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In Jewish folklore, a golem (גולם; English pronunciation: /ˈɡoʊləm/ GOH-ləm) is an animated anthropomorphic being created entirely from inanimate matter. In modern Hebrew the word golem literally means "rock," but can also mean "fool," "dumb," or even "stupid." It meant amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing.[1]

The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late 16th century chief rabbi of Prague.

An illustration of a Golem.




The word golem is used in the Bible to refer to an embryonic or incomplete substance: Psalm 139:16 uses the word גלמי, meaning my unshaped form, which then passes into Yiddish as goylem.[2] The Mishnah uses the term for an uncultivated person ("Seven characteristics are in an uncultivated person, and seven in a learned one", Pirkei Avos 5:7 in the Hebrew text, varies in English translations). Similarly, golems are often used today in metaphor either as brainless lunks or as entities serving man under controlled conditions, but hostile to him in others. Similarly, it is a Yiddish slang insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.

Earliest stories

The earliest stories of golems date to early Judaism. Adam is described in the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 38b) as initially created as a golem when his dust was "kneaded into a shapeless hunk". Like Adam, all golems are created from mud. They were a creation of those who were very holy and close to God. A very holy person was one who strove to approach God, and in that pursuit would gain some of God's wisdom and power. One of these powers was the creation of life. No matter how holy a person became, however, a being created by that person would be but a shadow of one created by God.

Early on, the notion developed, that the main disability of the golem was its inability to speak. In Sanhedrin 65b, is the description of Rava creating a man (gavra). He sent him to Rav Zeira; Rav Zeira spoke to him, but he did not answer. Said Rav Zeira: "You were created by the magicians; return to your dust."

Activating golems

During the middle ages passages from the Book of Creation, Sefer Yetzirah were studied as a means to attain the mystical ability to create and animate a golem, although there is little in the writings of Jewish Mysticism that substantiate this belief. This involved ecstatic experience induced by the ritualistic use of various letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet, and some scholars believe that no actual physical activation of an anthropoid object took place.[3]

In some tales a golem is inscribed with Hebrew words that keep it animated. Writing the word emet (אמת, "truth" in the Hebrew language) on its forehead is one example. A golem could then be deactivated by removing the aleph (א) in emet, thus changing the inscription from 'truth' to 'death' met (מת, "dead"). Legend and folklore allude to another method of activating a golem by writing a specific series of letters on parchment and placing the paper in a golem's mouth.

The classic narrative

Rabbi Loew and golem by Mikoláš Aleš, 1899.

The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel the late 16th century chief rabbi of Prague, also known as the Maharal, who reportedly created a golem to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks[4], pogroms.

The famous story of the Golem of Prague created by the Maharal, which is usually considered to be a Jewish folk story from the 18th century at the latest, is considered by some to be a later literary invention.[citation needed] According to this interpretation, the story was created by Jewish German writer Berthold Auerbach for his 1837 novel Spinoza. Some suppose that the story of the Golem of Prague is the original creation of Auerbach which served as a "trigger " to almost immediate explosion in publication for various poems, stories, plays, novels and such and so created a false impression that it is an "ancient folk story" when in reality it was a completely modern invention by a well known writer. This story of the Golem later appeared in print in 1847 in Galerie der Sippurim, a collection of Jewish tales published by Wolf Pascheles of Prague.

Many modern versions of the golem legend are based on the Katz Manuscript. This manuscript, supposedly the long-lost diary of Rabbi Loew's son-in-law, who had helped create the golem, was published in Warsaw in 1909 by Yudl Rosenberg. He claimed to have found the manuscript in the main library in Metz, and to have translated it into Yiddish as "Niflaos Maharal: Ha Golem Al Prague" (Wonders of the Maharal: The Golem of Prague). Most scholars think the Katz manuscript was fabricated by Rosenberg, and that his stories are embellishments of the older legends.[5]

Depending on the version of the legend, under Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, the Jews in Prague were to be either expelled or killed. To protect the Jewish community, the rabbi constructed the Golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river, and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew incantations. As this golem grew, it became increasingly violent, killing gentiles and spreading fear. A different story tells of a golem falling in love, and when rejected, he became the violent monster as seen in most accounts. Some versions have the golem eventually turning on its creator and perhaps even attacking other Jews.[4]

The Emperor begged Rabbi Loew to destroy Golem, promising to stop the persecution of the Jews. To deactivate Golem, the rabbi rubbed out the first letter of the word "emet" (truth or reality) from the creature's forehead leaving the Hebrew word "met", meaning dead. The Emperor understood that the Golem's body, stored in the attic genizah of the Old New Synagogue, would be restored to life again if needed. Accordingly, the body of Rabbi Loew's Golem still lies in the synagogue's attic, although some versions of the tale have Golem stolen from the genizah and entombed in a graveyard in Prague's Žižkov district, where now the great Žižkovská tower stands. A recent legend is told of a Nazi agent ascending to the synagogue attic during World War II and trying to stab Golem, but perishing instead.[citation needed] At any rate, the attic is not open to the general public.

The existence of a golem is sometimes a mixed blessing. Golems are not intelligent: If commanded to perform a task, they will take the instructions perfectly literally.

In some incarnations of the legend, the Maharal's Golem had superhuman powers to aid it in its tasks.[citation needed] These include invisibility, a heated touch, x-ray vision, the ability to fly, and the ability to use the Maharal's walking stick to summon spirits from the dead. This last power was often crucial, as the golem could summon dead witnesses to testify in Prague courts.[citation needed]

The hubris theme

In many depictions golems are inherently perfectly obedient. However, in its earliest known modern form the story has Rabbi Eliyahu of Chełm creating a golem that became enormous and uncooperative. In one version of this the rabbi had to resort to trickery to deactivate it, whereupon it crumbled upon its creator and crushed him. There is a similar hubris theme in Frankenstein, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and some golem-derived stories in popular culture. The theme also manifests itself in R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), Karel Čapek's 1921 play which coined the term robot; the novel was written in Prague and while Capek denied that he modeled the robot after the golem, there are many similarities in the plot.[6]

In culture

Statue of the Prague Golem

The 20th and 21st centuries

In the early 20th century the golem was adopted by mainstream European society. Most notably, Gustav Meyrink's 1914 novel Der Golem is loosely inspired by the tales of the golem created by Judah Loew ben Bezalel. These same tales inspired a classic set of expressionistic silent movies, Paul Wegener's Golem series, of which The Golem: How He Came into the World (also released as The Golem, 1920, USA 1921: the only surviving film of the trilogy) is especially famous. Another famous treatment from the same era is H. Leivick's 1921 Yiddish-language "dramatic poem in eight sections" The Golem. Also notable is Julien Duvivier's Le Golem (1936), a sequel to the Wegener film. Nobel prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer also wrote a version of the legend. Elie Wiesel wrote a children's book on the legend.

Golems also appear widely in the various editions of Dungeons and Dragons, where they may be constructed of nearly any material from wood to spider silk. Magic-wielding player characters are able to create golems of their own through rituals and extensive material costs.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld series depicts golems as described in this article, although they can speak and have sentience. While they are not recognized as people they are allowed to earn enough money to buy themselves—which many do.

In the mid-1960s, the Weizmann Institute of Science named its experimental computer Golem I [7]

David Brin's science-fiction novel Kiln People describes a future where humans make lower quality copies of themselves (dittos or golems) out of clay. After reaching their expiration date, the golem's memories can be reintegrated to the original person or not. There are references to the Jewish legend such as the name of the character Yosil Maharal.

Marge Piercy's novel He, She and It tells the story of a cyborg, Yod, who is deliberately contrasted with the Golem of Prague. Yod, like the original Golem, is charged with protecting a Jewish settlement. Throughout the novel the grandmother of the central character Shira (the "she" of the title) retells to Yod the story of the Golem of Prague. The novel in this way functions both as a retelling of the Golem story and its updating.

DD Barant's fantasy series Bloodhound Files also features golems ('filled sandbags') which are animated through animal/blood sacrifice and color coded depending on occupation. In this fantasy series, golems were used as weapons—and still are—for protection as well as warfare since guns are not part of the parallel world that the main character, Agent Jace Valchek, has been pulled into. These golems act very much like humans and are considered second class citizens.[citation needed]

The X-Files episode Kaddish in Season 4 features a Jewish-centric plot including the manifestation of a golem.

Pete Hamill's 1998 novel Snow In August includes a retelling of the story of Rabbi Loew and the Prague golem.

Michael Chabon's 2001 Pulitzer-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is initially set in Nazi-occupied 1930s Prague. One of the two protagonists, an amateur Jewish magician and escape artist named Josef Kavalier, arranges to smuggle himself out of Nazi Europe along with the famed Prague golem in a coffin. Kavalier comes to identify with the golem as a symbol of Jewish resistance against the Nazis, basing his comic book character The Escapist on his own revenge fantasies, and eventually enlisting in US service during WWII. The theme of vengeance against anti-Semites and subsequent regret of such pervades the novel, culminating in Kavalier's own drawing of a modern graphic novel centered around a golem.

The 2004 novel The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud revolves around a golem.

In Quentin Tarantino's film Inglourious Basterds, Sgt. Donny Donowitz is rumored by German troops to be a golem.[8]

In the Gargoyles cartoon episode entitled "Golem", the elderly character Halcyon Renard casts a spell and uses the stone Golem in Prague as an avatar for his soul. Also, midway through the episode, in a flashback to 1580 AD, Rabbi Loew is seen inserting a piece of paper into the Golem's mouth to bring it to life.

In the MMORPG RuneScape the titular character of the quest The Golem is a clay construct, created thousands of years ago to protect a city from a demon. In the quest, the player reprogrammes it by writing instructions on a piece of papyrus, and placing the papyrus inside its head.

Piers Anthony featured a golem character, The_family_of_Humfrey_of_Xanth#Grundy_the_GolemGrundy, in the novel Golem in the Gears in his Xanth series.

In the Bioware Role Playing Game Dragon Age: Origins's Stone Prisoner DLC, a Golem named Shale was added and believed that he was the last of the Golems and Golems could be added to the last battle in the SIN Storyline by not destroying the Anvil.

In 1996 and subsequent years, Nintendo released Pokémon Red and Blue, which features Golem as one of the original 151 Pokémon.

Culture of the Czech Republic

Golem is a popular figure in the Czech Republic. There are several restaurants and other businesses named after him.[4] Strongman René Richter goes by the nickname "Golem",[4] and a Czech monster truck outfit calls itself the "Golem Team".

Golem had a main role in the 1951 Czech movie Císařův pekař a pekařův císař (released in the US as The Emperor and the Golem).

Abraham Akkerman preceded his article on human automatism in the contemporary city by a short satirical poem on a pair of golems turning human.[9]

Composer Karel Svoboda finished his last musical based on the legend of Golem only two months before his suicide. This musical seems to have been a flop due to an overcomplicated plot and a lack of musical ideas in the songs.

See also


  1. ^ Idel, Moshe (1990). Golem: Jewish magical and mystical traditions on the artificial anthropoid. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0160-X.  page 296
  2. ^ J. Simpson, E. Weiner (eds), ed (1989). "Golem". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-861186-2. 
  3. ^ Idel, Moshe (1990). Golem: Jewish magical and mystical traditions on the artificial anthropoid. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0160-X.  page xix
  4. ^ a b c d Bilefsky, Dan (May 11, 2009). "Hard Times Give New Life to Prague’s Golem". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-11. "The Golem, according to Czech legend, was fashioned from clay and brought to life by a rabbi to protect Prague’s 16th-century ghetto from persecution, and is said to be called forth in times of crisis. True to form, he is once again experiencing a revival and, in this commercial age, has spawned a one-monster industry." 
  5. ^ Idel, Moshe (1990); see also, Sherwin, Byron L. (1985) The Golem Legend: Origins and Implications. New York: University Press of America.
  6. ^ R.U.R.- Rossums Universal Robots by Karel Capek, transl. By Voyen Koreis
  7. ^
  8. ^ Adolf Hitler: Do you know the latest rumor they've conjured up in their fear-induced delirium? The one that beats my boys with a bat—the one they call the "Bear Jew"—is a golem!
  9. ^ Akkerman, Abraham (2003/2004). "Philosophical Urbanism and Deconstruction in City-Form: An Environmental Ethos for the Twenty-First Century". Structurist 43/44: 48-61.  Published also as Paper CTS-04-06 by the Center for Theoretical Study, Prague.

Further reading

  • Bilski, Emily B. (1988). Golem! Danger, Deliverance and Art. New York: The Jewish Museum. ISBN 8-7334-0493-0. 
  • Faucheux, Michel (2008). Norbert Wiener, le Golem et la cybernétique. Paris: Editions du Sandre. 
  • Dennis, Geoffrey (2007). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism. Woodbury (MN): Llewellyn Worldwide. ISBN 0-7387-0905-0. 
  • Winkler, Gershon (1980). The Golem of Prague: A New Adaptation of the Documented Stories of the Golem of Prague. New York: Judaica Press. ISBN 0-9108-1825-8. 
  • Goldsmith, Arnold L. (1981). The Golem Remembered 1909-1980: Variations of a Jewish Legend. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-16832-8. 
  • Idel, Mosche (1990). Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid. Albany (NY): State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0160-X. 
  • Tomek, V.V. (1932). Pražské židovské pověsti a legendy. Prague: Končel.  Translated (2008) as Jewish Stories of Prague, Jewish Prague in History and Legend. ISBN 1438230052.

External links

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki



This word occurs only once in the Bible, in Ps 13916, where it means "embryo." In tradition everything that is in a state of incompletion, everything not fully formed, as a needle without the eye, is designated as "golem" ("Aruch Completum," ed. Kohut, ii. 297). A woman is golem so long as she has not conceived (Sanh. 22b; comp. Shab. 52b, 77b; Sanh. 95a; Ḥul. 25a; Abot v. 6; Sifre, Num. 158). God, father, and mother take part in the creation of the child: the skeleton and brain are derived from the father; the skin and muscles from the mother; the senses from God. God forms the child from the seed, putting the soul into it. If the male seed is emitted first, the child is of the male sex; otherwise it is of the female sex (Nid. 31a). Although God impresses all men with the seal of Adam, there is no resemblance between any two of them (Sanh. 37a).

Causes Influencing the Embryo.

In the womb the navel is first formed, and from this roots spread out, until the child is fully developed. According to another opinion the head is first developed. The two eyes and the two nostrils of the embryo resemble the eyes of a fly; the aperture of the mouth is like hair (or a barleycorn). R. Jonathan says: "The two arms are like two pieces of string; the other members are combined in a mass " (Yer. Nid. 50d; comp. Nid. 25a; Soṭah 45b). Women that eat much mustard give birth to gluttonous children; those that eat many dates, to blear-eyed children; those that eat much small fish, children with unsteady eyes; those that eat clay, naughty children; those that drink beer, dark-skinned children; those that eat much meat and drink much wine, healthy children; those that eat many eggs, children with large eyes; those that eat much large fish, beautiful children; those that eat much celery or parsley, children with fine complexions; those that eat oleander, well-nourished children; those that eat paradise-apples, fragrant children (Ket. 61a). The same Babylonian amora, of the fourth century, also indicates why epileptic and otherwise defective children are born (Brecher, "Das Transcendentale, Magie und Magische Heilarten im Talmud," pp. 174 et seq.). Moral, not physical, reasons are given as the principal factors in the birth of healthy or sickly children. Decent behavior produces male children (Sheb. 18b; comp. Nid. 71a), who are also regularly produced under certain conditions ('Er. 100b; B. B. 10b; Nid. 31a, b). A dwarf should not marry a dwarf (Bek. 46a). Other references to the embryo are found in Nid. 15a, 17a, 31b, 37b, 38a, 45b, 66a; Beẓah 7a; Bek. 44b-45a; Ḥul. 127a; Ned. 20a; Pes. 112a, and passim. Unfounded hatred causes abortion and the death of the child (Shab. 32b).

Adam as Golem.

The imagination of the ancient Israelites frequently turned to the birth of the first man, who was formed of dust and not born of woman. A principal passage reads as follows: "How was Adam created? In the first hour his dust was collected; in the second his form was created; in the third he became a shapeless mass [golem]; in the fourth his members were joined; in the fifth his apertures opened; in the sixth he received his soul; in the seventh he stood up on his feet; in the eighth Eve was associated with him; in the ninth he was transferred to paradise; in the tenth he heard God's command; in the eleventh he sinned; in the twelfth he was driven from Eden, in order that Ps 4913 might be fulfilled" (Ab. R. N. ed. Schechter, Text A, i. 5; comp. Pesiḳ. R. ed. Friedmann, 187b, and note 7; Kohut, in "Z. D. M. G." xxv. 13). God created Adam as a golem; he lay supine, reaching from one end of the world to the other, from the earth to the firmament (Ḥag. 12a; comp. Gen. R. viii., xiv., and xxiv.; Jew. Encyc. i. 175). The Gnostics, following Irenæus, also taught that Adam was immensely long and broad, and crawled over the earth (Hilgenfeld, "Die Jüdische Apokalyptik," p. 244; comp. Kohut, l.c. xxv. 87, note 1). All beings were created in their natural size and with their full measure of intelligence, as was Adam (R. H. 11a). According to another tradition Adam was only one hundred ells high (B. B. 75a); according to a Mohammedan legend, only sixty ells (Kohut, l.c. xxv. 75, note 5; the number "sixty" indicates Babylonian influence). When he hid from the face of God, six things were taken from him, one of these being his size, which, however, will be restored to him in the Messianic time (Gen. R. xii.; Num. R. xiii.; Kohut, l.c. xxv. 76, note 1; 91, note 3). Other conceptions, for instance, that Adam was created a hermaphrodite (see Androgynos), or with two faces ( (missing hebrew text) = Διπρόσωπος; Gen. R. viii. 7), belongto the literature of Gnosticism. For similar views, after Plato and Philo, see Freudenthal, "Hellenistische Studien," p. 69 (see Adam).

Bibliography: G. Brecher, Das Transcendentale, Magic und Magische Heilarten im Talmud, Vienna, 1850; A. Kohut, Die Talmudisch-Midraschische Adamssage in Ihrer Rückbeziehung auf die Persische Yima- und Meshiasage, in Z. D. M. G. xxv. 59-94; M. Grünbaum, Neue Beiträge zur Semitischen Sagenkunde, pp. 54 et seq., Leyden, 1893; Jew. Encyc. i. 174-175; A. Hilgenfeld, Die Jüdische Apokalyptik, Jena, 1857.

—In Medieval Times:

In the Middle Ages arose the belief in the possibility of infusing life into a clay or wooden figure of a human being, which figure was termed "golem" by writers of the eighteenth century. The golem grew in size, and could carry any message or obey mechanically any order of its master. It was supposed to be created by the aid of the "Sefer Yeẓirah," that is, by a combination of letters forming a "Shem" (any one of the names of God). The Shem was written on a piece of paper and inserted either in the mouth or in the forehead of the golem, thus bringing it into life and action. Solomon ibn Gabirol is said to have created a maid servant by this means. The king, informed of this, desired to punish him, but Ibn Gabirol showed that his creature was not a real being by restoring every one of its parts to its original form.

Golem of Hohe Rabbi Löw.

Elijah of Chelm, in the middle of the sixteenth century, was the first person credited with having made a golem with a Shem, for which reason he was known as a "Ba'al Shem." It is said to have grown to be a monster (resembling that of Frankenstein), which the rabbi feared might destroy the world. Finally he extracted the Shem from the forehead of his golem, which returned to dust (Azulai, "Shem ha-Gedolim," i., No. 163). Elijah's grandson, known as the "ḥakam Ẓebi," was so convinced of the truth of this that he raised the question as to whether a golem could be counted as one in a "minyan" (quorum; Responsa, No. 93, Amsterdam, 1712; Baer Heṭeb to Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 55, 1). The best-known golem was that of Judah Löw b. Bezaleel, or the "hohe Rabbi Löw," of Prague (end of 16th cent.), who used his golem as a servant on week-days, and extracted the Shem from the golem's mouth every Friday afternoon, so as to let it rest on Sabbath. Once the rabbi forgot to extract the Shem, and feared that the golem would desecrate the Sabbath. He pursued the golem and caught it in front of the synagogue, just before Sabbath began, and hurriedly extracted the Shem, whereupon the golem fell in pieces; its remains are said to be still among the débris in the attic of the synagogue. Rabbi Löw is credited with having performed similar wonders before Rudolph II. ("Sippurim," p. 52; comp. Gans, "Ẓemaḥ Dawid," p. 46a, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1692). A legend connected with his golem is given in German verse by Gustav Philippson in "Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1841, No. 44 (abridged in "Sulamith," viii. 254; translated into Hebrew in "Kokebe Yiẓḥaḳ," No. 28, p. 75, Vienna, 1862).

It is sometimes alleged that Elijah of Wilna also made a golem, and the Ḥasidim claim the same for Israel Ba'al Shem-Ṭob, but apparently the claims are based on the similarity in the one case of the name "Elijah" and in the other of the appellation "Ba'al Shem" to the name and appellation of the rabbi of Chelm. The last golem is attributed to R. Davidl Jaffe, rabbi in Dorhiczyn, in the government of Grodno, Russia (about 1800). This golem, unlike that of R. Löw, was not supposed to rest on Sabbath. Indeed, it appears that it was created only for the purpose of replacing the Sabbath goy in heating the ovens of Jews on winter Sabbaths. All orders to make fires were given to the golem on Friday, which he executed promptly but mechanically the next day. In one case a slight error in an order to the golem caused a conflagration that destroyed the whole town.

From this story it becomes probable that the whole of the golem legend is in some way a reflex of the medieval legends about Vergil, who was credited with the power of making a statue move and speak and do his will. His disciple once gave orders which, strictly carried out, resulted in his destruction. The statue of Vergil saved an adulteress, just as did the golem of R. Löw in Philippson's above-mentioned poem (J. A. Tunison, "Master Virgil," p. 145, Cincinnati, 1888).

Bibliography: Ha-Maggid, 1867, Supplement No. 42; Pascheles, Sippurim, pp. 51-52, Prague, 1870; Rubin, Ma'ase Ta'atuim, p. 117, Vienna, 1887; Tendlau, Sagen und Legenden der Jüdischen Vorzeit.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.


Up to date as of February 01, 2010

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