Creatures of the Night


The Golem is the Frankenstein monster of Jewish tradition, but it is created from virgin soil and pure spring water, rather than the body parts of cadavers. It is also fashioned by those who purify themselves spiritually and physically, rather than heretical scientists in foreboding castle laboratories who bring down electricity from the sky to animate their patchwork human. Once the Golem has been formed, it is given life by the Kabbalist placing under its

"The Golem of Prague" (1920) was directed by Paul Wegener. (GETTY IMAGES)
"The Golem of Prague" (1920) was directed by Paul Wegener. (
Boris Karloff in the 1931 production of "Frankenstein." (CORBIS CORPORATION)
Boris Karloff in the 1931 production of "Frankenstein." (
tongue a piece of paper with the Tetragrammaton (the four-letter name of God) written on it.

According to certain traditions, the creation of a Golem is one of the advanced stages of development for serious practitioners of Kabbalah and alchemy. Instructions for fashioning a Golem according to the Talmudic tradition was set down sometime in the tenth century by Rabbi Eliezar Rokeach in The Book of Formation, and in his modern adaptation of the ancient text, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan stressed that the initiate should never attempt to make a Golem alone, but should always be accompanied by one or two learned colleagues for it can become a monster and wreak havoc. When such a mistake occurs, the divine name must somehow be removed from the creature's tongue and it be allowed to revert to dust.

The most famous Golem is "Yossele," the creature said to be created by Judah Loew Ben Bezalel (1525–1609) to help protect the Jews of Prague from the libel that the blood of a Christian child was used during the Passover Seder. There are many accounts of how Yossele saved Jews from reprisals directed against them by those citizens who had been incited by the anti-Semitic libel. Once the Golem had served its purpose, the rabbi locked it in the attic of Prague's Old-New Synagogue, where it is widely believed that the creature rests to this day. The synagogue survived the widespread destruction directed against Jewish places of worship by the Nazis in the 1930s and early 1940s, and it is said that the Gestapo did not even enter the attic. A statue of Yossele, the Golem of Prague, still stands at the entrance to the city's Jewish sector.

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