16_Peretz_Golem.BB.

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I.L.  Peretz,  "The  Golem"  (1893)  
The  golem  first  appeared  in  Psalm  139:15:  ''Your  eyes  saw  my  unformed   substance,"  the  word  root  for  substance  being  GLM  in  Hebrew.  After  that,   the   idea   of   a   golem   was   reiterated   in   the   Babylonian   Talmud   (the   compilation   of   rabbinical   commentaries   set   down   in   the   fifth   and   sixth   centuries   C.E.)   and   by   later   mystical   writers.   However,   it   was   only   a   long   time   after   that   that   the   golem,   a   figure   produced   from   dust   and   clay,   became  magical.   In   the   sixteenth   century,   two   rabbinical   masters   were   linked   more   closely   to  the  creation  of  a  golem:  Eliahu  Ba'al  Shem  of  Chelm  (d.  1583)  and  Reb   Judah   Leyb   ben   Bezalel,   the   Maharal   of   Prague   (d.   1609).   (MaHaRaL   is   a   Hebrew   acronym   meaning   "Our   Teacher   Rabbi   Leyb.")   Legends   about   golems   now   flourished,   as   did   debates   about   the   status   of   a   golem,   his   functions  within  the  Jewish  community,  his  overall  lack  of  intelligence,  and   his  inability  to  speak.  As  in  Franz  Kafka's  ape  ("A  Report  to  an  Academy"),   the  power  to  speak  is  what  makes  us  human.   The  rabbi,  being  on  good  terms  with  Emperor  Rudolf,  was  virtually  a  go-­‐ between,   linking   imperial   culture   with   Jewish   culture.   As   a   result,   he   became   an   admired   hero   in   both   Czech   and   Jewish   folklore.   Christian   notions  of  the  golem's  destructive  force  permeated  the  German  Romantics   of   the   nineteenth   century:   Achim   von   Arnim,   Jacob   Grimm,   and   Heinrich   Heine  (a  Jewish  convert  to  Christianity).   Meanwhile,   starting   in   the   mid-­‐nineteenth   century,   Rabbi   Leyb,   the   traditional  maker  of  the  golem,  moved  into  first  place  in  the  folk  stories.  He   began   to   play   a   far   greater   role,   with   stories   proliferating   about   him   without  any  golems  present.   Still,   the   figure   of   the   golem   remains   resonant.   According   to   the   legends,   Rabbi  Leyb  fashioned  a  golem  to  fight  the  enemies  of  the  Jews.  His  work,   however,   was   twofold.   The   golem   was   both   a   domestic   servant   and   a   resistance   fighter.   And   the   domestic   side   could   be   humorous.   Once,   for   instance,   the   rabbi,   hurrying   to   the   synagogue,   forgot   to   switch   off   the   golem,  who  then  kept  hauling  bucket  after  bucket  of  water,  causing  a  flood.   Using   this   motif,   Goethe   wrote   a   narrative   poem,   "The   Sorcerer's   Apprentice,"   which   was   set   to   music   by   Paul   Dukas.   This   story   was   so   famous   that   Walt   Disney   imitated   it   in   his   cartoon   The   Sorcerer's   Apprentice  (in  Fantasia  starring  Mickey  Mouse  in  a  rather  grim  retelling).  

The  following  story  is  by  I.L.  Peretz  (1852-­‐1915),  a  Polish  Jew  who  wrote   in  Yiddish.    
Intro  by  Joachim  Neugroschel.  Transl.  by  Irving  Howe  in  A  Treasury  of  Yiddish  Stories  (1955).  

  Great  men  were  once  capable  of  great  miracles.   When  the  ghetto  of  Prague  was  being  attacked,  and  they  were  about  to   rape   the   women,   roast   the   children,   and   slaughter   the   rest;   when   it   seemed  that  the  end  had  finally  come,  the  great  Rabbi  Loeb  put  aside  his   Gemarah,   went   into   the   street,   stopped   before   a   heap   of   clay   in   front   of   the  teacher's  house,  and  molded  a  clay  image.  He  blew  into  the  nose  of  the   golem—and  it  began  to  stir;  then  he  whispered  the  Name  into  its  ear,  and   our  golem  left  the  ghetto.  The  rabbi  returned  to  the  House  of  Prayer,  and   the   golem  fell  upon  our  enemies,  threshing  them  as  with  flails.  Men  fell  on   all  sides.   Prague   was   filled   with   corpses.   It   lasted,   so   they   say,   through   Wednes-­‐ day   and   Thursday.   Now   it   is   already   Friday,   the   clock   strikes   twelve,   and   the  golem  is  still  busy  at  work.   "Rabbi,"   cries   the   head   of   the   ghetto,   "the   golem   is   slaughtering   all   of   Prague!   There   will   not   be   a   gentile   left   to   light   the   Sabbath   fires   or   take   down  the  Sabbath  lamps."   Once   again   the   rabbi   left   his   study.   He   went   to   the   altar   and   began   singing  the  psalm  "A  song  of  the  Sabbath."   The   golem   ceased   its   slaughter.   It   returned   to   the   ghetto,   entered   the   House   of   Prayer,   and   waited   before   the   rabbi.   And   again   the   rabbi   whispered   into   its   ear.   The   eyes   of   the   golem   closed,   the   soul   that   had   dwelt  in  it  flew  out,  and  it  was  once  more  a  golem  of  clay.   To  this  day  the  golem  lies  hidden  in  the  attic  of  the  Prague  synagogue,   covered   with   cobwebs   that   extend   from   wall   to   wall.   No   living   creature   may   look   at   it,   particularly   women   in   pregnancy.   No   one   may   touch   the   cobwebs,   for   whoever   touches   them   dies.   Even   the   oldest   people   no   longer  remember  the  golem,  though  the  wise  man  Zvi,  the  grandson  of  the   great  Rabbi  Loeb,  ponders  the  problem:  may  such  a   golem  be  included  in  a   congregation  of  worshipers  or  not?   The  golem,  you  see,  has  not  been  forgotten.  It  is  still  here!  But  the  Name   by   which   it   could   be   called   to   life   in   a   day   of   need,   the   Name   has   dis-­‐ appeared.  And  the  cobwebs  grow  and  grow,  and  no  one  may  touch  them.   What  are  we  to  do?    

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