The legend of the Golem is highly relevant to the considerations of robots in literature. As in the case of Pygmalion, the ability behind the creation of the Golem originally extends from divine powers. The act of creating the Golem requires the creator's participation far more extensively than in Pygmalion's case. The legend depicts the problems that pervade robot literature with regard to the relationship between the creator and the created. The creator cannot possibly expect to account for all contingencies in which his or her creation must act, nor the unexpected contingencies that may develop from the creation's actions.


1) What is the role/function of the Golem? Why was it created?

According to the legend recounted in the summary and background section on the Golem, the role of the Golem was to serve and protect the Jewish community from the persecution it suffered. The Rabbi created the Golem specifically to service the community, but because it could not act of its own volition, it essentially became an extension of Rabbi Loew's will. In other words, it functions as a tool to allow the Rabbi to accomplish things he would be unable to do on his own.


2) How human is it? Is it meant to be so?

The Golem has the form of a living human, but to what extent can one consider it human? Of course its phenomenal strength indicates it being something other than human. Furthermore, this feature of the Golem contributes to the idea that it is a tool that provides leverage for its user. Its inhuman strength makes the Golem useful to the creator's human endeavors. However, this is hardly the most important distinguishing feature of the Golem.

The fact that the Golem is mute has significant implications. It is able to receive orders and commands that are spoken to it, but it can never give any. One might view the Golem's muteness as a manifestation of its inability to exert free will. Free will requires making choices, and choices stem from want . The Golem has no voice, both literally and figuratively, to express want. It cannot issue protests or express a desire. This falls in the purview of the creator, who may voice his wants while utilizing the Golem to fulfill them.

Speech also suggests a power in the sense of being able to define the universe. As the Sefer Yezirah states, words define the universe--there is a name for every object, every concept. To acknowledge this is to acknowledge the power inherent to speech. But the ability to speak does not guarantee mastery over a given situation. It is true that Rabbi Loew was able perform many good deeds for his people through his commanding of the Golem, but one must question his mastery over words after the oversight of the Golem's incident with the well. Rabbi Loew did not express his commands specifically enough, so he became a victim of the limitations of his "programming" of the Golem.


3) How does it act in society and how do humans react to it in turn?

The Golem's actions are a reflection of the creator, since it is the creator's will that provides all its impetus. The fear inherent to this situation is that the creator can become his own worst enemy. Questions #4 and #5 consider the implications of a fallible creator overseeing an instrument with the potential for great benefit or detriment.


4) What are the consequences within the context of the world of the work?

During the time of greatest trouble, the Golem, under the guidance of Rabbi Loew, performed his tasks to the greatest satisfaction of the community. However, as wise and intelligent as the Rabbi was, he could not anticipate every consequence of the Golem's actions. The problem stems not from the Golem developing free will, but from the creator's failure to be able to completely define the parameters under which it operates. As with any tool, the Golem has the potential to be very useful or very harmful, regardless of intention.

In some literature concerning robots, e.g., R.U.R., tension develops from the difficulty of giving the robots enough discretionary power to adequately perform its functions and preventing those same robots from becoming free-willed beings with the potential to say "no." No such tension exists in the case of the Golem, since it is unable to say "no." Question #2 discusses the implications of its muteness.


5) Does it introduce a new idea or aid in the evolution of the robot? If so, what is its contribution?

Here we see a difference from Pygmalion: the Rabbi as a creator must take greater accountability for his creation's actions, because the Rabbi dictates them all, regardless of the insight or lack thereof that he invests in each decision. There is no "other" to blame. This sensibility informs much literature involving robots, for the creator must realize that no matter how much control he or she believes she has, his or her creation will serve as a reflection of his will and desires to reveal all his or her glories, fallacies, and limitations. The creator defines the created, but the reverse is as likely to be true, as the legend indicates.


Return to Background and Summary on the Golem.

Destroy your very own Golem!

Go to Bibliography.

Return to Literature Index.