The Golem Legend from I.L. Peretz to Pokémon Go and Everything in Between

Originating in the 17th century, the standard form of the golem legend has the 16th-century Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague (better known as the Maharal) using his kabalistic powers to animate a sort of primitive robot to protect Jews from Christian violence. The story gained popularity when it began cropping up in 19th- and early-20th-century literature and film and has recently experienced yet another revival. Reviewing some recent examples of the form, Michael Weingrad compares them with their predecessors and seeks to explain the legend’s hold on the Jewish and non-Jewish imagination:

One reason for the attraction of the golem is that it has served as a charged metaphor for Jews and Judaism themselves, reflecting the biases of Christian writers who first took this obscure story and popularized it in the course of the 1800s as well as attempts by later artists, Jewish and Christian alike, to reframe the figure in more positive terms.

Golems, after all, are ugly, crude, lumbering clods of earth. They are of limited utility, cannot think for themselves or can do so only in the most literal-minded fashion, and must not be allowed to get out of hand. They are, in short, a classically negative Christian imagining of Judaism itself: unlovely, slightly threatening, and hopelessly literal and earthbound. The golem is a perfectly Pauline figure for Judaism as crude and unimaginative materialism, the dominance of the letter (in this case, the Hebrew letters famously inscribed on the golem’s brow) over the spirit. . . .

A second factor in the popularity of the golem is its use as a figure for meditations on Jewish power, violence, and vengeance. The theme of the golem as a malfunctioning household servant dates from the 17th century; by the end of the 19th century, the golem becomes the protector of the Jews against Christian violence, a protector that sometimes grows so indiscriminately violent that it must be destroyed by those whom it protects. In 1893 [the Yiddish writer] I.L. Peretz penned a brilliantly satirical version of the golem story in which the golem successfully defends the Jews of Prague from being massacred by their Christian neighbors. Peretz’s Jews then plead with their rabbi to deactivate the golem since if it continues its rampage “there won’t be any Gentiles left to heat the Sabbath ovens or to take down the Sabbath lamps.” Committed to the status quo of diasporic powerlessness, the Jews allow the golem to be locked away in the synagogue attic under cobwebs—a symbol of dormant Jewish vitality.

By contrast, in a number of 20th-century American iterations the golem is a figure for what Peretz in his own time was satirizing: Jewish discomfort with violence. From Marvel comics to Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the golem becomes a figure for Jewish vengeance against Nazis, about which the stories express deep ambivalence.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Golem, I.L. Peretz, Jewish literature, Maharal, Science fiction

 

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy