The word golem occurs once in the Bible in Psalm 139:16, which uses the word גלמי, meaning “my unshaped form”. The Mishnah uses the term for an uncultivated person: “Seven characteristics are in an uncultivated person, and seven in a learned one,” (שבעה דברים בגולם) Pirkei Avot 5:6 in the Hebrew text . In modern Hebrew golem is used to mean “dumb” or “helpless”. Similarly, it is often used today as a metaphor for a brainless lunk or entity who serves man under controlled conditions but is hostile to him under others. “Golem” passed into Yiddish as goylem to mean someone who is clumsy or slow.Earliest stories The earliest stories of golems date to early Judaism. In the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 38b), Adam was initially created as a golem (גולם) when his dust was “kneaded into a shapeless husk.” Like Adam, all golems are created from mud. They were a creation of those who were very holy and close to God. A very holy person was one who strove to approach God, and in that pursuit would gain some of God’s wisdom and power. One of these powers was the creation of life. However, no matter how holy a person became, a being created by that person would be but a shadow of one created by God. Early on, it was noted that the main disability of the golem was its inability to speak. Sanhedrin 65b describes Rava creating a man (gavra). He sent the man to Rav Zeira. Rav Zeira spoke to him, but he did not answer. Rav Zeira said, “You were created by the magicians; return to your dust.” During the Middle Ages, passages from the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation) were studied as a means to attain the mystical ability to create and animate a golem, although there is little in the writings of Jewish mysticism that supports this belief. It was believed that golems could be activated by an ecstatic experience induced by the ritualistic use of various letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. In some tales, (for example those of the Golem of Chelm and the Golem of Prague) a golem is inscribed with Hebrew words that keep it animated. The word emet (אמת, “truth” in the Hebrew language) written on a golem’s forehead is one such example. The golem could then be deactivated by removing the aleph (א) in emet, thus changing the inscription from ‘truth’ to ‘death’ (met מת, “dead”). Legend and folklore suggest that golems could be activated by writing a specific series of letters on parchment and placing the paper in a golem’s mouth
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