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Golem of Prague and Rabbi Loew

Golem: A Legendary Clay Beast Created to Protect Jewish People

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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, while 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 Golem in the Bible

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. ( Public Domain )

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 explaining the creation of golems. Several rabbinic commentaries on this book have provided different explanations about how these directions should be carried out. In most versions, the golem is first formed into a shape resembling a human being.

How to Bring a Golem to Life

There are several ways given to bring a golem to life. One way, for example, is if its creator were to walk or dance around it while 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 the golem’s arm or mouth.

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. ( CC BY 3.0 )

The Famous Prague Golem Legend

One of the most famous golem stories is about 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 16th 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 labor 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 .

Illustration of Rabbi Loew with the Golem . ( lucamendieta /Adobe Stock)

While 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.

A golem. ( neuartelena /Adobe Stock)

The Legacy of Golems

In most stories, Golems are described as male in appearance and were made to help save Jewish people (even if there was an unfortunate end to the story. However, there are a few notable legends about female golems as well. For example, a rabbi named Horowitz is said to have allegedly created a “beautifully silent” golem for him to have sex with. This was not as common as stories about female golems being created as maidservants that would cook and clean.

Golems are such prominent figures in Jewish legend that they continue to inspire artists and writers to this day. For at least the past two hundred years these creatures have made their way into painting, sculpture, illustration, and more recently video and digital artwork. They still have an air of fascination and magic about them, but also remind us to question what it really means to be human .

Top Image: “The Golem and Rabbi Loew.” Source: CC BY SA

References

Jacobs, L., 2015. Making Men of Clay: Can imitating God extend to the creative realm?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/golems/

Oreck, A., 2015. Modern Jewish History: The Golem. [Online]
Available at: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Golem.html

Weinstein, J. E., 1999. The Golem. [Online]
Available at: http://www.jewishmag.com/26mag/golem/golem.htm

www.prague.net, 2008. The Legend of Golem. [Online]
Available at: http://www.prague.net/golem

www.theater61press.com, 2015. Notes on the Historical Figures from the Golem Legend. [Online]
Available at: http://www.theater61press.com/essays/guide-golem-legend.html

By Ḏḥwty

Comments

Hi DHWTY,

Wow I've never heard of Golems before honestly I'm familiar with King James Bible although Adam being described as a Golem that might make some sense. I'm African American, I recall learning in School that Europe brought the Bible to Africa, I came to learn a year ago via Bible Documentary that Ethiopia has a Bible older than the Roman Catholic Bible, Gutenberg Bible, King Henry and King James Bible, the Ethiopian Bible has over 86 Bible Books in its Scriptures (the Catholic Bible has 78 Books, King James Bible 66 Book's.

Since Judaism has been a Faith practiced in Ethiopia for the last 5000 year's, and counting next too Christianity, which has been there since Christ Ascension 2000 year's ago this Bible may in fact mention Golem in its Scriptures of course only way we'd know for sure is if the African Griots are still around.

The Griots in Africa are like walking talking libraries/computers they store up extensive knowledge on Africa's history in their brain. They're taken Boys that is to be educated when their a child roughly 5 or 6 years old, and they study for the rest of there lives various subjects and topics that happened in Africa long ago.

What I find most fascinating to me is that they have extensive right on the money information about Biblical Accounts, Koran Accounts, and Torah Accounts that took place in the Bible; remember Africa and the Middle East have somewhat been joined together since the Days of the Tower of Babel, and Abraham, on account that Abraham lived in Egypt during times of Famines which occurred in Canaan today present day Israel/Palestine Griots would have lived during Egypt's earthly glory day's.

That reminds me I was finally able to read the Biblical Account Enoch (which happens to be in the Ethiopian Bible), I since found out from all my reading that Enoch is made up of Three testimonies.

Enoch 1 Book of the Watchers plus fragment Book of Noah, Enoch 2 Book of Secrets of Enoch, in which Enoch testifies that he actually wrote 366 Books, altogether, but as of now as I know it there are only 3 of Enoch's Books the last one Enoch 3 Book of Giant's.

I'm wondering perhaps Golem may be mentioned in either Enoch 1 Book of Watchers or Enoch 3 Book of the Giant's; only because God doesn't mention Golems in Enoch 2 Book of Secrets of Enoch, turns out God speaks throughout, the entire Scripture; therefore, Golems had to come from another source which is the main reason why The Book of Enoch got dropped from what I would consider to be traditional Bible the Roman Catholic Bible and King James Bible.

Exciting article thanks for Posting.

Wow!!! A lot of haters in this group.

If I recall correctly some of the earliest golem stories actually speak of starved rabbis constructing cows made of clay then using "the power of the lord" to bring the cows to life and eat

I don't know what bible you are reading but King James has no mention of Golem. All your articles are tainted and misleading.

Sir Clerke

I agree. I have read some of it's despicable and racist text. Where all other people are only animals, as well as the sickening child molesting. And the Idea that Evangelist preach elevates them above the rest. They are not Christians. The word hate does not apply to truth, it is just a way to silence truth and allow evil to proceed.

Sir Clerke

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