The term Golem (Hebrew: הגולם) stems from the ancient Jewish mysticism. Here, it referred to an artificial, i.e. man-made being, awakened to life by means of special magic. However, despite of the fact that man is able to create diverse works of art, he is unable to create anything living. Life – being the gift of God – can be passed on exclusively by reproduction. Like any other natural limitation, also this one has since time immemorial excited human imagination. According to old Jewish legends, with the help of an in-depth, tireless and honest study of the Scripture it is possible to discover the way, how to endow an artificial being with life. But as man can by his very nature never equal his Creator, also his creation remains somehow imperfect. The artificial being is a mere mechanical imitation of a living being – it has no will, thoughts or feelings of its own, it only mechanically fulfils the will of its master. Probably because of this, such a being started to be referred to by the word golem, which in Hebrew means something imperfect or incomplete.
According to the Jewish tradition, golem was usually made of clay, moulded to roughly the human shape. To endow him with life, the so-called Shem was necessary, which in reality was not a thing, but the Word – Godʼs Name, written in the right way on a piece of parchment or paper, which had to be placed in golemʼs mouth. If it was removed, golem lost his life.
Diverse Jewish legends – especially those originating from the Central and Eastern Europe – mention several savants who were able to bring golem to life. The most famous of them is the legend about the Prague golem. He is said to have been “created” by the renowned savant Rabbi Jehuda Löw ben Becalel, known also as the Prague Maharal, who lived at the turn of the 16th and 17th century and belonged to the most prominent Jewish sages of his time. The substantial part of his life he spent in Prague where he died in 1609 and was buried at the Old Jewish Cemetery. The time of his residence in Prague coincides with the reign of the emperor Rudolf II – an eccentric lover of art and knowledge, inclusive of alchemy and hermetism. The cause of their alleged encounter and the content of their long conversation remain shrouded in mystery.
Golem was said to be created to guard the Prague Jewish Ghetto against the pogroms. Some versions of the legend claim that in the peaceful times, Rabbi Löw employed him also as a domestic or a servant in the synagogue. During the Sabbath, Rabbi removed the Shem to keep the Law. This day – in accordance with the Godʼs will – golem had his rest.