The Golem in Literature, Film, and Stage
An article by Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 1985, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2002 by Mark R. Leeper
An Introduction

Back when I was ten or eleven years old I used to get monster movie bubble gum cards. They usually had familiar stills from monster movies. One, however, puzzled me a bit. It looked like a human-shaped furnace with glowing eyes and a disproportionately big fist. It was labeled simply "The Golem." There was no explanation as to what the Golem was. Since I usually recognized what was on these cards, I filed in the back of my mind that there is something called a "Golem" that I wanted to know more about. It didn't occur to me to look in a dictionary any more than it would to look up "Godzilla." Dictionaries never have the really interesting words!

Golem Trading Card

A month or so later my parents were going to a Yiddish play put on at the Jewish Community Center. It was called "The Golem," and was written by H. Leivick. Now I knew darn well that my mother did not go to plays about monsters that looked like human-shaped furnaces with glowing eyes and disproportionately big fists. She saw Bride of Frankenstein when she was growing up and decided on the spot that any story with a monster was stupid. It had to be just a co-incidence of name, right? Well, my parents came back from the play and told me I would have liked the story..."it was weird." It was about a rabbi who made a man out of clay. At this point I realized that the bubble gum card and the play were somehow related, and even more surprising, this monster was somehow a Jewish monster.

I did some research into golems and discovered that they are indeed creatures of Jewish folklore that have been the subject of monster movies. (Incidentally, there turned out to be one other traditional Jewish monster, a dybbuk. It is a possessing spirit, not too unlike the one in The Exorcist.)

There are apparently several golem stories in Jewish folklore, but I have found nothing but fleeting references to any golem legend other than "The Golem of Prague."

The story is set in Prague in the 16th Century. The Jewish community is threatened by blood-libels-claims that they were murdering Christian children and using their blood to make matzo. (Actually, Jewish law strictly forbids the consumption of any blood at all.) A Christian who murdered a child and planted it in a Jew's house could report the Jew. The Jew would be executed and his property would be split between the Christian who reported him and the government. Clearly the ghetto needed a very good watchman.

Rabbi Judah Loew used information from the Kabalah-the central book of Jewish mysticism-to learn the formula by which God first made man out of clay, and with the help of two other pious men built a man out of clay and brought him to life. The final step of this process was to place God's secret name on a parchment and place it in the forehead of the Golem.

Loew's Golem was between seven-and-a-half and nine feet tall and had tremendous strength, but had a very placid and passive disposition when not under orders to act otherwise. He also lacked the one faculty that only God can give, the power of speech. Because this giant was passive and mute, people in the ghetto assumed he was half-witted and the word "golem" has also come to mean "idiot."

One story about the early days of this Golem was probably inspired by "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." The Golem was told to fetch water, but was not told how much. The result was a minor flood. This tendency to do what he was told to do, not what he was expected to do, has endeared the golem story to computer people like Norbert Wiener. It may also be part of the basis of Asimov's robot stories.

At night the Golem guarded the ghetto, catching all would-be libelists red-handed. He single-handedly ended the possibility of successfully blood-libeling the Jewish community. Loew then got the Emperor to end the practice of letting blood-libelers profit from their actions. When the Golem was no longer needed, Loew removed the parchment, returning the Golem to being a statue, and the statue was laid to rest in the attic of the synagogue.

A popular variation on the story has the Golem rebel and become an uncontrolled monster before being stopped and returned to clay. It has been speculated that Mary Shelley patterned Frankenstein on this story.

The Golem has appeared several times on the screen, though only once in an English-language film. The first cinematic appearance was in Der Golem (1914) with Paul Wegener in the title role. The story deals with the modern discovery and re-animation of the Golem. This is apparently a lost film.  Wegener returned to the role in a second German film, also called Der Golem (1920). This film is loosely based on "The Golem of Prague." The Jews are portrayed as being weird magicians who live in a strange expressionistic ghetto. In fact, the early parts of the film seems to presage the anti-Semitism that was soon to engulf Germany. The images of the Jewish community are not all that different looking than those of propaganda films of the following years.

golem2 golem3 golem4

One of the most interesting touches of the film is the subplot of Prince Florian. The beautiful Prince Florian wants to save the rabbi's daughter from the destruction that is to come to the Jews. However, Florian is so unctuous and disgusting that when he is killed by the Golem, the viewer is more relieved than shocked, and perhaps that is just what was intended. In any case, the Golem is able to avert destruction of the Jewish community. Then the Golem's own love for the rabbi's daughter is denied and he becomes a dangerous monster only to be destroyed by a child's hand. The rabbi then praises God for twice saving the Jews of the ghetto.

Wegener may have also made a lesser known German film, The Golem and the Dancer, in 1917. The actual existence of this film has never been established. A French-Czech film called The Golem was made in 1935. Harry Baur starred in the story which was done much in the style of a Universal horror film. The story deals with another tyrannical attempt to destroy Jews. Through much of the film, the rediscovered Golem remains chained in a tyrant's dungeon. Just when things are at their blackest, the Golem comes to life and destroys everything, once again saving the Jews.

A number of Czech comedies have been about the Golem, including The Golem and the Emperor's Baker (1951). In this, the Golem ends up as an oven for the baker.

The only English-language Golem film I know of is a British cheapie called It! (1967) with Roddy McDowell. A psychotic museum curator who lives with the corpse of his mother acquires the Golem of Prague and uses it for his own purposes. In the end, the Golem survives a nuclear blast that kills his master and he quietly walks into the sea.

[See attachments for additional information on the Golem in plays and film.]

This article will cover all those books about the Golem that I wanted to read for years and never got around to. This article was a good excuse. So here goes.

The Golem by Gustav Meyrink
(Dover, 1976 (1928), $4.50)

This is not actually a tale of the supernatural, in spite of the title, though at time the strange things that happen border on the supernatural and the events are all overshadowed by the legend of the golem.

Athanasius Pernath is a Christian living in the Jewish quarter of Prague. He is interested in the golem legends, particularly the Golem of Prague, but as someone comments, everyone seems to be talking about the golem. Pernath's own personality seems to parallel that of the golem-he seems to have little will of his own other than that of altruism. Much of the book is really just observation of the inhabitants of the Ghetto until Pernath becomes embroiled in a crime that another has committed.

This is not light reading any more that Camus's Stranger is.

It has a plot but more important is the character's introspection, the truths the character is learning about himself and the characters around him. Time and again Pernath returns to the legend of the golem in his thoughts as his life patterns itself after the golem's.

He is used my many of the characters, some well-meaning but needing help, others selfish, and his wish to set things right is his only reward. In essence he is a human golem.

Meyrink found writing the novel almost as bewildering as it is for the reader to read it or the character to live it.

Somewhere towards the middle (Bleiler says in the introduction to the Dover edition), Meyrink lost track of the multiplicity of his characters and needed a friend to graph them out geometrically on a chess board before he could proceed.

The result is not one, but many stories intertwined, which adds to the difficulty in reading the novel, but also gives a number of views of the Jewish Ghetto in pre-World-War-II Prague.

This is not an entertaining novel, but it is worthwhile to read.

The Golem by H. Leivick
(in The Dybbuk and Other Great Yiddish Plays, Bantam, 1966, $1.25)

This is one of the most famous plays of Yiddish theater. H. Leivick (actually Leivick Halper) re-tells once again the story of the Golem of Prague, but in more obscure and symbolic terms. To be frank, the play probably requires a closer reading than I was willing to give it (if not actually seeing a production).

It is a long play, written in verse, that requires study and an investment of time rather than the quick reading I gave it, so these comments should be taken as first impressions.

Certain concessions had to be made to dramatic style.

The primary concession was that this Golem speaks. A mute character in a stage drama would be little more than a mime, and Leivick wanted to get into the character of the man-made man. That he certainly does, more successfully than any other version of the story I know of.

In spite of the Golem's stature, he is troubled and fearful. In following the rabbi's orders, he is usually as fearful as any normal human would be.

He is reluctant to go into dark caves at the rabbi's bidding.

He is stigmatized and lonely.

Much of what is happening in the play is going on on a symbolic and metaphysical plane.

Dark figures, never explained, appear and carry on abstract conversations. I think that the style of the play can be exemplified by stage directions like "the brightness of invisibility begins to glow around him." Even the stage directions are obscure! I will leave this play for others to interpret.

The Golem of Prague by Gershon Winkler
(Judaica Press, 1980, $9.95)

Winkler's book is in two parts: an introduction and the story itself. The story does not start until page 75, so the introduction is a major part of the book and deserves separate comment. Part of the reason is not what the introduction says about golems but because of what it says about Winkler.

In Winkler's description of his occupation, he says that he "teach[es] Torah weekly on Long Island, primarily to young Jewish adults with minimal Jewish knowledge and identity, and he has also been helping young Jews return from 'Hebrew-Christian' and Far Eastern movements."

He begins his introduction with an attack on what he calls "sciencism." The latter is apparently a belief, fostered by scientific reasoning, that leads one to be skeptical of the existence of God and miracles. As an example, he says, "For more than fifty years, the museum's exhibition of a stooped, ape-like man helped many people in our culture to overcome their guilt over the rejection of G-d and the idea of Creation... In 1958, the Congress of Zoology in London declared that the 'Neanderthal Man' was really nothing more than the remains of a modern-type man, affected by age and arthritis... Nevertheless, these scientific errors were never expressed to the subsequent generations of school children. Such a public revelation would have been outright 'heretical.' It would have destroyed the absolute authority of science and left humanity with no alternative explanation for the phenomenon of existence but G-d."

Winkler has a section on "Making Golems" in his introduction. He rambles for sixteen pages on a few Golem legends and references to the ineffable name of God. On the actual subject of the section, he has only the following helpful words to say: "It is not within the scope of this overview to discuss the mystical mechanics of The Book of Formation and how to use it to make golems. Readers are advised to study day-to-day Judaism first, before investigating its profound mystical dimensions. After many years of having mastered the down-to-earth aspects of the Torah, on both the practical and intellectual level, one can then examine books like Derech HaShem... which discusses the interactive relationships of the natural and supernatural, and the role of the Divine Names." If that was all he had to say on the subject, it is not clear why he tried to tantalize the reader by having an extensive section promising to tell more.

The introduction also includes a picture labeled "Monument to the Maharal's [Loew's] Golem standing at the entrance of the old Jewish sector of Prague." No further explanation is given. This would be an impressive sight if it were not obviously a picture of a knight in Teutonic armor. Anyone who recognizes German armor would not be taken in by this fraud perpetrated by a man trying to convince us of the superiority of his religious views.

In short, I am less than impressed with the introduction.

As Winkler gets into the main text of the story, he editorializes less but there is still a strong undercurrent of didactic lecturing in his writing. The story of the Golem of Prague is broken into short stories extolling the values of a good Jewish education and traditional Jewish values. The real common thread of these stories is Rabbi Judah Loevy (a.k.a. Loew). In many of the stories the Golem itself is the most minor of characters. The stories are really about the mystical wisdom and power of the rabbi.

In these stories we see no end of evils caused by not giving a Jew a proper Jewish education or by a young Jewish woman marrying a Christian. The vehemence with which the Christians want to convert Jews verges on the incredible. In one story, the Duke wants so much to win one Jewish woman to Christianity that he is willing to marry his only son to her. The two do indeed fall into love, but the bride-to-be decides she cannot betray her family. Eventually the two marry, but only after the Duke's son converts to Judaism.

In this version of the story, the Golem is much less monstrous and apparently indistinguishable from a flesh-and-blood human. Yet as the story requires, he seems to have strange magical powers. In one story he can see a soul hovering over a grave; in another he has an amulet of invisibility. The stories start to lose interest as the Golem has too many powers, all bestowed on him by Rabbi Loevy.

Oddly enough, the only character of real interest is the arch-villain Father Thaddeus. From "the green church," as it is called, he hatches plot after plot against the Jews. By turns he is charming and then vicious and ruthless-whatever is called for in his anti-Semitic plots. The depth of his hatred is never fully gauged by the reader until he cold-bloodedly murders a young (Christian) child in order to frame the Jews for ritual murder. After Thaddeus dies, the stories have a marked drop in quality. Rabbi Loevy himself is the paragon of Jewish learning and knowledge. In investigating crimes, his first question is always the one that leads to the solution. Paragons make very dull characters, and since his thought processes are arrived at only through religious knowledge far beyond that of the reader, he never becomes a comprehensible character.

Winkler clearly looses steam in his story-telling in the second half of his tale, but the first half is worth reading far more than the introduction or the second half.

The Sword of the Golem by Abraham Rothberg
(Bantam, 1970, $1.25)

Of the various re-tellings of the story of the Golem of Prague, this is certainly the most readable and the most enjoyable, though perhaps not the most faithful to its source material.

The Golem in this version is, for the first time, a believable three-dimensional character. He doesn't just walk, he talks, he feels, he loves, he hates, and if pushed far enough, he kills. Instead of being broken into short stories of threats against individuals in the Jewish community, this novel is one continual threat and eventually a riot against the Jews. The Golem in all this is not a protective angel sent by Rabbi Low (the spelling in this version) who is just an extension of the Rabbi. The Golem sympathizes with the Jewish community and considers himself to be Jewish, but he has free will and his own reasons for doing what he does.

Another reason this is the most enjoyable version is that for once even the anti-Jewish Christians are portrayed as more than just thugs. There is more than one debate between Rabbi Low and Brother Thaddeus, the chief instigator of the anti-Semitism. Of course, to the reader it is clear that Thaddeus loses the debate, but his reasons for what Thaddeus does come much clearer in any other version. One could almost stretch it to the point that Thaddeus is a sympathetic character. He at least believes that his hatred of the Jews is well-founded in Catholic doctrine and his arguments for anti-Semitism do come out of a twisted idealism, rather than just selfishness as other versions of the story indicate.

This 1970 novel is dedicated "most of all to the great Leivick, who breathed new life into the Golem's clay." But I feel I can recommend the book more highly than the play. In fact, this (which was the last major Golem work I read) is the most satisfying and the only one I recommend as a novel.

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein
(Pocket, 1983, $2.95)

Of late we have seen fantasy novels set in a number of historical cultures. It is a pleasant change from having them all set in Celtic Britain, Medieval Europe, or some never-never land. Classical China, for example, was used in Hughart's Bridge of Birds. Australian Aboriginal mythology is the basis of Patricia Wrightson's trilogy The Ice Is Coming, The Dark Bright Water, and The Journey Behind the Wind. Goldstein sets her story in the Jewish villages of Eastern Europe, just before, during, and after the Holocaust. The story is of a mystical rabbi who really can work miracles and of a traveling magician who has foreseen the future and arrives with warnings of what is to come. A conflict begins between the two that will go on for years. We see the story from the viewpoint of Kicsi, a young girl infatuated with Voros, the magician.

The Red Magician is too short and simple to be considered an adult fantasy, but it is more sophisticated than most juveniles. Goldstein has a feel for Jewish folklore and life in the Eastern European Jewish communities. The Red Magician is a fantasy that will be quickly forgotten. It will probably be read mostly by Jewish fantasy readers. (I think that Bridge of Birds will be read by a much higher proportion of non-Chinese.) It is a simple but well-written story that should not disappoint most of its readers. Rate it +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. Oh, and as for a golem, there is one but it is only a minor plot element.

The Tribe by Bari Wood
(Signet, 1984, $2.95)

This was the first that I read of the works reviewed here. It gave me the idea for this article. When I was growing up, I wanted to write a horror novel about a golem. I had a whole story plotted out, but it was never written. Now, unfortunately, Bari Wood has beaten me to the punch with The Tribe . Sadly, it turns out to be more a murder story than the real pull-out-all-the-stops horror story I had envisioned.

The story starts with the mystery of why one barracks of Jews at the Belzec concentration camp given very special treatment. They were not only left alive, but in addition, the SS gave them the best food available. They were eating canned sausage while the SS were eating garbage.

Flash forward to the present when five blacks who mug and murder the son of one of the survivors of that barracks are themselves brutally murdered. The story then tells in boring detail about the affair between the murdered Jew's widow and the black police inspector who was a close friend of her husband's father.

Any given paragraph by Wood is clearly written, but this story seems to jump back and forth in time with disconcerting rapidity. The legends that this story was built around have a much greater potential than this story would indicate. The whole story is preparation for the final few pages, when the characters finally get to confront the evil that until that point they had only heard about second-hand. Like too many contemporary horror novels, there is too much writing without enough worthwhile story. If you want to read a novel about the Golem, this is not the one to start with.


March 12 through March 22, 1992, at La Mama Theater in New York the play was Golem by Moni Ovadia. It was actually a production of Art Artificio, a theater company of Milan, Italy. The play had previously been performed in Milan and Berlin before coming for this two-week run in New York. Ovadia not only wrote the play, he stars in it. Somehow this is reminiscent of small-town theater companies. A small group of friends is responsible for everything you see or hear. The play also bears the credit "Dramaturgy and Mise-en-scene by Daniel Abbado and Moni Ovadia." No director is listed so I rather assume that directing is included in "dramaturgy."

As the play opens the stage is black. The house lights pick up a wisp of fog and from it comes a man dressed in the shabby clothing of an Eastern European Jew. He sees the audience, laughs, and identifies himself as the Wandering Jew. (Now this is a bit peculiar. The Golem is a figure from Jewish folklore, but the Wandering Jew does not really fit into Jewish folklore. He really is a Christian creation to explain away Jesus' claim that some of those who were hearing his words would still be around at the Second Coming. The Wandering Jew is the listener that will still be around at the next Coming, but that can only be true if he is nearly immortal.) The Wandering Jew starts talking to the audience about golem stories. A golem is a statue brought to life by mystical means. The Wandering Jew considers just about any story in which a non-living figure is brought to life. He includes Frankenstein , Rocky Horror, E.T. [sic], and The Terminator. He also includes what he considers the greatest of all golem stories... Pinocchio . (Well, this is an Italian theater troupe. To my mind it is a moot point if these are golem stories or not. My rule is if you don't know you are making a golem, you aren't.)

The Wandering Jew then proceeds to tell the story of the Golem of Prague. It would be. What other golem story does anybody tell? The story proceeds in three languages: English, Yiddish, and Hebrew. When the proceedings are not in English they are translated into English by a synagogue assistant who looks like a Yeshiva student who, in turn, looks like a pipe cleaner with a knot at the Adam's apple, his most prominent feature. He both interprets for the audience and takes part in the action. The story that is told is once again how the Golem is created and how it drives away the enemies from the ghetto. Then it starts killing children and has to be destroyed. Most of what the Golem does we are told about rather than seeing. We do see the Golem, but as a sort of mockup that cannot actually be made to walk. The Golem stands at the back of the stage through the whole play, but it is usually hidden by a translucent black screen. We can see the Golem only when he is lit. The appearance of the Golem is at once both accurate to the legends and more horrifying than he has ever been portrayed in films. He appears to be seven or eight feet tall with long arms. Somehow it may be reminiscent of the mutant from This Island Earth. The body looks almost like a rock pillar, but it also seems humanoid, albeit deformed. At the top is a head that looks like a skull, rendered very roughly in stone.

The stage design is equally strange. It is somewhere between expressionistic and Dali-esque. On the left there is one strange stairway that goes no place but tapers to a point. On the right there are a series of pointed and rounded arches that lead to another stairway. Taking part in the story as the people of the town, and also providing the music is a nine-piece Klezmer band playing a score by-who else?-Moni Ovadia.

Visually then the stage is very well rendered and give the play a dreamlike quality. The storytelling is the play's weakest aspect. The program provides a "guide" to explain what is happening. It should have been more obvious without benefit of the guide. There is, for example, a recreation of the Sorcerer's Apprentice story, but it is done is a sort of wordless dance not unlike ballet. Even knowing what the story was supposed to be, it was not clear what we were seeing. Still, with the Eastern European cast and the Klezmer music the play is thick with atmosphere. It was worth seeing.

Julien Duvivier's The Golem (1936)

To start with, what is a golem? It is a statue that has been brought to life by mystical means. The Bible claims that God created man by bringing the dust of the earth together and breathing life into it. Legend has it that God can be invoked to do it again by special Ceremonies, though the formula is imperfect and the resulting Artificial human will lack the power of speech. Frankenstein was inspired by golem legends. The most famous golem story is of the Golem of Prague, brought to life to protect the Jewish community. Films about golems are unusual though there had been two made in Germany previously starring Paul Wegener. One of them is a lost film, but the other is considered a classic. Since that film was made a tide of anti-Semitism had risen in Germany. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws institutionalizing German state anti-Semitism. About the same time a film, a French and Czech co-production, was being made with veiled anti-German and not so veiled pro-Jewish sentiments, The Golem. The film has interest as a political document as well as a fantasy film. For many years this has been a rare film, but this year it is starting to become available on videotape.

The time is the 17th Century in Prague. Rabbi Loew, who created the Golem is dead, but Rudolf II is still emperor. The troubled Jewish community is now led by the young Rabbi Jacob, student and friend of the late Rabbi Loew. Rudolf's tolerance of the Jewish community has lasted about as long as the life of Loew. Now he is reinstituting persecution albeit warily. His dreams are still troubled with visitations of the Golem and he will not rest easy until he possesses it and is sure the Jews cannot reanimate it. He is willing to torture and kill to get his hands on the magical statue. All his attempts to confiscate it fail until one night it just appears in his palace, still stone-like and inanimate. With the Golem under his thumb, the Rudolf safely returns to persecution.

Except for the metaphor of its politics, and perhaps not even that at the time, this is not a film of extreme subtlety. The filmmakers were primarily interested in getting their idea across. The feeding of Jews to lions is probably anachronistic, but it is an image that the audiences could probably find meaningful. The writers obviously felt very strongly about the film's message and was neither shy nor particularly subtle about expressing that message. When somebody tries to warn the Jews "Your brothers are in the hands of murderers" it is clear that the message is meant for more than the characters in the film. When the Emperor calls himself a friend of Jews while torturing one the analogy may break down slightly-at least the Nazis admitted their motives toward the Jews-but still it is clear that it is another dig at the Third Reich. The burning of the Jewish ghetto also seems to be a very contemporary image in the film. The motto of the film, often repeated, is "revolt is the right of a slave." The French filmmakers do not say the French will come to the Jews' aid if they revolt, but it definitely affirms their right.

Julien Duvivier directed the film as a somewhat fancy costume drama, perhaps to attract a wider audience in the bleak days of the late thirties in Europe. In a golem film, of course one of the main considerations is the design of the Golem itself. Ferdinand Hart is perhaps one of the least imaginative visualizations. It looks more or less like a statue of a large bald man. The reasons for toning down the horrific aspect of the Golem are again likely to be political. If the film is supposed to instill a sense of solidarity with the Jews, it would not make sense to have them be the creators of monsters. The script then seems intentionally to build suspense about the appearance of the Golem. He is not shown on-screen until well into the plot and only at the end of a suspenseful sequence of a nighttime walk through the big empty palace. Disorientation and insecurity on the part of the emperor are often created with a tilted camera.

Harry Baur as the emperor is goggle-eyed and insecure. He was at the time a familiar actor, I believe. Charles Dorat as Rabbi Jacob is young and handsome but his performance is not particularly inspired. Finally there is Ferdinand Hart in the title role as the mystical statue. What can you say about a role that for most of the film requires you to stand absolutely still, then in the inevitable climax for this sort of film suddenly in the final reel turns into Machiste. The role requires more broad shoulders than depth.

I would say that the film is less a work of art and more a piece with some entertainment and an artifact of a dramatic period of history. Nevertheless, as someone with a particular interest in golem legends I am very pleased to see this particular film, usually only available at campus showings, now on videotape.

Vilna's Got a Golem

Power and the effects of power are the subject of Lou Jacob's allegorical Vilna's Got a Golem. The play takes place in 1899 with a troupe of Jewish actors putting on a play set in 1540 in which the Jews of Vilna build a golem. To the performance has come a government official from the Bureau of Jewish Affairs. Of course the official does not speak a word of Yiddish. This means that each chapter of the play has to be explained to the official. (Of course, this production of the play is in English, but it is clear which parts are supposed to be Yiddish, which Russian.) While the play is basically a fantasy in which the Jews of Vilna use a golem to avenge the bloody pogroms aimed at Jews, they must try to hide this from the official who could use the anti-Christian play as an excuse for murder. (A golem is an animated statue that is brought to life using the same formula God used to create Adam. The golem, however, has no soul and does what he is told like a robot. Through centuries of murderous anti-Jewish pogroms the Jews consoled themselves with stories of this somewhat monstrous protector.) Both the external and the internal plays start out as comedies, but slowly more interesting themes work their way into the plot.

In the internal play, which is the main focus of the first of two acts, the community of Vilna (today known as Vilnius, Lithuania) tries to lead happy lives but live in constant fear of the pogroms (bloody anti-Jewish riots that were very common through the 1800s). Two comic cobblers learn that the Cossacks are only twenty miles away and could easily again drop onto the Jewish community to rape and murder. Deciding that they need protection, they build a golem over the strenuous objections of their rabbi. But the comedy is put on hold while one of the cobblers, Zavel, gives a harrowing account of the murder of his pregnant wife. This is why he wants more than protection-he wants revenge. The depth of the hatred that some of the Jews feel for the non-Jews around them is dwarfed by the depravity of the treatment they have received at the hands of non-Jews. The golem is the perfect weapon. It is a Frankenstein-like monster that kills non-Jews without mercy, but will never harm a Jew. This raises the question of just who the golem, who is an instrument of God, thinks is a Jew and who is not, since there is some controversy on that issue. But more serious issues will arise.

The golem responds only to Zavel's commands and Zavel is eaten with hatred for the non-Jews who have persecuted him and his people, murdering his family. Soon he no longer cares if the non-Jews are guilty or not. The monster has become not the golem but the man who controls him. The persecuted and the persecutor have changed places. The young, drunk with the power of being on top, has stopped going to synagogue. And the Jewish community has exchanged one set of problems for another. Now they are riding the tiger. If they destroy the golem or even stop using it, they fall prey to the revenge of the non-Jews. If they continue to use it, they themselves are the oppressors. In the end the story is an allegory that is equally applicable to nuclear weapons and to the Middle East politics. Its conclusion is hopelessness: that there will always be oppressors and the oppressed. It is ironic that even a Jewish power fantasy is tinged with the question of whether it really is a good idea to be the powerful. Is the perpetrator or the victim actually better off? The play by Ernest Jaselovitz has deceptively single layers of meaning. Lou Jacob directed the production at the Harold Prince theater of the University of Pennsylvania. There the production is simple with two tall ladders flanking the stage, a small Aron Kodesh (an ark for Torah) on the stage (which doubles for the whole synagogue), and a klezmer band in the background. Of the various dramatic plays and movies I have seen on the subject of the golem, and by now I have seen many, this is probably the best.