Download This Sample
This sample is exclusively for KidsKonnect members!
To download this worksheet, click the button below to signup for free (it only takes a minute) and you'll be brought right back to this page to start the download!
Sign Me Up
Table of Contents
A golem is an animated humanoid constructed entirely of inanimate things in Jewish folklore (usually clay or mud). The term golem was used in the Psalms and medieval writings to describe an amorphous, unformed material. The most famous golem story involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a late-16th-century Prague rabbi.
See the fact file below for more information on Golems or you can download our 24-page Golems worksheet pack to utilize within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Many stories differ about how the Golem was created and controlled. The Golem is a highly malleable metaphor with seemingly infinite implications.
- It can be a victim or a villain, a Jew or a non-Jew, a male or a woman—or both. Over the years, it has been used to represent conflict, community, solitude, optimism, and despair.
- The name is derived from the Hebrew word “golem,” which means something unfinished or incomplete, such as an embryo.
- The word golem appears in the Bible only once, in Psalm 139:16, where it is translated as “my golem,” which means “my light form,” “raw” material, and connotes the unfinished human person in God’s eyes.
- The term for an uncultivated person has been used in the Mishnah: “Seven characteristics are in an uncultivated person, and seven in a learned one” Pirkei Avot 5:7 in the Hebrew text; English translations vary).
- Golem means “stupid” or “helpless” in modern Hebrew, and it is usually used as a metaphor for a mindless lunk or thing that helps a man under certain conditions but is hostile to others. In Yiddish, “golem” became a goylem, which means drowsy or stuporous.
- The earliest golem stories date back to early Judaism. According to the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 38b), Adam was first created as a golem after his dust was “kneaded into a shapeless husk.”
- Those close to divinity create all golems, including Adam, out of mud, yet no artificial golem is entirely human. The golem’s biggest disadvantage early on was its inability to communicate. Rava created a man, according to Sanhedrin 65b (gavra).
- He delivered the man to Rav Zeira. Rav Zeira addressed him, but he did not respond. “The sages created you; return to your dust,” Rav Zeira said. Passages from the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation) were studied during the Middle Ages to make and animate a golem. However, there is little evidence to support this belief in Jewish mysticism writings.
- It was believed that golems might be activated by an ecstatic experience generated by the ritual usage of several Hebrew alphabet letters producing a “shem” (any one of God’s Names), with the shem inscribed on a piece of paper and inserted in the golem’s mouth or forehead.
- Various stories (such as some Chem and Prague variants, as well as Polish stories and variations of the Brothers Grimm) have golems with Hebrew writing, such as the word emét, written on their foreheads (“truth” in Hebrew).
- Then the Golem might be turned off by taking out the aleph from emét, which would change the word “truth” to “death.” Some claim that Samuel of Speyer, who lived in the 12th century, built a golem.
- In 1325, Rabbi Jacob ben Shalom arrived in Barcelona from Germany, and he observed that the law of destruction is the inverse of the law of creation.
- According to one source, Solomon ibn Gabirol created a golem, possibly a female, for home chores in the 11th century.
- “Many traditions of this nature are current, notably in Germany,” Joseph Delmedigo stated in 1625. The work of Sodei Razayya by Eleazar ben Judah of Worms in the late 12th and early 13th century contains the first documented description of how to make a Golem.
THE GOLEM OF CHELM
- The oldest description of a historical figure creating a golem is in a tradition associated with Rabbi Eliyahu of Chem (1550–1583).
- In 1674, a Christian author named Christoph Arnold reported a similar story. In a book published in 1748, Rabbi Jacob Emden (1776) expanded on the story: “As an aside, I’ll mention here what I heard from my father’s holy mouth regarding the Golem created by his ancestor, the Gaon R. Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of blessed memory. When the Gaon saw that the Golem was growing larger and larger, he feared that the Golem would destroy the universe….”
THE GOLEM OF PRAGUE
- According to the classic golem myth, Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague (known as the Maharal; 1525-1609) built a golem to safeguard the Jewish community from anti-Semitic violence.
- Unfortunately, the Golem became fearsome and violent, and Rabbi Loew was obliged to destroy it.
- According to folklore, the Golem lives in the attic of the Altneushul in Prague, waiting to be resurrected if necessary; the work of Michael Chabon entitled The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay reflected this mythology.
- Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the shem one Friday evening and feared that the Golem would desecrate the Sabbath. A different story goes that a golem fell in love and, when rejected, turned into the violent monster seen in most accounts. According to some versions, the Golem eventually goes on a murderous rampage.
- The Rabbi then extracted the shem from his mouth and immobilized him in front of the synagogue, causing the Golem to crumble. The Golem’s body was kept in the Old New Synagogue’s attic genizah, where it could be brought back to life if necessary.
- Rabbi Loew then prohibited anyone other than his successors from entering the attic.
- When Rabbi Yechezkel Landau was Chief Rabbi of Prague, he was said to have desired to ascend the stairs to the attic to confirm the tradition. Rabbi Landau fasted, went into a mikveh, clothed himself in phylacteries and a prayer shawl, and began mounting the procedures.
- He hesitated at the top of the steps before rushing back down, trembling and terrified. He then played out Rabbi Loew’s original warning.
- According to legend, Rabbi Loew’s Golem’s body is still in the synagogue’s attic. When the loft was renovated in 1883, no trace of the Golem was discovered. Some Orthodox Jews believe the Maharal did create a golem.
- Shnayer Z. Leiman examined the evidence for this belief from an Orthodox Jewish perspective.
- However, there are two slightly earlier examples, in 1834 and 1836.
- All of these early reports of the Prague Golem are recorded by Jewish authors in German. They could have developed as part of a Jewish folklore movement similar to the current German folklore movement.
- Attempts to embellish the story’s history and claim it comes from the Maharal period have hidden its origins.
- The notion that the story takes place during the Maharal period is credited to Taranian Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg, who later became one of Canada‘s most well-known Rabbis.
- Rosenberg published Nifl’os Maharal (Wonders of Maharal) (Piotrków, 1909) as an eyewitness account by the Maharals’ son-in-law, who had assisted in the creation of the Golem.
- Of course, this is a perfect encapsulation of the same anxiety that underpins so much mystical speculation about demons, dybbuks, ghosts, and golems: the power of life is so powerful that it brings both promise and terror.
THE GOLEM OF VILNA
- The capital of Lithuania, one of the three Baltic nations, is Vilna in the south. And there once lived a famous Rabbi Elijah, better known as the Vilna Gaon, in those lands and its capital. He was the builder of this city’s Golem, which led us to its legend.
- During the 18th century, a brilliant Jewish rabbi who invented the Golem lived in Lithuania. He fashioned a figure out of clay. He knew the words to put on a piece of paper and attach it to Golem’s ear because he was a great scholar who knew the five Books of Moses by heart and the secrets of the Cabala.
- Giving life to the Golem this way allowed him to help his people by providing fish for the Sabbath.
- At times, Jews were not allowed to observe their holidays in peace, and the Rabbi would use Golem for various reasons.
- Golem was mighty, but he couldn’t think because he wasn’t a creation of God. He would defend his people by breaking the opponents’ bones and skulls with his powerful arms. Nobody would get away from him, and no one would survive. When the governor learned of this, he demanded that the Rabbi appear in front of him right away.
- He removed the paper from Golem’s ear because the buckets were full of fish and the Rabbi had the governor’s word.
THEME OF HUBRIS
- The existence of a golem can be a mixed blessing at times. Golems are not intelligent, and if given instructions, they will carry them out literally.
- In many depictions, Golems are born entirely obedient.
- The Golem of Chem grew enormous and uncooperative in its earliest modern form.
- Based on one version of the tale, the Rabbi had to trick it into ceasing to function, after which it broke apart and crushed its maker.
GOLEM IN POPULAR CULTURE
Film and television
- Movies and television shows regularly feature golems in their plots. The following programs have them in the title:
- The Golem, a silent horror film produced and directed by Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen in 1915, was released in the United States as The Monster of Fate.
- The German silent comedy-horror film The Golem and the Dancing Girl (German: Der Golem und die Tänzerin) was directed by Paul Wegener and Rochus Gliese in 1917.
- The silent horror film The Golem: How He Came into the World was directed by Paul Wegener and Carl Boese in 1920. (German: Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kommt, often known as Der Golem).
- Le Golem (Czech: Golem) is a 1936 Czechoslovakian monster film made in French by Julien Duvivier.
- A variety of scores, including those by Daniel Hoffman and performed by the San Francisco-based group Davka, have been written to accompany or are based on the 1920 film.
- The New York City Opera commissioned Abraham Ellstein’s opera The Golem, which premiered in 1962.
- Richard Teitelbaum composed Golem in 1994, based on the Prague legend and combining music and electronics.
This fantastic bundle includes everything you need to know about Golems across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use worksheets that are perfect for teaching kids about Golems, which are animated humanoids constructed entirely of inanimate things in Jewish folklore (usually clay or mud).
Complete List of Included Worksheets
Below is a list of all the worksheets included in this document.
- Golems Facts
- Truth Spotting
- Golem Stories
- Cool Facts
- At First Thought
- A Mythical Creature
- Golems in Popular Culture
- The Golem
- My Golem Story
- Painting it Golem
Link/cite this page
If you reference any of the content on this page on your own website, please use the code below to cite this page as the original source.
Link will appear as Golems Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, December 8, 2022
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.