Golem: A Legendary Clay Beast Created to Protect Jewish People

Golem: A Legendary Clay Beast Created to Protect Jewish People

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, while 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.

The Golem in the Bible

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.

A Rabbi creates a golem. ( )

There are others who interpret the stories of the golem literally and believe that it is possible to create such creatures . In the Sefer Yetzirah (meaning ‘Book of Creation / Formation’), there are instructions explaining the creation of golems. Several rabbinic commentaries on this book have provided different explanations about how these directions should be carried out. In most versions, the golem is first formed into a shape resembling a human being.

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How to Bring a Golem to Life

There are several ways given to bring a golem to life. One way, for example, is if its creator were to walk or dance around it while saying a combination of letters from the Hebrew alphabet and the secret name of God. In 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 a parchment and stick it into the golem’s arm or mouth.

The golem is first formed in the shape of a human being. Illustration of a golem by Philippe Semeria. The Hebrew word for Truth, one of the names of God, is written on his forehead. ( CC BY 3.0 )

The Famous Prague Golem Legend

One of the most famous golem stories is about Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, an important Talmudic scholar, Jewish mystic, and philosopher. This rabbi is believed to have lived at the end of the 16th century in Prague, which was then part of the Holy Roman Empire. At this time, the Empire was ruled by Rudolf II.

Although Rudolf was an enlightened emperor, the Jews of Prague were subjected to anti-Semitic attacks. In order to protect the Jewish quarter, the rabbi created a golem. As the golem possessed incredible strength, it also helped out with physical labor in the rabbi’s household and the synagogue. Additionally, the golem was given a special necklace made of deerskin and decorated with mystic signs. This necklace made the golem invisible.

Another version of the story states that a Jewish-hating priest tried to incite the Christians of Prague against the Jews near Easter during the spring of 1580. As a result, Rabbi Loew created the golem to protect his people during the Easter season .

Illustration of Rabbi Loew with the Golem . ( lucamendieta /Adobe Stock)

While 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.

A golem. ( neuartelena /Adobe Stock)

The Legacy of Golems

In most stories, Golems are described as male in appearance and were made to help save Jewish people (even if there was an unfortunate end to the story. However, there are a few notable legends about female golems as well. For example, a rabbi named Horowitz is said to have allegedly created a “beautifully silent” golem for him to have sex with. This was not as common as stories about female golems being created as maidservants that would cook and clean.

Golems are such prominent figures in Jewish legend that they continue to inspire artists and writers to this day. For at least the past two hundred years these creatures have made their way into painting, sculpture, illustration, and more recently video and digital artwork. They still have an air of fascination and magic about them, but also remind us to question what it really means to be human .

The Golem was created from clay and animated by a group of rabbis. The rabbi controlling the Golem writes his name on a small scroll which is placed in the Golem's mouth. The Golem demands "yifalchunbee" from his owners (placing their name on his scroll), but even without a name, the Golem will be loyal to his owner.

Powers and abilities

  • Invulnerability – A golem is unaffected typical weaponry and magic.
  • Longevity – Being made from clay, a golem will not age or die from natural means.
  • Super strength – A golem is capable of easily overpowering a regular human, and is strong enough to rip or crush a human head from its body.


Legends vary on the precise way in which a rabbi would bring a golem to life, although Hebrew incantations would usually be involved. Some versions say that the rabbi would need to write a series of letters of the Aleph-bet on a piece of parchment and put it in the golem's mouth. Other versions say that the rabbi would write the Hebrew word emet, meaning "truth", on the golem's forehead to activate it. To deactivate it, the rabbi would erase the letter aleph, leaving met, the Hebrew word for "death".

Depiction of Rabbi Loew and the Golem of Prague.

The most famous golem story is that of the Golem of Prague. The legend states that in the 16th century CE, the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II had decided to expel or kill Prague's Jews. Rabbi Juddah Loew ben Bezalel, the chief rabbi of Prague, created and brought to life a golem, in order to protect his people.

The golem spread fear by attacking and killing all those who sought to do harm to the Jews. The Emperor begged Rabbi Loew to deactivate the golem, which he agreed to do on the condition that the Emperor stopped persecuting the Jews. The legend states that the deactivated golem was stored in the attic of Prague's Old New Synagogue, the Emperor understanding that it could be brought back to life at any time if he broke his promise. The Jewish museum in Prague had a special exhibit on Rabbi Loew and the golem in 2009.

Some variations of the legend say that the golem became uncontrolably violent, turning on its creator or killing Gentiles and Jews indiscriminately. Some versions say that the golem became dangerous after it fell in love with a woman who rejected it.

Golem Stories

Creating and Destroying Golems

Over the years, various magical and spiritual texts have described the Golem-creating process. All sources agree that the first part of the process is to build a giant, humanoid creature out of clay. When it comes time to bring the creature to life, the instructions vary.
Some sources claim that magicians should dance around the creature, singing letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the secret name of God. When the magicians reach a state of ecstasy from all their singing and dancing, the creature will come to life. To destroy this type of Golem, magicians must corner the beast, dance around it again, and sing the same incantation backwards.

Other sources claim that the Golem’s forehead should be inscribed with the Hebrew word for “truth” (one of God’s secret names). When this word is engraved in its forehead, the Golem will come to life. It can be destroyed by removing the first letter from the word “truth,” which leaves behind the word “death.”

Finally, some sources claim that a paper with one of God’s secret names written on it must be inserted into the Golem’s eye or mouth. Destroying these Golems is a risky business, as the creator must find a way to climb up the active Golem and remove the scroll from its eye or mouth.

The Golem of Chelm

The oldest known Golem was created by the Rabbi Eliyahu (the Prophet Elijah). Various letters mentioned Eliyahu’s Golem, describing the incredible works that it undertook at Eliyahu’s bidding. However, when Eliyahu realized that the beast would never stop growing, he became afraid of it and removed a magical scroll in its forehead, thus reducing it to rubble.

The Golem of Prague

History’s most famous Golem, this clay beast had awesome powers and a nasty temper. He was created by Rabbi Judah Leow ben Bezalel to protect the Jewish citizens of Prague from anti-Semitic attacks. Because of his amazing strength, he was also recruited to help with building projects in Prague. Eventually, the guardian turned into a predator. He went on wild rampages, destroying buildings and killing innocent people. The Rabbi caught up with his servant and removed a magic scroll from its mouth, causing the clay giant to crumble to dust.

Legend claims that the pieces of the Golem giant were hidden in the attic of the synagogue, in case Prague ever needed another protector. For centuries, entrance to this attic was forbidden.

The Golem of Vilna

The Rabbi Vilna Gaon is the only rabbi in history who has admitted that he attempted to make a golem. All other legends formed around rabbis after they were dead. According to Rabbi Vilna Gaon, he began creating a giant clay creature to fight the forces of evil who threatened Jerusalem, but he received a message from God telling him to stop his work.

8 They Are First Mentioned In The Bible

When it comes to finding the first written reference to golems, one would expect to read such mention in some book or magical text of the Middle Ages. After all, we just saw that the concept of golems as such seems to have emerged in those times. However, the first mention of the term took place many centuries before in one of the most influential books in history, the Bible.

The earliest mention occurs in Psalm 139:16, written around the fifth century BC. The text says: &ldquoYour eyes saw my unformed limbs,&rdquo as translated from golmi ra&rsquou enecha. [4] The Jews believe that the phrase was said by Adam, the first human, and the term &ldquogolem&rdquo used there literally means &ldquounfinished substance.&rdquo

It is interesting to note that the word &ldquogolem&rdquo appears only once in the entire Bible, in the text we just quoted. Nevertheless, the same idea about life being created from inert matter appears again in other places of the Old Testament, as we will see later.

History [ edit | edit source ]

In 1944, the Judah Initiative constructed a Golem in the ghettos of Vitsyebsk to combat the Thule. The Golem assaulted the Thule headquarters in Vitsyebsk, slaughtering numerous German soldiers and a large chunk of the Thule membership. The Thule leader, Eckhart manages to escape the Golem using the Cloaking Flame spell, losing the Ledger of the Thules in the process.

Over the next seventy years, the Golem falls under the command of various Judah members, eventually ending up in the care of Rabbi Isaac Bass, the last surviving member of the Judah Initiative. Rabbi Bass grooms his grandson Aaron to take control of the Golem once he's gone, but Aaron never takes it seriously and smokes the instruction manual for the Golem.

Season 8 [ edit | edit source ]

Following the death of Rabbi Bass, the Golem fell into the possession of Aaron who lacked the knowledge of how to take full control of him due to the loss of the instruction manual. The Golem was greatly frustrated with Aaron's inability to truly command him but still served Aaron anyway, aiding him in his investigation into the murder of his grandfather.

While investigating the death of Rabbi Bass, the Golem and Aaron met the Winchesters who offered to store the Golem in the Men of Letters bunker for Aaron who had no real desire to have control of the Golem. The group comes into conflict with the Thule, whose member Torvald nearly kills Aaron and Sam Winchester with a dart spell. The Golem kills Torvald and breaks the spell, but four Thule, led by Eckhart, arrive to retrieve the ledger. Eckhart is able to stop the Golem with a binding spell and explains to Aaron how to take true control of him. Eventually, the Winchesters kill Eckhart and two other Thule, but Heintz escapes while using Aaron and the Golem as shields.

After disposing of the bodies of the Thule members, Aaron decides to take up the role of a Judah member and to this end, he finally takes full control of the Golem who acknowledges Aaron's control over him.

Season 12 [ edit | edit source ]

In 2016, the Winchesters contact Aaron about possible Thule activity. Aaron tells them that he and the Golem have been using the names listed in the Thule ledger to hunt down all of the Thule. According to Aaron, they have killed half of the Thule with Aaron killing six and the Golem killing the rest.

What Exactly Is a Golem? Beast of Jewish Folklore Getting Feature Film Reboot After 100 Years

Since we recently announced that Dread Central Presents acquired our first original feature film, The Golem, directed by Doron and Yoav Paz (JeruZalem), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to delve into this obscure and complicated manifestation.

No, a Golem isn&rsquot a relative of Gollum, aka Sméagol, the pitiable villain from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit a Golem is a protective avenger from Jewish Folklore discussed in The Talmud and other mystic texts, a beast molded from clay and animated through a complex series of rituals.

Stories of Golems being created and controlled were popular in the 16 th and 17 th Centuries when rabbis would summon them to protect ghettos from anti-Semitic intruders. An article in Moment Magazine states: &ldquoThe Golem is a highly mutable metaphor with seemingly limitless symbolism. It can be victim or villain, Jew or non-Jew, man or woman&mdashor sometimes both. Over the centuries it has been used to connote war, community, isolation, hope, and despair.&rdquo

Though the exact methods for bringing a Golem to life are still shrouded in secrecy (and differ according to which text you examine), an enduring component of the legend has to do with the final step necessary to bring an inanimate hulk to life. The Jewish Virtual Library explains: &ldquo[Most] sources say once the Golem had been physically made one needed to write the letters aleph, mem, tav, which is &rsquoemet&rsquo and means &lsquotruth,&rsquo on the Golem&rsquos forehead and the Golem would come alive. Erase the aleph and you are left with mem and tav, which is &lsquomet&rsquo, meaning &lsquodeath&rsquo.&rdquo

Bringing a Golem isn&rsquot the only difficult part of the process controlling a Golem could be extremely challenging, to say the least! Some sources say the creature was manipulated by a rabbi and his congregants dancing around the beast while chanting mystical incantations. Others say the rabbi needed to perform a complex numerological ritual that included invoking the &ldquosecret&rdquo name of God while walking backward. With all of these minute yet integral details, it&rsquos easy to understand why creating a Golem wasn&rsquot something taken into lightly. Failure to complete even the smallest aspect of the ritual could have devastating consequences.

The most famous Golem in popular culture is The Golem of Prague supposedly created by Rabbi Judah Loew in the late 16th Century, the avenger beast was summoned to protect his congregants from accusations of &ldquoblood libel&rdquo, a popular anti-Semitic belief that Jews used the blood of Christian Babies to make unleavened bread. In this particular case, The Golem was also somewhat enslaved, forced to perform acts of intense physical labor.

Of course, things went sour, with The Golem running amok and turning on those he was summoned to protect. Some say Rabbi Loew incapacitated he beast by changing the word on its forehead from &ldquotruth&rdquo to &ldquodeath&rdquo other accounts say The Golem escaped into the wooded outlands&ndashwhere he still lurks in the shadows to this day.

The story of The Golem of Prague was (somewhat) immortalized in a couple of silent films, released in 1915 and 1920. First came the film Der Golem written, directed by, and starring Paul Wegener. It tells the story of a 20th Century antique dealer who finds Rabbi Lowes&rsquos Golem in the ruins of a decimated synagogue. In this reimagining, The Golem is brought to life for the purpose of menial service before falling in love with the dealer&rsquos daughter. When his amorous advances are spurned, The Golem goes on a murderous rampage.

In 1920, Wegener created what may well be the first example of a horror movie prequel. This time, Der Golem was subtitled Wie er in die Welt kam which translates to How He Came into the World. This one took moviegoers back to 16th-century Prague, recounting and popularizing the tale of Rabbi Loew&rsquos misadventures with sorcery. In the film, Loew controls The Golem by writing his bidding on a piece of paper and placing it in the monster&rsquos mouth. Though it added cinematic elements to the story that weren&rsquot cultivated from Jewish Folklore, Wegener&rsquos Golemmovies gave us an enduring and iconic character still recognized today.

Even people who have never heard of the films would likely recognize the titular anti-hero, as he featured prominently in The Simpson&rsquos Treehouse of Horror XVII chapter You Gotta Know When to Golem. When Bart finds the original Golem of Prague in Krusty&rsquos basement, he uses its powers to exact vengeance on Springfield&rsquos infamous band of bullies.

For an incredible, in-depth examination of Golems and their impact on art, I highly recommend viewing the video below produced by DW Documentaries. It&rsquos extremely enlightening even most of us who were raised Jewish never learned about Golems in Sunday School (believe me, I would have remembered). And I had no idea Golems continues to be a recurring motif, appeared in Hebrew folklore for centuries while continuing to captivate modern thinkers. For example, the documentary takes a look at California artist Joshua Abarbanel who regularly creates Golem replicas out of wood. A point that continues to resonate with me is the assertion that &ldquoGolems know more about humans than we know about ourselves.&rdquo

&ldquoWith fascinating images from the Israeli desert, Prague and Silicon Valley, this film takes an exciting journey through 2,000 years of cultural history that the age of artificial intelligence and robots has done nothing to diminish. Filmmakers Torsten Striegnitz and Simone Dobmeier meet artists and scholars who have a very special relationship with this most prominent of Jewish legends.&rdquo

Indeed, the idea of creating something from nothing taps into many primal fears that propel everything from sci-fi stories of A.I. to Gothic tales of interloping into God&rsquos territory (like Frankenstein). It&rsquos a one-way ticket to &ldquoThe Uncanny Valley&rdquo, a state of mind that keeps us looking over our shoulders at dolls and mannequins&mdashfearing they could spring to life at any moment.

When Epic Pictures co-founder Shaked Berenson spoke to Deadline about The Golem, he noted the underserved market that films cultivated from Jewish folklore can tap into&mdashnot to mention grabbing the attention of American audiences craving something they haven&rsquot already seen a million times before.


Aside from any weaknesses attributed to the material from which it is made, many Golems can be destroyed by foiling the mystic process by which they were created. For example, there are some Golems created by a mystic, and as a finishing touch, have an inscription of EMET across their foreheads.

The EMET ( אמת ) in Hebrew, means 'Truth' (perhaps some archaic form of patent or copyright or trademark, labeling the creature as an actual authentic golem, as opposed to, perhaps just a life-sized statue).

However, if a single letter (the starting E) is erased from the inscription on the Golem's forehead, all that is left is the inscription MET ( מת , which, in Hebrew, means 'Death' or 'Dead'). Thus, the Golem is rendered defunct, until a mystic can go through the process used to animate it in the first place, all over again.

So You Want to Make a Golem

It's challenging enough just to read and understand the Sefir Yezirah (the kabbalistic "Book of Creation"). Then you have to put the very complicated procedures that it teaches into practice. This requires discipline, patience, wisdom, intelligence, and almost unimaginable spiritual strength. But it's not out of the realm of possibility.

Rabbi Eleazar of Worms's commentary on Sefir Yezirah includes detailed instructions for making a golem, an artificial human being. (In Jewish legend, the golem was a creature brought into being at crucial times to help save the Jews from their enemies.)

Before you begin, you'll have to memorize a bewildering number of formulae-and be able to utter tens of thousands of Hebrew phonemes and phrases in the correct order and without making any mistakes. Then you and your partners (you should never create a golem by yourself!) should purify yourselves and dress in clean white vestments. You'll need a sufficient supply of virgin soil, taken from a place that's never been dug, and fresh springwater that has never been poured into a vessel of any sort. After you mix the soil and water and knead it together, it's time to get to work.

Taking care to breathe properly and to make the right head movements, you'll have to combine each Hebrew letter and vowel with each of the consonants of the tetragrammaton (the four-letter name of God, YHWH, that pious Jews are forbidden to pronounce out loud-instead they pronounce them as Adonai, or "Lord"), while meditating on the parts of the body. Depending on how you combine the vowels and which sequences you use (not all rabbis agree about this-Rabbi Abraham Abulafia's instructions, for example, require tens of thousands more combinations than Rabbi Eleazar's), the entire process should take between seven and thirty-five hours.

When you have finished, the golem you have created will only be a mental image. But that doesn't mean that he has to stay in your mind. You can project yourself into this mental construct and use it as a vehicle to ascend to astral realms-or you can transfer it into the clay form that you mixed and bring it to life in the real world. If you don't want to create a whole man, you can create just a single limb or organ-a useful tool in the practice of medicine.

One of the best-known legends about a golem takes place in the late 1500s, when Rabbi Judah Loew created one to protect the Jews of Prague from a pogrom. When the creature went out of control, threatening to slaughter all of the gentiles in the city, the rabbi undid his magic. The story was actually adapted from a popular legend about Loew's contemporary, Rabbi Elijah of Chelm Loew only became its hero in the late eighteeenth century.

The golem has been ubiquitous in popular literature since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was published in 1818. He has turned up recently in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator movies, and novels like Frances Sherwood's The Book of Splendor, The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum, Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers, Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay-and even in Steven Spielberg's full-length children's animated feature, An American Tale.

Golem: A Legendary Clay Beast Created to Protect Jewish People

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, while 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.

The Golem in the Bible

The word &lsquogolem&rsquo is said to appear once in the Bible (Psalms 139:16), and means &lsquoshapeless mass&rsquo or &lsquounfinished substance&rsquo 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&rsquos spiritual awakening.

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