Tag Archives: Prague

The Golem of Prague

“Okay, so there was some Rabbi in Prague in like, fucking not this time but like the 1600s or some shit probably? Uh, and you know people in eastern Europe weren’t super fond of Jews all the time right, so he was like “I gotta protect my people,” so he built this giant like clay dude and he speaks the name of God in it’s mouth, and you know, ‘cause that’s how…that’s how robots work. And so the Golem came to life and he just kind of like helped out all the Jews in Prague doing like basic tasks and chores. Uh, until like…there’s different versions of the story, but I think one of the versions is he just straight up murdered a child, so the rabbi was like “Oh we gotta get rid of this dude” and so now he doesn’t exist anymore.”

Note: There are many versions of this myth. In the one I grew up hearing, the golem had the Hebrew word for truth inscribed on it’s forehead and was made to go to sleep by changing the word to the Hebrew word for death. Universally though, the golem went on a murderous rampage and was permanently put down and laid to rest in the attic of a temple, which you can still visit today. I do think this story says a lot about the behavior of the Jewish people through history — we have to help ourselves, but not at the cost of doing harm. 


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.