The Jewish King of Poland (for a day)

Often we think of Poland as a place of pain for the Jewish people. That might be true, but there are also a lot of positive things that happened in Poland for our people. An especially exciting story is the legendary story of the Jewish King of Poland!

Here is one variation:

“Upon the death of King Stephan Batory in 1586, there was a gap in leadership since a Crown Prince had not been chosen. The Council of Ministers gathered in Warsaw to elect a new king, but could not make a decision during the time allotted by law. To buy time they unanimously named the respected Rabbi Saul Wohl as King for one night. As he set on the throne they cheered, “long live the King!” During that night the Rabbi King passed several decrees to benefit the Jewish people. The next day they elected Zygmund the Third as King of Poland. “

Who is Rabbi Shaul Wohl you ask? The grandson of the Maharam and scion of the Katzenellenbogen family (and you thought Katz was a Jewish name ?). He also leased (collected rent) on lands in Brest-Litovsk for ten years as servitor regis (servant of the king). Rabbi Wohl became a leader of the Four Lands Vaad and his son, Rabbi Meir, became the leader of Brest-Litovsk.

When the synagogue in Brest-Litovsk was rebuilt in 1840 they found a plaque in the women’s section, “the leader, Rabbi Sha’ul son of the Gaon Shemu’el formerly of Padua, built the women’s gallery in the synagogue for Torah and testimony, in memory of his righteous and pious wife Devorah.” Interestingly the first biblical king was King Shaul as well. Looks like history really does go in cycles!

Parsha in a couple words: Za’atar Heals


Authors Notes:

With gratitude to Manny Saltiel for sending out a weekly newsletter of Jewish history that helps inspire these thoughts. Also a big shout out to Wikipedia and also YIVO Encyclopedia for all the endless blackholes of history. If you have any feedback on my new blog please let me know! 

Alex is the Operations Director at TJE. With a degree in History (B.A.) and a schmaltz in Judaism (N.J.B.), this weekly “Blast from the Past” is a fun way to combine and share how the past can inform our future.