Throughout history, the Jewish community has been tirelessly persecuted in Europe. Revolts and massacres happened based on the belief that Jews were somehow inhuman creatures that valued money over life and used little Christian children as a human sacrifice for their religious rituals.
Amidst oppression, the Jewish community turned to its folklore and traditions for a redeemer, someone (or rather something) who could be a symbol for hope and resistance. Thus, the Golem was brought to life.
What a Golem is
A Golem is a human-like entity created out of clay using ancient magic (Kabbalah). Similarly to how God created Adam by blowing life into clay, so does an experienced rabbi blows life into the creature, after inscribing the word emet (‘truth’ in Hebrew) onto the Golem’s forehead. There are three main reasons why a person would create a Golem:
- Show mastery of the Kabbalah
- Use as a servant for physical labor
- Provide protection for the community
After the Golem is alive, it will perform its duties as instructed by its master. But unlike God, man cannot create a perfect conscious being, thus the Golem will follow blindly (and sometimes very stupidly) the commands given to him.
Given how non-intelligent it is, it might even become violent trying to follow its commands until the very end. According to legend, the way to kill one is to remove the last letter of the word inscribed onto him, this will turn the Hebrew word ‘truth’ into ‘dead’:
אמת (truth) → מת (dead)
The problem here is that the Golem will definitely not let anyone get even close to doing that. And well, it is pretty big and strong, so you can image how difficult the task is.
A Golem in Prague
During the reign of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, the jews of Prague were at risk of being expelled from the city or even killed. To protect the inhabitants of the ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a late 16th-century rabbi from Prague, reportedly created a Golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river using Kabbalistic magic. It was called Yossele or simply Josef and was known to be able to become invisible and summon dead spirits.
Legend says that for some reason, the Golem became out of control, either by desecrating the Sabbath or being rejected after falling in love with a human. Either way, the Golem went on a murderous rampage. The rabbi actually managed to remove the incantation from the Golem, immobilizing him in front of the synagogue, where it fell in pieces. His body was supposedly stored in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, where he would be brought back to life again if needed.
The Golem Today
At the present time, the Golem is a celebrity attached to the image of the city. Books have been written about the story, movies have been made, there are restaurants carrying its name, souvenirs being sold, etc.
The Golem became a symbol of the resistance and self-determination of the Jewish peoples in Prague. Whenever it is needed, the Golem will awake, and protect those who have summoned him.
If you wish to visit him, you can either see:
- Old-New Synagogue, where the Golem supposedly sleeps,
- Ghosts and Legends Museum, where a life-size Golem replica resides.