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Jewish Mysticism

Chapter 2 of the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM

Emily D. Bilski

Jewish mystics of the Middle Ages viewed the creation of a golem as an attempt to get closer to God and achieve spiritual perfection. They formed golems out of dust or clay and brought them to life using incantation formulas, ritual acts, and certain combinations of Hebrew letters. In these rituals, mystics emphasized first and foremost the process of creation: the procedure itself was more important than the purpose a golem could serve. Thus, right after it was brought to life, a golem was returned to its inanimate state.

The question of whether and how a human can create an artificial being has preoccupied rabbis since Talmudic times. The pious, it was said, could create a world. But their sins limited this creative ability to such an extent that all attempts resulted only in imperfect, soulless, and mute beings.

Emily D. Bilski is an art historian, the main focus of her work is the interface between art, cultural history, and the modern Jewish experience as well as contemporary art. She works as a curator and counselor for museums in the United States, Europe, and Israel. Her books Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture: 1890-1918 (1999) and Jewish Women and Their Salons: The Power of Conversation (2005) were both awarded the National Jewish Book Award.

Citation recommendation:

Emily D. Bilski (2016), Jewish Mysticism. Chapter 2 of the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM.

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Chapter 2 - Jewish Mysticism: Selected Texts (2)