The Golem (2018)
In Jewish folklore, a The Golem is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter, usually of clay or mud. There are many tales differing on how the golem was brought to life and afterward controlled. According to Moment Magazine, “the golem is a highly mutable metaphor with seemingly limitless symbolism. It can be a victim or villain, Jew or non-Jew, man or woman, or oftentimes, both. Over the centuries it has been used to connote war, community, isolation, hope, and despair.
The word ‘golem’ is said to appear once in the Bible (Psalms 139:16), and means ‘shapeless mass’ or ‘unfinished substance’ in Hebrew. According to a Talmudic legend, Adam was a golem for the first 12 hours of his existence, indicating that he was a body without a soul. In another legend, the prophet Jeremiah is said to have made a golem. Some believe these legends regarding the creation of golems are merely symbolic in nature and may refer to a person’s spiritual awakening.
In the gothic horror novel, Frankenstein is one of the most well-known stories in which man tries to play god by attempting to manufacture a living being. A similar story, that of the golem, exists in Jewish folklore and legend, albeit with some obvious differences. For instance, the Frankenstein monster is popularly depicted as an amalgamation of body parts from cadavers, whilst the golem is said to be made from clay. Additionally, it was science that gave life to the Frankenstein monster, whereas the golem is said to have been given life by mystical means.
In Renaissance medicine, it was believed that the main life-giving force in reproduction came from the man in the form of the semen. The womb was believed to simply be a warm, nutrient-rich vessel for the embryo to grow and be nourished, though the womb was believed to provide the raw materials needed to make an adult. The raw material which the fetus used to mature was considered important in determining what kind of individual the person would become.
This idea is that semen is the main ingredient needed to produce new life in the womb and that the womb is just a passive vessel that goes back to Aristotle, who was considered the primary authority on natural science in Medieval and late Classical worlds.
There are several ways to bring a golem to life. A golem may be brought to life if its creator were to walk or dance around it whilst saying a combination of letters from the Hebrew alphabet and the secret name of God. Another version, the letters aleph, mem, and tav (these letters combine to form the word emet, meaning ‘truth’) are required to be written on a golem’s forehead in order to give it life. A third way of bringing a golem to life is to write the name of God on parchment, and stick it into its arm or mouth.
Whilst the golem succeeds in protecting the Jews, the story has a less than happy ending. The golem grew stronger and stronger, but it became increasingly destructive as well. Instead of doing good deeds, the golem began to run amok and threatened innocent lives. As a result, Rabbi Loew removed the name of God from the golem, thus turning it back into a lifeless statue. Some believe that the golem was hidden by the rabbi in the attic of his synagogue. In addition, entrance to the attic was forbidden for centuries, and the stairs to the area removed. When the synagogue was finally explored hundreds of years later, there was no trace of anything resembling a golem.
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