It is said that at one time, the Jews of Prague encountered a hostility larger than what had ever been before. Several times earlier they had faced accusations making crops fail, poisoning wells, killing Christ and invoking the wrath of the Lord by their mere existence - yet, never before had there been such a determined will behind the attacks. 'The Jews are murdering Christians and drinking their blood!' Claims about blood libel were propagated with fanatical strength.

Never had the walls of the ghetto felt thinner. The people huddled together behind them, shivering for what they knew must happen. Sooner or later that angry crowd screaming for revenge and murder would get in. Many, perhaps all of them, must die. The fact that it had happened to their people many times before was not a consolation. The children of Israel wept.

The Chief Rabbi prayed. Why must this happen to your people, Lord? he asked, searching through all his knowledge of the scriptures for an answer. Then, suddenly, his mind hit upon something else, something half forgotten. Could it be possible? Could it be allowed? Certainly, it was just what the people needed right now.

The Maharal made up his mind. Taking with him David, his friend and assistant, he went to the river bank. There he made a man-shape out of the clay. As David watched with fear and amazement, the Maharal chanted strange kabbalistic songs before he finally spoke the Lord's secret word of Creation. And lo, the clay assumed life and rose, and asked the Maharal what to do. 'Protect my people,' the Rabbi said. The man-made man bowed his head and went to do as he was bidden.

That day a man of unnatural strength assailed the people who had gathered in hate outside the ghetto gates. No man could stop him. He killed one man, or ten, or a hundred, and wounded many more. The mob, so easy to gather against a weak and cowering enemy, soon dispersed. The ghetto had been saved.

Afterwards many Jews wondered what miracle had saved them that Easter. They said the Maharal had created a Golem, with G-d's blessing or in spite of him, and then destroyed it in fear over what he had done: Set himself in the Lord's place, created an unstoppable killer machine, bargained his soul for the lives of his people. They came and asked him what was true, but the Maharal was always silent.

(my adaptation of the legend)

The Golem has a long tradition in Jewish lore; discussions of the phenomenon go back to the Talmud. Those knowing the Divine Secrets were also assumed to know how to create life. However, the stories all end up with the golems growing too powerful and threatening human life. In the sixteenth century especially, many stories emerged to tell about such creatures being brought to life.

Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague is the name most strongly associated with this myth, having first been mentioned in Leopold Weisel's Stories (Sippurim in Hebrew), then in Yudl Rosenberg's 1909 publication of The Golem or The Miraculous] Deeds of the Rabbi Liva ('s Nifla'ot Maharal im ha-Golem). In reality, the real-life Maharal would probably have opposed the creation of a Golem. Setting himself in the place of God was not quite the thing to do for a wise rabbi.

In many versions of this legend, the Golem is mute. This is because of the sanctity of the Word in Judaism. Making a speaking Golem would be considered far more blasphemous, and unthinkable for a devout Jew such as the Maharal, than just creating a man of clay.

thanks to rootbeer277 for comments

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