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King Saul

King Saul

A King for One Day

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We are going to tell you a most remarkable story about King Saul. No, not the King Saul, son of Kish, who is so well-known to us all from T'nach. The "King Saul" of today's story was a king in Poland about four hundred years ago, and was a king for just one day!

We will agree with you that this sounds extremely unbelievable, something in the nature of a legend. But, nevertheless, it has been accepted as a historical fact, and the family in question have observed it as a tradition, the greatgrandson having written it all down exactly as told to him by his own father.

Here, then, is the story.

Saul, whose family name was originally Katzenelenboigen, then later, Vall (in German the name means "chosen"), was born in the city of Padua in Italy, about the year 5300 (1540). His father, Reb Shmuel Yuda Katzenelenboigen, the son of the famous Rav, MAHARAM, of Padua, was the rabbi of that city.

The young Saul was a very bright boy, made excellent progress in his studies under the guidance and teaching of his father and, when he was old enough, his father sent him to the yeshivah of his good friend Rabbi Shlomoh Shur in Brisk, which was then regarded as the best yeshivah in all of Poland and Lithuania.

At that time there lived in Poland one of the most important people among the Polish aristocracy, namely, Prince Radzivil. He also happened to be a very close friend of King Batori, and was his Prime Minister.

Prince Radzivil was the richest man in Poland. One day he decided to take a world-wide trip, to visit many foreign lands and become acquainted with their people. He took along a large number of servants and slaves to ensure his comfort wherever he would find himself. And, to make sure of having a good time, he invited a number of his friends to accompany him.

But money and "good times" don't last forever. He and his friends soon went through all the large amount of money he had taken with him, and he suddenly realized that not only did this mean the end of their "good times," but he had no money left with which to return to his home in Poland.

Prince Radzivil was at this time in the Italian city of Padua. He was now left with but one servant, having had to dismiss all his staff, being unable to pay his servants or even feed his slaves. The prince was really in an awful predicament. He was too proud to let it be known that he was left without any money. Yet, he had to do something. An idea struck him; he would seek out the Rav of the city who would surely help him in his awkward situation.

So he sent his trusted servant to arrange an immediate appointment. When the Rav learned that it was Prince Radzivil who wanted to see him, he sent word with the servant that the prince was welcome to come to his home and be his guest.

Meanwhile, the Rav bad a banquet prepared for the prince, and invited the most prominent and respected Jews of Padua to be present.

The prince was enjoying the plentiful and varied meal when, to his great surprise, he heard his host, the Rav, say to his Shamash:

"Please go to the Slave Market and buy me a slave."

In those days people would buy or sell slaves in the market-place just as if they were cattle. And their owners had the right to do with them whatever they pleased, even kill them, and no one had the right to interfere.

The Rav had privately told the Shamash what he must do, as he wanted to teach the prince a lesson. So, when the Shamash returned from the market with a slave, the Rav called out in a loud voice:

"Take him around to the back room and put an end to his misery!"

The Rav spoke these words so calmly, that Prince Radzivil looked up in wonder, but he said nothing; just shrugged his shoulders and went on eating.

The Shamash soon returned and said: "Rabbi, I have carried our your orders,"

Well, now I want you to go back to the market and bring me an even nicer and bigger slave than the first," said the Rav to the Shamash, who left without a word.

When the Shamash returned with the second slave, the Rav nodded his head approvingly and said:

"Now do the same with this slave as you did with the first one."

He soon returned and reported that he had carried out his master's order.

Again, the Rav ordered the Shamash to go and bring a third slave, even better than the other two. This, the Sbamash did. Prince Radzivil paid little attention to what was going on. But, when the same procedure took place a fourth, then a fifth, time, the prince could not hold back his puzzlement and said to the Rav:

"My good friend, I cannot help but wonder, what is your purpose in spending so much money to buy slaves, then having them killed without benefit to you in any way, unless...our priests are right in what they say about you Jews..."

"So they say we Jews are bloodthirsty people who use human blood? Is that what you believe, too?" the Rav said to the prince.

Prince Radzivil looked very uncomfortable, but the Rav took him by the arm and said:

"Come with me; I want to show you someething." Saying which, he took the prince to the back room where, to his surprise, the prince saw all the five slaves, alive and cheerful, seated at an appetizing looking table, eating and drinking heartily. Even their slave-chains had been removed, and they sat freely and at case.

"I want you to see and be convinced, Prince Radzivil, that the blood-libels of which our enemies accuse us, is a disgraceful, shameful falsehood! Our Torah forbids us even to hurt an animal, let alone a human being. And our Torah also forbids us to use any of the blood of the animals or birds which we are permitted to use for food (after Shechita -painless slaughtering). That is why we first soak and salt the meat we are going to use before cooking it. What is more remarkable is that, even the smallest blood-spot in an egg makes it unfit for our eating. And yet, despite all that I have told you, and our enemies know all about it, they dare to accuse us of the abominable crime of using human blood in the carrying out of our religion! How many of our innocent brethren have been tortured and even put to death because of the infamous blood-libels!

No, my friend, anyone in his right mind can see that the horrible blood-libel is just an outcome of the blind and shameful hatred of the Jews. Incidentally, I want you to know that the five slaves I bought today are my gift to YOU, and I trust you will treat them no worse than I am doing."

Please, Rabbi, forgive me if I dared to suspect you for even one moment," the prince said haltingly, his face red with embarrassment.

"That is not important. What is important is that on your return home you will make sure that people know that blood-libels against the Jews are lies. And you, Prince Radzivil, will not allow any persecution against innocent Jews."

"I promise it with all my heart," said the prince earnestly. And, when the Rav presented him with the money he needed, just before leaving, the prince turned to the Rav and said, feelingly:

"How can I possibly repay you for all the friendship you have shown me! Naturally, apart from repaying the money you have so readily loaned me," he ended, with a smile.

"I want no reward for what I am gladly doing for you, but there is much that you can do to improve the lot of my fellow-Jews in Poland. As regards repayment of the loan, my son is at present studying in a Yeshiva in Brisk, and vou can give him the money and he will see that it reaches me. I know of nothing you need to do for him personally, at that moment, but if at some future date he may approach you for aid, I have no doubt you will be good enough to help him, or anyone he tells you is in need of your kind assistance."

Prince Radzivil immediately made a note of the address of the Rav's son Saul, and left in a most satisfied and cheerful state of mind.

As soon as Prince Radzivil arrived home, he sent for Saul and gave him the money his father had loaned him without asking for any security; just on his word that he would repay it.

The prince was so impressed with Saul, admiring his intelligence and behavior, that he immediately offered him the position of being his personal secretary, and also to be the manager of his vast estates.

Saul readily accepted, seeing that he would be in an excellent position to be of help to his poor, needy brethren in Poland. In a very short time he had managed so well that he became a rich man himself, in addition to bringing success to his "boss."

Saul "Yuditch" (the son of Yuda) as he was known, was now well-known and beloved in the royal court. Everyone admired him and respected him for his exceptional ability, his honesty, his good-heartedness, and his pride in being a Jew.

In the year 5346 (1586) when Saul Yuditch was forty-six years old, the Polish King Batori died. All the Polish princes assembled in order to choose a successor to rule the land, King Batori not having left an heir. The law of the land was that a new king must be chosen on the selfsame day that the king died.

The debate went on and on and the princes could not agree on a successor. No one had enough votes to become the chosen one.

The sun was slowly going down, and the situation was becoming desperate.

Suddenly, Prince Radzivil arose and called out:

"Friends! There are but a few minutes left before sunset and we still have not chosen a king. It will not only be a disgrace, but it is also against the law of our land. I have a suggestion to make and I am sure you will agree it is a good one. You all know and respect this candidate. He will just act as king until we decide unanimously who should be our next king. We can trust him fully and it will give us time to make the right choice, unhurriedly. We can retire tonight without any worry, and, tomorrow, we can again assemble and get this important matter settled to everyone's satisfaction."

"And who may this candidate be?" they all called out, eager to call a halt to all the friction which their tiring debate had caused.

With a smile, Prince Radzivil pointed to his secretary Saul who was sitting near him. "Hurrah! Long live our king!" they sang out in unison.

The royal crown was immediately brought and placed on Saul's head. He was placed upon the royal throne, while the trumpets were sounded to proclaim to all, that a new king had been chosen and crowned.

As was the custom at such a time, all the royal archives and law-books were immediately brought to the newly crowned king, and in honor of his coronation, he gave out new edicts, new decrees. Now King Saul, knowing that he would not be a king for much longer, immediately issued a number of decrees which would ease the lot of his troubled brethren in Poland.

One of the aforementioned new decrees was that anyone who murdered a Jew should receive the same punishment as one who murdered a member of the Polish aristocracy, namely, the death-penalty, and not get away with paying for his crime with money.

That night King Saul was too excited to sleep. Quite early in the morning there began a long procession of delegations bearing gifts for the new king. One delegation was of all the Polish princes, Prince Radzivil was one of them, with Prince Sigismund at their head.

King Saul received them all warmly and with friendly greetings. He urged them to deal kindly in their dealings with everyone. After speaking to each one individually he then turned to Prince Sigismund. King Saul descended from his throne, removed the royal crown from his head and placed it upon the head of Prince Sigismund.

All the princes looked on in wonder as King Saul called out:

"My friends! As you yourselves have appointed Prince Sigismund to head your princely delegation, I take it as a sign that he is the most suitable among you worthy noblemen to be the king of Poland.

The choice was obviously a right one and was approved by all. So the new king of Poland was now Sigismund the Third. Later, when Prince Radzivil and his personal secretary Saul were alone together he said to Saul:

"Why did you not crown me king? is that the way to repay me, your friend?"

"My friend," answered Saul. "How would it have appeared to the other princes? They would surely have thought that we had made a secret arrangement; that you should make me king for one day and then I will make you king for all your lifetime! Neither of us would have come out of such a situation in a very good light."

Prince Radzivil had to admit that Saul was right and had acted very wisely in the matter. So he bore him no ill-will and remained his good friend.

Saul was now known as Vall - (chosen) - because he had chosen to be king for a day, and afterwards he had chosen the new king of Poland.

Saul was liked and admired by everyone and, naturally, no less by the new king. King Sigismund the Third awarded Saul with a special royal medal. Saul, as can be guessed, was instrumental in doing many favors for his fellow-Jews, especially those in Brisk. He established Yeshivos and Mikvas, and supported Talmidei Chachomim (Torah scholars) very generously.

Before his death in 5377 (1617) at the age of seventy-seven, in Brisk, he left a will asking his children to follow in his footsteps in doing good and being humble.

And so we conclude the remarkable story of Saul Vall, the Jewish king of Poland who ruled for one day.

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Akiva Poppers NJ, USA May 28, 2015

Katzenellenbogen Family Tree Shaul Wahl Katzenellenbogen, 1 day King
Hebrew: שאול וואהל קצנלבויגן
Place of Burial: Brest, Brest Province, Belarus
Birth: 1541 Padua, Veneto, Italy
Death: September 28, 1616 (75) Brest, Brest Province, Belarus

I am Shaul's 13th great-grandson:
Shaul's son was Meir Wahl Katzenellenbogen - the MaHaRaSH. The Maharsh gave birth to Moshe Katzenellenbogen. Moshe's great-grandson was R' Hanoch Henich Schick, of Shklov. His son was Yitzchak Eizek Schick. His son was David Schick. His son was Isaac Eizek Schick. His son was Rabbi David Schick, the famous "Imrei David"- search him up. His son was Rabbi Yaakov Schück of Nadudvar. Note: Schück is Hungarian for Schick. Rabbi Yaakov's great-great-great-grandson is me.

Some background information:
Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen (1541—1617) was a wealthy and politically influential Polish Jew who is said to have briefly occupied the throne of Lithuania and thus has historically borne the nickname, "Le roi du jour" (king for a day). Father: Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen. Reply

Anonymous UK May 26, 2015

Katzenelenboigen As a descendant of King Saul (Vall) Katzenelenboigen, this famous tale is a part of my family history. Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org June 29, 2009

RE: amazing story There actually is a book called "Saul Wahl" by Dr. Neil Rosenstein which brings together and analyzes many accounts of this very famous story. Reply

Yosef Chapel Hill, NC June 26, 2009

amazing story Thank you for this amazing story. Do you know of any historical documents or books to support the story? Thank you, Reply

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