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The Golem
About the Play:
Version Notes
The Adaptation
The Golem, Israel Today and Innocence Lost
The Cast
MET past productions 2002: The Golem

The Golem (1921), Israel Today and Innocence Lost

I can forgive Israel's enemies many things, but not for turning its children into soldiers. -- Golda Meir

In the context of the ongoing Mideast crisis, one might be tempted to see The Golem as somehow advocating Jewish pacifism or even passivity in the face of destruction. "Are we thus chastised because we wished to protect ourselves, O Lord?" agonizes the Maharal during the play's tragic climax.

The Golem
In the play, the Jews of Prague in 1580 face persecution. When they try to arm themselves by creating a Golem, horrible consequences ensue. A theatergoer's instinct might be to draw an analogy to recent Jewish history: in the wake of the Holocaust, the Jews of the world "armed" themselves by creating the state of Israel (a "Golem") to stay further genocide. But now, they — like the Jews of Prague — find themselves caught in a cycle of violence that appears to have no end: they must endure the ongoing anguish that comes from fighting fire with fire. As Reb Bassevi says in Scene 3 of The Golem: "Won't those who lift the sword fare worse? In doing so won't they lose their share of the world to come?" To which the Maharal replies: "Whether in this world or the next: there may be no tomorrow for Jews who meekly lay their necks upon the block."

The richness of The Golem's indeed, the play's courage, I think, is that it unblinkingly confronts this central, tragic aspect of the Jewish experience since the Diaspora. The horrid necessity of having to "lift the sword" is echoed in Golda Meir's quote above. Innocence has been lost. But the alternative (allowing another Holocaust) is unthinkable.

Like any tragedy, The Golem dramatizes the feelings behind this loss of innocence. The play, I would argue, is the pacifist dream of a Jewish poet — written 20 years before Auschwitz — who dreads the impending, permanent loss of his people's innocence.

The Golem is not, in this light, a denial of the necessity of resorting to violence. It is the lament of its necessity on this earth.

Americans after 9/11 (and especially New Yorkers) suffer from a similar loss of innocence. A people attacked is forced to become something other than what it was. We feel terror first; then numbness; and finally anger, bitterness and the desire to lash out in retaliation. Only the most committed pacifists believe such retaliation is not an option. Only the most hardened hearts feel joy at having been thus transformed.

In The Golem, it is finally the hardness of the Maharal's heart — more than his having resorted to war — that must be seen as his tragic flaw. The Maharal has become a warrior, yes, and certainly by necessity. But he's allowed this transformation to "take away the light that was his... the gleaming light and radiant glow of our common trust and faith" [The Golem, sc. 3]. Had this warrior clung fast to the ideals of love and faith that were his before the terror — had he been kinder to the Golem, had he been ruled by love instead of hate even as he went to war — then perhaps his tragic fate could have been averted. "Who will save us?" goes the refrain that echoes throughout the play. The answer may well be: only our- selves — our better nature, and the love of life with which all of us were born.

David Fishelson, New York City, April 2002

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