The Maharal Institute, a new Jewish studies centre dedicated to the 16th century rabbi, philosopher and scholar Yehuda Loew, opened in Prague on Thursday. Founded by the Prague Chabad Centre, the Institute aims to spread the legacy and the teaching of the great rabbi Loew, a legendary figure in the history of the Czech capital.
Thousands of tourists visit the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague each year to see the tomb of the 16th century rabbi Yehuda Loew ben Bezalel, also known as the Maharal, perhaps the most famous rabbi of the Czech Lands. On Thursday, to mark the 399th anniversary of his death, Prague’s Chabad Centre opened the Maharal Institute. Rabbi Manis Barash said he hoped the institute will revive some of the past fame of Jewish learning in the Czech capital.
“We have gathered today to open the Maharal Institute. It will be a centre of study, of Torah, of outreach; a centre where every single person will be welcome. I’m sure Prague won’t be the same.”
The Maharal Institute, located in one of the cobbled streets of the former Prague Jewish ghetto, was opened by a distinct guest – the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger. I asked him what was so inspiring about rabbi Loew even today, nearly 400 years after his death.
“His personality was very special. He was a very modest man but he had such a big influence that you can see the results 400 years later. Today, we start the 400th year since his passing away. Until today, he’s inside every Jewish heart, and not only Jewish: you can hear about him from every Czech. He was such an amazing person as a teacher, as a rabbi, as a leader that he is still influential today.”
Rabbi Manis Barash came to Prague 12 years ago to become the first leader of the Chabad Centre, a part of world-wide Chassidic group known for their outreach to secular Jews. He explains the mission of the Maharal Institute.
“The Maharal Institute will familiarize the public, both Jewish and non-Jewish, with the teachings and writings of the Maharal. Today, the Maharal is very famous all over the world and especially in the Czech Republic as the creator of the Golem, there’s a play and there’s a movie, but not many people know about the Maharal’s writing. Today, 22 books by the Maharal are published on Jewish law and philosophy, and not many people are familiar with that. It’s almost an injustice for a person like the Maharal that he should be remembered for the stories of the Golem.”
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