A modern artist brings an ancient being
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udapest (JTA) — The
golem, a mythical crea-
ture said to protect
Jews from pogroms and
other anti-Semitic attacks, is
coming back to life — although
only as a work of art — in the
studio of a Budapest artist.
For the past 15 years, ceramist
Levente Thury has sculpted rep-
resentations of the golem, the
clay, servant-like creature
brought to existence by a spell or
The golem, Hebrew for "some-
thing shapeless," has been a com-
pelling figure in Jewish
mysticism since the Middle Ages.
Yet the idea that man is capable
of creating a living being is un-
usual in Jewish history.
The golem most likely was in-
spired by the Sefer Yezirah, or
Book of Creation, an ancient He-
brew text speculating on cre-
ation. Among the topics in the
Sefer Yezirah is the power of ut-
terances and of letters.
Early rabbinic literature
makes mention of a "golem,"
though exactly how it came
about was explained in a variety
of ways. Some said it appeared,
almost magically, after one
achieved a sort of ecstatic state;
others claimed it rose from the
earth. The golem was said to
come to life after one followed
specific instructions using the
combined letters of the alphabet
with the secret name of God.
During the 15th century, the
concept of the golem was estab-
lished as a mythical creature
who served and came to the aid
of his creators. This time, he was
said to have been resurrected
from the dead and have limitless
The most famous golem of
Jewish legend is connected to
Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel
in the 16th century in Prague.
Rabbi Loew, who died in 1609,
was said to have created the
golem to serve him and to pro-
tect the Prague Jewish commu-
nity. As in other versions of the
golem legend, the artificial clay
man ran amok, forcing Rabbi
Loew to deactivate him.
Even today, legend has it that
Rabbi Loew's golem lies in the
attic of Prague's famous Alt-
neushul (Old-New Synagogue).
It is even said that the Nazis
knew of and feared the golem,
and therefore stayed away from
the synagogue when they
marched into Poland.
Over the years, the legend has
fascinated artists,of nianymedia
because of the implications of the
myth: technology spiraling out of
control, the foiled attempt to com-
pete with God, the failure to ma-
nipulate the universe.
Mr. Thury's golems do not re-
semble the robot-like represen-
tations sold in Prague today.
Each one of his thousands of
sculpts an entire figure. Instead,
Mr. Thury's golems are compo-
sitions of faces, heads and other
All the parts are distorted to
some extent, as if their emer-
gence from the clay was halted
before it was finished. A hand
grasps an armless torso. A baby's
golems is a different in- The Altneushul in features form a beauti-
terpretation of the leg-
ful face on one side of a
legend has it
partially modeled head.
"I would like to make
In some pieces, tiny
things that are a mix- golem still lives. golem figures emerge
ture of spiritual and ma-
from larger, partial
terial," he said. 'That is the most forms.
important meaning of the golem.
The expressions on the faces
"The body of the golem is ma- are serene but soulless. The eyes
terial: clay, stone and earth — are unseeing.
the oldest materials. The mes-
There is no explicit violence in
sage, the amulet, the spell" that the compositions, but the ele-
brings the golem to life is the ments of Mr. Thury's work are
spirit, he added.
arranged together in ways that
His golems range from short- can be eerie and disturbing— as
er than an inch to larger than well as highly sensual.
Mr. Thury, who maintains a
Except for tiny figurines, studio in an alcove of the living
which he said he often gives to room of his Budapest apartment,
friends as talismans, he rarely said, "I make the surfaces a lit-