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Golem in Paris with Journey Museum exhibit “Golem in NYC”

Superhero or Idol?

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Christian Boltanski, The Golem, 1988. New York, The Jewish Museum


The golem was a fantastic robotic copy of a human being that saved the Jews from destruction, according to a tale by a 16th Century Talmudic scholar named Rabbi Lowe ben Bezalel. A problem developed as the golem got older and became dangerously independent and evil. The superhero had become an idol turning upon its maker. He had to be dispensed by erasing a Hebrew formula written across his forehead.

The Jewish tale has inspired many tales of artificial humans and superheroes.


Don't miss our Journey Museum exhibit, "Golem in New York City" down below!


This story is now subject of the exhibition Golem! Avatars d’une légende d’argile at Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme. A Journey through NYC religions put on a virtual museum exhibit in 2013 (and today, is back in updated form). In July 2015, the golem burst into life as a giant graphic novel of a play on Off-Broadway.




Although a golem was first mentioned in passing as גֹּלֶם in the Bible in Psalm 139:16, the first golem story was spun much later by Rabbi Loew.  Using Kabbalistic magic, the incantatory power of Hebrew letters, paranormal amulets, and mystical incantations, he says that he conjured into existence the Golem of Prague, who was a colossal figure built from mud. The Golem protected the Bohemian Jews of the country from the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Though initially a savior, the Golem of Prague eventually turned on those he had saved and had to be destroyed. There are myriad subsequent versions of the story, with many variations and contradictions.



The Paris exhibit includes wonderfully evocative watercolors of costumes by Ignati Nivinski for the Golem in a 1925 play. The play was based on the 1921 text The Golem: A Dramatic Poem in Eight Scenes by H. Leivick, a Yiddish poet and political radical who served jail time in Siberia.

The poet’s country was the Soviet Union, a golem in the form of a totalitarian state. An idol that promised heaven but gave hell.

Our Journey Museum exhibit, "Golem in New York City" --

For more on the golem, read "Will our mobile phones turn us into Golem?"


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