(NOTE: THIS IS MY ACADEMIC SUBMISSION FOR A CLASS I AM TAKING TOWARDS MY DEGREE TO BECOME A TEACHER FOR SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN. IN THIS CORE CURRICULUM CLASS WE HAD TO WRITE TWO LITERARY ANALYSIS PAPERS, ONE FICTON AND ONE NON-FICTION THIS IS ONE OF THEM)
(by Christopher Fredrickson)
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, by today’s standards seemed that when it was written in the 1800s could have been a revolutionary publication. It is considered very “out of the box” and imaginative. Yet, it is very possible that the literary masterpiece, which is, Frankenstein actually dates back 100 years before Mary Shelly was even born, with the legend of the Golem of Prague.
The story of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is about a doctor (who is named Frankenstein….the monster is not named Frankenstein) who reanimates a dead corpse using things at his disposal. His experiment is successful and the monster is created. The monster reeks havoc among the people in the village and call for the head of the monster.
Mary Shelly then humanizes the monster, which is something that was indeed revolutionary at the time, there were glimmers of gentleness in the monster when he approached children. This was unheard of, and I think it is possible that Mary Shelly was influenced by the history of Petrus Gonsalvus, a man who lived in the middle ages that had a condition known as Ambras Syndrome. Ambras Syndrome is a condition that causes a person to be covered in hair from head to toe. Petrus was captured and jailed in Spain, and the guards and scientists discovered he had human like characteristics though he was on the cusp of being feral. But luckily he was a child, they found he possessed intelligence and gave him an education. He then was made a nobleman, despite his appearance. He was given a wife by the queen of amazing beauty and they had children together. Sadly the children were sold by the rulers as “pets” essentially. But a people they found to be “beasts” and have been recorded as “beasts” since the dawn of time in the instance of Petrus Gonsalvus was considered to be slightly human for the first time. And this is where you get the story of Beauty and the Beast. Yet this hasn’t been done in a literary source as of yet, and it is a trend that has continued and influenced many other great novels and movies, so with this we can give Mary Shelly credit in this respect.
However the entire story of Frankenstein, was “borrowed” with literary license obviously taken, from something that the Jewish community still maintains actually happened in the 16th Century with the story of the Golem of Prague. The story of the Golem was not written down till many years after the supposed event. And since that time, countless authors have battled over whether this happened or whether it was just folklore. The story is a very bizzare story, yet at the same time, there are indeed evidences that it is possible these events happened.
The story starts in Prague, in Prague the Jewish community is under attack by the Catholic community. At this time Europe became predominantly Catholic and when you look at the history of Constantine, The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust you see the Catholic Church has not taken to kindly to the Jewish people. This was the case in Prague, the Bishops of the church would blame the Jewish leaders whenever disappearances of Catholic children saying that the Jews used the blood of Catholics to make their matzah bread. This is something the Muslims now claim against the Jews as well. The Jews refused to leave, despite this. Then physical violence broke out, many Jews were murdered in the village of Prague during the curfew hours. No witnesses, came forward because all stayed inside. When Rabbi Loew (also known as the Maharal of Prague) found that several of those in his congregation had been arrested for crimes they did not commit, he set out to put a stop to it.
The story goes that the Maharal (Rabbi Loew) went into the woods with his son in-law and some say they drew the figure of a man in the sand, others say they built a man out of mud, they went in a circle around the figure or mudman and recited the 72 letter name for G-d found in the book of Exodus (known as the Shemhamphorasch). On the forehead of the mud man they wrote the word אמת (emet: meaning in Hebrew “truth”). And the mud man came to life. The mud man for the most part was under the control of the Maharal. But it became increasingly harder for the Maharal to control the golem (which is what the mud man was “golem” is the Hebrew word for a beast without a soul, the word is used in Isaiah and in the book of Revelation when it comes to “The Beast”). The golem’s job was to protect the Jewish people and the children of Prague from the persecution that was happening. The golem would wander the streets after curfew and intimidate the judge in the courts by sitting in the court room with a blank stare.
But the golem, like Frankenstein, got out of control. The Maharal could no longer control the golem. The golem started to destroy structures and scare the people. Now the golem, “lived”, in a room above the synagogue. During one service the Golem was making a lot of noise and caused the chandeliers to shake, the noise was over powering. So the Maharal left the service went upstairs to the room of the Golem and erased the letter א from the head of the golem, rendering the word מת (Met: which in Hebrew means “death”) and the golem turned into a pile of sand and died.
The similarity of the stories, are that you have a monster that was created by a person of high education, yet the understanding of the human intellect no matter how brilliant they may be cannot create life by unnatural means that functions at the same caliber as the Creator. The only real difference between the two stories were the attempts to make the creature discussed human in some way. Mary Shelly was able to humanize Frankenstein’s monster to a level of degree in which you feel sorry for the monster. The story has made it’s way into modern culture as a social commentary almost in sociological circles. The golem however, did not possess these characteristics, though I am sure, many of the Jewish community were thankful for the service of the golem they were happy he was killed by the Maharal.
This also brings about a stark difference in social commentary. One could say that the story of Frankenstein is to see the human element and to embrace the differences and that is why the death of the monster in Frankenstein was seen as tragic despite the fact it reeked havoc on the people and killed a little girl. The story of the Golem of Prague however, has cast speculation in Jewish communities on the Kabbalist Maharal. He was considered a great man till this point. In fact, in his most popular work Derech Chaim (The Way of Life), which was a commentary on a tractate in the Talmud called Pirkei Avos (The Ethics of the Fathers) is something that has been studied for over 300 years in Jewish Yeshivot (schools). It is considered one of the greatest commentaries of oral Torah (law) ever written.
The lesson in the story of the Maharal however is very much different. It is saying that a man cannot play G-d. The Jewish sages in the Zohar say that Hashem (G-d) puts a divine spark into each thing he creates, an eternal nefesh (soul) that exemplifies their personality and causes it to be. The golem had no personality, thus he wasn’t considered “living” a stark difference to Frankenstein’s monster, the doctor exclaimed in those famous words “it’s alive.” The golem may have been animated but he wasn’t alive. He was essentially a robot who had his motherboard messed up and went haywire.
The social commentary of both of these stories are both applicable. If we render social acceptance as the message of Frankenstein, or if we render that man cannot create a soul from the story of the Golem of Prague. This is actually a moral dilemma that has been going on for close to 20 years since the cloning of the first sheep to embryonic vs adult stem cell research. This is a constant social commentary in which no matter how archaic it may seem from the stories of Frankenstein and the Golem of Prague, both of these stories have lived on in their respected communities because of the wars of acceptance and who has the authority to create life outside of natural means. Both also have extreme views as well that have been implanted into them in the 21st Century.
These extreme views are ones that we see in movies and television and other media and alternative media today. We live in a society where the most popular series on Netflix is The Making of a Murderer, where they try and humanize this monster of a person who slaughtered a woman and make him out to be the victim. This is like saying that “Hitler was just misunderstood.”
The other, would be those who push against modern medicine and say that it is poison. As an individual who is a type 1 diabetic I thank G-d for the advances in modern medicine. One individual once told me because I take insulin I am being kept alive artificially and thus my soul has departed from me and I am no more than a Golem. This is ridiculous and crazy talk.
The fact of the matter is that there is a balance where the stories of Frankenstein and the Golem of Prague and when read objectively through the messages of acceptance and the ideal of who creates life and has the authority over it then we can see the truth of the matters are in the grey matter. As we get older, we realize that truth אמת (remember that word emet?) is in the grey 90% of the time, and only 10% of the time black and white.
Theological Insights from Rabbi Eved Banah at Beit Geulah in Morganton, NC (www.BeitGeulah.com)