Monday, December 21, 2015

The Amazing Bohemian and Moravian Jews of Prague, Czechoslovakia

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                       

Czechoslovakia used to be called Bohemia of the Holy Roman Empire. At its height, , it also had parts of present AustriaGermanyHungaryItalyPolandSlovakiaSloveniaand and Ukraine.  Jews were known to be living in Bohemia since the 10th century, most likely in Prague.  A former province of Bohemia was called Moravia.  It was later Austria, and finally called Czechoslovakia.  During the Crusaders Period from 1096 on, Jews suffered severe persecutions and many were forcibly baptized.  In 1337 Jews suffered from anti-Semitic massacres and again at the time of the Black Death in 1349.  They were partly expelled in 1421.  The Polish persecuted them from 1648 onward, and after that horror, their numbers increased from immigration of other Jews who had been persecuted in their towns.
Jews had settled here in the capital in the 10th century and were traders.  When the Crusaders came along in 1096,
they were able to finally resist their attacks.  During the 14th and 15th centuries, Jews, however, were expulsed from the land, suffered from violence and were discriminated when living there.
13th Century forced clothing upon Jews in Germany
 Things improved during the 16th century which was also the community's Golden Age that lasted until the 18th century.
Karlstejn Castle in Czechoslovakia, on page about Bohemia
In 1512, Gershon ben Solomon Cohen had a Hebrew printing shop in Prague.  Things were good until 1562 when all Hebrew books suffered from censorship.  From the 16th to 18th centuries, Prague's Jewish community was one of the largest and most important communities in Central Europe.  It had a large and self-contained Jewish quarter (Judenstadt).  The ancient synagogues, many of which still stand, were beautiful.  The synagogues, Altneuschul and Pinkasschul, and huge cemetery are still among the sights of the city.   It had world-renowed scholars, the Hebrew printing-press, and highly-developed autonomous institutions as well as a Jewish craft-guild.          
                                                      THE MAHARAL OF PRAGUE
Prague is famous for its "Hoh Rabbi Low and the Golem that he wrote about which as entered into Jewish folklore with the Golem being the basis for the story of SUPERMAN.
The Golem -his development among the Jews was connected with the magical interpretation of SEPHER YETZIRAH and the belief in the creative power of the Holy Names.  Rabbi Low's Golem was a creature fulfilling tasks imposed upon it and also able to bring about destruction and ruin.  Now the word is used in Yiddish for a stupid person.  
 Rabbi Low was called the Maharal who was born around 1525 and died in Prague.  He was the Chief Rabbi of Prague from 1597, a talmudist, moralist, theologian, mathematician and mystic being into the Kabbalah.  Maharal stands for Moraynu HaReav Judah Loew ben B'zalel, translated as Our teacher, Judah Loew, son of B'zalel.  Der Hohe Rabbi Loewe von Prag, translated as the Holy Rabbi Loew of Prague.

It's generally accepted that he came from Worms, Germany, a center of early Rabbis.  He was a poor student in his Yeshiva who became engaged to a wealthy woman, Perla Shmelkes, daughter of Samuel Shmelkes, and intended to continue his studies with her family's support.  The wealthy family lost their money, however, and his marriage was delayed, so his fiancee wound up running a food shop, a grocery store.  One day a knight passed by and snatched up a loaf of bread from the shop on his spear.  He told her he had not eaten for 3 days and left his cloak with its lining containing gold coins as payment.   He didn't come back for it, so she was able to get married, and Judah spent the rest of his life in relative affluence, a very lucky young man.
He arrived in Prague when he was past 50 and was the Landesrabbiner of Moravia in Mikulov (Vikolsburg) from 1553 to 1573.  He founded a yeshiva in Prague, but left in 1584 to serve as Rabbi in Moravia or alternatively in Posen, and returned in 1588.

On February 23, 1592, Emperor Rudolf II invited him to an audience to the Hradshin because he wanted to learn about mysticism from the Maharal who was said could perform cabbalistic wonders.  By February 16, 1594, his colleague and friend the astronomer Tycho Brahe, arranged for him to speak with the emperor again, possibly on the subject of alchemy.  At that meeting, the Maharal was named Chief Rabbi of Posen.
The Golem came about at the Altneuschul Synagogue in Prague to serve the Jewish community that was under much stress and anti-Semitism.  According the the legend, he took dust and brought the Golem to life by insertion of G-d's name under its tongue and it obeyed Judah's commands, helping Jews survive these anti-Jewish measures and blood libel accusations.  It also served as the shabbos goy.  Finally, it had to be destroyed and returned to dust because it ran amok on a Friday afternoon during Kabbalat Shabbat when Judah forgot to remove the divine name.  The remains of the Golem  were sealed up in the attic of the Altneu synagogue in Prague.

 This legend was also connected to Rabbi Elijah of Prague UNTIL  the late 18th century.  Elijah Ben Judah of Chelm, Baal Shem was born in 1514 and died in 1583.  He also was a Rabbi and Kabbalist, known for his miracle cures by means of charms and amulets.  According to tradition, he was the creator of the Golem.

Since 1917, the end of WWI, the Maharal's statue has stood at the entrance of the City Hall of Prague.  His 1st work, Tikkun Ho'alom, was published in 1995 in English translation.
A descendant of the Maharal is Rabbi Yaakov Bachrach.   According to Rabbi Yaakov Bachrach, he was the grandson of the Gaon Y. Yehuda Bachrach, and his genealogy went back to the Chavas Yoir and presumably the Maharal and onto Rashi and then to King David.  The history is that Bezalel Hazaken had a son, Yehuda Loew (Liwa) ben Bezalel.  Yehuda Loew died in 1440 in Worms, or possibly in 18 Heshvan(Hebrew calendar) in 1439 in Prague.  Yehuda Lev Hazaken is the son of Isaac, son of Bezalel Hazaken.  Yehuda was the head of a yeshiva (religious school)  in Worms, Germany-Rhineland.  The name, Liwa, which frequently appeared in the Worms area, is generally pronounced "Liwa" although originally it either stood for the German, "Loewe" which meant LION, the heraldic sign of the tribe of Yehudah "Judah", or for the German-Jewish "Loew."  Yehuda had a son, Bezalel ben Yehuda LOEW.    Bezalel LOEW had a son, Haim or Chaim LOEW-BEER ben Bezalel LOEB.  Haim LOEW-BEER b: c1450 -1480 in Isenheim, Alsace, France and died in 1522 in Prague or on November 24, 1565 in Worms, Germany.  Haim married Vogelin Feigele and they had 4 sons: The genealogy goes on to meet up with the Maharal.
All this wonderful history to bring honor to Prague, yet the Jews were exiled from the city in 1745 to 1748 and were only allowed to return after promising to pay exorbitant taxes.  In 1848, they were granted full equality.  Four years later their ghetto was abolished.  The Jews then began taking a large share in German cultural life with only smaller groups showing interest in Czech culture.  Under the Czechoslovak Republic between WWI and WWII, the Prague community did well.  Jews achieved prominence in all walks of life.
Jews rounded up in front of this picturesque home in Boskovice, Czechoslovakia by Nazis. 
After 1938 in September, however, 15,000 Jews from the Sudeten district ceded to Germany had to seek refuge in Prague.  A month later, the Nazi regime was formed in the country, and the liquidation of the Prague Jewish community began.  There were 65,000 Jews in Prague in 1942.  About 25,000 of them were refugees, but these were exterminated by 1945.

2015 Immigration Problems
The remaining or returning Jews numbering 1,400 in 1990 became subservient to the Communist regime until the 1989 Czech revolution, after which it became very active.  Since 1989, the magnificently preserved Jewish synagogues and cemetery have again drawn a large number of Jewish visitors from around the world.

Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia



  1. a question nadene........
    my husband's last name is leibee. i saw the name leib in another post of yours and wonder if it is a jewish name. spelled pretty similar so perhaps leib is the root name? just wondering. (he is german ethnicity)

  2. I looked up Leibowitz. Leibowitz Name Meaning Jewish (Ashkenazic): patronymic from Leib 1. The suffix -owitz represents a Germanized form of the eastern Slavic patronymic suffix -ovich, Polish -owicz. So Leib is Jewish. I also looked up Leibee and found a lot in the USA. I noted Henry, Illinois had a large family. That city was close to where my mother's Robinsons were living. My maternal grandfather was living in Wenona, Illinois. Any Robinsons in your family? I would think that Leib would definitely be German; possibly German Jewish. Have him take the familyfinder test at Family Tree DNA and see if he matches up with any Jewish Ashkenazi people. That would be most interesting. I personally checked to see who matched me in DNA and I found Leible, Leibovich, Leibovitz and Leibowitz.

  3. well that is very interesting. i have not done his genealogy and yes, he should test. will have to check into that, nadene. i knew you would have sources to go to to find out. thanks!

  4. Andre, I just checked my paternal 1st cousin, and she matched Leib, Leiba, and Leibovich. Her father is the one I've written about who escaped from Germany in 1939 to the USA, a German Jew.

  5. did a quick check and it looks like my husband's 5x grgrandfather immigrant leiby was from wuertemberg germany b 1724 d 1807 berks co pa. (6x grgrf)-his father b 1695 d 1760 in germany and immigrated also to pa. his 3x grgrf george leibee lived in ky and died in henry co illinois. how interesting is this!

  6. can't find much on the mother's lineages. the leibee (leiby) name goes back a ways. i have not really worked on his genealogy but think i might need to do that. ;) his ancestor leibee and my ancestor katz all hailed from wuertemberg germany--small small world.........

  7. That is amazing! They could even be related. There is a DNA test for that. Do you have children? If so, have one also take the family finder test, and from that child, it can be found if his parents have any DNA connection-thus being related. The test is to go to It's a free site.

  8. Read Kingdom of southwestern Germany. The earliest traces of Jews in this country are found in Bopfingen (1241), Ulm (1243), Esslingen (1253), Oehringen (1253), Calw (1284), and Weil (1289); and their numbers, as well as the places where they lived, may be ascertained by investigating the persecutions to which they were subjected by Rindfleisch and his followers (1298). Oppenheimer lived here-one of my matches, an important one. Lots more in this article to read.

  9. thanks for sending that to me, nadene. will check it out. my katz lived in calw weurtemberg germany . will have to check out where mike's were from. we don't have children together. he has his, and i have mine, from previous marriages. it would be good to get him to test (if he will...) i have been to gedmatch many times and that is where i found out something about some of the jewish heritage i have. both askenazi and sephardic---it is small, so it goes way way back, but it is there. plus what i know of our family history and then the look ups i have done on these families, (and there they are on wikipedia, etc,) and through articles you have posted, i can see that there is jewish blood streaming into me from both of my parents. katz on daddy's side and bassano/denasi on my momma's side. :)

    and the leib name and what you have told me about makes it very possible that mike has jewish lineage in him too.

    amazing stuff...i love it.
    thanks for continuing the good articles. i am glad to be learning from them...

  10. I wrote another using that article I sent to you but magnifying it and explaining a lot more. Wait till you read that one. Glad to hear you're familiar with Gedmatch and that you found that out already. Now read this article and you'll see the history more so of those places. (I think).

  11. thanks nadene. i read that article and just read what you wrote in the latest one. one day the jewish people will never wander again--will be home in the land they are promised, living with no more threats....from anyone....ever again.

    and i consider that these are also my people. i know it is far back there------but the jewish people are part of me---body and soul.

  12. I believe you are right, Andre. We are cousins at heart, body and soul.