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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
This word occurs only once in the Bible, in Psalms 139:16, where it means "embryo." In tradition everything that is in a state of incompletion, everything not fully formed, as a needle without the eye, is designated as "golem" ("Aruch Completum," ed. Kohut, 2:297). A woman is golem so long as she has not conceived (Sanh. 22b; comp. Shab. 52b, 77b; Sanh. 95a; Ḥul. 25a; Abot 5:6; Sifre, Num. 158). God, father, and mother take part in the creation of the child: the skeleton and brain are derived from the father; the skin and muscles from the mother; the senses from God. God forms the child from the seed, putting the soul into it. If the male seed is emitted first, the child is of the male sex; otherwise it is of the female sex (Nid. 31a). Although God impresses all men with the seal of Adam, there is no resemblance between any two of them (Sanh. 37a).
Causes Influencing the Embryo.
In the womb the navel is first formed, and from this roots spread out, until the child is fully developed. According to another opinion the head is first developed. The two eyes and the two nostrils of the embryo resemble the eyes of a fly; the aperture of the mouth is like hair (or a barleycorn). R. Jonathan says: "The two arms are like two pieces of string; the other members are combined in a mass " (Yer. Nid. 50d; comp. Nid. 25a; Soṭah 45b). Women that eat much mustard give birth to gluttonous children; those that eat many dates, to blear-eyed children; those that eat much small fish, children with unsteady eyes; those that eat clay, naughty children; those that drink beer, dark-skinned children; those that eat much meat and drink much wine, healthy children; those that eat many eggs, children with large eyes; those that eat much large fish, beautiful children; those that eat much celery or parsley, children with fine complexions; those that eat oleander, well-nourished children; those that eat paradise-apples, fragrant children (Ket. 61a). The same Babylonian amora, of the fourth century, also indicates why epileptic and otherwise defective children are born (Brecher, "Das Transcendentale, Magie und Magische Heilarten im Talmud," pp. 174 et seq.). Moral, not physical, reasons are given as the principal factors in the birth of healthy or sickly children. Decent behavior produces male children (Sheb. 18b; comp. Nid. 71a), who are also regularly produced under certain conditions ('Er. 100b; B. B. 10b; Nid. 31a, b). A dwarf should not marry a dwarf (Bek. 46a). Other references to the embryo are found in Nid. 15a, 17a, 31b, 37b, 38a, 45b, 66a; Beẓah 7a; Bek. 44b-45a; Ḥul. 127a; Ned. 20a; Pes. 112a, and passim. Unfounded hatred causes abortion and the death of the child (Shab. 32b).
Adam as Golem.
The imagination of the ancient Israelites frequently turned to the birth of the first man, who was formed of dust and not born of woman. A principal passage reads as follows: "How was Adam created? In the first hour his dust was collected; in the second his form was created; in the third he became a shapeless mass [golem]; in the fourth his members were joined; in the fifth his apertures opened; in the sixth he received his soul; in the seventh he stood up on his feet; in the eighth Eve was associated with him; in the ninth he was transferred to paradise; in the tenth he heard God's command; in the eleventh he sinned; in the twelfth he was driven from Eden, in order that Psalms 49:13 might be fulfilled" (Ab. R. N. ed. Schechter, Text A, 1:5; comp. Pesiḳ. R. ed. Friedmann, 187b, and note 7; Kohut, in "Z. D. M. G." 25:13). God created Adam as a golem; he lay supine, reaching from one end of the world to the other, from the earth to the firmament (Ḥag. 12a; comp. Gen. R. , , and; Jew. Encyc. 1:175). The Gnostics, following Irenæus, also taught that Adam was immensely long and broad, and crawled over the earth (Hilgenfeld, "Die Jüdische Apokalyptik," p. 244; comp. Kohut, c. 25:87, note 1). All beings were created in their natural size and with their full measure of intelligence, as was Adam (R. H. 11a). According to another tradition Adam was only one hundred ells high (B. B. 75a); according to a Mohammedan legend, only sixty ells (Kohut, c. 25:75, note 5; the number "sixty" indicates Babylonian influence). When he hid from the face of God, six things were taken from him, one of these being his size, which, however, will be restored to him in the Messianic time (Gen. R.; Num. R.; Kohut, c. 25:76, note 1; 91, note 3). Other conceptions, for instance, that Adam was created a hermaphrodite (see see Androgynos), or with two faces ( = Διπρόσωπος; Gen. R. 8:7), belongto the literature of GNOSTICISM. For similar views, after Plato and Philo, see Freudenthal, "Hellenistische Studien," p. 69 (ADAM (2)).
- G. Brecher, Das Transcendentale, Magic und Magische Heilarten im Talmud, Vienna, 1850;
- A. Kohut, Die Talmudisch-Midraschische Adamssage in Ihrer Rückbeziehung auf die Persische Yima- und Meshiasage, in Z. D. M. G. 25:59-94;
- M. Grünbaum, Neue Beiträge zur Semitischen Sagenkunde, pp. 54 et seq., Leyden, 1893;
- Jew. Encyc. 1:174-175;
- A. Hilgenfeld, Die Jüdische Apokalyptik, Jena, 1857.
—In Medieval Times:
In the Middle Ages arose the belief in the possibility of infusing life into a clay or wooden figure of a human being, which figure was termed "golem" by writers of the eighteenth century. The golem grew in size, and could carry any message or obey mechanically any order of its master. It was supposed to be created by the aid of the "Sefer Yeẓirah," that is, by a combination of letters forming a "Shem" (any one of the names of God). The Shem was written on a piece of paper and inserted either in the mouth or in the forehead of the golem, thus bringing it into life and action. Solomon ibn Gabirol is said to have created a maid servant by this means. The king, informed of this, desired to punish him, but Ibn Gabirol showed that his creature was not a real being by restoring every one of its parts to its original form.
Golem of Hohe Rabbi Löw.
Elijah of Chelm, in the middle of the sixteenth century, was the first person credited with having made a golem with a Shem, for which reason he was known as a "Ba'al Shem." It is said to have grown to be a monster (resembling that of Frankenstein), which the rabbi feared might destroy the world. Finally he extracted the Shem from the forehead of his golem, which returned to dust (Azulai, "Shem ha-Gedolim," , No. 163). Elijah's grandson, known as the "ḥakam Ẓebi," was so convinced of the truth of this that he raised the question as to whether a golem could be counted as one in a "minyan" (quorum; Responsa, No. 93, Amsterdam, 1712; Baer Heṭeb to Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 55, 1). The best-known golem was that of Judah Löw b. Bezaleel, or the "hohe Rabbi Löw," of Prague (end of 16th cent.), who used his golem as a servant on week-days, and extracted the Shem from the golem's mouth every Friday afternoon, so as to let it rest on Sabbath. Once the rabbi forgot to extract the Shem, and feared that the golem would desecrate the Sabbath. He pursued the golem and caught it in front of the synagogue, just before Sabbath began, and hurriedly extracted the Shem, whereupon the golem fell in pieces; its remains are said to be still among the débris in the attic of the synagogue. Rabbi Löw is credited with having performed similar wonders before Rudolph II. ("Sippurim," p. 52; comp. Gans, "Ẓemaḥ Dawid," p. 46a, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1692). A legend connected with his golem is given in German verse by Gustav Philippson in "Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1841, No. 44 (abridged in "Sulamith," 8:254; translated into Hebrew in "Kokebe Yiẓḥaḳ," No. 28, p. 75, Vienna, 1862).
It is sometimes alleged that Elijah of Wilna also made a golem, and the Ḥasidim claim the same for Israel Ba'al Shem-Ṭob, but apparently the claims are based on the similarity in the one case of the name "Elijah" and in the other of the appellation "Ba'al Shem" to the name and appellation of the rabbi of Chelm. The last golem is attributed to R. Davidl Jaffe, rabbi in Dorhiczyn, in the government of Grodno, Russia (about 1800). This golem, unlike that of R. Löw, was not supposed to rest on Sabbath. Indeed, it appears that it was created only for the purpose of replacing the Sabbath goy in heating the ovens of Jews on winter Sabbaths. All orders to make fires were given to the golem on Friday, which he executed promptly but mechanically the next day. In one case a slight error in an order to the golem caused a conflagration that destroyed the whole town.
From this story it becomes probable that the whole of the golem legend is in some way a reflex of the medieval legends about Vergil, who was credited with the power of making a statue move and speak and do his will. His disciple once gave orders which, strictly carried out, resulted in his destruction. The statue of Vergil saved an adulteress, just as did the golem of R. Löw in Philippson's above-mentioned poem (J. A. Tunison, "Master Virgil," p. 145, Cincinnati, 1888).
- Ha-Maggid, 1867, Supplement No. 42;
- Pascheles, Sippurim, pp. 51-52, Prague, 1870;
- Rubin, Ma'ase Ta'atuim, p. 117, Vienna, 1887;
- Tendlau, Sagen und Legenden der Jüdischen Vorzeit.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Golem'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/g/golem.html. 1901.