tradition, the golem is most widely known
as an artificial creature created by magic,
often to serve its creator. The word "golem"
appears only once in the Bible (Psalms139:16). In Hebrew,
"golem" stands for "shapeless
mass." The Talmud uses the word as "unformed" or "imperfect"
and 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 says the prophet Jeremiah
made a golem However, some mystics believe
the creation of a golem has symbolic meaning
only, like a spiritual experience following
a religious rite.
The Sefer Yezirah ("Book of Creation"), often referred to
as a guide to magical usage by some Western European Jews in the Middle
Ages, contains instructions on how to make a golem. Several rabbis,
in their commentaries on Sefer Yezirah have come up with different understandings
of the directions on how to make a golem. Most versions include shaping
the golem into a figure resembling a human being and using God's name
to bring him to life, since God is the ultimate creator of life..
According to one story, to make a golem come alive, one would shape
it out of soil, and then walk or dance around it saying combination
of letters from the alphabet and the secret name of God.
To "kill" the golem, its creators would walk in the opposite
direction saying and making the order of the words backwards.
Other sources say once the
golem had 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 alive. Erase the aleph and you
are left with mem and tav, which
is met, meaning "death."
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.
Often in Ashkenazi Hasidic lore, the golem would
come to life and serve his creators by doing tasks assigned to him.
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 clay to protect the Jewish community
from Blood Libel and to help
out doing physical labor, since golems are very strong. Another version
says it was close to Easter, in the spring of 1580 and a Jew-hating
priest was trying to incite the Christians against the Jews. So the
golem protected the community during the Easter season. Both versions
recall the golem running amok and threatening innocent lives, so Rabbi
Loew removed the Divine Name, rendering the golem lifeless. 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.
The golem has been a popular
figure in the arts in the past few centuries
with both Jews and non-Jews. In the early
20th century, several plays, novels, movies,
musicals and even a ballet were based on the
golem. The most famous works where golems
appear are Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
Karel Capek's R.U.R. (where the word
"robot" comes from), Isaac
Bashevis Singer's The Golem and The X-Files. 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
Sometimes, someone who is
large but intellectually slow is called a
golem. Other civilizations, such as the ancient
Greeks, have similar concepts.