The Magical History of the Golem: A Textual Trip Through Time
Join renowned Rabbi Rachel Adler for a shloshim learning event. Introduction and conclusion by Herschel the puppet!
On Sunday, March 23 2014 at 4:00pm at BCC, a special event honoring the recently deceased mothers of Ilene Cohen and Sarah Trutt. Sarah and Ilene were not able to have a shiva for their mothers, so Rabbi Adler generously offered to provide this learning circle in it’s place.
We will learn what Rabbinical texts say about the Golem, an artificial being in medieval and Jewish folklore. Throughout the ages, such golems were said to be built and brought to life to as benevolent protectors of the Jews.
BCC’s own artificial life form, Herschel the puppet, will introduce and conclude for Rabbi Adler.
In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, created entirely from inanimate matter. The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing.
The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague. There are many tales differing on how the Golem was brought to life and afterwards controlled.
Golem in the 20th and 21st centuries
Mainstream European society adopted the golem in the early 20th century. Most notably, Gustav Meyrink’s 1914 novel Der Golem is loosely inspired by the tales of the golem created by Rabbi Loew. Another famous treatment from the same era is H. Leivick’s 1921 Yiddish-language “dramatic poem in eight sections”, The Golem. Nobel prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer also wrote a version of the legend, and Elie Wiesel wrote a children’s book on the legend.
In 1974, Marvel Comics published three Strange Tales comic books that included a golem character, and later series included variations of the golem idea.
Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series of novels (1980-1990), which features two parallel worlds—one ruled by technology and the other by magic—draws a parallel between robots and golems. Additionally, Grundy the Golem is a character in his Xanth series.
The novels of Terry Pratchett in the fictional setting of Discworld also include several golems as characters. For example, they are a plot device in the 1996 novel Feet of Clay, in which the golems create their own golem. The golems of Discworld are also much more intelligent than most representations; though still bound to obedience, if they feel they are mistreated they will take an obstructively literal interpretation of their orders as a form of rebellion. The golems also figure into the sub-series featuring “Moist von Lipwig” that begins with “Going Postal.” Von Lipwig’s love interest, “Adora Belle Dearheart”, runs the Golem Trust, whose purpose is to free all golems on the Discworld. Although this also becomes the stated purpose of the golem Dorfl from Feet of Clay, he and the Golem Trust have not interacted professionally as of “Making Money”.
In 2013, the fantasy/horror series Supernatural, a golem is used by a secret association of rabbis, in season 8, episode 13, “Everybody Hates Hitler”. It’s also used in the first season of Sleepy Hollow, Episode 10, which is titled “The Golem” (top picture)