Season 3, Episode 3
Unsolved Jewish Mysteries: The Golem
Like a Frankenstein or Terminator, the Golem is an unformed being which can be brought to life for good or evil, though usually it’s in the service of protecting the Jewish community. Vaguely referenced in the Book of Psalms, the earliest description we have of how to create one dates to Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah in the early 1200s. The Golem’s most famous legends date from the 1500s, chiefly in Chelm, Poland, and Prague, Czechoslovakia. In Prague the Golem was used by Rabbi Judah Loew to defend the Jewish community from anti-Semitic blood libels.
WHY WE CARE
The Golem is often conjured by the Jews in times of vulnerability and peril. Its mystical powers offer a reassurance of Jewish strength during a time of perceived powerlessness. But because the Golem can ultimately grow dangerously more powerful than its creator, it’s also a metaphor for hubris, a reminder that the creation of life rests ultimately with the Divine Creator. Its medieval origins also show the long history of Jewish folklore, mysticism, and kabbalah that complements the Jewish legal tradition.
THEORIES ABOUT WHERE IT IS
Legend has it that Rabbi Loew’s golem grew too powerful to control and he was forced to smash the clay being into pieces. He hid the pieces in the attic of the Altneuschul — the Old-New Synagogue in Prague. Except for a brief (unseen) appearance during World War Two, when Nazi soldiers searching the attic for hidden Jews mysteriously disappeared, the Prague golem has not been seen since.
A golem is usually turned “on” by writing the Hebrew word for truth on its forehead. It’s turned “off” by removing the first letter, which changes the word to read “death.”
The Altneuschul in Prague, where the Golem is still hidden, is the oldest synagogue in Europe still in use today, having been originally built in 1270.
An Israeli film crew took photographs inside the attic in 2014 but (supposedly) found no trace of the Golem.
© Jason Harris 2019