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Golem

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JewishTreats.org

The story of the Golem of Prague is one of the best-known, fantastic and romantic Eastern European tales. It has been retold in both prose and play-form and is perpetuated in the oral tradition that one generation passes to the next.

For those unfamiliar with the story:
In the late 16th century, Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel Loew (a.k.a. the Maharal, 1520 – 1609), the chief rabbi of Prague, created a man-like creature from river clay. He brought the creature to life by using kabbalistic secrets (ineffable name of God, the use of the word emet–truth, etc.) that he had learned from Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation). Heeding the instructions of the Maharal, the Golem, silent but strong, protected the Jewish residents of the Prague ghetto. Some legends say that eventually the Golem grew violent. Others maintain that he was disappointed in love. Whatever the reason, it became necessary for the Maharal to undo the creature’s animation and return him to a shaped lump of clay. According to legend, the body was then secreted away in the Altneuschul’s attic.

Did the Golem really exist? Many deny the veracity of the story. Others credit the Maharal’s disciple Rabbi Eliyahu Shem Tov with the creation of a Golem … the truth may never be known.

That an automaton such as the Golem could exist, however, is within the Jewish realm of possibility. The Talmud even relates that “Rabbah (2nd century Talmudic sage) created a man (Golem) and sent him to Rabbi Zeira. Rabbi Zeira spoke to him, but received no answer. Thereupon he said to him: ‘You are a creature of the magicians. Return to your dust’”(Sanhedrin 65b). Furthermore, even the greatest of rabbinic legal texts, such as the Mishnah Torah, Beit Yosef and Mishnah Brurah discuss, the status of a Golem.

Some say that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is based in part on the Maharal’s Golem.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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