Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Legend of the Golem

Ales print of Rabbi Loew

Previously I talked in general about golems. In this post I want to tell you the legend of the Golem of Prague. Whether I do or not is another matter: it is so easy to get side-tracked when talking about the Golem.

There are several versions of the story but all place at the story's heart the historical figure of Rabbi Loew, who lived at the time of Rudolph II. Under Rudolph Prague enjoyed an esoteric heyday: alchemists were drawn to his court, astronomers and other thinkers thronged the city. In some ways the brilliant Rabbi Loew was part of that world. But like all Jews he was also apart. Belief in the blood libel, that Jews murdered Christian children before Passover, would regularly flare into murderous attacks on the Jewish communities, and it was the threat of such an attack that spurred the good rabbi into creating the Prague Golem.

In 1580 a particularly nasty priest was whipping up anti-Semitic feeling in the city and the rabbi sought an answer from heaven, asking in a dream for a way to defend his people from the coming pogrom. The answer he got back was “Make a Golem of clay and you will destroy the entire Jew-baiting company”. Now this was and is a major deal. In order to do this the Rabi was required the use of the true name of God, which if done without the Lord's blessing or due care would have resulted in the Rabi's destruction. But blessed with divine approval Loew went one night to the banks of the River Vltava together with two chosen companions and there formed a giant figure in the clay. One companion walked seven times around the figure reciting holy words and the Golem glowed fiery red in the dark night. The other walked seven times round the figure in the opposite direction and water replaced the fire. Last of all the Rabbi walked once round the body and placed a piece of paper on which was written the true name of God into the mouth of the Golem. Then he bowed to all points of the compass and the three men recited the words from Genesis: “And He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” With those words the Golem opened his eyes.


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