Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Book on R. Saul Wahl, King of Poland for a Day

Dr. Neil Rosenstein, who has already published some rather important works on Jewish genealogy generally, as well as on R. Elijah Gaon of Vilna, has published a new book, devoted to R. Saul (Wahl) Katzenellenbogen. His earlier two-volume landmark work, The Unbroken Chain: Biographical Sketches and Genealogy of Illustrious Jewish Families from the 15th-20th Century, lists in great detail, the descendants of R. Saul (Wahl) Katzenellenbogen. R. Saul is best known for the legend that he became king for a day over Poland. The story goes that that after the Polish king died, the nobles were unable to come to an agreement who would replace him. The law, however, mandated that there not be a day go by without a king in place. The nobles decided to temporarily grant R. Saul Wahl the kingship until they could come to a consensus. In the end, R. Saul Wahl remained king for one day and during that time enacted various law for the benefit of the Jews.

Dr. Rosenstein, has now collected in English for the first time, just about everything there is about this legend and more generally about Saul Wahl (including Saul Wahl's library). He uncovered a document which has bearing on the dating of Saul Wahl's death date as well as much other primary material. Additionally, he includes an extensive discussion about how this legend developed, as well as an article (by Professor S. A. Bershadsky) about Saul Wahl, as recorded in Polish and Russian literature. As Dr. Rosenstein is an expert in Jewish Genealogy and on the Katzenellenbogen family, he includes an extensive genealogy of Saul Wahl and his family. The book also includes about the history of the some of the figures involved in the Saul Wahl king story as well as more general history of the time. Most everything in the book includes photocopies of either the relevant documents or materials.

While the book contains much fascinating material on Saul Wahl, I think that it is worthwhile to make note of a few things that Dr. Rosenstein was apparently unaware of their existence. Dr. Rosenstein notes the first mention of Saul Wahl being king, there were prior mentions of Saul Wahl and his standing, but not the king legend – and Rosenstein includes these earlier mentions as well – appears in the work Yesh M'Nechalin (previously touched upon at the Seforim blog here) authored by R. Pinchas Katzenellenbogen (no. 53-55), a descendant of Saul Wahl. But, Rosenstein appears to be unaware that this book is actually published; he notes that it remains in manuscript form, but never notes that in fact it has been printed in 1986! While obviously there is nothing wrong with going to the source – here, the manuscript - it helps the reader to know that they can also view the details somewhere for themselves.

Another omission is Dr. Rosenstein includes a discussion of the medical school in Padua but appears to be unaware that this school and its Jewish connection and graduates was discussed extensively by Prof. David Ruderman (Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe [Yale University, 1995], esp. pp. 100-118) and Dr. Ruderman's discussion would enhance Dr. Rosenstein's considerably.

The book is available at Beigeleisen, as well as here.

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