Stories We Tell: The Golem
Stories We Tell: The Golem
Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life.
Times were difficult for the Jewish people in Prague —the soldiers fighting against them were too strong, and the Jewish people didn’t have the tools to protect themselves. Rabbi Loew knew he had to do something, so late one night, he created the Golem. Could the Golem protect the Jewish people? Rabbi Mark Kaiserman retells the classic story. For a written version of this story, see The Golem of Prague in “The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore.”
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Welcome back this week to Stories We Tell, a podcast from ReformJudaism.org. Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, passing our stories down from one generation to the next, and every Thursday we share a new story with you. This week we have a story from Rabbi Mark Kaiserman, the rabbi of the Reform Temple of Forest Hills. He's going to share a telling of The Golem.
In the city of Prague in the year 15 A.D., it was very difficult for the Jewish people. Soldiers attacked the Jewish community, night after night. Rabbi Loew, the chief rabbi of Prague, also known as the Maharal, knew he had to do something. The people couldn't fight back against the soldiers, so he needed to do something powerful, magical... something that had never been done before.
On a moonless night he went to the bank of the Vltava River, and he formed a giant man made of mud, and he began to whisper secret prayers and incantations that no one had ever said before. He carved three Hebrew letters: aleph, mem, and tav into the forehead of the creature. Aleph, mem, and tav spelled the Hebrew word emet -- truth -- and that's a very special word in Hebrew because aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, mem is the middle most letter, and tav is the last letter, showing that truth spans the world. And as he carved the final letter, the creature opened its eyes.
"Rise," he said to the creature, and it stood up.
The rabbi looked at his creation. "You are called a Golem because you are made from the mud of the earth. Your only job is to protect the Jewish people.".
The Golem opened its mouth to speak but nothing came out. It was mute. It couldn't talk. So it nodded its head yes and followed the rabbi back to Prague.
The next night soldiers attacked the community. But in the dark a sword was knocked away! Another axe was broken in two! One soldier went to attack and was thrown into a wall. All of the soldiers ran away.
The next night twice as many soldiers showed up. Again, their weapons were shattered, and their bodies smashed. They came back in the daytime, but now they saw this giant creature silently defeated every soldier defending everyone in the Jewish community and was seemingly unharmed by any weapon.
The soldiers complained to the emperor about the creature. And so Rabbi Loew was called to appear at the palace. No Jew had ever appeared in the palace or before the emperor and Rabbi Loew set foot in the throne room.
The emperor said, "I have heard that the Jews have some sort of secret weapon that they are going to use to attack the palace."
Rabbi Loew remained silent at first. Then he said quietly, "Whatever might or might not be helping the Jews is only to defend the people from attacks. If the soldiers stopped attacking there would be no need for whatever the Jews might have.".
The emperor immediately made a declaration ordering all soldiers to stop attacking the Jewish people. And the soldiers stopped.
Rabbi Loew waited a day. But still no attacks. Then a week. Then a month. Then a year to be sure that there were no more attacks. And so on a moonless night the rabbi brought the Golem to the Vltava River.
There he looked up at his creation and he said, "Thank you. You have saved the Jewish people.".
The Golem shook its head no as if it knew what was coming. But Rabbi Loew reached up with a stick and erased the aleph on his forehead, leaving only the mem and the tav, or the Hebrew word met -- death. The Golem collapsed in a pile of mud, lifeless like before. Some say Rabbi Loew took the mud and hid it in the attic of the Altneuschul, the old new shul in Prague, to be brought back should anyone attack the Jews. Some say the Golem is a myth and never existed.
What do you say?
After hearing that telling of The Golem, we have a simple question for you: who protects you? If you'd like to share that with us on social media, we'd love to hear about it a little. You can find us at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism, and on Twitter our handle is @ReformJudaism. Thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoy this week's story, rate and review us on iTunes, and you can find new episodes every Thursday on ReformJudaism.org, where you can also learn more about Jewish rituals, culture, holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, lehitraot!