As a child, I used to love reading the golem stories attributed to Rabbi Judah Lowe, a.k.a., the famous “Maharal of Prague” (1525-1609). Since my father came from Czechoslovakia, I grew up hearing many family tales about the golem. These stories were especially delightful since my father was a naturally talented storyteller. The golem was something like a medieval super-hero who protected the Jewish community from pogroms in its time. It is interesting to note, that despite the numerous tracts Maharal wrote on various philosophical, talmudic, and mystical themes, never once does he ever refer to the golem that is associated with his name.
What is a Golem?
The term gōlem is a “shapeless mass” (Ps. 139:16), but according to Jewish folklore, a golem is a creature that is made from clay, and is animated by magical and mystical means. One of the more apocryphal stories of the Talmud relates how a 4th century scholar named Rava, magically created a man through the Sefer Yetzirah and sent him to Rabbi Zera. The latter tried speaking to him, but the poor golem could not speak. When there was no response, he declared: ‘You must be a product of our colleague. Return to your dust!’ and so he died (BT Sanhedrin 65b).
Ironically, it is with no precedent in the Bible, except for the creation of Adam–except, now, it is man who is attempting to act as a mini-creator. How could such hubris not fail?
Indeed, in nearly all the golem legends, it appears that anytime mortals attempt to create human life, it is an activity that is fraught with danger. It seems that our ancestors felt suspicious about the full extent of man’s creative powers. In many of the stories, the golem goes out of control, destroying everything in sight.
Adaptations of the Golem in Western Literature and Cinema
The Frankenstein story is a European re-adaptation of the golem legends. In J. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Hobbit Gollum devolves into a treacherous shape-shifter under the malign influence of the Ring, it seems obvious that the author had these legends in mind.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the character Data personifies the golem legend. When attempting to integrate the emotional chip, he becomes capable of erratic behavior–even violence. Countless sci-fi films have developed this theme in numerous tales about humanoid-like robots turning against their masters, i.e., like the Terminator series. Even the X-Files had an interesting episode of a betrothed woman who turns her murdered husband into a golem, in order to avenge his death.
According to some medieval tales, the golem is indestructible; if the golem had been created by writing the Hebrew word “אמת” (emet; “truth”) on its forehead, it could be destroyed by erasing the first letter to produce the word “מת” (met; “dead”). If one had created a golem by placing the name of God in its mouth, all that was needed was to remove the parchment. Continue reading “Can a Golem be counted as part of a minyan?”