The Golem: Talmudic Legend of a Clay Beast Created to Protect the Jews

The Golem: Talmudic Legend of a Clay Beast Created to Protect the Jews

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The gothic horror novel, Frankenstein, is one of the most well-known stories in which man tries to play god by attempting to manufacture a living being.  A similar story, that of the golem, exists in Jewish folklore and legend, albeit with some obvious differences. For instance, the Frankenstein monster is popularly depicted as an amalgamation of body parts from cadavers, whilst the golem is said to be made from clay. Additionally, it was science that gave life to the Frankenstein monster, whereas the golem is said to have been given life by mystical means.

The word ‘golem’ is said to appear once in the Bible (Psalms 139:16), and means ‘shapeless mass’ or ‘unfinished substance’ in Hebrew. According to a Talmudic legend, Adam was a golem for the first 12 hours of his existence, indicating that he was a body without a soul. In another legend, the prophet Jeremiah is said to have made a golem. Some believe these legends regarding the creation of golems are merely symbolic in nature, and may refer to a person’s spiritual awakening.

A Rabbi creates a golem

A Rabbi creates a golem ( Wikimedia Commons )

There are others who interpret the stories of the golem literally, and believe that it is possible to create such creatures. In the Sefer Yetzirah (meaning ‘Book of Creation / Formation’), there are instructions pertaining the creation of golems, and several rabbinic commentaries on this book have provided different explanations as to how these directions should be carried out. In most versions, the golem is first formed into the shape of resembling a human being.

The golem is first formed in the shape of a human being. Illustration of a golem by Philippe Semeria. The Hebrew word for Truth, one of the names of God, is written on his forehead.

The golem is first formed in the shape of a human being. Illustration of a golem by Philippe Semeria. The Hebrew word for Truth, one of the names of God, is written on his forehead. ( Wikimedia Commons )

There are several ways, however, to bring a golem to life. In one version, for example, a golem may be brought to life if its creator were to walk or dance around it whilst saying a combination of letters from the Hebrew alphabet and the secret name of God. In another version, the letters aleph, mem, and tav (these letters combine to form the word emet, meaning ‘truth’) are required to be written on a golem’s forehead in order to give it life. A third way of bringing a golem to life is to write the name of God on a parchment, and stick it into its arm or mouth.

One of the most famous golem stories is that of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher. This rabbi is believed to have lived at the end of the 16 th century in Prague, which was then part of the Holy Roman Empire. At this time, the Empire was ruled by Rudolf II. Although Rudolf was an enlightened emperor, the Jews of Prague were subjected to anti-Semitic attacks. In order to protect the Jewish quarter, the rabbi created a golem. As the golem possessed incredible strength, it also helped out with physical labour in the rabbi’s household and the synagogue. Additionally, the golem was given a special necklace made of deerskin and decorated with mystic signs. This necklace made the golem invisible. Another version of the story states that a Jewish-hating priest tried to incite the Christians of Prague against the Jews near Easter during the spring of 1580. As a result, Rabbi Loew created the golem to protect his people during the Easter season.   

Ladislav Šaloun's statue popularly ascribed to Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel at the new town hall of Prague in the Czech Republic.

Ladislav Šaloun's statue popularly ascribed to Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel at the new town hall of Prague in the Czech Republic. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Whilst the golem succeeds in protecting the Jews, the story has a less than happy ending. The golem grew stronger and stronger, but it became increasingly destructive as well. Instead of doing good deeds, the golem began to run amok and threatened innocent lives. As a result, Rabbi Loew removed the name of God from the golem, thus turning it back into a lifeless statue. Some believe that the golem was hidden by the rabbi in the attic of his synagogue. In addition, entrance to the attic was forbidden for centuries, and the stairs to the area removed. When the synagogue was finally explored hundreds of years later, there was no trace of anything resembling a golem.  


Golem is a Bulgarian word and means Big. Jews are descendants of Ancient Balgarians, the people of Bal God Sun, the first human beings on earth.

Wow, is this a bag of mixed up stories...what's the point? I found error everywhere, including the first, as Frankenstein was written by an 18 year old in a contest with two other writers on a "dark and storm night." The last sentence was voted the worst start of any book, so I included that. Jeremiah when through hell trying to get people to act right, and they threw him in a pit. The Jews are the Chosen ones...the Line of David is the root of Jesse and where Jesus came from through Mary, using her genes for the body. All of the Jewish laws were to protect the lineage from getting spoiled. After Jesus was born, died and resurrected, those laws (like don't eat pork) were abandoned as you can read in the bible. If you have one. Golem was a very scary thing, hidden in a trunk in Germany, and you fell for it and had to feed people to it...

First of all, "Frankenstein" was written by Mary Shelley in 1818, at age 21. Second, "It was a dark and stormy night" is the opening sentence of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's "Paul Clifford," written in 1830. Since he was only 14 years old when Shelley wrote "Frankenstein," there is no connection at all between the two. Third, no: we have not "abandoned" our dietary laws, nor do we intend to.

Ms Braley is plainly an idiot, but a person's lack of intelligence is sometimes the result of natural selection, and she should not held responsible for the genetic shortcomings of the six-fingered, clay-eating hill folk who undoubtedly were her progenitors: the disastrous results of inbreeding are well known. Additionally, her comment does appear to indicate that she has, at one time or another, actually read a book, and that is encouraging. On balance, though, our world would probably be better off without her.

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