Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Where is the Golem Buried?


Rabbi Judah Loew, the Mahral, was one of the leading thinkers of the early modern period. His integration of Kabbalah with the medieval philosophical tradition was critical for the triumph Kabbalah, largely a product of Sephardi culture, within Ashkenazic Judaism. Any attempt to tell the story of how it could come to pass that a rabbi could insist to me that not only is Kabbalah a part of the Jewish tradition, but is "the Jewish tradition" needs to include Loew. (See "A German Hebrew Alphabet Book Based around the Zohar.") Unfortunately discussions of Loew tends to get bogged down in the legend of the Golem, an artificial man of clay, who according to modern incarnations of the tale was created to defend the Jewish community against blood libel accusations. Part of the appeal of the legend is that it is grounded in history. It has the well known historical  figure of Loew as its protagonist, the city of Prague for the setting. The Golem even is buried in a major tourist location, the attack of the Altneu Synagogue under a pile of discarded religious writings. According to run popular story, during the German occupation, some Nazi went up to the attic, stuck his bayonet in the pile and died on the spot

The funny thing about the story of the Golem's burial is that it was refuted a century ago. The journalist Egon Erwin Kisch (the Kisch family is actually quite interesting and we are in middle of a project involving them) actually went up to the attic and found nothing. As Hans Ludwig Held notes:

For centuries the legend that the Golem was still kept in the loft of the Old-New Synagogue had been current and many delightful tales, some of them humourous ones, are connected with it. This enticed a well-known writer, Egon Erwin Kisch, a son of Prague, to the bold, I might also say hazardous undertaking of ascending into the loft of the Synagogue, in order to look for the "corpse" of the Golem. In a fine piece of word-painting, "On the track of the Golem" he gives us the description of his quest. His trouble was in vain! He did not find the Golem. Then he pursued another clue, supplied by a further legend which he heard of during the war, to the effect that the servant of the exalted Rabbi Loew had carried off the Golem secretly from the loft of the Synagogue and had buried him on the Galgenberg, outside the town.  (Chayim Bloch, The Golem: Legends of the Ghetto of Prague pg. 10)



3 comments:

Confused said...

Any attempt to tell the story of it could come to pass that a rabbi could insist to me that not only is Kabbalah a part of the Jewish tradition, but is "the Jewish tradition" needs to include Loew.

I'm finding this sentence difficult to parse, and therefore difficult to understand. Could you please simplify the syntax? (I'm especially stumped by "Any attempt to tell the story of it could come to pass that a rabbi could insist to me".)

Izgad said...

It should be "how it should come to pass." I admit that was a bit of a run on sentence. What I meant to say was the Rabbi Loew played an important role in the early modern kabbalistic take over of Judaism. (Whether this was a good or bad thing is open to debate.) Because of this, we know live in a world in which kabbalah is so taken for granted that its supporters would go so far as to deny that there are any other legitimate streams of Jewish thought in existence.

Adam Zur said...

And yet his connection with kabalah seems to me to be tenuous at best. His has his own system from the little bit that I read of his stuff.
I did not see any Kabalah in it at all.