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Home > Unexplained Mysteries of The Golem - A Jewish Legend

Unexplained Mysteries of The Golem - A Jewish Legend

D. L. Ashliman

The Golem

In the town of Worms [in Germany] there once lived a pious man of the name of Bezalel to whom a son was born on the first night of Passover. This happened in the year 5273 after the creation of the world [1579 common era], at a time when the Jews all over Europe were suffering from cruel persecutions.

The nations in whose midst the children of Israel were dwelling constantly accused them of ritual murder. The Jews, their enemies pretended, used the blood of Christian children in the preparation of their Passover bread; but the arrival of the son of Rabbi Bezalel soon proved to be the occasion of frustrating the evil intentions of two miscreants who sought to show to Christendom that the Jews were actually guilty of ritual murder.

In the night, when the wife of Rabbi Bezalel was seized with labor pains, the servants who had rushed out of the house in search of a midwife luckily prevented two men, who were just going to throw a sack containing the body of a dead child into the Jew-street, with a view to proving the murderous practice of the Jews, from carrying out their evil intention. Rabbi Bezalel then prophesied that his newborn son was destined to bring consolation to Israel and to save his people from the accusation of ritual murder.

"The name of my son in Israel," said Rabbi Bezalel "shall be Judah Arya, even as the Patriarch Jacob said when he blessed his children: 'Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up.'" (Genesis 49:9)

Rabbi Bezalel's son grew up and increased in strength and knowledge; he became a great scholar, well versed in the Holy Law, but also a master of all branches of knowledge and familiar with many foreign languages. In time he was elected Rabbi of Posen [in Poland], but later received a call to the city of Prague, where he was appointed chief judge of the Jewish community.

All his thoughts and actions were devoted to the welfare of his suffering people and his great aim in life was to clear Israel of the monstrous accusation of ritual murder which like a sword of Damocles was perpetually suspended over the head of the unhappy race. Fervently did the rabbi pray to Heaven to teach him in a vision by what means he could best bring to naught the false accusations of the miscreant priests who were spreading the cruel rumors.

And one night he heard a mysterious voice calling to him, "Make a human image of clay and thus you will succeed in frustrating the evil intentions of the enemies of Israel."

On the following morning the master called his son-in-law and his favorite pupil and acquainted them with the instruction he had received from Heaven. He also asked the two to help him in the work he was about to undertake.

"Four elements," he said, "are required for the creation of the Golem or homunculus, namely, earth, water, fire and air."

"I myself," thought the holy man, "possess the power of the wind; my son-in-law embodies fire, while my favorite pupil is the symbol of water, and between the three of us we are bound to succeed in our work." He urged on his companions the necessity of great secrecy and asked them to spend seven days in preparing for the work.

On the twentieth day of the month of Adar, in the year five thousand three hundred and forty after the creation of the world, in the fourth hour after midnight, the three men betook themselves to a river on the outskirts of the city on the banks of which they found a loam pit. Here they kneaded the soft clay and fashioned the figure of a man three ells high. They fashioned the features, hands and feet, and then placed the figure of clay on its back upon the ground.

The three learned men then stood at the feet of the image which they had created and the rabbi commanded his son-in-law to walk round the figure seven times, while reciting a cabalistic formula he had himself composed. And as soon as the son-in-law had completed the seven rounds and recited the formula, the figure of clay grew red like a gleaming coal. Thereupon the rabbi commanded his pupil to perform the same action, namely, walk round the lifeless figure seven times while reciting another formula. The effect of the performance was this time an abatement of the heat. The figure grew moist and vapors emanated from it, while nails sprouted on the tips of its fingers and its head was suddenly covered with hair. The face of the figure of clay looked like that of a man of about thirty.

At last the rabbi himself walked seven times round the figure, and the three men recited the following sentence from the history of creation in Genesis: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7)

As soon as the three pious men had spoken these words, the eyes of the Golem opened and he gazed upon the rabbi and his pupils with eyes full of wonder. Rabbi Loew [also spelled Lw] thereupon spoke aloud to the man of clay and commanded him to rise from the ground. The Golem at once obeyed and stood erect on his feet. The three men then arrayed the figure in the clothes they had brought with them, clothes worn by the beadles of the synagogues, and put shoes on his feet.

And the rabbi once more addressed the newly fashioned image of clay and thus he spoke, "Know you, clod of clay, that we have fashioned you from the dust of the earth that you may protect the people of Israel against its enemies and shelter it from the misery and suffering to which our nation is subjected. Your name shall be Joseph, and you shall dwell in my courtroom and perform the work of a servant. You shall obey my commands and do all that I may require of you, go through fire, jump into water or throw yourself down from a high tower."

The Golem only nodded his head as if to give his consent to the words spoken by the rabbi. His conduct was in every respect that of a human being; he could hear and understand all that was said to him, but he lacked the power of speech. And thus it happened on that memorable night that while only three men had left the house of the rabbi, four returned home in the sixth hour after midnight.

The rabbi kept the matter secret, informing his household that on his way in the morning to the ritual bathing establishment he had met a beggar, and, finding him honest and innocent, had brought him home. He had the intention of engaging him as a servant to attend to the work in his schoolroom, but he forbade his household to make the man perform any other domestic work.

And the Golem thenceforth remained in a corner of the schoolroom, his head upon his two hands, sitting motionless. He gave the impression of a creature bereft of reason, neither understanding nor taking any notice of what was happening around him. Rabbi Loew said of him that neither fire nor water had the power of harming him, nor could any sword wound him. He had called the man of clay Joseph, in memory of Joseph Sheda mentioned in the Talmud who is said to have been half human and half spirit, and who had served the rabbis and frequently saved them from great trouble.

Rabbi Loew, the miracle worker, availed himself of the services of the Golem only on occasions when it was a question of defending his people against the blood accusations from which the Jews of Prague had to suffer greatly in those days.

Whenever the miracle-working Rabbi Loew sent out the Golem and was anxious that he should not be seen, he used to suspend on his neck an amulet written on the skin of a hart, a talisman which rendered the man of clay invisible, while he himself was able to see everything. During the week preceding the feast of Passover the Golem wandered about in the streets of the city stopping everybody who happened to be carrying some burden on his back. It frequently occurred that the bundle contained a dead child which the miscreant intended to deposit in the Jew-street; the Golem at once tied up the man and the body with a rope which he carried in his pocket, and, leading the mischief maker to the town hall, handed him over to the authorities. The Golem's power was quite supernatural and he performed many good deeds.

A day came when a law was finally promulgated declaring the blood accusation to be groundless, and the Jews breathed a sigh of relief when all further persecutions on account of alleged ritual murder were forbidden. Rabbi Loew now decided to take away the breath of life from the Golem, the figure of clay which his hands had once fashioned. He placed Joseph upon a bed and commanded his disciples once more to walk round the Golem seven times and repeat the words they had spoken when the figure was created, but this time in reverse order. When the seventh round was finished, the Golem was once more a lifeless piece of clay. They divested him of his clothes, and wrapping him in two old praying shawls, hid the clod of clay under a heap of old books in the rabbi's garret.

Rabbi Loew afterwards related many incidents connected with the creation of the Golem. When he was on the point of blowing the breath of life into the nostrils of the figure of clay he had created, two spirits had appeared to him; that of Joseph the demon and that of Jonathan the demon. He chose the former, the spirit of Joseph, because he had already revealed himself as the protector of the rabbis of the Talmud, but he could not endow the figure of clay with the power of speech because the living spirit inhabiting the Golem was only a sort of animal vitality and not a soul. He possessed only small powers of discernment, being unable to grasp anything belonging to the domain of real intelligence and higher wisdom.

And yet, although the Golem was not possessed of a soul, one could not fail to notice that on the Sabbath there was something peculiar in his bearing, for his face bore a friendlier and more amiable expression than it did on weekdays. It was afterwards related that every Friday Rabbi Loew used to remove the tablet on which he had written the Ineffable Name from under the Golem's tongue, as he was afraid lest the Sabbath should make the Golem immortal and men might be induced to worship him as an idol. The Golem had no inclinations, either good or bad. Whatever action he performed he did under compulsion and out of fear lest he should be turned again into dust and reduced to naught once more. Whatever was situated within ten ells above the ground or under it he could reach easily and nothing would stop him in the execution of anything that he had undertaken.

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