"Golem: Between Automaton and Human Being "

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Moshe Idel

(Hebrew University, Jerusalem)

"Golem: Between Automaton and Human Being"


Paper presented to the conference:

"Crafting Humans:From Genesis to Eugenics and Beyond"

8-10 September 2011, Queens College, Oxford


Second Annual Conference of the Berendel Foundation, in association with the Centre for health Medicine and Society and History of Race and Eugenics Research Group at Oxford Brookes University, the University of Oxford, and the Wellcome Trust


Abstract: In Jewish literatures, there is a wide spectrum of concepts of an artificial anthropoid,described since the 16th century by the term Golem. In most of these discussions, the preparation of this creature is described in terms reminiscent of the creation  of  Adam byGod in the first two chapters of Genesis. Thus, it is quite evident that most of the Jewish thinkers, mystics or magicians, were  envisioning some form of mimesis of the divine activity. However, in most of the cases, this anthropoid was understood as inferior to human beings, much closer to an automaton, namely a being without intelligence, speech and power to procreate, in fact some form of servant or famulus.

However, in some few passages found in manuscripts, the assumption is that it is possible to induce into the human-like body, the highest spiritual qualities, in fact a divinesoul. My  paper will concentrate on this “deviant” approach, which implies a form of confrontation with the divine creativity, bluring the gap between the divine creativity andthe human one.  Formulated by a rather conservative figure, the 14th century Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac of  Samuel of Acre, it reflects the leading Kabbalistic assumption that the nature of a perfect man is very close to the divine one. This is a redefinition of the Jewish traditional views of the human, as isomorphic to the divine body, or as acting to dominatenature, as in Genesis, implying now the capacity to draw down the divine power into this world. Instead of the classical mystical ideal of theosis, of assimilation of  man to God by  renouncing to the corporeal existence, or the ideal of mystical union within the sphere of the divine, the new form of mimesis entails a complexity where the corporeal existence is the locus of the encounter of the human with the divine. It is the embodiment, namely an artificial inducing of intelligence into a body, not the escape from it, that is conceived of asbeing an attainment, and implicitly, a description of the human.


Short Bio: Moshe Idel is Max Cooper Professor in Jewish Thought, Department of Jewish Thought at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Senior Researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Idel has served as visiting Professor at UCLA, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and the College de France. Among his publications areKabbalah: New Perspectives (Yale UP, 1988); Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (Yale UP, 2002); and Old Worlds, New Mirror, On Jewish Mysticism and Twentieth-Century Thought (Penn UP, 2010).



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