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Creating Golem

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

Image Source: Quentin Tarrantino's movie, Inglorious Basterds [sic] - where this Hitler figure contemplates battling the impossible: the creation of a 'golem' figure inspired by a vengeful rabbi.

Good Dog's Blog Post, No. 3.

What is a Golem?

Jewish oral tradition recognizes the golem as an artificial creature created by the hands of man through the use of magic, often to serve its creator. The word "golem" appears only once in the Bible (Psalm 139:16). The 'created being' has been the perfected reserve of God Himself - alone. Though many others have tried - spiritual authors as well as human.

In Hebrew, the word "golem" means "shapeless mass." The Talmud uses the word as "unformed" or "imperfect" to describe such beings. According to Talmudic legend, Adam is called "golem," meaning "body without a soul" (Sanhedrin 38b) for the first 12 hours of his existence. The golem appears in other places in the Talmud as well. One legend suggests the prophet Jeremiah made a golem. However, some mystics believe the creation of a golem has symbolic meaning only, similar in form and fashion to a spiritual experience following a religious rite.

The Sefer Yezirah ("Book of Creation"), sometimes regarded as a guide to magical usage by some Western European Jews in the Middle Ages, contains instructions on how to make a golem. Rabbis sometimes address these events through their commentaries on Sefer Yezirah and have come up with different understandings of the directions on how to make a golem. Most versions include shaping the golem into a figure roughly resembling a human being while employing God's Name to bring it to life. Rabbinic conjecture often supports the step-wise process relying upon the fact that God alone is the ultimate creator of all life.

According to one story, to make a golem come to life, one would shape it out of miry clay, and then walk or dance around it reciting a combination of letters from the alphabet spelling out the secret name of God. This dance-idiom is imagined in conjunction with God's Covenant over Abraham - parsing the sacrifices in two and walking a figure eight between the haves [GEN 15:17]. A key differentiator - when God Swore His Perfect Oath or Covenant over Abraham - the Covenant required NOTHING from Abraham himself - not even his consciousness of it. This will turn out to be an essential bit of 'missing information' - that must be read-between-the-lines, and, a point we shall return to in a coming post. To "kill" or remove a golem's motive force, its creators would walk in the opposite direction saying and making the order of the words backwards.

Other Rabbinic sources say that once a golem has been physically made, one needed to write the letters aleph, mem, tav, which is emet and means "truth," on the golem's forehead and the golem would come to life. Erase the aleph and you are left with mem and tav, which is met, meaning "death." It is imagined that the enlivened Golem would object to this changed condition.

Another way to bring a golem to life was to write God's name on parchment and stick it on the golem's arm or in his mouth. One would remove it to stop the golem.

Sometimes in Ashkenazi Hasidic lore, the golem would come to life and serve its creators by doing tasks assigned to it. The most well-known story of the golem is connected to Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Maharal of Prague (1513-1609). It was said that he created a golem out of miry clay to protect the Jewish community from Blood Libel and to help out doing physical labor, since golem are very strong. Another version says it was close to Christian Easter, in the spring of 1580 when a Jew-hating priest was trying to incite the Christians against the Jews. The golem was instructed to protect the community during that Easter season. Both versions recall the golem running amok and threatening innocent lives, so Rabbi Loew removed the Divine Name, rendering the golem inert. A separate account has the golem going mad and running away.

Several sources attribute the story to Rabbi Elijah of Chelm, saying Rabbi Loew, one of the most outstanding Jewish scholars of the sixteenth century who wrote numerous books on Jewish law, philosophy, and morality, would have actually opposed the creation of a golem.

In the early 20th century, several plays, novels, movies, musicals and even a ballet were based on the golem - often become quite popular works in their own right. The most famous works where golem appear are Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Karel Capek's R.U.R. (where the word "robot" comes from), Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Golem, Star Trek, The X-Files and Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. There is also a character named Golem in J.R.R. Tolkien's classic series The Lord of the Rings. Today, there is even a golem museum in the Jewish Quarter of Prague.

It turns out that Golem (in the plural) are not just limited to folklore or mythic fairy tales - but, may indeed walk among us - though not precisely as Rabbi have described their incarnation. The implications of these creations - should give us all great pause for concern.



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