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Summary Article: golem
From Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

In Jewish folklore, a figure of a human being brought to life by supernatural means.

The word ‘golem’ comes from the Yiddish goylem and Hebrew gōlem, meaning a shapeless thing or an incomplete substance, and the earliest stories of golems date back to early Judaism. In Jewish folklore, a golem is a figure of a human being made from mud or clay and brought to life by being inscribed with a magic or religious Hebrew word of power. For example, the name of God, or the word Emet (‘truth’) might be written on its forehead, or on a clay tablet or slip of paper placed under its tongue. Only those who were very holy and close to God could aspire to his power of creating life. The mystic way to create a golem is outlined in the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation, which is generally grouped with kabbalistic texts (see kabbalah). The golem was created as a servant, and while it was not very intelligent, it could perform simple tasks, although it could not speak and could gradually become more clumsy and dangerous. The possession of a golem servant was the ultimate mark of wisdom and holiness, and many tales of golems are associated with prominent rabbis throughout the Middle Ages. The most famous story is that of the Golem of Prague; it tells of the 16th-century Rabbi Loeb, who in 1580 was said to have created a golem to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks. However, as the golem grew bigger, it became more violent and became a danger to everyone. The rabbi was promised that if he would destroy the golem, the violence against the Jews would stop, so he agreed, deactivating the golem by recalling the magical words with which he had brought it to life. Paul Wegener’s expressionistic 1920 silent film, released in the USA as The Golem and now considered a classic, was based on this story.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2007

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