Golem (2011) 46×31”, graphite and ink on book pages.

These two panels are joined together in a diptych based on the Jewish story of the Golem.  The Golem is a kind of magical creature (a superhuman thug really) molded from clay and animated into life by a rabbi with a supreme command of Jewish law and theology. While there are multiple variations, the most famous story is that of Rabbi Loew–the Maharal–of the medieval Prague ghetto. It is a story born out of the Jews ongoing despair in the face of assaults and pogroms throughout history; from ancient Egypt into Europe during from the Middle Ages, and into … well, the 20th century. The idea is that the Golem can be put to use to protect the Jews and this happens with various levels of success and consequence.

I love this story because the Golem is brought to life with language: an inscription–sometimes on the forehead or on the chest–of the word truth written with the letters aleph-mem-tav.  When necessary,  the Golem can be de-animated by erasing the first letter, the aleph, with the letters mem-tav, or death,  remaining.  The poetic gist is that language is the foundation of all creation and has the power to give life or take it away.  (I cannot help but notice a parallel with the parental directive: use your words! Or, in the deconstructive context: utter.)

On one hand the Golem symbolizes the Jews’ humanity and will to be, but it also reflects the destructive forces inherent in taking the work of creation into one’s own hands. Golem is a protoMonster (per Frankenstein) and the tale is an existential story of sorts.  How can we be agents of our own making (our own survival) if we claim to have true faith in a greater order? But also consider: the Jewish god has no form and is without a body and so the Golem is both a divine life and an abomination.  This is a question fundamental to a Jewish framing of faith and how faith takes agency in the world, for better or worse.

Today’s post is uploaded with a wink.

I am a librarian and artist living in Eugene, Oregon — where it is often damp and always green.