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Golem

I recently visited Israel and stayed at the home of distant cousins. We were playing basketball and one kid said to another: "Don't just stand there like a golem - do something!" I'd heard about the idea of a Golem before, but this got me curious. Can you fill in the background? Thank you.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The word "golem" appears in Psalms 139:16. A golem is a body in human form, but without an ability to speak - and therefore no soul. The Talmud relates that the Sages were able to create living beings through their knowledge of Kabbalah. This is achieved through combining the 22 letters of the aleph-bet into various Names of God.

This is similar to the process, so to speak, that God Himself used to create the world, as it is written: "And God SAID, 'Let there be light.'" (Genesis 1:3)

The Talmud says that for the first few hours of life, Adam was a Golem - i.e. without a soul and not yet "human."

Golems became famous in the Middle Ages when the Jews were frequently accused of blood libels. Apparently, when a Christian baby would die of some disease, it would be secretly left in the yard of a Jewish family. The police would then be called, claiming that "the Jews killed the baby in order to use Christian blood to bake matzahs." (In fact, this is one reason why the custom developed to open the door for Elijah the Prophet on Seder night - in order to be on the lookout for potential "baby plantings.")

Legend says that in the 16th century, the Maharal of Prague created a Golem to patrol the streets and protect the Jews. Apparently, the Maharal engraved God's Name on the Golem's forehead (or perhaps wrote God's Name on a paper and placed it in the Golem's mouth.) Either way, the Golem eventually got out of control and had to be killed. According to legend, his body was hidden in the attic of the old synagogue in Prague. It is likely that this became the source for Mary Shelly's book, "Frankenstein."

I don't know of any recent Golems, though it is said about the Vilna Gaon (18th century) that he was about to create one, when an angel came and told him to stop. "Why?" asked the Vilna Gaon. "Because you are not yet Bar Mitzvah," the angel replied. (The Vilna Gaon was a child genius.)

Today, there are those who want to suggest that a cloned human might in fact be a modern-day Golem. However, a child born to a human mother, from a human embryo, would almost certainly be considered a full-fledged human being with its own unique soul.

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