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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Raising a Golem, and other fun features of Jewish mysticism



Is raising a golem – turning a mound of dirt into a super powerful humanoid – folklore or is it a part of Jewish history? The more I read into it, the more I found a case for the latter.
A friend from Chabad lent me The Golem of Prague by Gershon Winkler, which recalls the stories of a golem raised in the late 1500s to fend off attacks on the Jews, and then cites examples in Jewish texts that show such a thing happened several times before.
A golem is indestructible and incredibly strong. Unable to talk, it follows the directors of its creator, although it does so robotically without using common sense. Ask it to fill a bucket with water and it'll keep going until the house is flooded.
Convinced, I went to my back yard and started crafting a new left tackle for the Miami Dolphins. 

From the 1920 film "The Golem of Prague", before CGI

Turns out I’m probably not qualified for such a task. It takes a Torah sage who understands the process of creation and can use G-d’s true name and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet to infuse a spark of life into inanimate objects. The secrets are part of the ancient Book of Formation, although only a master of Kabbalah could understand how to carry them out.
The stories in The Golem of Prague were translated from the writings of Yitzchak ben Shimshon HaKohen Katz, the son-in-law of the sage who summoned the golem, Rabbi Moreynu HaRav Loevy, widely known as the Maharal. His statue still stands today in front of Prague’s City Hall.
At the time the Jews were being unjustly accused of drinking Christian blood before Passover. Of course this made no sense because the Torah specifically forbids drinking blood, human or animal. The Maharal asked G-d through a “dream quest” (contemplating a question, sleeping with a blank piece of paper under your pillow, and waking up to read a message). He was told to create a golem, so he drew a figure of a man in the mud along the Vlatava River and performed a ceremony that involved three people circling the figure while reciting the Divine Names.
No, he didn’t use a lightning strike. But some scholars believe the golem stories inspired the original Frankenstein novel by Mary Shelley.
So what super powers did the golem have besides beating up people who attempted to plant corpses on Jewish property? The Maharal gave the golem an “amulet of invisibility” so he could rescue prisoners and deliver notes. I’m looking at the Judaica store catalog for one of those…
The golem also had the power to see spirits, including angels and demons. In one instance the golem walks through a cemetery and identifies the fresh grave that had a body removed because there wasn’t a spirit hovering over it. Actually, Jewish texts say that animals can see spirits as well. If you’re dog is up all night barking at shadows, or you cat jumps at nothing, maybe they see a mean spirit.
Spirits aren’t always quiet. The book has two instances were spirits of the dead communicate directly with the Maharal, once in a dream and once with a spirit speaking to an entire courtroom during trial. See, there is something they haven’t tried yet on Law & Order.
One of the chapters later in the book explains that Kabbalah isn’t black magic or witchcraft. It is the legitimate way to create miracles with G-d’s will, as opposed to bending the rules of nature to do evil.
Read more about creating Golems here. And if you succeed, please find something more interesting for him to do than yard work.

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