Monthly Archives: January 2013

How the Jews of Prague were saved: the legend of the Golem

Tucked away in the Jewish quarter of Prague is a synagogue that is as beautiful as it is old and significant.

This is the famous Old New Synagogue, Europe’s oldest active synagogue. Completed in 1270, it was one of Prague’s first Gothic buildings. It is said that the body of Golem lies in the attic of this synagogue. Strangely, this building was spared by the Nazis during their destruction of Jewish buildings during the occupation of the city.

The Old New Synagogue, Prague
The Old New Synagogue, Prague

The word ‘golem’ means ‘unformed, amorphous’. According to the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 38b), it is the matter which God shaped into the form of Adam, before breathing the breath of life into his nostrils. However, just as God cannot create another God, no man can create another man. Thus a golem made by a man lacks some characteristic or the other which prevents him from being called a man; this is usually the power of speech. The Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation (2nd century BC), says that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet hold the key to creation, and thus it is the interplay of letters which creates and destroys a golem. The word emet (אמת, “truth” in the Hebrew language), inscribed on the head of the golem, keeps it alive. When the golem needs to be deactivated, the letter aleph in emet is erased, changing emet אמת (truth) to met אמ (death). Other legends state that a golem can be controlled by writing a specific series of letters on parchment and placing the paper in the golem’s mouth.

The most famous Golem narrative in history is the one involving Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the 16th century chief rabbi of the city of Prague in Bohemia, widely known as the Maharal of Prague. The Maharal was a well-known Talmudic scholar, mystic and philosopher.

Under the rule of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, a decision was taken to kill or expel the Jews of Prague. The Maharal then created the Golem from clay taken from the banks of the Vltava river. Initially successful in its mission, the Golem grew and bacame increasingly violent, killing gentiles and, according to some accounts, Jews too. The Emperor then pleaded to the Maharal to deactivate the Golem, which the latter did. The body of the golem was then stored in the attic of the Old New Synagogue of Prague, where legend says it lies to this day. One tale tells of a Nazi agent who ascended the attic and tried to stab the Golem, but died instead.

The Tombstone of the Maharal
The Tombstone of the Maharal

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the last Rebbe of Lubavitch) wrote that his father-in-law told him that he saw the remains of the Golem in the attic of Alt-Neu Shul.

Isaac Bashevis Singer said that the golem is the “very essence of Jewish folklore”. Yet this enthralling legend has strayed far beyond the realm of Jewish myth and strayed into the silver screen, Marvel comics, the opera, ballets, and plays.

Gustav Meyrink’s 1914 novel Der Golem is loosely inspired by the tales of the golem created by Judah Loew ben Bezalel. In 1974, Marvel Comics introduced “The Golem” as a recurring character in its Strange Tales comic book series. David Brin’s science-fiction novel, Kiln People, describes a future where humans make lower quality copies of themselves (dittos or golems) out of clay. After reaching their expiration date, the golem’s memories can be reintegrated to the original person. Two episodes of the science fiction TV series The X-Files, season 4’s Kaddish and season 6’s Arcadia, feature golems. In I, Robot, Isaac Asimov shows us robots growing in sophistication and approaching ever nearer to humans in their consciousness. But the robot never attains humanity, just as man never attains godhead. Like a robot, the golem can always be destroyed by its maker, since it has no soul. The golem is a popular figure in the Czech Republic. There are several restaurants and other businesses whose names reference the creature.

Will humankind continue to evolve? The present answer must be “no.” Cultural evolution has buffered us against biological pressures that weeded out the feeble,slow,or stupid. Now, power tools, computers, clothes, spectacles, and modern medicine devalue the old inherited advantages of powerful physique, intelligence, pigmentation, visual acuity and resistance to diseases like malaria. Societies hold high percentages of physically weak or ill-proportioned people, and people with poor eyesight, or skin color and disease resistance unrelated to the climates where they live.

Some individuals who would have died in infancy a century ago survive to breed, handing on genetic faults to future generations.

Migration, too, has helped halt human evolution. No group lives isolated long enough to evolve into a new species as happened in the Pleistocene. And racial differences will decline with increased interbreeding of peoples from Europe, Africa, the Americas, India and China.

David Lambert

The Cambridge Guide to Prehistoric Man

“Hairs to them which were fair, did make them more fair, and to them that were foul, they made them more ugly and dreadful!”

The characteristics of one’s hair can be a simple demonstration of genetic and racial identity. A quote from the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus (7th century BC).

Arctic landscape

Civilization came from the north: the Arctic origins

The matter of determining the origins of the ancient Aryans is of prime importance if we are to understand the true nature of our past. It also helps to explain many of the events taking place currently in our world.
The ancient Aryans were a race of people who lived in the Arctic and polar regions upto the second millenium BC. They lived there for the centuries spanning the post-glacial climatic optimum, during the third millenium BC, when the climate in those regions was more warm and hospitable. When the Sub-Boreal climatic plunge started in the early second millenium BC, something happened which changed the history of the Aryans forever. The decreasing temperatures, icy weather, and resulting upheaval spurred these people to move southward to seek more hospitable regions for living and developing new civilizations. Groups of warlike Aryans migrated south, where they reached warmer climes and founded the civilizations of Vedic India, ancient Greece and ancient Rome. It is also very likely that they played an important role in the founding of civilizations in Sumer, Egypt, China, and the Americas. It is a sad matter that the Aryan foundations of these civilizations have become mired in the fog and mist of history and later depredations.Only careful research and observation throws light on Aryan influence.
An important work which deals with the polar-Arctic origins of the Aryans is the book The Arctic Home in the Vedas by the great Indian nationalist and Vedic scholar Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Using astronomical evidence from Vedic hymns, he very convincingly demonstrates how the Vedas retain memory of a distant time when the Aryans inhabited the Arctic regions, where they witnessed long days and long nights, where the sun went round the sky overhead, and the dawns lasted many months. The beauty and temporal length of Arctic dawns is the most probable reason why poetic descriptions of the dawn (Ushas, the goddess of dawn) is so prominent in the Rig Veda.
More esoteric and mythological topics, like the relation of the Arctic Aryan homeland with the hollow-earth hypothesis, Shambhala, and Agartha, are too controversial to deal with here. I hope to describe them in another article.

Kalsoyarfjordur, in the Faroe Islands
Kalsoyarfjordur, in the Faroe Islands

The physical appearance of the prototypical Aryan consists of :

a.) white skin with very little reddish tinge
b.) blond hair (of the golden type seen in Scandinavians and other Northern Europeans, rather than the flaxen type seen in Finns and Balts
c.) Facial physiognomy corresponding to the Hallstatt Nordic type.

Another significant work which throws light on the northern origins of the Aryans is Felice Vinci’s Homer in the Baltic. Written in Italian and widely translated and read, this book postulates that the events and characters in Homer’s epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey took place not in Greece, the Aegean sea and Asia Minor, but in Scandinavia and the shores of the Baltic. According to Vinci, ancient Troy is not the Anatolian site discovered by Heinrich Schliemann but the town of Toija in Finland. What Vinci sets out to prove, with convincing arguments, is that the events of the Iliad and the Odyssey took place when the Aryans were still living in icy northern climes, in Scandinavia, the Baltic region, and surrounding seas and isles. Some of the other points made by him are:(1.) Homer repeatedly mentions inclement weather conditions – snow and mist, icy winds, and gray skies; these are more appropriate in a Northern setting rather than in the sunny Mediterranean. (2.) Homeric place names and topographical features have been shown by Vinci to show a striking correspondence with places in the Baltic region, Finland, the fjords of Norway and the Faroe Islands. The legend of Helen of Troy seems to come from the same mythic race-memory as the legend of Sita in the Hindu epic The Ramayana. This legend is similar in that it also revolves around the kidnapping of a princess and the resulting calamitous war. The events obviously have a common source and happened in the distant past, when the Aryans were still living in the far North, and the great southward migrations were yet to start. When the Aryans were able to create fresh magnificent civilizations in southern climes they transformed their icy myths into the temperate and tropical settings of the new lands where they now lived. Gradually the memories of their Arctic, Scandinavian and Baltic homelands were either forgotten or retained in a radically changed form. The events described in the Ramayana thus are descriptions of events that once took place, in some form, in some northern icy land, remote from warm, sunny India.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920)
Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920)

It is worth noting here that only in Scandinavia and northern Germany was there no existing substratum of earlier humans, at least there is no archaeological evidence to suggest that. So it is in these areas that the original Aryan physical forms of blond, blue-eyed white-skinned tall people was preserved to the maximum extent. In the other places where the Aryans migrated, there was already an existing substratum of humans, and there was the inevitable race-mixing, with the resultant dilution of the prototypical Aryan physical characteristics. One of the more intriguing parts of this migration epic is the oft-drawn parallel between the Saxons (a Germanic tribe), and the Scythians (an Irano-Aryan people). Certain authorities have even gone on to suggest that the whole of the Germanic peoples have an Eastern origin. This is in conformity with the mistaken notion of many that the origin of the Aryans was from the steppes of eastern Ukraine and the Caspian sea region. This is actually a time-reversal of the actual events. In fact the Germanic tribes, as much pure-Aryan as could be, moved from their homeland in Scandinavia and other northern regions at a later stage, after many hundreds of years had passed after the earlier Aryan migrations to Greece, Rome, India and other places. In the course of their wanderings in eastern Europe, it is likely that they came into contact with Irano-Aryan tribes, these being the progeny of the earlier wave of Aryan invaders who had moved to Iran and India. But it is obvious, if only we pay attention to multiple sources and factors, that the general direction of the Aryans’ movement has been from north to south and from west to east. But it is also true that in the Middle Ages a significant amount of Ural-Altaic admixture seems to have taken place amongst the eastern Germanic tribes, as a result of the Hun and Mongol incursions. Some have noted a degree of Altaic physical characters in the Swedes , and of course in the Finns, which is absent in more western Germanic-origin peoples such as the Dutch, the Norwegians, and the English.

Thus, to summarize, there were 3 major waves of migration of the Aryan peoples:
1. The original moving-out from the Arctic homeland following the Sub-Boreal climatic shift. When the Aryans moved a bit south, they settled in Scandinavia and northern Germany.
2. Here there were no ‘native’ people and the racial purity of the Aryans was maintained. From here many groups of Aryans moved out south, sometime in the second or third millenium BC, to far countries like India, Greece, Rome, and perhaps other countries.
3. The third wave of migrations was what has become famous as the great Germanic migrations throughout Europe. The Viking and Norman contributions may also be considered part of this wave.