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A Jewish King of Poland for One Night
September 25 , 3:00 pm
In 2014, in an official visit to Poland, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin shared a curious personal anecdote: that he was the heir of the Polish throne. According to a family tradition, one of his ancestors, Saul Wahl, was elected King of Poland for one night.
Rivlin’s speech is just one example of an oft repeated legend, which has persisted since the 18th century among the descendants of Saul Wahl (d. 1617). Most scholarship has focused on locating a “grain of truth” in the legend, but, historians have established that Wahl was never appointed king.
Ofer Dynes examines how this legend has informed the perspectives of those who considered themselves part of this Polish-Jewish royal dynasty. What, for example, can we glean from the legend’s political insights? How did Jews make sense of their place in the Polish political landscape? How did they imagine the possibilities and complexities of a Jew becoming the king of Poland? Second, on the basis of archival evidence, Dynes will reconstruct what the legend meant for Saul Wahl’s descendants, the prominent Katzenellenbogen rabbinic family, who considered themselves claimants for the Polish throne. Finally, Dynes will explore what it means – for both Poland and Israel – that the current Israeli President considers himself as a legitimate heir of a Polish royal dynasty.
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