Singer dedicated The Golem to “the persecuted and oppressed everywhere, old and young, Jew and Gentile, in the hope against hope that the time of false accusations and malicious decrees will cease one day.” Dramatized in the story is how bigotry and prejudice mar the lives not only of individuals but also of entire communities. The distress of the falsely accused banker sends shock waves through his community, the Jews as a people being implicated in his purported crime. The blood libel charge, alleging the use of the blood of a Christian child in baking the matzo (unleavened bread) for the Jewish festival of Passover, has resulted in violence against Jews from the Middle Ages through the twentieth century, when it was revived by Nazi propaganda.
The story demonstrates the ignorance that nurtures bigotry through the accused banker’s protestations of his innocence: First, Jewish dietary laws forbid the use of blood, and, second, rabbinic instructions explicitly restrict the ingredients of the Passover matzo to flour and water. The illogic of prejudice is exposed when a gambling, dissolute person’s word is accepted in court over that of an upstanding one simply because they belong to different religious groups. The extreme fear generated by bigotry and persecution is demonstrated in the panicked reaction of the Jewish community to the charge against one of their own, as well as by the supernatural measures that are employed in the community’s defense. Embodying this monstrous fear, ignorance, and irrationality is the golem himself, dangerous in his mindlessness.
(The entire section is 661 words.)
The ancient legend of the golem began appearing in novels, plays, and films beginning in the late nineteenth century. The golem was even featured in a Marvel comic book in the 1970’s. Most treatments of the legend were written for adults, until Beverly Brodsky McDermott’s picture book The Golem: A Jewish Legend appeared in 1976. The Golem: The Story of a Legend, written for children by Nobel Prize winner Elie Weisel, followed in 1982, the same year that Singer—also a Nobel Prize recipient—published his version.
All three authors generally tell the same story, with variations. The versions diverge most significantly regarding Genendel’s role in the narrative’s downturn of events. McDermott omits her participation entirely, while Weisel includes hers among other similar schemes—well-intentioned or otherwise—to misdirect the golem’s purpose. Critics seem at a loss to explain Singer’s choice here. Is Singer reflecting the traditional view of women in much Western literature since the Bible as temptress, or is he simply streamlining the narrative?
In any case, appearing twenty-some years after Singer’s first fictional work for children, The Golem continues to demonstrate Singer’s conviction that “No matter how young they are, children are concerned with so-called eternal questions.” The Golem also resembles Singer’s other writings for children in its basis in folklore. According to Singer, being rooted in folklore “alone makes children’s literature so important,” adding that without it, “literature must decline and wither away.”