Current Affairs New exhibition at Prague’s Jewish Museum offers chance to revive the Golem

03-06-2009 17:07 | Jan Richter

An interactive exhibition which is to open at the Jewish Museum in Prague on Thursday promises visitors a chance to revive a centuries’ old legend. A sculpture by the famous Czech artist Petr Nikl invites people to try to figure out the right symbol or word which would breathe life into the famous Prague Golem – a legendary giant allegedly created by the 16th century rabbi Loew.

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You run your fingers through the sand on a glass plate and watch the changing pattern on an overhead screen. The sound of sand on glass echoes through the dark room as you wait for a split-second, hoping that you did it, that you hit on the word that has the power to revive him. But nothing happens, and you step aside and let someone else try their luck.

The latest exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery, part of Prague’s Jewish Museum, does just that – it gives you a change to figure out the magic formula that would bring the Golem back to life. According to the legend, the Golem was created by Prague’s most famous rabbi, Jehuda Loew ben Bezalel in the 16th century. He died 400 years ago, and the exhibition is one of the events commemorating the anniversary of his death. Director of the Jewish Museum Leo Pavlát explains.

Karel Dvořák: 'Rabbi Loew and Golem above Prague'Karel Dvořák: 'Rabbi Loew and Golem above Prague' “The Golem has become part of Czech legends, almost everybody knows about him, so we naturally did not want to avoid this topic. That’s why we approached Mr Nikl and asked him to create something that would resemble the Golem. But not a statue or anything like that but the Golem as everybody’s shared experience so that everybody can take part in his creation.”

The sculpture is a drum-shaped object covered with a glass plate with sand on top. It has a lamp inside which makes everything you write or draw in the sand appear on a screen above. A camera records all the drawings, and edited footage of all the symbols, letters and words is projected on a wall. The author of all this is Petr Nikl who says the sculpture is like the Golem’s forehead because that’s where rabbi Loew is said to have inserted the secret password whenever he wanted to bring the clay monster to life.

Leo PavlátLeo Pavlát “’In the beginning was the word’. It’s a search for a word that would correspond to the act of creation, of revival or awakening. It’s very abstract and the object functions as a metaphor for recording these words. But I don’t think someone will come up with the right word and something will happen. I don’t think we’ll see that.”

The head of the Jewish Museum in Prague Leo Pavlát believes that while everybody knows about the Golem, the impressive personality of rabbi Loew is often overlooked. To mark the 400th anniversary of his death, the museum will launch a large exhibition.

“We will open a big exhibition at the Imperial Stables at Prague Castle which will be dedicated entirely to rabbi Loew. We are cooperating with many institutions, there will be special exhibits on display from abroad, and we will also publish a big book on rabbi Loew both in Czech and English.”

You will find all the details about both exhibitions at

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