Brave New Golems

Golem: Modern Wars and Their Monsters

by Maya Barzilai

New York University Press, 288 pp., $35


The Book of Esther: A Novel

by Emily Barton

Tim Duggan Books, 432 pp., $27


The Golem of Hollywood

by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman

Jove, 688 pp., $9.99


The Golem of Paris

by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 528 pp., $9.99

There is a good chance that a golem is lurking near you at this very moment. You won’t see it, though, unless you’re viewing your surroundings through your smartphone’s Pokémon GO app. As over 100 million players know, the game challenges one to capture virtual creatures stationed in physical locations across the globe. True, the Pokémon golem looks more like a dinosaur than the foreboding, helmet-headed colossus that has dominated visual portrayals of the golem since Paul Wegener’s famous silent film of 1920. But that’s the way of golems these days. As pop culture monsters they don’t have the cachet of zombies or vampires, but they are all over the place: in film and television, video games and comic books, and a continuous stream of novels both highbrow and popular. And while in most cases these golems are explicitly connected with Jews, in some of the recent incarnations the relation to the golem legend, or to anything Jewish at all, is, at best, tenuous.

Of course, what we usually think of as the golem legend in its classical form—a magically created humanoid who does the bidding of a kabbalist—does not have especially deep roots in Jewish tradition. The word itself occurs only once in the Bible, and refers to the unformed state of the human being before being shaped into life by God:

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About the Author

Michael Weingrad is professor of Jewish studies at Portland State University. His most recent book is Letters to America: Selected Poems of Reuven Ben-Yosef (Syracuse University Press), and he writes at


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