In the world of comic books, who is the strongest superhero ever? For many experts, the top ten includes Superman, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Thing, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Hercules, Aquaman, Captain America and Spiderman. No such list, however, would be complete without mentioning the strongest Jewish superhero ever: the Golem. He is so strong that he can pick up a 100-ton Torah scroll with at least six columns showing and then also do his own gelilah.

Many scholars believe that Golem-based folklore originated in 17th Century Prague with Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal, who allegedly created the Golem to protect the local Jewish community. It was not until the 1970’s, however, that the Golem first appeared in Marvel Comics, as part of the “Strange Tales” series. (This is not to be confused with the “Strange Tails” series which focused on bizarre tuxedo jackets.) The Golem is portrayed as a towering creature made out of clay who possesses tremendous strength. Bullets bounce off the Golem like bags of candy bounce off a bar-mitzvah boy and, at a wedding, the Golem could lift the chatan, kallah and the entire wedding party up in a chair, all at the same time with just one arm, while simultaneously partaking of the buffet with his other arm. (Warning: Never cut the buffet line when the Golem is waiting. You will regret it.)

The Golem may not be able to match Superman punch for punch but, in terms of grappling, he certainly would make mincemeat out of Batman and Robin. However, just like Samson was allergic to haircuts, the Golem also has a weakness: fire. That is one reason the Golem gets nervous during Chanukah. On Chanukah, he also worries about the fact that, like a dreidel, he is made out of clay: “Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay, and when it’s dry and ready . . . the Golem I did slay.”

The Golem is not mentioned in the Torah but the Talmud refers to “golem” as something that is incomplete: “. . . the day Adam the first man was created was divided as follows: In the first hour of the day, his dust was gathered. In the second, an undefined figure [golem] was fashioned . . . .” (Sanhedrin 38b). The term “golem” is used elsewhere in the Talmud in a similar fashion: “Seven characteristics are in an uncultivated person [golem], and seven in a learned one.” (Pirkei Avot 5:7) For the record, a version of “golem” also is used in the Tanach: “Your eyes saw my unformed body [golmi] . . . .” (Psalms 139:16). It therefore is no coincidence that the Golem, the Jewish superhero made out of clay, is undefined, uncultivated and unformed, and lacks the completeness of a full-fledged human being. In other words, while Adam and Eve were made in the image of the Divine, the Golem was made in the image of Silly-Putty.

In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “golem” is defined as a blockhead, which is not very nice. Even more hurtful is the dictionary’s gratuitously long list of golem-related synonyms including, for example, airhead, birdbrain, bonehead, bubblehead, chucklehead, dimwit, dope, dunce, dunderhead, goon, half-wit, idiot, ignoramus, imbecile, know-nothing, knucklehead, lamebrain, meathead, moron, nimrod, nincompoop, nitwit, numbskull, oaf and simpleton. This has to be one of the least flattering lists of synonyms in the entire dictionary, right up there with the list of synonyms for mieskeit. Making matters worse, this is only part of the list. The full list of golem synonyms is even crueler but luckily the Golem is too stupid to understand them.

According to legend, the Golem could be controlled by inscribing certain Hebrew words in his forehead. For instance, when the Jews needed the Golem to spring into action, they would inscribe the word “emet” (truth) in his forehead. When they wanted him to pause, they would erase the first letter, aleph, leaving the word “met” (death), which would stop the Golem in his tracks. One could argue that a more Jewish inscription for starting and stopping the Golem would be the English word “feat” (perform great feats of strength) and then erase the “f,” leaving the word “eat” (take a break to nosh).

While the Golem is the most popular Jewish superhero, there are some lesser-known honorable mentions:

  1. Captain Caterer, who works tirelessly to defeat his arch nemesis, The Chazzer;
  2. The Mauve Mensch, who fights with all her might against the Yellow Yenta;
  3. The Tenacious Teacher, who struggles to overcome The Distractor; and
  4. The Horah-Dancing Daredevil, who bravely battles the Party Pooper.

Final thought: What did the Jewish People say when they first met the Golem? Answer: “When they made you, they truly broke the mold.”