Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Altneuschul, Prague – origin of the Golem

via Atlas Obscura

The Altneuschul – literally the “Old New Synagogue” – has a host of stories around it.  Built in Praguue in 1270 AD, it is the oldest surviving Synagogue in Europe.  But as old as it is, it has some claims on being older still, as there is a tradition that believes it contains stones taken from the Temple of Jerusalem.  That would put it in a tradition that stretches back to King Solomon.

But it is most famous for the story of the Golem.  In 1580, so the story goes, in order to protect the Jewish people in the ghettos of Prague from attacks, rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel built a clay statue that he brought to life.  The golem then defended the people from their enemies, before turning so violent that it had to be stopped.  According to this story, the golem remains in the attic of the synagogue.  Sadly, the story doesn’t have as old a history as the building itself, and likely originated in the 19th century.

The building has that powerful pull on the imagination of the very old.  Not only is it more than 700 years old, but it may indeed embody components that are far older still.  There is also something interesting about the story of the golem in that it is created to protect the community (even if it eventually goes off the rails).  I can’t think of a game that I’ve seen where the outcome was “let’s build some sort of magical protector” rather than just wading in and doing all the killing yourself.  Indeed, if something like a golem showed up, it’s an adversary to deal with rather than something to create for a role.  Is that the fault of the game, or the gamers?  I think a bit of both.

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