Why Are There So Many Golems in Minecraft? – Kveller
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Why Are There So Many Golems in Minecraft?

If your kids are as Minecraft-crazed as mine are, then they just might be getting an inadvertent lesson in Jewish folklore.

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If there’s one thing I wish I understood better as a parent, it’d probably have to be my children’s obsession with all things Minecraft.

If it were just a matter of playing the game, well, that’d be easy enough to understand. I certainly spent a significant portion of my childhood in front of a gaming system, working out the finer points of NBA Jam or Street Fighter II or Super Mario Brothers 3. But in this case, it goes beyond.

My ability to share my own favorite childhood shows with my kids has been hampered by their preference for watching YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft. When we visit our local library, chances are we’re going to come home with at least one book about Minecraft. My kids build Minecraft LEGO sets, play with Minecraft toys, and one of them even sleeps on Minecraft sheets. 

Over time, I’ve learned to recognize talk about the game, with key words and phrases like “Creeper,” “Herobrine,” “Enderman” and “Zombie Piglin,” but in recent months, one more Minecraft word has crossed my radar, at once both familiar and surprising.

The word is “golem.” 

That’s right. The golem, that protective creature of Jewish folklore, somehow found its way into one of the world’s most popular video games.

Well…sort of.

While those readers familiar with Jewish folklore may recall that the golem was a creature created out of clay, the creators of Minecraft — who are Swedish, by the way — have opted for stronger materials, for the most part. According to Minecraft Wiki, there are more than 15 different types of golem in the various editions and modes of Minecraft, including the Cobblestone Golem (Minecraft Legends), Furnace Golem (Minecraft Earth), and Giant Magma Golem (Minecraft Story Mode).

That’s an awful lot of golems!

The most common golem in Minecraft, however, is the Iron Golem, which Minecraft Wiki describes as “a buildable neutral mob that attacks monsters with its arms, knocking them into the air.” Now, “mob” here refers to an AI-driven game entity that resembles a living creature — not some kind of large, unruly group as the word is more commonly understood — but “buildable” means exactly what you think it does: that by playing Minecraft, your kids can make like the 16th-century Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague and create their own golems. Apparently, to do it, you place four iron blocks in a T shape on your crafting table, then top it with a carved pumpkin or jack-o-lantern. 

(How this Halloween staple was chosen to be part of a creature from Jewish folklore, I have no idea. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder that the creators of Minecraft are not Jewish.)

In fact, as Minecraft Wiki tells us, iron golems created by villagers or “spawned” in villages “patrol their village, and may attack players that attack it or have a low popularity or reputation with their village.” That sounds an awful lot like how the golem of lore was created to defend the Jewish community of Prague from antisemitic attacks. 

Still, as I said, I don’t really understand Minecraft, and my attempts at understanding better have been met with impatience from my kids (because, you know, they’re kids). So, I turned to another source to get a better understanding of Minecraft’s golems and how they function: the officially licensed graphic novel series “Minecraft: Wither Without You” by Kristen Gudsnuk.

In the third and final book of the series — which features a golem on the cover — the story’s heroes encounter an iron golem laying injured in the wreckage of a village. The golem cannot speak, but via one character’s telepathic connection with Minecraft mobs, we learn that the golem had been protector of the village until the Wither — that is, a highly destructive undead hostile boss mob — destroyed the town. The heroes heal the golem using iron ingots, and it joins their traveling party. The golem then joins the heroes in battling the Wither, and after their victory, stays on in the village of Woodhaven as its new protector.

So, there you have it: an iron golem that functions essentially as we understand golems to function in Jewish folklore, part of one of the world’s most popular video games. In fact, if you look at the accompanying photo from My Jewish Learning’s entry on the golem, you can see the resemblance in the Minecraft golems.

There’s also a “snow golem,” which can be created by placing two blocks of snow on the crafting table and putting a carved pumpkin or jack-o-lantern on top, but to be perfectly honest, that seems a little too “Frosty the Snowman” for this conversation.

For now, all you need to know is that if your kids are as Minecraft-crazed as mine are, then they just might be getting an inadvertent lesson in Jewish folklore as part of their digital adventures.

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