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Thursday, September 18, 2008


Reb Shlomo Carlebach Visits Prague

Today is the 18th of Elul, and the 399th yahrzeit of the Holy Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Loewe, who passed away in 5369 [1609]. He was born in Posen, Poland, on the night of the Pesach Seder, to a distinguished family of rabbis that traced its ancestry to King David. Rabbi Kook stated that the "Maharal was the father of the approach of the Gaon of Vilna on the one hand, and of the Baal Shem Tov, the father of Chassidus, on the other hand." He has been described as a Kabbalist who wrote in philosophic garb.

You can find more at last year’s post, The Patience of the Maharal.


The following story is actually a combination of two different accounts of what appears to be the same story. One is Reb Shlomo Carlebach himself speaking, which was adapted from a previous post, OD AVINU CHAI. Therefore, it contains shifts from first to third person in its presentation here. However, most of Reb Shlomo’s account is in the first part, and most of the other account is in the second half of the story. So without further ado:

“Anyway, I want you to know, in the year 1964, two days before Purim, I gave a concert in Frankfurt [Germany]. And on Purim itself, by the feast of Purim, I was supposed to give a concert in Lyon, in France.
And suddenly I had this crazy idea - why shouldn't I go to the Reading of the Megilla in Prague? You know, some of you - a lot of people today are - but my family also - we are descendants of the Maharal of Prague, the one who made the Golem. And I thought, gevalt, I gotta be there! The only thing is, people tell me in Frankfurt, it's not so simple. At that time, 1964, to go to Prague was the heaviest thing! Even more heavy than Russia. You need a visa at least two months in advance. And, I'll take a chance, it's Purim, right? The Ribono Shel Olam's performing miracles. So I said, "Ribono Shel Olam, what do You care, one more miracle?"
…in Frankfurt … I'm boarding the plane to go to Prague. When I boarded the plane, they told me, "Do you have a visa?"
I said, "No."
In those days it was difficult enough for an American citizen and nearly impossible for an obvious observant Jew to get an entry visa.
They said, "Listen, the plane is there for two hours. If they don't let you in, you [can] come right back." Good.
Prague was the first "iron curtain" city that Reb Shlomo visited in the Sixties.
"Arriving in Prague, two days before Purim, and you know in Prague - you think [it's] like today, when you come to the border, you show the passport and you go through. No, the person who's supposed to look at the passport is out, and you end up sitting there for two hours doing nothing. It wasn't the 'good old days' in Prague. And we, of a modern kind of society...and you wait. Finally he comes. The man looks at me, he says, "Do you have a visa?"
Turning the pages of Reb Shlomo's passport, the police inspector asked Reb Shlomo, "Where is the Visa, where is the Visa?"
"Don't waste your time looking," answered Reb Shlomo, "for I must confess, in truth I have no visa."
"Well, why do you want to go to Prague? And if you have no visa, then please turn back," the guard replied, "for you are leaving on the next flight out."

The statue of the Maharal in Prague

I don't speak Czech, but they all speak German. I said to him, "I want you to know something. I don't know if you know this, but, about 400-500 years ago, this big Rabbi, in German they call him the High Rabbi Loeb [the Maharal]. And I'm one of his descendants. You know in Prague, in the middle of the city is the monument of the High Rabbi Loeb." I have come to visit my holy ancestor's grave and pay him my respects.
The guard turned white as a sheet and looks at me and says, "What?! You are a descendant of the High Rabbi Loeb? Do you know something? We're not Jewish, but from the earliest age, from the age 2,3,4,5 - whenever my parents put me to sleep, they would tell me stories of the High Rabbi Loeb." He says, "Here, I'm giving you a visa for five days." Not so simple.

Reb Shlomo grabbed a taxicab and headed straight for the Alt-Neu Shul in the center of the old city of Prague. Here, in the ancient synagogue, a tour group was in progress. Reb Shlomo listened intently as the Intourist leader, an outstanding Communist Party member, lectured the group about the world class landmark, historical sight and house of worship.
"Imagine the superstitions of a medieval primitive barbaric society, and of its leader, the esteemed Rabbi Loeb. It is said, this legendary Rabbi created a Golem, a Frankenstein, if you will. To this very day silly fools claim that a Golem still lurks in the attic of this medieval synagogue. Even the fascist horde feared to enter, let alone touch, this place. Ha! But we socialists are a strong people, a modern people of the twentieth century. Alone, we vanquished the forces of reaction and fascism from this Earth. For we are believers in the truths of Science, of human progress. And we who did not fear fascism, also know no fear of the barbaric beliefs of medieval religion ... nor of its Golem!"
Reb Shlomo asked the guide, "Please forgive me for interrupting, but have you yourself been up to see the attic? If you are so sure there is no Golem in the attic, then why do you fear to enter it? Please, lead us there now so that we may all see this truth ourselves." The tourists all nodded their heads in silent agreement.
Shaken, the guide refused. "But the ladder is very old. It may break. Therefore, the attic is not suitable for public entry. It is verboten, strictly off limits to tourists."
Reb Shlomo answered, "I understand your fear to enter the attic of the Golem of Prague. I, Shlomo ben Pesya, am not afraid. In the name of my holy great grandfather, Rabbi Loeb, the heiliger Maharal of Prague, I offer you a gift of fifty American dollars -- in cash -- to allow us into his attic."
The guide fled in panic, as Reb Shlomo fearlessly led the tourists up the ladder into the attic of the Golem of Prague. Reb Shlomo never said what they saw or what he did in that room.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu - May the Maharal's merits protect us!

I remeber hearing Reb Shlomo tell the story without the part of him entering the attic do you actually have him on tape saying he entered the attic?
Holy Brother Sammy,
Thanks for stopping by & leaving a comment. I have that info from Dovidl Staloff's website, here:
If you ask him & find out differently than I've posted here, please notify me, thanks!
Shana Tova to all!!!
I read you as often as I can. Keep up your good work its very inspiring. On the website there is no email for Duvidal. Gemar Tov to you and your family
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