Tag Archives: Jewish folktale


Background: Informant is a 19 year old, Jewish American college student from New Hampshire. They shared this story about their family and how it relates to their Jewish tradition and culture. The informant has been through Jewish education and experiences the holidays every year.

Informant: So, one really bizarre story is the story of Lillith. So, Lilith is rumored to be the first wife of Adam, and so it’s very controversial in Judiasm because Orthodox Jews follow what I’m about to share. So, Lillith escaped the Garden of Eden to gain independence so in some ways it’s been adopted by feminist Jews who see Lillith as regaining her independence. But, largely she’s seen as a sort of she-demon. So basically Lillith left the Garden of Eden and was not allowed back in because she was replaced with Eve. So we commonly know Adam’s partner to be Eve. So, she returns and is furious with men. So for this reason Orthodox Jews do not cut boys’ hair for an extended period of time because the idea is that in the night, if Lillith passes over and sees a child with short hair they see it as a man, so then Lillith will kill the baby boy. So, it’s this really intresting thing where she steals the children of Adam and Eve because she’s jealous and also a feminist twist. 

Reflection: This story was so intresting to me. As the informant told it and inserted some of their own opinions on it using a modern lens, I saw how folklore changes over time. This piece of folklore reflects people’s changing opinions on women, as Lillith is a woman who was demonized. Today, however, Jewish feminists have adopted the story as a story of a woman who they can look up to. It’s really compelling to see how folklore can change over time in it’s meaning while the content of the story is actually very much the same. 

Tale of Golem (Kid’s Version)

Main Piece:

Collector (me): So like, what’s the version [of Golem] you first grew up with and are most familiar with?

Informant: So the first one I heard is not gonna be the most common, but the first one I heard, but it’s like trying to teach little Jewish kids “Don’t be a kvetcher,” which is like someone who complains a lot. And so it was this story of this girl like had this golem who was like her pet golem, but not really her pet golem, but that was the idea of it. And, like, he was a very bad golem— he would just complain all the time when he was alive, so he wasn’t your “saving the day golem,” but he was a kvetcher, and he would just complain and complain and complain and complain. And you know at first the girl wanted to be like the golem, so she would also complain all the time, and then her parents were like “No,” and so they killed the golem, and then the girl was all sad. And then you know, they were like, “This is what happens.” Not dying, but people won’t like you and will get rid of you if you complain all the time.”

Collector: So is it like a cautionary tale or moral lesson for kids?

Informant: Yeah, so that one’s like, you know, your typical children’s story. Like if you do this bad thing, this bad thing will happen, so don’t do this bad thing.


My informant here is a 20-year-old student from USC, and was raised Jewish. To those unfamiliar, my informant explained a golem as a figure made of clay that comes to life when someone puts “a piece of paper with Hebrew writing on it, and you put it in its mouth,” and depending on the version, they can either be good or bad guys. My informant learned about this version of golem during storytime at the Jewish preschool they attended when they were little. While it’s not one of the more known versions of the tale, it’s the one the teachers at the school told to my informant and their peers. 


This came up when I was telling my friend about a golem figure that one of my classmates brought for the “Show and Tell” activity we had in one of our folklore lectures the other day. I knew that my friend was familiar with golem because of a conversation we’d had about him in the past, and I asked if they could tell me more about him and what version they were familiar with. 


While I’m not as familiar with Jewish folk tales or golem, I thought it was interesting to see that this version my informant presented me with was depicted through his actions as a moral lesson for children to abide by. In this version of the tale, we can observe the main lesson: in order to be well liked and taken seriously by others around you, one shouldn’t blindly follow the example of someone else, especially if they know their behavior would be frowned upon in society. This tale interweaves the expectations and values of the culture in a manner that makes it easy for children to understand. The fate of the golem isn’t a literal reminder of what could happen to those who don’t heed the lesson, but by portraying it in such a drastic measure, it helps kids piece together the way that they should conduct themselves in their group. Of course, this is only one version of the golem—

(For a more well known version, see Abedon, May 15, 2020 “The Golem – Jewish Folk Tale”, USC Folklore Archives).

Folktale: The Golem


The Golem

She heard this story from friends at the Jewish school. She went to school in Los Angeles. She explains that her family is Spanish and the story of the Golem is an Eastern European story so she didn’t grow up with it like her classmates did. She states that she heard from her friends who were Ashkenazi. The basic story goes like this:

The story takes in a town in Prague. A rabbi created a Frankenstein-like monster called a Golem to protect the Jewish village. The Golem was a giant creature with the word Emet, which is Hebrew for truth, written on its head. This word brings the creature to life. He was created to ward of attackers but it eventually runs amuck and starts attacking people. It couldn’t be stopped until the rabbi who created it erases the first letter of Emet from its head. Emet without the first letter, spells met which means death. This doesn’t kill the golem it just shuts it off like a robot. To revive the Golem all one has to do is fill in the first letter.

The informant mentions that she heard slightly different versions of the story. In some versions the person who brings the golem to life is a rabbi, sometimes it’s a mad scientist, other times it is just some guy. The nature of the golem itself varies in some versions it is aggressive in others its docile like a baby.

The informant doesn’t think the story itself is very important but the ideas related to it are important. She says that the story is related the history of antisemitism and it stems from the idea of having a magical protector.

I’ve heard of the story of the Golem of Prague before but in the version I read the Golem only goes berserk because the Golem had the ability to turn invisible and there were more explicit mentions of magic. In the version I heard the Golem was made from the clay of the banks of the river and the ceremony that brought it life mentioned the use of Kabbalah mysticism. In the version the informant told me she makes numerous references to Frankenstein and mad scientists. It seems like the scientific bent of contemporary society got fused with this older primarily magical society. The story is the same but the motifs are slightly different.