Path of Life
Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (ca. 1525–1609)

Židovské muzeum v Praze Správa Pražského hradu

Introduction

Ladislav Šaloun (1870–1946), model for the sculpture of Rabbi Loew on the Prague City Hall building, Mariánské Square, 1910
Imperial Stables, Prague Castle
August 5 - November 8, 2009


An exhibition held by the Jewish Museum in Prague and the Prague Castle for the 400th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Loew.

The exhibition is held under the auspices of Václav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, Václav Riedlbauch, the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic and Pavel Bém, the Mayor of the City of Prague.

Myth and Reality

This year is the 400th anniversary of the death of the renowned Rabbi Judah Loew (Löw) ben Bezalel. The religious, pedagogical and philosophical legacy of this scholar remains a lively inspiration to this day. Few people have attracted such a broad range of admirers, including those with starkly contrasting religious, philosophical and cultural views. The idea of the Rabbi Loew as the personification of the mystery of the ghetto, a miracle worker, mathematician and creator of an artificial being may not be historically grounded but it has provided immense inspiration for literature, art and drama. The real and the imaginary Rabbi Loew both have a right to exist, although there is an immense divide between his historical legacy and the way he is predominantly seen. This fact is of such importance that it serves as the basis for the entire exhibition concept. The exhibition comprises two parts: the first focuses on the historical Rabbi Loew and the authentic traditions connected with him, while the second looks at Rabbi Loew’s legacy and the origin of the legends that are associated with his name.

The Life and Work of Rabbi Loew

Although his precise date of birth is unknown, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel is thought to have been born around 1525 in the Polish city of Poznan, the son of parents from Prague. He was the Chief Rabbi of Moravia in 1553-1573, but he gave up his position and moved to Prague where he became a rector of the Klaus, a private rabbinic academy. He was active at this institution in 1573-1584 and 1588-1592. He held the post of Chief Rabbi of Poznan in 1584-1588 and again in 1592-1595. He became Chief Rabbi of Prague in 1596. He died on the 18th of Elul 5769 by the Jewish calendar (17 September 1609) and was buried in Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery.

The core of the exhibition features unique objects, books and archival materials from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, as well as rare artefacts on loan from Czech and foreign institutions. Among the most important exhibits are the writings of Rabbi Loew, alongside official books and texts associated with him. Also unique is a 1597 document from the Austrian State Archives in Vienna, which has a signature by this great Jewish scholar whose fame spread following his meeting with Emperor Rudolf II at Prague Castle. Another rare exhibit is a table bell that was made from an alloy of seven metals on the basis of kabbalistic instructions and belonged to Rudolf II; this is on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The exhibition also traces the development of the Prague ghetto and the Jewish cemetery during the lifetime of Rabbi Loew. Thanks to the City of Prague Museum, it is possible to see a 3D depiction of the most important buildings of Prague’s Jewish Town, as rendered in an 18th century model by Antonín Langweil. In addition to Rabbi Loew’s house, this shows the major public buildings and the tombstones of Rabbi Loew and other prominent figures from the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Myths and Legends

Ironically, the general public now knows Judah Loew ben Bezalel mainly due to the golem legend, with which he was not associated until the nineteenth century and which is also featured in the exhibition. Broader awareness of legends about Rabbi Loew and his golem was raised in 1847 with the publication in Prague of Sippurim [Tales], which followed on from the works of the German Romantics. These legends were also included in works by Alois Jirásek, Josef Svátek and Adolf Wenig. Golem legends were most widespread, however, at the beginning of the 20th century, when a number of literary works on this theme were written by such authors as Yudel Rosenberg, Gustav Meyrink and Chaim Bloch. Rabbi Loew and the golem were depicted in art first by Mikoláš Aleš and later by Hugo Steiner-Prag. A monument to Rabbi Loew was made by sculptor Ladislav Šaloun for the front of Prague’s New Town Hall. A play about Rabbi Loew and his golem was performed at the Liberated Theatre in 1930. The greatest success, however, was with the film versions of the legends by Paul Wegener (1914, 1917, 1920), Julian Duviviér (1936) and Frič (in the 1951 film The Emperor’s and the Golem.


Admission

Basic 160 Kč
Reduced 100 Kč
Family 220 Kč
Group tickets for pupils of elementary and secondary schools 40 Kč per pupil

Open daily 10-18


20% discount after showing the exhibition ticket at the cash desks of the historic synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague’s Jewish Town


Guided exhibition tours (about 90 minutes)
2 September, 4 p.m. PhDr. Arno Pařík
9 September, 4 p.m. PhDr. Arno Pařík
1 October, 3.30 p.m. PhDr. Eva Kosáková
15 October, 3.30 p.m. PhDr. Eva Kosáková
25 October, 3.30 p.m. PhDr. Eva Kosáková
4 November, 4 p.m. PhDr. Arno Pařík

Workshops for pupils and students of elementary and secondary schools after prior arrangement with the Education and Culture Centre of the Jewish Museum in Prague, tel. 222 325 172, e-mail education@jewishmuseum.cz.

Exhibition catalogue published by Academia Publishing House, the Centre for Joint Activities of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, and the Jewish Museum in Prague.


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