The Return of the Golem

11-10-2002

The Jewish legend of the golem - an image or form that is given life through a magical formula, frequently becoming a robot - is being revived in Prague this month in a festival of art, ballet, film, literature, religion and science. Golem Project 2002 has been organised by - perhaps surprisingly - the Argentinean embassy in Prague.

Argentina's connection with Prague's golem legend comes from one of its most famous writers, Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote a poem titled "The Golem." Maria Kodama de Borges, the poet's widow, was a special guest at the festival this week, and I asked her why her husband was so fascinated with the legend:

"Well, because it's the dream of man to become God. You can continue to trace the influence that the legend of the golem and the kabbalah left in him through some of his shorter stories and poems."

Of all the golem stories that inspired the Argentinean writer Borges, the most famous is that of Rabbi Loew. The fifteenth-century Prague rabbi is said to have created a golem out of clay, and used the creation as his servant. However, at one point the golem became so out of control that the rabbi had to return it to a lifeless state, and he stored its remains in the attic of Prague's Old New Synagogue.

At the Golem Project 2002, delegates at a seminar on "The Golem in Religion, the Sciences and Art" suggested that the golem was the forerunner to computers, artificial intelligence and other technological advancements of today. The Argentinean Ambassador, Juan Eduardo Fleming, shares this interesting perspective:

"This is a golem, in the case of artificial intelligence and in the case of robotics - thanks to Capek, who coined the name - and also in the case of internet and computing, that is going to go on living. It's the same as in Borges' poem: the golem doesn't die. So the two, hand in hand, will go on. The three, I would say: golem, Rabbi Loew and Borges will now walk around Prague and the world, and we hope will meet again next time in Buenos Aires in the second half of next year."

Together with the numerous films, poems and stories about the golem, there is even a ballet called "Golem" by Zbynek Mateju, choreographed by Pavel Smok. It will be performed at the State Opera in Prague next Wednesday, and will conclude the Project Golem 2002 festival.

11-10-2002