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Golem

Golem

An artificial man-monster of Jewish legend created from clay by a magic religious ceremony. The word golem was first used in talmudic references to the creation of Adam to indicate formless matter before the inception of a soul. Talmudic stories of the third and fourth centuries suggest that certain rabbis might have been able to create a manlike creature by magic that followed the divine process of creation. In medieval kabbalistic legends, such stories revolved around the symbolism of the Sepher Yetsirah (Book of Creation), in which numbers and letters are associated with parts of the body and astrological correspondences. Much of Western occult practice is related to such texts.

Jakob Grimm refers to such legends in his 1808 book Zeitung für Einsiedler (Journal for Hermits): "The Polish Jews, after having spoken certain prayers and observed certain Feast days, make the figure of a man out of clay or lime which, after they have pronounced the wonderworking Shem-ham-phorasch over it, comes to life. It is true this figure cannot speak, but it can understand what one says and commands it to do to a certain extent. They call it Golem and use it as a servant to do all sorts of housework; he may never go out alone. On his forehead the word Aemaeth (Truth; God) is written, but he increases from day to day and can easily become larger and stronger than his house-comrades, however small he might have been in the beginning. Being then afraid of him, they rub out the first letters so that nothing remains but Maeth (he is dead), whereupon he sinks together and becomes clay again."

In the sixteenth century, such legends crystallized around Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague (ca. 1520-1609), who was said to have created a golem who not only worked as a servant but also saved the Jews from persecution arising from false accusations of ritual murders. The tomb of Rabbi Loew may still be visited in the old Jewish Cemetery of Prague in Czechoslovakia.

In the seventeenth century, such stories were recorded in a manuscript titled "Nifloet Mhrl" (Miracles of Rabbi Loew), which formed the basis of the enchanting Der Prager Golem of Chayim Bloch, translated into English by Harry Schneiderman as The Golem: Legends of the Ghetto of Prague, published in Vienna in 1925. The book contains photographs of the Altneuschul and the monument to Rabbi Loew in Prague. One of the legends related by Bloch is "The Golem as Water Carrier," and there is a tradition that this story inspired Goethe's ballad The Sorcerer's Apprentice during his visit to Prague.

The Prague legends also stimulated production of the German silent film Der Golem, directed by Henrik Galeen and Paul Wegener, released in 1915 and remade in 1920, as well as later Czech and French films on the same theme. It also seems likely that golem legends may have influenced British novelist Mary Shelley in the creation of her famous novel Frankenstein, first published in 1818. A later literary work influenced by the legend was the powerful occult novel The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink (1928).

Sources:

Bloch, Chayim. Der Prager Golem. Translated by Harry Schneiderman as The Golem: Legends of the Ghetto of Prague. Vienna, 1925.

Meyrink, Gustav [G. Meyer]. The Golem. London, 1928. Reprint, New York, 1964.

Scholem, Gershom G. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism. New York: Schocken Books, 1965.

Sherwin, Byron L. The Golem Legend: Origins and Implications. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1985.

Wiesel, Elie. The Golem: The Story of a Legend. New York: Summit Books, 1983.

Winkler, Gershon. The Golem of Prague. New York: Judaica Press, 1980.

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Golem

Golem

According to Jewish legend, a golem was a human-shaped object brought to life by a magic word. Usually the golem functioned like a robot and could perform simple tasks. However, in some tales, the golem became a violent monster that could not be controlled, even by its creator.

Although the idea of a golem goes back to biblical times, most legends about the creature appeared during the Middle Ages. Typically, the golem came to life when a special word such as truth or one of the names of God was written on a piece of paper and placed on the golem's forehead or in its mouth. At any point, the creator of the golem might end its life by removing the paper with the sacred word.

In a famous story from the 1500s, Rabbi Judah Low ben Bezulel of Prague created a golem from clay. In another legend, set in Poland, a golem made by Rabbi Elijah of Chelm became so powerful and dangerous that the rabbi hurriedly changed it back into a lifeless heap.

See also Semitic Mythology.

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golem

golem (gō´ləm) [Heb.,=an undeveloped lump], in medieval Jewish legend, an automatonlike servant made of clay and given life by means of a charm, or shem [Heb.,=name, or the name of God]. Golems were attributed in Jewish legend to several rabbis in different European countries. The most famous legend centered around Rabbi Löw, of 16th-century Prague. After molding the golem and endowing it with life, Rabbi Löw was forced to destroy the clay creature after it ran amok.

See J. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition (1939, repr. 1961); M. Idel, Golem (1989).

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Golem

Golem (Heb., ‘shapeless matter’). An embryo (Psalms 139. 16) or stupid person (Avot 5. 9), and eventually a creature brought into being artificially through the use of God's name. At the outset, they are created as useful servants, but they use their great strength malignantly and get completely out of control.

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"Golem." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Golem

Golem. Opera in 2 parts (Prelude and Legend) by Casken, to lib. by composer and Pierre Audi, comp. 1988–9. F.p. London, 1989; f. Amer. p. Omaha, 1990. Won first Britten Award for Composition, 1990. Also an opera by Larry Sitsky, f.p. Sydney, NSW, 1993.

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"Golem." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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golem

golem in Jewish legend, a clay figure brought to life by magic; an automaton or robot. The word is recorded from the late 19th century, and comes via Yiddish from Hebrew gōlem ‘shapeless mass’.

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"golem." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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golem

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