Broadly speaking in terms of “Judaism Says,” golems are to zombies what Purim is to Halloween. The first golem was Adam’s primordial namesake, formed of clay before God animated him with the breath of human life. Later narratives depict various rabbis replicating the divine experiment on inanimate forms, with disastrous results: Breaking free of human control, the machine becomes a monster. The most famous version of the golem legend stars the MaHaRaL, Rabbi Judah Loew of 16th-century Prague.
I personally connect the dots of the MaHaRaL’s golem legend with two items that are historically documented. The first is that Rabbi Loew was a guiding force in the sacred burial fellowship, the prototypical hevra kadisha of Prague, whose surviving artifacts include a painting of members engaged in annual prayers at his grave. The second is that Rabbi Loew was a staunch advocate of developmentally appropriate Jewish education, of introducing children to Jewish texts and values in accordance with their levels of maturity.
“A golem is a sturdy creature on which to hang a young-adult story,” Marjorie Ingall has noted in this magazine. “It works as a repository for every theme that speaks to teenagers: Who am I in the world? What powers do I have? Who can I trust? How do I create a separate existence from my parents’? How do I control my anger and manage my baser instincts?”
Regina Sandler-Phillips, “Zombies, Vampires, and Things That Come Back to Life: A Rabbi’s Take on Halloween and Beyond”, Tablet (30 October 2013) [http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/149661/jewish-halloween-undead]