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COMMENTARY: Have corporations become modern-day golems?

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an anthropomorphic entity that is created magically from inanimate matter.

(RNS) Corporations are not people — no matter what five Supreme Court justices and a failed presidential candidate may say.

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an anthropomorphic entity that is created magically from inanimate matter.

Creative Commons image by Matthias Ripp

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an anthropomorphic entity that is created magically from inanimate matter.

I take that position on the basis of my religious faith, the very test that the justices applied in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

My tradition tells me to ask essential questions.

So here is where I start: May a golem be counted in a minyan? A minyan is a quorum required for certain Jewish prayers, and a golem is a mythological creature created from clay and animated by a sacred incantation.

The golem’s “sculptor” controls its actions; it has no real will of its own. It looks and acts enough like a human being, however, that the Talmudic rabbis discussed whether a group of nine Jews could complete the minyan with a golem.

The answer: No.

The golem is really just an extension of someone’s private ambitions. And a golem on the loose is likely to act on its master’s self-serving instincts — think Incredible Hulk without Bruce Banner’s morning-after regrets. It has no conscience, and it takes no responsibility. The mark of a human being — one who may be counted toward the quorum — is recognition of the responsibilities that distinguish us from other forms of life as much as the opposable thumb.

Corporations are the golems of American business. They are created out of inanimate material (Justice Samuel Alito’s “piece of paper”) to act on the self-interests of their owners while limiting the owners’ responsibility.

The laws and regulations that protect employees and citizens are aimed not at the personal values of the kindly Dr. Jekyll, but at the reckless and dangerous Mr. Hyde.

The Hobby Lobby decision extends the privileges of the family that holds a corporation “closely” to restrict the lawful actions of its employees (which, we should note, do not impact the corporation itself). In that sense, it is an extension of the rights of the family.

But in ascribing those rights to the corporation itself as a surrogate for the human beings who formed it, the majority of justices allow an entity unable to assume responsibility for its actions to promote the self-serving instincts of its owners.

The rhetorical devices that ascribe the characteristics of a citizen to the legal fiction called a “corporation” are the mud and magic that produce a golem.

The deeply held religious convictions of the Green family are not evil, but they do serve a worldview that is not necessarily shared by their employees.

Enforcing those convictions on workers whose labors are necessary to the vitality of the corporate golem seems to me to violate inalienable human rights.

In the Torah, we learn that man was formed from the dust of the earth so that he could be a living, breathing human being — not so that five justices or an employer could re-create him in their image.

(Rabbi Jack Moline is the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.)


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Jack Moline


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  • Incredibly how far people will go to try and stretch theology and theological and religious concepts to fit their political ideology.

    Corporations are Golems? Please.

  • The Golem was an avenging monster that protected Jews. Thanks to the magical powers granted by the Catholic wing of the Supreme Court, corporations can now be avenging monsters that protect Christians.

    As a Christian, I have always supported the Free Market and loved corporations. But I love our new Golem Corporations even more. GOLEM SMASH!

  • So how long before the CJLS declares support for the concept of corporate legal personhood to be assur?

  • I agree with this writer. Corporations are golems and as such mere extensions of their creators (owners). Corporations afe not people, but run by people and those people should be held responsible for the corps offenses.

    These entities have long confused people regarding the real genesis of wealth creation. Its throught these owned “assets” that we have a horrid distribution of wealth across society, despite people actually working their entire lives with no personal equity to show for it at the end. Why? The productive effort of the asset (people) becomes the wealth of the golems owner.

    But I will go a step further and challenge this jewish writer. Governments too are proxy golems of the owners. In Americas case, not its voters, but those who can afford the favor of the gov. Gov golems as proxy for its owners have committed far more serious and destructive acts than corps could even dream to achieve.

    See israel today. See the us in iran, syria, ukraine.

    Ultimately, the actions of proxy govs will haunt us. We will pay. The owners know the score as it happens so they rarely do. There is a lot of evil wrapped up in a private corp golem or public gov golem that is accountable to no human, yet gets to interact in the human world. Its actually quite stupid.

    Its just another example of why I laugh at those who say secular or scientific thought can provide us with the real answers.

  • And the golem ran amok attacking everyone. Including those it was created to protect. Ronald, the fact that you missed the most important part of the story demonstrates you are an ignorant fool.

    The same level of half considered stupidity allows one to devalue religious belief do much that it can be imputed to a pile of papers filed in a government office.

  • I don’t know, giving a corporation a religious belief is a pretty ridiculous stretch of theology and political ideology

    Nonsensical situations create nonsensical responses.

  • Corporations are a collection of people. You may not like the decisions but they are smarter than you.

  • Frank, most farm animals are smarter than you.

    “You may not like the decisions but they are smarter than you.”

    Like what?

    Like New Coke, the Transformers Movies, minimum balance fees for banking, phone service centers in Bangalore where you can’t understand a word spoken, private prisons?

    Decisions made by committee are still decisions made by committee. Decisions made by people are the same wherever you go.

    Just because you willingly sign on to be a serf for a corporation doesn’t mean anyone else should.

    Given your responses, I never get the impression that you have ever held a real job.

  • I don’t have to.

    North Korea is coming to me.

    All thanks to people whose religious belief is so weak willed that they have to prove their piety by forcing others to obey the tenets of their faith. People whose hatred of freedom is so intense that they demand that their religious beliefs have force of law over all others.

  • You never cease to amaze me with you ability to miss the point and publicly expose your ignorance, resentment, bitterness and hatred.

  • You are not kidding me. You are just a big faker.

    You had me fooled for a minute.

    Nobody is ignorant enough to know about the golem but fail to note it is a forerunner to Frankenstein and other “hubris causing mayhem” themes in culture.

  • No one has the right to force their beliefs on others. Is this not a free country anymore. I say stay out of others people bedroom and allow to believe what they wish to. Me personally I will never buy from Hobby Lobby again.

  • Corporations are indeed a collection of people. and 99.999% of those people get no say in what the corporation believes.

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