Dr. Howard Rubenstein, who passed away a couple of months ago, was a physician, author, and a playwright. The Golem is one of his plays. It is an adaptation of a well-known rather disturbing, timeless, and exciting age-old Jewish myth based on the false allegation that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in their Passover Seder and the myth of the creation of a Golem to protect the Jews from the non-Jewish community seeking revenge for what was untrue. Dr. Rubenstein’s version is excellent.
The word Golem means an amorphous incompletely formed creation, usually thought to be made from clay or mud. The term is found only once in the Bible, in Psalm 139:16 where it refers to an incomplete substance.
In its most widely-known Jewish legend, a Golem was created in the form of a man by Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, who was known as Maharal, who died in 1609. He used the powers of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. The golem came alive when the rabbi placed God’s name on a parchment and inserted it into the golem’s mouth. Rabbi Lowe lived in a Jewish ghetto that was constantly threatened by non-Jewish anti-Semitic fanatics who mistreated and all-to-often killed them. He made the golem to protect the Jews, but matters did not turn out as he anticipated.
Dr. Rubenstein’s version of Maharal and the golem is based on a famous Yiddish dramatic poem by H. Leivick which Rubenstein adapted, reworked. He inserted relevant Kabbalah and added material of his own to make his play accessible to a modern general audience.
It is the sixteenth century in Prague on the first day of Passover. The old priest instructs the young priest that they need to burn Jewish houses and “kill a Jew for Christ.” He is proud that he burned Jewish homes. He tells the young priest that Jews lie and are interested in money. If you see a Jew with a hunchback, he said, the hump is not flesh, it is the Jew’s money. If you see a supposedly blind Jew, he is blind to everything else besides money. What about Jews with no arm, the young priest asks. The older priest answers, Jews have a way of taking off their arms to collect money, and put it back on when they go home.
Maharal decides to use Jewish mysticism to create a golem to protect the Jews. He makes a very tall golem who comes to Maharal’s house but does not enter because he is too tall and does not know enough to stoop. Maharal tells him to bend his neck and lower his head and come in. The golem does this but does not know he then needs to straighten up. The golem is attracted to Maharal’s granddaughter and wants to caress her. Maharal needs to tell him not to do it. Maharal tells him that he must chop wood. Jewish onlookers mock the golem because he is so different. The golem wants to kill them with his axe. Soon many similar situations arise until Maharal realizes that he must kill what he created.
Among other interpretations, does Maharal, the creator of the golem, symbolize God who created humans? The play states that the golem is made from the earth and the Bible says the same about people. Is the legend suggesting that God made a mistake in giving humans free will, just as Maharal, the creator of the golem, did? Is it saying that God’s mistake like the mistake of the golem’s creator led to many brutalities and deaths? Is free will a necessary part of humans and golems? Is the legend suggesting that we humans are uncontrollable golems?