History : May-Jun 2018
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 9 The book gave practical advice to rab- bis, such as not attempting to make a go- lem on their own, and only using purified virgin mud. The 11th-century Spanish Jewish scholar Solomon ben Yehuda ibn Gabirol was said to have actually created a female golem, who served him food and helped him with household chores. Tales of the golem circulated widely in Europe and seem to have entered the broader consciousness by the 19th cen- tury. In 1808 one of the Grimm brothers, Jacob, wrote a tale about Polish Jews who created golems that grew uncontrollably. In order to prevent his golem from grow- ing too tall, one man rubs out the first letter on his golem’s forehead, who then crashes to the ground and crushes him. The Romantic writers of the age—most notably Mary Shelley, in the 1818 novel Frankenstein—also incorporated elements of the golem legend into their stories. Other versions of the golem story place the creature in different cities, including Chełm in Poland, with different rabbis as the creators. The Prague version of the story became the most popular af- ter Czech writer Leopold Weisel’s 1847 publication of a book of Bohemian Jewish folktales. The successful collection went through several editions and contained a version of the story that credited Rabbi Loew with the creation of the creature, despite the real Loew never being associ- ated with the type of practices that could bring a golem to life. The Golem of Prague also made its way into several novels, stories, and even to the big screen in the 20th century. The broad features of the story were high- lighted in the 1915 German silent mov- ie The Golem. Two more films—The Golem and the Dancing Girl (1917) and The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920)—followed. Of the three, only the final installment survives. As the Golem of Prague story became more and more famous, the 13th-century Old-New Synagogue became a focus of renewed fascination for visitors to the city. The synagogue is the oldest ex- tant synagogue in Europe and has been Prague’s main Jewish place of worship for more than seven centuries. The golem legend heightened many people’s curiosi- ty about the structure, especially the attic where the remains of the golem allegedly rest. Many tales are told of those who have attempted to find it there. During World War II, in which more than a quarter of a million Czech Jews were murdered by the Nazis, stories circulated that German officers entered the attic and were later found torn limb from limb, perhaps vic- tims of the golem. —Javier Alonso López VOLHA KAVALENKAVA/AGE FOTOSTOCK THE VLTAVA RIVER in its course through Prague, by whose banks Rabbi Loew is said to have created the golem from mud, following an arcane Jewish ritual.