When, a year ago, Gershom Scholem, the foremost authority of our day on Jewish mysticism, heard that the Weizmann Institute at Rehovoth in Israel had completed the building of a new computer, he told Dr. Chaim Pekeris, who “fathered” the computer, that, in his opinion, the most appropriate name for it would be Golem, No. 1 (“Golem Aleph”). Dr. Pekeris agreed to call it that but only on condition that Professor Scholem would dedicate the computer and explain why it should be so named. What follows are Professor Scholem's dedicatory remarks, which were delivered at the Weizmann Institute on June 17, 1965.—Ed.
Once upon a time there was a great Rabbi in Prague. His name was Rabbi Jehuda Loew ben Bezalel and he is known in Jewish tradition as the Maharal of Prague. A famous scholar and mystic, he is credited by Jewish popular tradition with the creation of a Golem—a creature produced by the magical power of man and taking on human shape. Rabbi Loew's robot was made of clay and given a sort of life by being infused with the concentrated power of the Rabbi's mind. This great human power is, however, nothing but a reflection of God's own creative power, and therefore, after having gone through all the necessary procedures in building his Golem, the Rabbi finally put a slip of paper into its mouth with the mystic and ineffable Name of God written on it. So long as this seal remained in his mouth, the Golem was alive—if you can call such a state alive. For the Golem could work and do the bidding of his master and perform all kinds of chores for him, helping him and the Jews of Prague in many ways. But the poor creature could not speak. He could respond to orders and he could sort them out, but no more than that.
All this went very well for a time; the Golem was even given his day of rest on the Sabbath, when God's creatures are not supposed to do any work. Every Sabbath the Rabbi would remove the slip of paper with the Name of God on it, and the Golem would become inanimate for the day, nothing but a massive conglomerate of clay cells (in those days they were not yet speaking of “little gray cells”). One Friday afternoon, however, Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the Name from the Golem's mouth and went to the Great Synagogue of Prague to pray with the community and to receive the Sabbath. The day had barely drawn to a close and the people were getting ready for the ushering in of the holy day, when the Golem began to get restive. He grew in stature and, like one mad, began tearing about in the Ghetto, threatening to destroy everything. The people did not know how to stop him from running amok. A report of the panic soon reached the Alt-Neuschul where Rabbi Loew was praying. The Rabbi rushed out into the street to confront his own creature which seemed to have outgrown him and become a destructive power on its own. With a last effort he stretched out his arm and tore the Holy Name out of the Golem's mouth, whereupon the Golem fell to the ground and turned into a mass of lifeless clay.
In another version of the same legend, which is recounted of a great Rabbi in 16th-century Poland, the Rabbi is successful in stopping the Golem, but the heap of clay falls upon and kills him. However, the most famous version in Jewish lore of the idea of the Golem as a human creature on a subhuman plane is the one involving Rabbi Loew. It is only appropriate to mention that Rabbi Loew was not only the spiritual, but also the actual, ancestor of the great mathematician Theodor von Karman who, I recall, was extremely proud of this ancestor of his in whom he saw the first genius of applied mathematics in his family. But we may safely say that Rabbi Loew was also the spiritual ancestor of two other departed Jews—I mean John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener—who contributed more than anyone else to the magic that has produced the modern Golem. It is the latest embodiment of this magic which we are privileged to dedicate today, the Golem of Rehovoth. And, indeed, the Golem of Rehovoth can well compete with the Golem of Prague.
Now, this idea of the Golem is deeply ingrained in the thinking of the Jewish mystics of the Middle Ages known as the Kabbalists. I want to give you at least an inkling of what lies behind the idea. It may be far removed from what the modern electronic engineer and applied mathematician have in mind when they concoct their own species of Golem—and yet, all theological trappings notwithstanding, there is a straight line linking the two developments.
As a matter of fact, the Golem—a creature created by human intelligence and concentration, which is controlled by its creator and performs tasks set by him, but which at the same time may have a dangerous tendency to outgrow that control and develop destructive potentialities—is nothing but a replica of Adam, the first Man himself. God could create Man from a heap of clay and invest him with a spark of His divine life force and intelligence (this, in the last analysis, is the “divine image” in which Man was created). Without this intelligence and the spontaneous creativity of the human mind, Adam would have been nothing but a Golem—as, indeed, he is called in some of the old rabbinic stories interpreting the Biblical account. When there was only the combination and culmination of natural and material forces, and before that all-important divine spark was breathed into him, Adam was nothing but a Golem. Only when a tiny bit of God's creative power was passed on did he become Man, in the image of God. Is it, then, any wonder that Man should try to do in his own small way what God did in the beginning?
There is, however, a hitch: Man can assemble the forces of nature-identified by him as the basic forces of material creation—and combine them into a semblance of the human pattern. But there is one thing he cannot give to his product: speech, which to the Biblical mind is identical with reason and intuition. The Talmud tells a little story: “Rabha created a man and sent him to Rabbi Zera. The Rabbi spoke to him but he did not answer. Whereupon the Rabbi said: You must have been made by my colleagues of the academy; return to your dust.” In Aramaic, the language of the Talmud, the academic colleagues are denoted by the same word that is used for magicians: quite a nice ambiguity. Just as the human mind remains infinitely inferior to the all-encompassing divine intelligence of God, so does the Golem's intelligence lag behind the human—that is to say, it lacks that spontaneity which alone makes Man what he is. But still, even on a subhuman plane, there is in the Golem a representation of Man's creative power. The universe, so the Kabbalists tell us, is built essentially on the prime elements of numbers and letters, because the letters of God's language reflected in human language are nothing but concentrations of His creative energy. Thus, by assembling these elements in all their possible combinations and permutations, the Kabbalist who contemplates the mysteries of Creation radiates some of this elementary power into the Golem. The creation of a Golem is then in some way an affirmation of the productive and creative power of Man. It repeats, on however small a scale, the work of creation.
But there is a more sinister side to this too. According to one of the first texts we have on the Golem, the prophet Jeremiah was busying himself alone with the Sefer Yetsirah (“The Book of Creation”) when a heavenly voice went forth and said: “Take a companion.” Jeremiah, obeying, chose his son Sira, and they studied the book together for three years. Afterward, they set about combining the alphabets in accordance with the Kabbalistic principles of combination, grouping, and word formation, and a man was created to them, on whose forehead stood the letters, YHWH Elohim Emeth, meaning: God the Lord is Truth. But this newly created man had a knife in his hand, with which he erased the letter aleph from the word emeth (“truth”); there remained the word meth (“dead”). Then Jeremiah rent his garments (because of the blasphemy, God is dead, now implied in the inscription) and said: “Why have you erased the aleph from emeth?” He replied: “I will tell you a parable. An architect built many houses, cities, and squares, but no one could copy his art and compete with him in knowledge and skill until two men persuaded him to teach them the secret of the art. When they had learned how to do everything in the right way, they began to anger him with words. Finally, they broke with him and became architects on their own, except that what he charged a guinea for, they did for ten shillings. When people noticed this, they ceased honoring the artist and instead gave their commissions to his renegade pupils. So God has made you in His image and in His shape and form. But now that you have created a man like Him, people will say: There is no God in the world beside these two! Then Jeremiah said: “What solution is there?” He said: “Write the alphabets backward with intense concentration on the earth. Only do not meditate in the sense of building up, as you did before, but the other way around.” So they did, and the man became dust and ashes before their eyes.
It is indeed significant that Nietzsche's famous cry, “God is dead,” should have gone up first in a Kabbalistic text warning against the making of a Golem and linking the death of God to the realization of the idea of the Golem.
In the development of this conception the Golem has always existed on two quite separate planes. The one was the plane of ecstatic experience where the figure of clay, infused with all those radiations of the human mind which are the combinations of the alphabet, became alive for the fleeting moment of ecstasy, but not beyond it. The other was the legendary plane where Jewish folk tradition, having heard of the Kabbalistic speculations on the spiritual plane, translated them into down-to-earth tales and traditions like the ones I quoted at the beginning. The Golem, instead of being a spiritual experience of man, became a technical servant of man's needs, controlled by him in an uneasy and precarious equilibrium.
This is where we may well ask some questions, comparing the Golem of Prague with that of Rehovoth, the work of Rabbi Jehuda Loew with the work of Professor—or should I say, Rabbi?—Chaim Pekeris.
- Have they a basic conception in common? I should say, yes. The old Golem was based on a mystical combination of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are the elements and building-stones of the world. The new Golem is based on a simpler, and at the same time more intricate, system. Instead of 22 elements, it knows only of two, the two numbers 0 and 1, constituting the binary system of representation. Everything can be translated, or transposed, into these two basic signs, and what cannot be so expressed cannot be fed as information to the Golem. I daresay the old Kabbalists would have been glad to learn of this simplification of their own system. This is progress.
- What makes the Golem work? In both cases it is energy. In the old Golem it was the energy of speech, in the new one it is electronic energy. In the case of the Kabbalists it was the Shem ha-Mephorash, the fully-interpreted and expressed and differentiated name of God. Now, it is still differentiation according to a given system and interpretation of signs and ciphers which makes the Golem work.
- What about human shape? Here I must admit to some qualms. Certainly the Prague Golem was never very attractive as a human being, but he seems to have borne some resemblance to the human countenance—which, I am sorry to state, cannot be said of our present Golem of Rehovoth. It still has a long way to go, to be moulded into an acceptable shape. You can say, of course, that these external shapes are optical illusions and deceit, and that what counts, after all, is the mind at work. And here the Golem of Rehovoth may be at an advantage. External beauty has been denied to him. What kind of spiritual beauties lurk inside, we shall learn in due time, I hope.
- Can the new Golem grow in stature and productivity? He certainly can, although with growing productivity we rather expect the Golem of Rehovoth to shrink in size and to take on a more attractive and becoming exterior. Whether the Golem of Prague could correct his mistakes, I doubt. The new Golem seems to be able, in some ways, to learn and to improve himself. This makes the modern Kabbalists more successful than the ancient ones, and I may congratulate them on this score. There is even more to it. The old Golem, we learn, served his master by bringing water to the house. The new one serves his Rabbi, Chaim Pekeris, by calculating the movement of the ocean tides—a somewhat more progressive type of activity, so far as water is concerned.
- What about memory and the faculty of speech? As for memory, we don't know how the old Golem scored. The new one certainly shows a great improvement—although he has, I am sorry to say, occasional lapses of memory and other momentary weaknesses which cause trouble to his makers. The progress of the new Golem is thus linked to a certain regression from the previous state. Adam never fell ill, according to the Rabbis, and the same goes for the old Golem of the Kabbalists. The new one, alas, shows a deplorable propensity in this direction. And as for speech, and all that it implies—I mean the spontaneity of intelligence—both the old and the new Golem are found to be sadly lacking. Everybody speculates about what is to become of the more advanced forms of the Golem. But it seems that for the time being and for quite some time to come, we are saddled with a Golem that will only do what he is told. There is still a long, long stretch ahead to that Utopian figure of a Golem, about whom the famous cartoon in the New Yorker spoke. It showed two scientists standing in great embarrassment before this end-of-days Golem as they scanned the tape giving out his latest information. The caption read: “The damned thing says: Cogito, ergo sum.”
- And this brings me to my last question: Can the Golem love? In an old book, we read some sayings about the Golem attributed to the Rabbi of Prague. Here is one of them: “The Golem was never ill, for he was immune to every impulse to do evil, from which all illness stems. And the Golem had to be created without the sexual urge; for, if he had had that instinct, no woman would have been safe from him.” Now I have to leave it to you to answer this query. For I am really at a loss what to think.
All my days I have been complaining that the Weizmann Institute has not mobilized the funds to build up the Institute for Experimental Demonology and Magic which I have for so long proposed to establish there. They preferred what they call Applied Mathematics and its sinister possibilities to my more direct magical approach. Little did they know, when they preferred Chaim Pekeris to me, what they were letting themselves in for. So I resign myself and say to the Golem and its creator: develop peacefully and don't destroy the world. Shalom.