So this is a piece of Jewish Folklore that I learned while living in Prague. Rabbi Loew is buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, which I have visited many times, and I have a statue of the Golem which I purchased at a stall outside of the cemetery. The Old-New Synagogue, built in the 13th century, still has services for the jewish community remaining in Prague. The Golem story has appeared often in literature and film, including Michael Chabon’s novel written in 2000 called “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.”
A “Golem” is a being formed on inanimate matter, magically animated into a living being. Many examples of Golems exist in Jewish folklore, including the Golem of Chelm, but the most famous is the Golem of Prague. In the 16th century, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bazalei created a Golem to protect the Jews of Prague from antisemitism. He fashioned the creature from clay taken from the banks of the Vltava river, and animated him using rituals and incantations, and by placing a “shem,” or name written on a piece of paper into the Golem’s mouth. As long as Rabbi Loew removed the “shem” on Shabbat, putting it back at the end, the Golem would protect the Jews of Prague. Finally, the Golem became violent, and went on a rampage – there are a lot of stories as to why this happened, one being that the Golem fell in love and was rejected. However, the accepted version is that Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the “shem” on Shabbat. He was eventually able to remove the “shem,” and the Golem turned to clay. The legend goes that the Golem was placed into the attic of the Old New Synagogue, which was then locked, and there he remains. The attic is still locked, and no one is allowed up there, where the Golem rests until he is needed again.
Coming form Jewish faith myself, I had never heard this piece of folklore before and have actually come to really appreciate it. It kind of reminds me of a piece of Indian God folklore that I once heard while traveling in India. I really enjoy folklore that has to do with magic, I think it is almost childish, but still thrilling.
The Golem is a creature created by a rabbi to serve the Jewish community when the community needed to be protected. The creature is made of soil or clay and brought to life by the use of alchemical-like formulas described in holy texts. The creature is not possessed by a spirit or ghost, but driven by the ritual to follow the rabbi’s commands and serve the community until he is not needed. The Golem is then called-off and put away. The stories of ‘Golems-run-amok’ are tales of Golems that did not stop once they were told to, but rather continued on wreaking havoc wherever they went.
Another version of the Golem story is that one would mould the Golem out of soil, then walk or dance around it while speaking combination of letters from the alphabet and the secret name of God. To “kill” or “stop” this golem, the creator would need to walk/dance in the opposite direction saying the words backward.
Once again, Max told me this story upon my request. I have definitely heard of similar storie in other culture, but more along the lines of writing magical words into a paper and putting the paper either on a doll or on someone to commend “magical” powers. I had no idea that these stories had a jewish origin though; or is the jewish version an original work or just one of the editions.