Out of Control

Chapter 6 of the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM

Chapter 6: Out of Control

Emily D. Bilski

The interpretation of the golem figure has continually changed in reaction to historical events. Golem stories emerged about, usually, a scholar who created a golem for a particular purpose: as a servant, a companion, or someone to rescue an endangered Jewish community. The golem legend became a powerful survival mythos for a Jewish minority that was subject to the whims of the rulers at any one time. In the twentieth century the golem appeared in many stories as a rescuer, based on the specific situation of the Jews and the dangers they were facing.

Although Jews historically have often been in need of protection, the stance toward the destructive force of the golem has remained ambivalent. This is reflected in the many stories in which the golem becomes a threat for its creator and ultimately runs amok. Once the power is unleashed, it can no longer be contained. This double-edged sword—golem as both protector and destroyer—became a fitting metaphor for many challenges with which modern society was and still is confronted.

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), Out of Control. Chapter 6 of the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM.
URL: www.jmberlin.de/en/node/4706