One of the important foundations of Chabad's messianic belief is the Rebbe's supposed descent from King David through the Maharal of Prague, who himself traces a direct male line to King David – but is it so? I think not. And here is why:
- The Maharal's lineage was traced through his purported "great-great-grandfather," Rabbi Yehuda Leib (Liwa) HaZakein.* Problem number one: The Maharal did not claim this descent and did not name this Yehuda Leib as an ancestor. Problem number two: Unlike what is written in Meir Pereles' 1727 "genealogy" of the Maharal, Yehuda Lieb HaZakein did not die in 1440. His tombstone shows his date of death 100 years later, in 1540. Why is this a problem? Because the Maharal was born about 1522, and Ashkenazim did not name children after living relatives, especially after a living patriarch of a very advanced age. So Yehuda Leib HaZakein is not the Maharal's ancestor, and lineage through him to the male line of King David through Shlomo HaMelekh is not possible.**
- There is another, less well known, possibility for the Maharal's Davidic descent, this through Yehuda HaNassi. But this "line" is really not a line. It lists the Maharal's father Betzalel and grandfather Chaim (both of Worms) but stops there. This would indicate that this genealogy was written after the Maharal's passing and without his input. Further, because of the lack of details – and because of a 1300-year-gap between the Maharal's grandfather and Yehuda HaNassi – this line of descent cannot be taken seriously.
- The Maharal was a great and popular Jewish leader. It became the custom in the Dark Ages (if not earlier) to ascribe Davidic descent to popular rabbis. This often led their descendants, several generations removed from the ascription, to believe this ascription was the literal truth, even though it was most always simply wishful thinking on the part of the populace. I believe this is what happened with the Maharal and his descendants, including the Rebbes of Chabad.
* This is the Yehuda Leib who was originally attributed with making a golem. The legend later was transposed, and Yehuda Leib HaZakein replaced with the Maharal.
** Details of this mistake by Pereles and its long-term repercussions can be found in Neil Rosenstein's article reviewing Shlomo Englard's critical research in Avotaynu XII, #1 1996.