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Uses for the Golem


As Described in Folklore
Raising the Dead
As a Contemplative Experience


Uses as Described in Folklore

Why create a golem? Early accounts seem to use it to prove a point: that a man could, if righteous enough, "create a world". The idea of creating an animal to eat is certainly an interesting one, but I have not yet encountered any stories in which it's used to save people from starvation.

In the medieval period, Rabbi Samuel, father of Judah the Pious, was said to have had a golem as his valet. By the late sixteenth century, another legend of the golem as a servant had appeared. Rabbi Elija of Chelm was said to have created one, which grew so large, in the end he could barely reach up to it to remove the Name of God and deactivate it.

Rabbi Loew used his golem Yosele (a.k.a. Yosef, Joseph) to protect the Jews of Prague, who were under constant threat of slander and attack from the local Christians, who believed the Jews killed Christian children and used their blood in rituals, or to make Passover mazot (which is naturally absurd, not just for the obvious reasons, but because the handling and use of blood is forbidden by kosher laws). Yosele was sent to patrol the Jewish quarter, on the lookout for wrongdoers; he rooted out evidence against the people trying to frame the Jews for murder; he helped round up sinners; he assisted the rabbi in investigations. It was only when King Rudolf decreed there would be no more blood libels against the Jews that Rabbi Loew deactivated Yosele, and hid his clay remains in the attic of the synagogue, which was then proclaimed off-limits.

A somewhat disturbing variant of the golem-creation methodology involves the temporary raising of the dead. A number of stories exist in which a person is brought back to life by undergoing a ritual similar to the creation of a golem, which culminates in a Name of God being written on the deceased's arm, or having a paper bearing the Name put into their mouth. This was only done under dire circumstances; for example, if the dead person could do something or provide information which would save an innocent life. When the task is done, the Name is removed, and the body instantly collapses, either suddenly decomposed or turning to dust. I'm actually a little surprised this sort of thing exists, since in my mind it really crosses the line between God's ability and man's (more so than with the golem), and it has airs of necromancy.

The Golem as a Contemplative Experience

Despite its popular image as servant and protector, the golem was not always a physical result of meditation and ritual. Some believed the golem was never meant to be literal, but rather was a vision of enlightenment at the conclusion of the meditations to create it. In this case, the golem is a sign of an influx of divine wisdom, and a symbol of the mystic's knowledge and potential.


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