From the Golem-Talmud

Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM

Joshua Cohen

Once Rav Zeira came to Rava and said, As I have never met a golem, I do not believe in golems. Prove to me that they exist. Rava said, Do you require the same proof of the Almighty [i.e. though God has never been revealed to you, still you believe that God exists]? Rav Zeira said, You dare compare a lump of animated clay to the Creator of the Universe? Rava said, You dare compare yourself?

A certain heretic came to Rav Idis and said, I want a golem—make me one now, or your Torah is false. Rav Idis said, Return on the day of Adam’s creation [i.e. Friday] and bring with you a thirdborn calf aged to the third of its maturity [i.e. the tastiest of calves]. The heretic returned with the calf and demanded his golem, but Rav Idis said, Return on the day of Adam’s creation and bring with you two candles, half a log of wine, and a tartemar of bread. The heretic returned with the candles, and the wine and the bread in their appropriate measurements, and demanded the delivery of his golem, but Rav Idis said, Bread is not merely wheat, and wine does not grow on the vine [i.e. to make a golem requires time and effort]. Return on the day of Adam’s creation and bring with you your youngest daughter to become my bride. The heretic returned with his youngest daughter and said, I have given you everything you have asked for—a calf, the candles, the wine, the bread, and now I give you the choicest of my loins, my youngest and most beautiful, and yet still I have no golem. What else must I do, or will you finally admit that you cannot make me a golem and so your Torah is false? Rav Idis said, You want a golem? Return on the day of the creation of the earth [i.e. Tuesday, the most auspicious day to be married] and bring with you a mirror.

Rav Yochanan said, in the name of Rav Meir, A golem is what you control. But Rav Yishmael, son of Rav Yose disagreed, A golem is who you control. The Gemara asks, Which is it? [i.e. If what, then a golem is inanimate. If who, then a golem is, or can be, animate.] The Gemara answers, by citing a Baraisa, "As Adam was made of dust, so too are we all made of dust, and to dust shall we return. God exhales to bring us life, and inhales to take life away again." Rav Idis said, This means that all men are golems. Rabban Gamliel said, Just because all men are golems, does not mean that all golems are men. Rav Idis agreed and said, Most of them are women.

According to Rav Zeira according to Rava, four things are required to make a golem: an indelible marker, a scissors, a cloth, a woman. Here is what to do: Take the woman, position her standing, and drape the cloth over her head, ensuring that it covers her body completely, unto the extremities of her limbs. Now, using the scissors cut a hole for her face. Finally, using the marker write the word sharmuta [whore] atop the swath of cloth that covers her forehead. Rav Idis said, The hole must be cut just for the eyes. Rav Yochanan said, No holes at all, no scissors required. Rav Yishmael, the son of Rav Yose said, The word on her forehead must be zawjati [my wife] or ukhti [my sister] or ami [my mother], and must be written in blood, no marker required. Once, a certain launderer [i.e. swindler] came to Rav Meir and asked, Can a woman make a golem out of another woman? Can she make a golem out of herself? Rav Meir answered, Yes and yes, but if she does so it is only because she has been forced at the point of a dusty rib [i.e. only because she has been forced by a man].

Talmud, Sanhedrin 65c, trans. Joshua Cohen

Joshua Cohen is an American writer. He is a regular contributor for Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and The London Review of Books. From 2001 until 2007 he was correspondant for the Jewish Daily Forward’s English edition, based in Berlin. His latest novel Book of Numbers was published in 2015.

Shai Azoulays painting “Golem”: in the center is a man with a red, ski cap-like mask holding a blue ball in his hand, to his right is a woman wearing a burka. In the foreground are other people.

Shai Azoulay, Israel, 2013
Oil on canvas, 169 x 178 cm
Photo: Courtesy of Shai Azoulay

Citation recommendation:

Joshua Cohen (2016), From the Golem-Talmud. Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM.

Golem as action figure (detail)

Online Edition of the GOLEM Catalog: Table of Contents

The Golem in Berlin: Introduction by Peter Schäfer
Chapter 1
The Golem Lives On: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
My Light is Your Life: Text by Anna Dorothea Ludewig
Avatars: Text by Louisa Hall
The Secret of the Cyborgs: Text by Caspar Battegay
Chapter 2
Jewish Mysticism: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Golem Magic: Text by Martina Lüdicke
Golem, Language, Dada: Text by Emily D. Bilski
Chapter 3
Transformation: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Jana Sterbak’s Golem: Objects as Sensations: Text by Rita Kersting
Crisálidas (Chrysalises): Text by Jorge Gil
Rituals: Text by Christopher Lyon
A Golem that Ended Well: Text by Emily D. Bilski
On the Golem: Text by David Musgrave
Louise Fishman’s Paint Golem: Text by Emily D. Bilski
Chapter 4
Legendary Prague: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Golem Variations: Text by Peter Schäfer
Rabbi Loew’s Well-Deserved Bath: Text by Harold Gabriel Weisz Carrington
Chapter 5
Horror and Magic: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Golem and a Little Girl: Text by Helene Wecker
The Golem with a Group of Children Dancing: Text by Karin Harrasser
Bringing the Film Set To Life: Text by Anna-Carolin Augustin
Golem and Mirjam: Text by Cathy S. Gelbin
Chapter 6
Out of Control: Introduction by Emily D. Bilski
Golem—Man Awakened with Glowing Hammer: Text by Arno Pařík
Dangerous Symbols: Text by Charlotta Kotik
Be Careful What You Wish For: Text by Marc Estrin
Chapter 7
Doppelgänger: Introduction by Martina Lüdicke
Current page: From the Golem-Talmud: Text by Joshua Cohen
Kitaj’s Art Golem: Text by Tracy Bartley
The Golem as Techno-Imagination?: Text by Cosima Wagner
See also
GOLEM: 2016, online edition with selected texts of the exhibition catalog
GOLEM: 2016, complete printed edition of the exhibition catalog, in German
Golem. From Mysticism to Minecraft: Online Feature, 2016
GOLEM: Exhibition, 23 Sep 2016 to 29 Jan 2017

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