The Golem


Informant: So there is this story within Jewish folktales of the golem. So, the golem within Eastern European Jewish tradition is a clay figure and… I don’t remember all the details, but… in Eastern Europe and specifically Western Russia, there are a lot of pogrom within these Jewish communities. And so in order to protect the Jewish communities this rabbi created a figure out of clay. And upon his head, he put the Yiddish word for “protector”. And so the golem grew, and was dubbed “the golem”. It went about and it protected the Jewish towns from the pogroms, and it would come home, basically, and be destroyed- not destroyed, dismantled.

Interviewer: I see. I remember variations on this story. The one you mentioned- you said it came home and was destroyed?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer:Did you ever hear the version where it’s, like, it goes on a rampage or something? Because I’ve heard that version.

Informant: I’ve heard that version. But it wasn’t necessarily destroyed out of malice, it was… brought in and deactivated kind of. So it was meant to not be, like, forever, it was meant to help in times of woe. I’ve also heard other variations where it continues to live and becomes a part of the community, so it really depends on where you hear about the story from.


The informant is Jewish, and grew up in the United States.


The story of the golem very clearly reflects anxieties felt by Jewish people in Eastern Europe. It provides a way for these communities to empower themselves, while also relying on specifically Jewish culture- in the case of this account, the use of Yiddish, a language heavily associated with Jewish peoples- as a way to further that empowerment. At the same time, the solution is temporary, perhaps reflecting the more unnatural nature of the golem. As it is something created by clay, it mirrors the creation of Adam, but as the act of creation is something which God handles, it is not suited for humans to fully imitate it. So, the creations, while fitting a purpose, are not fully human, and thus are not meant to last in the same way we do- often being dismantled or destroyed at the ending of the tale for going on a rampage. Alternatively, the temporary nature of the golem could perhaps allude to the idea that it will not always be needed, and that the threats to the Jewish community which these people suffered under would not last forever.