the Jews, while on the other, he found that when he met with an individual Jew in person, he would treat him with kindness.

Since he had heard that the Jewish rabbi is a brilliant man, he asked him if it would be possible to meet and for the Maharal to explain to him the meaning of these conflicting feelings. The Maharal asked for a few days’ delay, and then entered a special room, where he davened that Hashem should enlighten him with the right explanation for the Emperor. At the designated time, the Maharal went to Rudolf and explained that he is a true son of his mother, but not of his father. His father was actually Jewish, which the Maharal proved to him.

Title: Rudolf II. by seine Alchymisten – Rudolf II by his alchemists
Date: 1885
Author: Václav Brožík (1851–1901)
Note: It’s not clear who the alchemist is depicted in the engraving.

The visit was also discussed by the Maharal’s grandson, Rav Moshe Shimshon Bacharach, as mentioned by his son, Rav Yair Chaim Bacharach, author of Chavos Yair, in the index the latter made for his father’s writings. One entry in that index reads, “An amazing story that my grandfather was called to Emperor Rudolf/year 5352…”

A False Report

As we were doing research, we chanced upon an interesting newspaper cutout.3Hamagid no. 14, 3 April 1872, page 163. It was officially rewritten from the Maharal’s son-in-law, Harav R’ Yitzchok Itzik Hakohen Katz.

We read the following:

I found this at my friend the enlightened R’ Yaakov Spiegel on the cover page of a Mikroas Gedolos Chumash (printed in Venice in the year 1542 by Daniel son of ben Cornelius Bomberg) It was handwritten by the son-in-law of the Baal Gur Arye.

We have no idea who this Yaakov Spiegel is. We do know that the writer of the newspaper article, Shlomo Rubin, was one of the main Maskilim in Galicia. The Maskilim printed much literature at the time, trying to degrade the gedolei Yisroel. Bearing in mind who the writer was we read the article quite hesitantly.

What was written in that Mikroas Gedolos Chumash of Yaakov Spiegel?

Today, Sunday, the tenth of Adar 5352, the EmperorCaesar Rudolf ordered by his minister Bertier to Mordechai Meizel and Yitzchok ben Chanoch Weisel , that my father-in-law Hagoan R’ Yuda Lib Y”z make his appearance at the minister Bertier.

The Maharal went. He took along his brother Harav R’ Sinai, me, and Yitzchok (that was mentioned above).

As we arrived there to the minister, we were ushered in by a servant. We entered a room that brought us into another and then yet to another couple of rooms. Our master the EmperorCaeser was able to enter the room from a few different entrances. Then the minister entered the room, from an inner room, and asked the three of us how we are doing. He treated us with great respect and then invited us into his inner room. There he asked us to sit down and again he treated us with great honor. The minister stood in front of us and spoke to us with respect. He then entered an inner room where a servant prepared a respectable bench, and then prepared another simpler bench opposite the first one. He then came closer to us and took my father-in-law by his hand and showed him to come along with him into the room. R’ Sinai and I asked if we can leave, but we were told to remain seated. My father-in-law followed Bertier into the room. There the minister seated him on the respectable bench, while seating himself on the lower less respectable one. There they discussed secretive issues, in a loud voice. Both of us heard each and every word of the questions and answers. This was done intentionally so the EmperorCaesar that was seated in the next room should overhear the entire conversation. The meeting lasted about a half hour. Suddenly, we heard the sound of benches moving. The Emperor opened his curtain and entered the room where the meeting was taking place. He continued the discussion with my father-in-law and then he left the room. This was about eight or ten cubits away from the two of us, not further.

Then my father-in-law continued talking to the minister for a little while. He then walked my father-in-law to us hand in hand with utmost respect and honor. He then walked with us until we got outside.

What the discussion was all about we have to keep secret as is the custom by the kings. I just wrote in short how the minister treated us with such respect.

Today, Monday, the eleventh of Adar, the minister told Yitzchok how the King was extremely impressed with my father-in-law.

Hashem should give him a good heart to treat the Jews well all his days, with his advisors and servants, and he should live long, amen.

Divrei Hakaton Yitzchok ben R’ Shimshon Katz Z”l Chasan Hagaon Hagadol B’Yisroel Shmo Moreinu Harav R’ Loew Katz [!].

A Nice Story

The writer claims to have found this story in a Chumash that was printed in Venice in the year 1542 by Daniel Bomberg.

In Venice, there was a printing company that Daniel Bomberg He printed the first Chumash in the year 1517. Over the years, he printed and reprinted many Chumashim and Mikraos Gedolos Chumashim. Mikraos Gedolos is referring to a Chumash or a Nach with many Meforshim on the page, including Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonasoan.

However, in the year 1542, he didn’t print any sort of Chumash!

The second problem is the date. He writes that the visit took place Sunday, the tenth of Adar, while in the Sefer Tzemach David, the story is dated precisely one week earlier, Sunday the third of Adar. When did the visit actually take place? One of the above is wrong. The question is just which one. It’s actually not a question at all. The Tzemach David is an authentic report, printed by the writer himself actually at the time of the story. One can find the original print of the Sefer in the libraries. See photocopy.

As opposed to the newspaper article, where we’re relying on the writer, that officially found the information in a Sefer, that as discussed above, was never printed. Rubin’s report has no basis and is therefore worthless. Technically, we should’ve stopped right here, but while we’re at it, let’s discuss a few more issues with Rubin’s article.

  1. The Chida noted that the discussion took about one and a half hours while Rubin wrote that it took only half an hour.
  2. According to R’ Saul Berliner’s report it seems like the Emperor was extremely excited to meet the Maharal, while from Rubin’s report it seems like the Fürst Bertier invited the Maharal and by chance, the Emperor entered in the middle.
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