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Creature Presentation

The Golem migrates from Prague to Springfield

Stephen Vider
November 03, 2006

The Golem of Prague’s got a tough gig these days. Who can count the number of times in the last ten years he’s had to haul his clay body out of the attic of the Altneu Synagogue? Is there a contract somewhere that requires him to make a cameo every time a writer wants to add a mystical spark to their work? Sure, he’s got Michael Chabon and Cynthia Ozick on the line, but lately it seems everybody’s calling him, or one of his many incarnations, to make an appearance on The X-Files or in a book—Snow in August, Golems of Gotham, The Book of Splendor, Golem Song, the list goes on. Protecting his People against stake-wielding mobs and blood libelers looks easy by comparison.

The writers obviously did their research—Krusty (born Herschel Krustofski, in case you haven’t heard), doesn’t hesitate to tell the now fixed story of how, in the 1600s, Rabbi Loew molded the Golem to fight his community’s enemies. The tale was once much muddier: in the earliest published account, written by Leopold Weisel in 1847, Rabbi Loew essentially creates the Golem to do the dishes. Only with I.L. Peretz and Yudl Rosenberg‘s versions, published around the turn of the century amidst a resurgence of anti-Semitism, was the Golem promoted to savior status. Or as Krusty put it: “the legendary defender of the Jews, like Alan Dershowitz, but with a conscience.”

The animation should also delight the Criterion Collection crew: visually the Simpsons‘ Golem perfectly mimics the broad-bodied, wide-haired costume German expressionist filmmaker Paul Wegener created to star in his own Golem movies. In the last, and only surviving entry of Wegener’s silent trilogy, shot between 1915 and 1920, the Golem falls for the rabbi’s daughter, and goes on a rampage when that love’s denied.

The waking of the Simpsons‘ Golem has some horrible, unexpected consequences, too: Krusty recruits the Golem to gun down hecklers at comedy clubs. The routines rub off. When the Golem finally opens his mouth to speak (a rare feat in Golem lore), he has the voice of a Borscht Belt comic (channeled, without too much trouble, by Richard Lewis). It sounds like he “should be selling egg creams in Brighton Beach,” he tells Bart and Lisa, both unamused. “That’s what we call Jewish comedy. You don’t have to understand it because the words sounds funny. Meshuggenah! Hilarious!”

This may just be the canniest use of the Golem since The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: uniting the exhausted legend of the Golem with another tired trope—an aging brand of stereotyped, self-deprecating humor. Did I mention the Golem’s neurotic, too? “I mangled and maimed 37 people, and I told a telemarketer I was busy when I wasn’t!”

It’s a style of take-my-wife-please yuks that has had little place in my heart, or on The Simpsons. The show’s central conduit for depicting and satirizing Jewish culture, Krusty, may be a Jewish comic, but he has always had as much in common with Jerry Stahl as Jackie Mason. Who else could follow a retelling of the Golem story by saying he’ll “need a shoebox full of blow” to get through a sketch?

Most tales about the Prague Golem end with the creature being put back to sleep by his master, but The Simpsons segment ends with a wedding. Perhaps in answer to Wegener’s unrequited love story, Marge and Lisa make the Golem a Playdough mate (Fran Drescher, sounding, remarkably, even more grating than usual). She, too, has taken lessons from Henny Youngman. “What’s with this outfit?” she says looking at her multicolored dress, “It looks like a lion ate a parrot and then threw up!” It’s enough to make Homer ready the ax—”back to the drawing board”—before the starstruck Golem stops him. I can only guess where they’ll go on their honeymoon—I wouldn’t want them to bake beneath the Bermuda sun—but maybe now the Golem will finally get the respite he deserves.