Friday, March 04, 2011

The real new earliest known source in print for the Golem of Prague?

Yesterday I posted that someone turned up an 1834 source in Sulamith volume 8 for a legend concerning the Maharal of Prague and his famous Golem. The legend concerned a plague in the ghetto of Prague. Maharal created the Golem to discover the source of the plague, which turned out to be the sins of an adulteress.

A scholar informs me
I'm afraid there is an error here. . . .

Sulamith vol. 8, part 2 was published in 1843, not 1834. Thus, e.g., you will see events from 1838 described on p. 1 of the volume; events from 1840 on p. 71 of the volume; and p. 253 (the page before the Golem ballad) mentions 1841.

[This] error may have been caused by a mis-listing on the site of the German-Jewish periodicals.

There is no error in the Jewish Encyclopedia account; there was nothing to look up. It correctly notes that the full text was first published in 1841.

I might add that Gustav Philippson was born in 1816. It is unlikely that he would have published a ballad about the Maharal when only 18 years old. His first publication was in 1841, the same year he left for Prague in order to study under Rabbi Solomon Judah Rapoport.
Oh, well. But I will try again. In 1834 a Jew and eventual convert to Christianity, known by many names, published a book called Der jüdische Gil Blas (The Jewish Gil Blas). The original Gil Blas was a picaresque novel (a satirical style, which depicts the adventures of a rogueish hero) published in parts from 1715 to 1735. Here is the title page:

The character of this book gives his background as the son of a schochet in the Moravian town of Trebitsch, who is also a Ba'al Keriah and Chazan, to this day (ie, he is a traditional religious Jew still alive in 1834). Since he was a promising young student, after his Bar Mitzvah he was sent to Prague to learn Talmud from a rabbi named Zalel (=Betzalel). He describes his "admissions exam," which consisted of a very difficult passage in Massekhes Niddah, along with a half dozen commentaries. Satisfied, the rabbi immediately accepted him, and he was offered a place to sleep.

He describes his teacher, Rabbi Zalel, as an ascetic man, who fasted Mondays and Thursdays, and went to the Mikvah every Friday. Yet he had some modern or moderate tendencies, and would study non-theological books written in German.

The protagonist contrasts this with his wife, Sprintze, who was of the old-fashioned opinion that books written in alphabets other than the Hebrew were the first step on the path to heresy. On one occasions she saw the boy reading a math book in German, and she grabbed it from him and threw it out into the courtyard, where it ripped. He was upset of course, but even more so because he would have to pay the person from whom he borrowed the book. Her husband, the rebbe, told her that she was wrong - doesn't she realize that the book was written by "Schimme Gunz?" (i.e, a Jew), and he allowed him to pick up the book "solely because its author was also a descendant of Abraham."

In the third chapter he writes that he had thought that his food would be taken care of by the rabbi, but it turned out that this was only for weekdays. On Shabbos and holidays he was given some kind of meal ticket, and the man in charge of seeing that the boys would have Shabbos meals, was named Benjamin Ofner, who was a Chazan. This Ofner was impressed by the boy when he met him, and told him that instead of going somewhere else, he could move in with him and his family and tutor his children. At that point he was tired of Rebbetzin Sprintze, and was glad to leave Rabbi Zalel's home.

He mentions that once he went to the theater and returned very late, and the door was locked. Benjamin told him that as a consequence of coming so late he would not let him inside that night. Unable to think of anything else, he returned after a little while and called out under the window "Rabbi Benjamin, Rabbi Benjamin! The wealthy Meier is ill. Come at once to the Altneuschule to say Tehillim (recite Psalms)." Then he stood outside the door, and slipped inside when Benjamin opened up, returning later when he realized he had been fooled. Our protagonist could not leave well enough alone, and jammed the door shut and told his host: "Night Owls will be punished for being late by staying outside. . . "

But for our purposes, what is interesting is the rather lengthy footnote upon the word Altneuschule. Here is how it begins:

It talks about the legend concerning it being built from stones from the Temple in Jerusalem. On the next page:

Here is says that in the attic is kept some relics from a distinguished rabbi of an earlier time, including the Golam (which means "servant" in Hebrew and Persian) of Rabbi Liwa, whom the people call the "hohe Rabbi Löw" (the tall Rabbi Löw). It goes on to mention his legendary relations with Emperor Rudolph II, and that he made this Golem out of clay, with his Kabbalistic knowledge. The rabbi Golem was animated by a special paper with God's name on it, and he had a different one for weekdays and Shabbos. At night he would remove it from his mouth. If I understand correctly, the idea is that on Shabbos the Golem would have a day off, like anyone else, and so was not obliged to listen to his master. One Friday night he forgot to remove it, and as soon as the 92nd Psalm was sung (when Shabbat begins) it began to cause a ruckus. The whole building swayed! So the prayer was halted, and the rabbi replaced the paper with the weekday name of God, and it calmed down, and then the prayer could be resumed. The author says that to this day the event is commemorated in Prague with a 15 minute break after the first Psalm is recited.

The next legend that he mentions concerns the plague and adulteresses. There was a plague striking children in Prague, and the idea was to discover the cause of the divine wrath responsible for it. The solution posed by the Maharal was that a messenger should enter the cemetery adjacent to the synagogue at midnight, and some of the recently deceased children would emerge from their grave. His mission was to snatch one of their shrouds ("tachrichim") and bring it to the rabbi. And so it happened. So the ghost of the child missing its burial shroud came to the rabbi and begged him to return it. The Maharal said that he will, after he is told what is causing the plague. So the child told him that two couples in the Belelesgasse were, well, you can figure it out. With a little investigation, the identities of them were determined. One woman was named Bella and one named Ella. This accounts for the name of the street in the ghetto, the Belelesgasse. Other claims that the name comes from the Hebrew word בלילה, be-laila, at night, which is when these people were caught in the act. Normally this is a Golem story, but in this early telling it is a Maharal story, but the Golem plays no role in this.

In any case, the author of this book was named Joseph Seligmann Kohn (1803-1850). He published this book anonymously, but he wrote many other books under many different names, including Selig Korn. He also used other names, like Friedrich and Felix, and Friedrich Nork, after he was baptized.

Now, a note about the book. Wilma Iggers published an annotated edition of this book in 1993 (so of course she, and anyone else who read the book, knows this reference). In hers and her husband's autobiography "Two Lives in Uncertain Times" she writes twice that the Gil Blas book was published in 1837. On the other hand, in "The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: a Historical Reader," also by her, she says 1834. Anticipating that some might claim that this book was really published in 1837, with the title page mistakenly (or intentionally) reading 1834, let me assure the reader that it was already in existence in 1834. I know this, because the Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung reviewed this book in their September 16, 1834 issue (page 1071). This review mentions the Maharal and the cemetery story, but not the Golem, so it fails to be another 1834 mention of this legend. Here it is, and following it the book itself:


  1. ן suggest that the appearence of the Golem and the Maharal story in the 1834 Jewish Gill Blass had not yet established sastifactorily.
    pherhaps the reason that the editors of the book in the 90s had claimed 2 diffrent dates for it 1834 and 1837 is for the reason that they had 2 diffrent editions from those years,
    Also it is strange indeed that a review which is indisputedly from 1834 found no reason to mention the golem and maharal story in the book.
    mybi because it wasent at all in the edition reviewd?
    I suggest then that the Golem and the maharal story had appeared only in a 1837 edition of the book immediatly after the writer ancountered the recently published SPINOZA of Auerbach or perhaps the story from Novenber 1836 ( which was most probably besed on Spinoza munskript) as a result of which he had updated his 1834 book in which there was no mention of Golem and the Maharal

  2. Now which scholar can it be that knows Golem lore so well, and yet writes with such humility? ("Im afraid there is an error", "it is unlikely", etc.)

  3. Anonymous:
    OR maybe they didn't mention because they didn't consider it noteworthy on account of everyone knowing about it already.

  4. Or maybe they didn't mention it because it's a review of a *book* and this was one line in a *footnote*.

    I don't know what else to produce besides a book with a title page that says 1834 and a review of it from 1834.

  5. If he did write it in the first edition, is the fact that he only wrote it in a footnote and didn't make a big deal out of this cool legend a proof that most people had heard of the idea and thus it wouldn't generate that much excitement that would warrant it being more prominently featured in the book?

  6. I think that in this case there need to be an indisputed evidence that the book with a Maharal and golenm reference Is indeed from 1834 .
    if on the othere hand theiR will be found that there is a first edition from 1834 which dosent mention the Golem and the Maharal and a second edition from 1837 which does then here there is a evidence that the writer at least dident know on such a story befor 1836.

  7. Eli Eshed, the fact that you are disputing it does not make it "disputed," unless your grounds for disputing it are reasonable. All you are allowing is that certain evidence could be found which would prove that there is no 1834 evidence. But what evidence would prove that it is from 1834, if the date on the title page and a book review from September 1834 isn't enough?

    As I recall, you also disputed the one from 1836, still maintaining that it must have been based on Auerbach - without any evidence.

    With all due respect, your pet theory is a hypothesis which the evidence tests. The evidence isn't the hypothesis. If you can show a dated Auerbach manuscript earlier than everything else, kol hakavod. Show it.

  8. My problem is that it isent clear if you actually had seen the book in question and had seen for yourself the golem reference or publish a 1834 cover which you had found online somwhere.
    if it is the second then it isent certain that the 1834 edition indeed have a golem referance.

  9. Go to the JNUL and see for yourself. I'm sure they'll be happy to let you have a look.

  10. Hoh does not mean "tall". You're thinking of the word hoch. It is like calling him the Great Rabbi Löwe. You should get a better translator than google/אומדנא.

  11. He was called both hohe/ and hoch in different sources, and he was apparently called it because he was tall, and there are sources (not at my fingertips at the moment) which prove it. Since that's not exactly a normal rabbinic title, it is not susprising that others changed it to hohe, which also is not a normal title (name another rabbi who was called that).

    I make no claims about my linguistic abilities. Let people better acquainted with German do the work I do, but until they do reveal some of the treasures and curiosities, I'll have to suffice.

  12. Eli Eshed writes
    ( and the reason that I do not write my full name is because your site will not accept my full name and e.mail )

    Obviously till a further check by someone b more qulified then me in German with the current discovery I have to Accept that if the actual Golem reference is from the 1834 edition and not a latter one then here there is a proof for existence of actual authentic Golem and Maharal tradition in Prague as the reference is not a part of literary work and a story by himself. and then could be the invention of the autore but simply a reference to exiting tradition.
    I still think that it is possible that the actual first story behind all of this by Auerbach or someone else was published in some Jewish magazine or paper in Germany or Austria or Prague which is obscure today at the beggining of the 30s or the 20s or perhaps the decade before that of the 19 century ,
    I have a suggestion for you : you know ancient German and how to search in all those magazines and papers : why don’t you search in ALL the Jewish magazines of the period which are online with the search words GOLEM and MAHARAL ?
    If you do perhaps you will find that elusive item.
    And that would be a real significant discovery which can have a ( relative ) world wide attention to you with all the recent interest in the story ( which I hear is going even to be a movie with the actor Topol as the Maharal )
    Think about it .

  13. Here's a new article on the subject:
    -- Phil

  14. That's kind of a nothing article. Why doesn't Commentary publish me?

  15. Solomon Ibn Gavirol is one of the greatest of the medival Hebrew poets of Soute Europe.
    but it is less known that he is also the hero of the world literature first story about an artifical female created by man.a woman Golem.
    who was the the creator of the story ?
    he was a medical man called shlomo Delmedigo in the 17 century.
    the artifical woman of SXolomon ibn Gavirol

  16. i suggest that you will Read this

    How the Golem come to Prague

    this is an academic article which build on your discoveries about the Golem story origins . Yet they dont bother even to cite your name properly referring to you as "Anonnimus".see referance no 17 in the article.I would have find it unproffessional to say the least.



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