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The First Gate: Why Lillith?

The following is a translation of the Hebrew Book, Lillith; A Re-Reading of Feminine Shadow, by Ohad Ezrahi and Marc Gafni, published in 2005. In regard to the nature of this partnership, see the note below. Ohad has written a note about this on his website, and it requires a response, which I offer below.

Two caveats are in order. Within the book, the authors refer to two works that at the time the authors intended to complete together. At this point, it is likely that each of the authors may publish an independent version of these works. The two works are Personal Myth Essays and The Journey of Abraham. In the latter, very little work was done.

In the former, 12 essays were developed in collaboration between the authors which began in 1999-2000, and continued off and on until 2005. The final communication regarding this book was in 2006 and the project awaits appropriate completion.

In that book are short essays on Laughter, Eros, The Masculine and the Feminine, Masculinity, Loneliness, Failure, Extremism, Nakedness, Dance, Nature, and more. The essays resulted from the collaborative Torah of Gafni and Ezrahi in the earlier period of their association.

The Hebrew version of Lillith refers to these works and to the authors intentions in this regard in several places. As noted above it is highly probable that this work will be revised, updated and published independently by each of the authors.

The book Lillith also contains references to several works of Marc Gafni which are not yet published, including a work on The Dance of Tears, The Dance of Laughter, a three-volume work on Unique Self, Non-Dual Humanism, and the Religious Theology of Mordechai Lainer of Izbica.

This latter three-volume work has just been submitted for publication in June 2008. The Dance of Tears, which has been completed, is now undergoing revision and editing. A version of the The Dance of Laughter was written by Marc Gafni in 2001 and is currently being revised.

The English version of Lillith will be published at the appropriate time. Marc Gafni supervised three English translations of Lillith, none of which in his view were fully adequate even as each of them made a valuable contribution to the process.

This process took place simply because of time constraints. Marc Gafni is currently retranslating the book himself, and at some point, it will find its way into print in one or two editions.

In regard to the collaboration of Gafni and Ezrahi on Lillith, if this highly personal, acrimonious and unclarified conflict between the authors is important to you, please click here. If not, then just enjoy the book!

Chapter 1: Adam, Lillith, Eve
and The Problem of Male Domination

The voice of revelation in our time is the voice of women. Emerging from centuries of silence and being silenced, women’s voices are profoundly altering the landscape in every field of human endeavor. For all religious traditions that are encrusted with the legacy of patriarchy, there is a need on the part of women and men who support them to cut away the crust and find within each tradition a useable past that can support the feminist project of renewal from within. This book, like other recent works, is part of a large cultural endeavor to bring to light Jewish sources for valuing sexuality and for liberating women and men to relationships of equality with one another.1 Having found a deep, but buried vein of truth within the Jewish textual tradition that supports this goal, in both a profound and provocative fashion, we feel privileged to share it in this book with an audience of both scholars and seekers.

The specific terrain that we will be mining is the issue of sexual desire and the problem of male domination of women, which come together as the twin consequences of sin in the Garden of Eden story. After confronting Adam and Eve with their trespass, God’s pronouncement to Eve is usually interpreted as a curse on all her female descendants. It can also be seen as etiology, explanations of how things came to be the way they are. It gives an origin for the pain of childbearing, an unavoidable biological fact. Yet it also offers an etiology for an altogether avoidable sociological fact, a husband’s domination of his wife, and in particular, of their sexual relations: “Yet your urge shall be for your husband/ And he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).2 One way traditional interpreters have dealt with this verse is to see it as time-bound – that it is a curse not to be undone until the messianic era. There is “ample precedent,” however, as Rachel Adler has noted, “for reading Genesis 2 and 3 as an etiological tale about the hardships of human life rather than as a normative statement. The rabbinic tradition does not use the story as a source of legal proof-texts, nor is there any prohibition on alleviating its conditions…. However unhappy the world of patriarchy may be, it is unnecessary to conclude that it is God’s will that we inhabit it…The redemptive truth offered by this grim depiction is that patriarchal social relations construct a world that cries out to be mended. Yet mending is contingent upon the healing of gender relations.”4

Shifting the ground of the argument from narrative to law and ritual, we hear a similar cry from the leading exponent of feminism within the world of Jewish orthodoxy, Blu Greenberg: “Must we say that God’s eternal plan for the sexes was a hierarchy, one dominant and one subordinate sex as law and ritual define us?… Or can we say perhaps that the inequity is reflective of an undisputed socio-religious stance of ancient times?… Does the fact that long-standing sociological truth has been codified into halakhah oblige us to make an eternal principle out of an accident of history?”5

Ultimately, in order to heal gender relations within Judaism, changes need to take place in the areas of law and ritual — matters pertaining to women chained in marriage, women as interpreters of law, women as leaders of prayer communities — which will not be settled within the pages of a book, but only in communities of practice and belief. This book is based on a firm conviction that the stories we choose to tell and the holiness that we learn to find within them indeed have a powerful claim upon law-creating and law-maintaining communities. The stories that we tell create the world of meaning that we inhabit, what legal theorist Robert Cover has called a “nomos.” This nomic universe of meanings, values and rules, which is embedded in stories, is where we turn when we make or revise laws and choose to live them out in practice.6 It is no accident that Cover’s legal theories cite examples and precedents from Torah. Torah’s blend of stories and laws is indeed its unique form and contribution to Western discourse, unlike any other law code or narrative from the ancient world.6 Torah continues to be held sacred, precisely because within its laws are contained stories that hold compelling meaning for communities of contemporary Jews, whether or not they believe in the divine origin of Torah. The most powerful and oft-repeated examples are laws that demand social justice and relate this imperative to the experience of the Exodus: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of a stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9).

The great Hebrew poet, Chaim Nachman Bialik, put the relation between stories and law in this memorable way: “Halakah and aggadah are simply two that are one, two aspects of a single creation. The relationship between the two is like the relationship between action and physical form on the one hand and words on the other.” Bialik goes on to evoke more poetic nuances of the relationship: “Dreams are drawn to their interpretation, the will is drawn to action, thoughts to words, the flower to the fruit — and Aggadah to Halakhah. And yet, even the fruit contains within it the seed from which a new flower will emerge.”8 If we extend Bialik’s metaphor that aggadah is the flower and halakhah, the fruit, then this book can be regarded as the work of two pollinating bees, who travel from flower to flower — from Bible to midrash to Talmud to Zohar to Lurianic Kabbalah and Hasidut — and then deposit the nectar of each in the soil of our communal garden, out of which will grow, from these authentic seeds of Torah, a new fruit: that is, a new orientation to relations between the sexes.

The Problem of Domination

“Domination… is a twisting of the bonds of love,”9 writes Jessica Benjamin in The Bonds of Love, a book that can help us think clearly about the psychodynamics of domination. Domination, she argues, goes hand in hand with dualistic thinking of all kinds. Based on Simone de Beauvoir’s insight that in the Western tradition “woman functions as man’s primary other, his opposite – playing nature to his reason, immanence to his transcendence, primordial oneness to his individuated separateness, and object to his subject,” Benjamin attempts to show that “gender polarity underlies such familiar dualisms as autonomy and dependency, and thus establishes the coordinates for the positions of master and slave” (7). Domination is, in other words, what she calls a “reversible relationship:” now one term in a dualism, then the other dominates.

Domination could not exist without fantasies of omnipotence, Benjamin claims, which are themselves rooted in a sense of lacking or absence at a person’s core. “This void is filled with fantasy material in which the other appears so dangerous or so weak — or both — that he [she] threatens the self and must be controlled. A vicious cycle begins: the more the other is subjugated, the less he [she] is experienced as a human subject and the more distance or violence the self must deploy against him [her]… By the same token, “the subjugated, whose acts and integrity are granted no recognition, may, even in the very act of emancipation, remain in love with the ideal of power that has been denied to them. Though they may reject the master’s right to dominion over them, they nevertheless do reject his personification of power. They simply reverse the terms and claim his rights as theirs.” The dominated, in these terms, is someone who nurses fantasies of turning the tables and becoming the dominator. The master and the slave, to use Hegel’s famous example, cannot exist without each other.

Love, however, cannot coexist with domination. Love and domination are not a reversible, dualistic pair. Love emerges only in an “intersubjective realm – that space in which the mutual recognition of subjects can compete with the reversible relationship of domination” (220). Mutual recognition between men and women has at long last been made possible by feminism, Benjamin claims, despite a widespread perception that it imposes barriers and antagonisms. Feminism “has allowed men and women to begin confronting the difficulties of recognizing an other, and to explore the painful longing for what lies on the other side of these difficulties” (224).

Benjamin’s perspective on domination and dualism offers a considerable challenge to our work and reminds us that while we are exploring the often dualist, hierarchical thought structures of kabbalah, we do not need to follow the path of essentialism, positing separate spheres for the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine.’ We are also challenged by Tania Modleski’s observation that frequently “male subjectivity works to appropriate ‘femininity’ while oppressing women.”10 This critique has a great deal of relevance to what we might call the patriarchal shell of Judaism. The goal of our project is to show the unrealized possibilities for both men and women within traditional Jewish thinking and to provide a framework for men and women’s mutual recognition of one another in the fullness of their shared humanity.

Lilith, the Shadow of Eve

This analysis of domination allows us to bring the mythic figure of Lilith into play, for Lilith’s story emerges precisely out of a struggle over domination in marriage. The story of Lilith has been bubbling up in Jewish circles for perhaps four thousand years. We will deal with her story at length in Ch. 4, but our discussion will benefit from a brief introduction here.

Her roots are in Sumerian mythology, where she is a powerful goddess — pictured as a naked woman, winged and taloned, mounting a lion, flanked by owls — thought to be a harlot and vampire, never releasing her lovers or satisfying them either, a reflex of the Great Mother goddess who ruled early in human consciousness.11 In the largely demythologized atmosphere of the Bible, she puts in a cameo appearance as possibly an owl among waste places (Isa. 34:14). In the rabbinic mind, she takes further shape as the first Eve, a figure that helps the rabbis to explain why there are two creation stories in Genesis. In the first is written, “Male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27), while in the second, more fleshed-out story, “the LORD God fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman” (Gen. 2:22). By the time that this second woman Eve, was created. the first woman, who was to become Lilith, had disappeared.

That disappearance is first explained in full in the10th century C.E. text, “The Alphabet of (Pseudo) Ben Sirah.” In this telling, Adam and Lilith were created at the same time, presumably with the possibility of equality between them. We first encounter them, however, locked in a marital struggle, emblematically represented as a quarrel over sexual positions. Adam insists that he is to be on top, signifying domination, but Lilith refuses and instead pronounces the secret name of God, which allows her to flee the garden. She ends up on the shores of the Red Sea, where she mates with the resident demons, producing legions of demon offspring. Adam, meanwhile, has complained to God of his loneliness, so God dispatches three angels to bring Lilith back to him. The angels extract from her the promise that she will not destroy the babies of women who, during child-birth, wear an amulet containing the names of the three angels. In effect, this story is an etiology for the magical practice of wearing this particular amulet to ward off the dangers inherent in child-birth and to the newborn.12

In later aggadah and folklore, Lilith, the demon is both a seducer of unwitting men, entering their nocturnal dreams to copulate with them and produce legions of demon-children and, at the same time, an evil witch, devouring their human offspring. In the Zohar, she is a highly charged sexual figure: within the human world, she is thought to be the Queen of Sheba and one of the two prostitutes who come to Solomon for judgment, and within the cosmic world of angels, demons and God, she functions as Queen of the Demons and, in the fallen world symbolized by the destruction of the Temple, she is “the slave woman,” consort to God, until the time of the Messiah, when God can reunite with the exiled feminine part of him. This lurid history, buried in kabbalistic books and unearthed by Gershom Scholem’s scholarship,13 was made popularly known in Raphael Patai’s book, The Hebrew Goddess, which told her story up to the Zohar and no further.14

As a mythic figure, Lilith satisfies an important need for both men and women. Jo Milgrom has offered a comprehensive analysis of Lilith’s powers and appeal: “She personifies the dark side of feminine creative and sexual powers. She is not a wife, but a seducer; she is not faithful, but promiscuous. Even though she produces life, she is a baby and mother killer. Thus, she personifies the fear that resides in all of us. For women, it is the fear that in bearing new life, they, the bearers may not survive, and/or, that the new life itself may not survive. The Siren, or Greek version of Lilith, is a threat to men, representing their fears: loss of potency, loss of the nurture and devotion of a wife, loss of progeny (hence, immortality…).” Milgrom adds that men fear her autonomy and assertive sexuality. As a projection screen, then, for the fears of both men and women, and their fears about each other’s sexuality, Lilith serves as a release valve for emotions that need to find concrete expression.

A generation of Jewish women who came of age with the second wave of twentieth-century feminism, have seen in her tragic story a reflection of their own disempowerment within Judaism and their desire to reclaim that power.15 What contemporary feminists have seized upon in Lilith is her powerful rebelliousness and autonomy, her wildness and sexual appetite. Lilith is the woman who says NO! to patriarchal domination and YES! to self-empowerment. There are limits to how far this view of Lilith can take contemporary feminists, however. It is helpful to apply our analysis of the psychodynamics of domination: as long as the dominator and dominated are both caught up in dualistic thinking, their relationship will be a continual see-saw of who’s on top, of master and slave. The dominator will objectify and depersonalize the dominated, in order to carry out the subjugation. In this spirit, Adam’s descendants demonize Lilith and exclude her from human company. And, as the subjugated partner, :Lilith seeks out new ways of gaining power over the other. As a demon, she lives out her own fantasies of omnipotence, primarily through unbridled sexuality and blood-lust. The myth, so construed, simply reproduces the problem of domination out of which it grew. Lilith chose autonomy and separation over wifely dependence, but her supposed gain was another form of subjugation — a life of loneliness and alienation, on the margins, consigned to the shadowy, dream-laden night.

It is a mistake to look at Lilith in isolation, for as a personification of assertive sexuality and autonomy, she represents only one pole of female experience. She is inexorably tied to Eve, her domestic sister and antagonist in the myth, who suffers patriarchal domination directly, even as she is man’s helper, doing all the hard work of keeping house, bringing up children and maintaining relationship under those conditions. Howard Schwartz has compared Eve and Lilith to the mermaid and the siren, two kinds of mythological creatures of the sea, the one helping sailors through the rocky shoals, the other luring them, entranced, to their deaths. To identify with the one at the expense of the other poses a danger for contemporary Jewish feminism, he claims. “The myths of Lilith and Eve cry out for recognition of their polar nature within a single woman, as do the myths of Jacob and Esau in every man…. To deny one side or the other is to deny the wholeness of the self.”16

One of the first feminist midrashim on Lilith sought to heal the rift between Lilith and Eve engendered by patriarchy. Judith Plaskow imagines Lilith coming back to the garden and finding Eve, who had not been created when she fled. Delighted with her new companion, Lilith helps Eve over the garden wall, so that they can head out into the world — hand in hand, to make friends with one another, as they leave Adam behind.17 This parable points toward a reunion of that which patriarchal man has driven apart, rather than his conquering and reincorporating the female into his realm.18 Jakov Lind, a Holocaust survivor, writes a parallel, but heterosexual story that focuses on Lilith’s and Eve’s integration in a single body and consciousness. With Eve gone on errands, Lilith returns to find Adam home alone. As she pledges to him her eternal love, Adam falls into her arms and takes her to bed. During this betrayal, Eve comes in, and seeing what is afoot, projects her soul into Lilith’s body. In the act of love-making, she speaks to Adam from the body of this new, unified Lilith-Eve consciousness and informs him that henceforth Lilith and Eve are one.19 These parables of integration, each from their different perspectives, point to the seeds of a new Lilith-Eve myth, which can move beyond the old dualities and demonization.

Freudian and Jungian Perspectives

Freud’s way of looking at the polarity of Lilith-Eve stems from his anthropological speculations in Totem and Taboo. There, he posits that the defining moment in shifting from biological to cultural life. was when a man took a particular woman as his personal property. Freud sees that shift as giving rise to a split between the loved and pure woman and the sexual and desired woman, a dynamic he relates to both the incest taboo and the Oedipus complex.20 The woman that man can have is beloved, wise, wifely — namely, Eve, but man’s sexual feelings for the woman that he cannot have also seek an outlet — namely, Lilith.21 This split between Eve and Lilith is a consequence, then, of the broken world of patriarchy, which is founded in the very idea of one sex possessing the other.

From the Jungian perspective, archetypes are pre-existent entities within human consciousness. The archetype of the Great Mother is represented in a variety of archetypal images, including Lilith and Eve. In Jung’s thought, the forces of the unconscious are always arrayed in polar configurations, presenting a positive side and a shadow side, figures compounded equally of fascination and fear. As the devouring, terrifying mother, Lilith, the baby-killer, confronts women with the shadow side of her archetype, while as the seductive, enticing beauty, she confronts men with her positive side or anima, the symbol of the opposite sex in the man’s psyche. (Eve, too, is associated with a polarity: the fecund mother of all living is the one through whom death and suffering come to the world.) When the shadow side of the archetype is suppressed culturally – expelled from the garden, as it were – it gets clothed in ever more destructive garb. But some part of the archetype will return and seek to be acknowledged and integrated. And in order to be integrated by human beings, it will clothe itself in positive human forms. As the terrifying shadow, it can never be integrated, but as the alluring anima, it participates in healing the human. This is how one Jungian analyst describes the process for Lilith:

“In psychological terms, this purely natural, instinctive anima attempts over and over again to approach a man i.e. to force her way into a consciousness that she feels should absorb her. Like numerous other anima figures which appear to us in myths, fairy tales and legends, such as the melusines, nymphs, sirens and ondines, Lilith also tries to associate with humans. Only in this way — that is, psychologically speaking, accepted by a receptive, steadfast consciousness, can she be ‘released,’ i.e. transformed.”22

Getting sucked into a power struggle with this image will cut a man off from eros and his emotions. In this struggle, he risks getting lost in this realm — that is, losing his ego and being completely enslaved to the image. But there also exists the possibility that in a confrontation with the unconscious, the anima can be absorbed into the male consciousness and integrated with it — in Emma Jung’s words, “binding a man in the chains of love, that they may live in his world with him.”23 In this way “the dark feminine” itself begins to change its character.

In the Zohar’s developments of the Lilith myth, the scale is tipped to the side of fear and loathing rather than to the side of fascination, which could lead to integrating the archetype back into human consciousness. The Zohar never escapes the downward dynamic of domination. But in Isaac Luria’s development of the myth, the scale tips notably in the other direction. Picking up on hints in the Zohar, Luria taught that after Lilith was banished from the garden, her soul was reincarnated in a long chain of notable women from Genesis onward. Her reincarnated soul is involved in two of the most horrific incidents narrated in the Torah – the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34) and the murder of Cozbi and Zimri, while engaged in the act of intercourse (Numbers 25). These incidents cry out for explanation, and the Ari finds clues in the peregrinations of the soul of Lilith. It was the task of the men that these women married to reintegrate the banished feminine archetype into their consciousness. This working out of Lilith’s human destiny has been almost completely unavailable as a spiritual resource for contemporary men and women, as it has been buried in the untranslated arcana of Lurianic myth. We believe that it can contribute to the contemporary feminist project within Judaism. It is this book’s happy task to bring this long-buried ore to light.

Chapter 2: The Ari’s Myth

Isaac Luria (1534-72) is known in Jewish tradition as Ha-Ari, the Lion of Safed, an acronym for Ha-Elohi Rabbi Yitzhak, the “Divine” Rabbi Isaac, based on a reputation for saintliness that he gained during his lifetime. After a long period of secluded kabbalistic study in Egypt (which we might regard as his period of confrontation with myth and the unconscious), the Ari arrived in Safed, which was a flourishing center of Jewish mystical speculation, with such luminaries as Joseph Karo, Solomon Alkabetz, and Moses Cordovero in residence. The Ari’s period of teaching there was very brief: two to three years at most. But his impact has lasted for centuries. His reinterpretation of the doctrine of creation in the Zohar through the concepts of divine self-contraction (tzimtzum), the breaking of the vessels (shevirat ha-kelim) and restoration (tikkun) continues to dominate most popular thinking about Jewish mysticism. Both the messianism of Shabbetai Tzevi in the 17th century and the spreading of spiritual inwardness through Hasidism since the 18th century are impossible to imagine without the background of these Lurianic concepts. Likewise, when Jews today sees their actions as contributing to tikkun olam, or think of themselves as gathering sparks of holiness, they are living out concepts which were brought to life by the teachings of the Ari.24

What are often called “the writings of the Ari” were actually written by his chief disciples, Rabbi Hayyim Vital and others. These writings are intricately detailed descriptions of the workings of the supernal worlds, written in a language that appears technical and extremely impersonal. There was, however, a deeply personal dimension to these speculations, stemming from the curiosity that the Ari and R. Hayyim Vital felt about the sources of their own souls. It follows therefore that a psychological reading is essential to understanding his meaning, and we will return to this line of thought after sketching the Ari’s essential doctrines.

First, a few caveats. For someone accustomed to viewing Judaism as a radical monotheistic faith, like Maimonides, who rejects any anthropomorphic image of God, it is not easy to accept the mythological orientation of Kabbalistic thought. The Kabbalah shifts without difficulty between the stories of the forefathers and those of the divine pantheon in the upper worlds. This does not entail any movement away from the monotheistic belief in divine unity. In fact, the Kabbalists allow themselves to use words which seem to imply change, form, and plurality in the Godhead, without feeling its unity in the least undermined.25

It is easy for a reader new to Kabbalah to be put off by the terminology and the details of its cosmogony. It may be helpful to filter the material through the twin lenses of myth and symbol. Myth is a direct presentation of events in the divine world through narrative, while symbolic discourse presents unseen divine processes through mediating comparisons: natural images, human personalities etc. According to the mythic view, the Ari speaks of the divine realm directly, and aspires to an unequivocal, direct correspondence between his discourse and the reality he describes. Unlike the Zohar, which revels in an exfoliating symbolic language to illuminate the divine, the Ari erects a comprehensive edifice, defining concepts and connections that are only implicit in symbolic form in the Zohar.26 According to the symbolic view, there is a continuity of method between the Zohar and the Ari, both of them describing divine processes through the medium of images and personification.27

In the kabbalah that preceded the Ari, creation is understood as a progressive unfolding from the infinitude of Eyn-Sof (“the Endless One/the Never-Ending”) through a continuous process of emanation that ultimately leads to the world we know, in which divinity is clothed in material form. This emanation took place through ten sefirot, ten divine forces by which the Infinite One creates and maintains the four worlds that exist between Ein-Sof and us. These worlds are known as Atzilut (Emanation), Beriah (Creation), Yetzirah (Formation) and Assiyah (Action). Each of these worlds is composed of ten sefirot, with many dynamic connections between them. As a vertical map replicated in each world between Ein Sof and us, they appear as follows: (FIND ILLUSTRATION)

Keter (Crown)
Hokhma (Wisdom)
Binah (Discernment)
Hesed (Love)
Gevurah/Din (Strength/Judgment)
Tiferet/Rahamim (Beauty/Compassion)
Netzah (Enduringness)
Hod (Majesty)
Yesod (Foundation/Generativity)
Malkhut (Sovereignty)

Where the Zohar saw continuity between the Eyn Sof and the emanated worlds, the Ari posited an enormous gulf between them. The Eyn Sof so filled creation that there was no room for anything but God. Creation could only take place through an act of divine self-contraction or self-limitation, which he called tzimtzum. Before tzimtzum, all the forces within God were in equilibrium, without any separation between them. But in the act of self-limitation, confusion occurred that required these forces to be reshuffled. In this process, Judgment (Din) and Love (Hesed), previously in balance, separated; this separation is seen as responsible for the origins of evil in our world.

God’s withdrawal left room for creative processes to emerge in the space left (mostly) vacant of divinity.28 The first letter of the divine name descended into this space, creating “vessels” (kelim), which gradually assumed clearer and clearer shape as the “primordial human” (Adam Kadmon). Tremendous lights shone forth from the head of Adam Kadmon, creating further vessels. Each of the sefirot got a vessel of its own. While the vessels assigned to the upper three sefirot managed to contain the light that flowed into them, the light that struck the seven lower sefirot shattered them. This “breaking of the vesssels” (shevirat ha-kelim) was a cosmic catastrophe. Some of the light went back to its source, but the rest was hurled down and became concentrated in the vessels’ shells (kelippot), these being the substance of the dark forces in the universe, known as the Other Side (Sitra Ahra). Since that time, the kelippot, the world to which Lilith belongs, have challenged the hierarchy of the divine worlds.

At the same moment that the vessels broke, restoration, tikkun, began. The light that now issued from Adam Kadmon’s forehead began to reorganize the confusion, with the goal of creating structures more stable than the ten sefirot, in order to adequately contain the divine light. These new structures belonging to the world of Atzilut are called “countenances” (partzufim), which we can understand as archetypal personae. Each partzuf is a spiritual-divine figure, with an internal structure parallel to that of a human being, complete with head, torso, and arms. This corporeality expresses a crucial aspect of tikkun: “When light is given to the sefirot without any participation on their part, they shatter. It is only when they are rebuilt in the image of the human, which includes male and female… that they can endure.”29 The partzufim not only receive divine light, but now give it as well, influencing each of the worlds below Adam Kadmon and helping to raise them from the places to which they had fallen during the breaking of the vessels.

This bold anthropomorphic language has roots in midrash and Zohar, like everything else in the Ari’s teachings. The Rabbis commented that, at the crossing of the Red Sea, God revealed Himself as a hero and a warrior. However, at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, He appeared to be an old, hoary, white-haired sage:

“He said to them: “Do not see Me as these different forms, but I am the One from the sea, and I am the One from Sinai – ‘I am God your Lord.'”30 We can think of the partzufim as a “divine comedy,” in which the One ineffable God chooses different personae, in order to communicate with humans. Towards every person, at each moment of his or her life, God’s essence and spiritual immanence is radiated through one of a number of figures with such human characteristics as age, color, sex etc. At the same time, The One is not really in any of them, but is infinite, formless, beyond thought, and beyond any verbal expression.

Each of these partzufim bears a relationship to the sefirot of Adam Kadmon, channeling the sefirotic light and using it in the drama of tikkun. Sefirah Keter is reformed as both Atik Yomin (“Ancient of Days”) and Arikh Anpin (“Long-faced One”), representing two faces of the least accessible Sefirah. The Sefirot Hokhmah and Binah become the partzufim of Abba (“Father’) and Imma (“Mother”). They help all the other emanated beings serve as givers and receivers of divine influx; their relationship is the archetype for intellectual and erotic union. From their coupling the partzuf of Ze’eir Anpin (“Short-Faced One”) is born. As Ze’eir Anpin is suckled and grows, he comes to comprise six of the lower sefirot (from Hesed to Tiferet). Eventually, he mates with the partzuf Nukba de-Ze’eir (“the female of Ze’eir”), a reformulation of the Sefirah Malkhut, representing his complementary feminine side. Here we list their central characteristics:

1) Atik Yomin – “Ancient of Days” – the highest partzuf of Keter. The wise old man whose wisdom is wondrous, hidden, and concealed. Lacking in sexual differentiation, absolutely androgynous.

2) Arikh Anpin – “Long-faced One” i.e. the indulgent or forebearing one – the lower partzuf of Keter. The wise old man, the grandfather, another androgynous figure.

3) Abba – “Daddy” – the partzuf of chochma, father figure.

4) Imma – “Mommy” – the partzuf of Binah, mother figure.

5) Ze’eir Anpin – “Short-Faced One” i.e. – the impatient or unindulgent one – the partzuf of the six lower sefirot. The attributes of the heart. The partzuf of the young male, the emotional, hero figure.

6) Nukba de Ze’eir- the female partzuf. The Shechina figure, the anima. Divided into: Leah – the upper female, and Rachel – the lower female.

In our discussion, we will focus primarily on the two lower partzufim, Ze’eir Anpin and Nukba, or, as they are called in the Zohar, “the Holy One, blessed be He, and his Shekhina (Kudsha brich hu u-shekhintai). Ze’eir Anpin is the most active in remediating the concentration of Judgment, which contributed to the original breaking of the vessels. The partzuf of Nukba, which represents the Shekhina, the female aspect of the Godhead, is the most dynamic partzuf in the divine world. The Shekhina ascends and descends, develops and decreases. She is divided into two secondary figures, Leah and Rachel, and also unites into one figure composed of them both at once. Her state depends on the state of the relationship between God and humanity, which directly impacts on the relationship between Ze’eir Anpin and his soul-mate. In other words, the partzufim cannot do the work of tikkun alone. The Zohar, upon which the Ari based his teachings, often calls the Shekhina by the names Leah and Rachel. It thus views the Biblical narrative as a microcosmic reflection of the divine dynamic taking place in the macrocosmic world of Atzilut. So too, the Ari often calls Ze’eir Anpin by the two names, Jacob and Israel. The network of relationships between Jacob and his two wives is therefore understood as an archetypal matrix that is played out both below in the human world and above in the divine world. This dynamic of correspondences will be central to the investigation in this book.

Before Adam’s sin, the relationship of Ze’eir Anpin and Nukba was “face-to-face,” but afterwards, it was transformed into a relationship of looking “back-to-back.” Adam’s soul was designed to have mended the break in the cosmos, but because of his failure, the task of mending has fallen to other human beings. The primary task of religious and contemplative activity (including the intercourse of husbands and wives) is to return the relationship of Ze’eir and Nuqba to one of “face-to-face.” As one scholar has put it, “sexual intimacy within the life of god is the paradigmatic expression of divine wholeness.”31 The coupling of Ze’eir Anpin and Nukba will facilitate the tikkun of the supernal lights that have been concealed in the upper partzufim, waiting to be revealed in the messianic age. Tikkun is both earthly and cosmic, the process by which Israel will be restored to its land and the Shekhinah to her partner, the Kadosh Barukh-hu.

Reincarnation and Reading

One of God’s tools in effecting this transition from history to meta-history is transmigration of souls, also called metempsychosis or reincarnation (gilgul ha-neshamot). For the souls of the Jewish people, transmigration offers a gradual process of refinement, a means of repentance and ultimate entry into the Garden of Eden.32 As such, it is a solution to the problem of theodicy, helping to defer the problem of punishment for evil and reward for good actions to future lifetimes.

Equally important, it is used as a key to understanding “sacred history and the hidden dynamics within Scripture.”33 The doctrine of gilgul has allowed kabbalistic interpreters to see in biblical and talmudic narrative patterns long chains of persons linked through the gilgul of one’s soul into another. Reincarnation is a means of bringing together separate events and personalities and connecting them psychologically. Thus, Adam’s soul migrated to David and ultimately to the Messiah, as is conveyed by his name, AD”M, seen as an acronym of the three names. The soul that failed at the task of tikkun is the same soul that will ultimately achieve it.34 Similarly, the ten brothers who sold Joseph into slavery become the ten rabbinic martyrs who died at the hands of the Romans, and thereby expiate the earlier sin, which is itself a replication on the human level of the cosmic disaster mentioned in the midrash of the destruction of ten primeval worlds, understood by the Ari as a reference to the breaking of the cosmic vessels. The Ari refined and extended this way of reading the Bible and Jewish texts by adding a layer relating to the souls of himself and his companions. “The myth of the shattered vessels and their ultimate restoration was for the Ari not merely a theory about distant times and transcendent worlds, but something very much alive, revealed in the faces of those around him.”35 In Lurianic kabbalah, no one has only one incarnation. He taught that each person was a conglomeration of different souls singularly united in any one individual. Hayyim Vital, for instance, listed tens of prior incarnations existing in his make-up, which were communicated to him by the Ari.36

The Ari and his disciples were following in the tradition of Zoharic hermeneutics that regarded it as imperative for the interpreter of Bible to elevate the literal meaning (peshat) to the mystical level (sod) implicit within it. They were not reading their chosen meanings into the text; rather, they were finding in the text the meanings that had been hidden there and were waiting to be revealed. They understood that the esoteric meaning can be comprehended only through the literal and “the plain sense becomes comprehensible only when the mystical sense is revealed.” In Chaim Vital’s words, “the literal meaning of Scripture must be like the soul of Torah and its inwardness, for the body is the image of the soul.”38 A grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Moshe Chayyim Ephraim of Sudlikov called this “peshat ha-emet,’ the true meaning of Scripture. In this book, through the insights of midrash, Zohar, the Ari and his disciples, we too will be seeking to elucidate the deep peshat of the biblical narratives. Our discourse will sometimes proceed on two separate planes, the cosmic and the human, but will more often examine the literal level from the perspective of the esoteric meanings that tradition has found in it. We use the Ari’s theories of reincarnation and reading to come a deep truth about the flexibility of gender, as envisioned in the Jewish textual tradition. Part of the Ari’s greatness is expressed in his refusal to let Lilith fall by the wayside. His writings open up Jewish history to the divided woman, so that she might eventually reclaim her repressed sister, Lilith. The bulk of our book will follow out the destiny of Lilith, through her various incarnations until her ultimate return to the Garden of Eden. Building on an insight from the Zohar, the Ari saw Leah as Lilith’s reincarnation, just as he saw Rachel as Eve’s. In Jacob’s relationships to these two women and to his alter ego, Esau, who each signify aspects of the divine, we will follow an important thread of our story. We will also follow out from Leah, a chain of questing female souls bound together in their search for sexual fulfillment and equality with men, which includes Dinah, Tamar, Cozbi, Ruth, the mother of the messianic line, and the wife of the Roman consul, Turnus Rufus, who becomes the second wife of Rabbi Akiba. It is a story whose implications were not fully realized in the generation of the Ari, but, which we hope, can begin to be in our own.

Chapter 3: The Problematics of Eros in the Jewish Textual Tradition

In this chapter, we take a look at two exemplary talmudic texts that problematize the issue of sexual desire and how it is expressed between men and women. The first is the voice of R. Shmuel bar Nahmani, a minority opinion in the Talmud, who gives voice to women’s sexual desire, which the majority preferred to leave voiceless. The second is the story of R. Hiyya and his wife, who impersonated a prostitute, in order to seduce her husband to resume sexual relations with her. These two voices will serve to inform our discussion throughout these pages.

Twice in the Talmud, in discussions of permitted sexual practices within marriage, we hear the following cited:

“Rav Shmuel the son of Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: Any man whose wife asks for sex will have children such as were unknown even in the generation of Moses, for in the generation of Moses, it is written, “Get yourself intelligent, wise and renowned men” (Deut. 1:16), and then it is written, “And I took as the heads of the tribes renowned and intelligent men” (Deut 1:16), but he could not find :wise men” [for the word “wise” was omitted in the second citation], but with regard to Leah it says, “Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You are to sleep with me, for I have hired you'” (Gen. 30:16), and it says, “Of the children of Issachar [born from the union of Jacob and Leah] were acquainted with wisdom” (I Chron. 12:34).

Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachmani’s tradition praises women who openly ask for sex. There is no greater praise than being likened to the generation of Moses. Yet, even in that generation, Moses did not find the wisdom he sought in the people, as is evidenced from the lack of the term wisdom when he appoints “renowned and intelligent men.” The inference from Leah’s behavior is that it was her very open expression of desire that produced wisdom in her children, which is validated by the verse from Chronicles. Both times that this view is quoted, however, the Talmud goes on to water it down with the objection that the woman is limited in her repertoire of sexual approaches. She can arouse him, but cannot request sex verbally. Daniel Boyarin, quoting these passages, has said: “The gender asymmetry is not so much, then, in the rights to sex, as in the rights to speech, who has control over the situation and who is ‘being taken care of.'”39 This gender assymetry was codified in the halachah that prevents women from asking for sex, so as not to appear brazen.

The irony of what a woman must do so as not to appear brazen is not lost on the readers of the story of Rabbi Hiyya and his wife:

“Rabbi Hiyya bar Ashi was used to prostrating himself and uttering the following prayer: ‘May the all-merciful One deliver us from the evil inclination.’ One day his wife overheard him and she said to herself: ‘What is he talking about? He has abstained from being with me sexually for the past few years. Why is he saying such things?'”

Soon after, when he was studying Torah in his garden, his wife disguised herself in costume and walked past him, back and forth. “Who are you” he asked her. “I am Haruta, and I have returned today,” she replied. Then she propositioned him. She also requested of him, “Bring me that pomegranate, the one at the edge of the highest branch.” He scrambled up the tree and brought it to her.

When he later returned home, he found his wife lighting the fire. He entered, and got into it. “What is this?” she asked him. “Such and such happened to me today,” he answered her. “I was that woman,” she told him. He did not believe her, until she supplied evidence. He said to her, “At any rate, my intention was to sin.” For all his remaining days this righteous man suffered, until he finally died a peculiar death.40

The woman, whose name is not known to us, appears in the story in two roles: one is her “real” identity, that of the Rabbi’s wife – chaste, pious and sexually abstinent. Her other identity is assumed – that of Haruta, the prostitute. Two faces of R. Hiyya are also revealed in this short story. One is his everyday personality, that of the sage, the ascetic and the scholar. The other side, sensual, adulterous and wild, is repressed. Unlike his wife, however, R. Hiyya does not take on a different identity in order to discover the hidden side of his personality. R. Hiyya, according to his own judgment, falls into temptation and sin, but he always remains Rabbi Hiyya. It is his wife who reveals the unexpected in her personality by masquerading as somebody else. She chooses a role that presents her as the exact opposite of the person whom others around her have always assumed she must be. It is she, however, who, though split in two, is able to relate to the incident with perfect equanimity, even a little humor. She arrives home and, as if nothing has happened, lights the oven to bake bread, whereas R. Hiyya arrives home in a spiritual tempest, tortured by his mammoth moral failing. In fact, because R. Hiyya could not overcome his evil inclination, he is unable to forgive himself for the rest of his life. The story ends with the hellish image of R. Hiyya getting into the hot oven and torturing himself “until he dies a peculiar death.”

R. Hiyya bar Ashi is a man whose ambition in life is to become holy. There is a tradition that a man on the path of righteousness should do beyond that which the halacha demands of him, and so he should deny himself even those things permissible to an ordinary man. In keeping with this tradition, it seems that R. Hiyya decided to lead a life of celibacy and so separated himself sexually from his wife. Although the Torah commands a man to fulfill the obligation of having relations with his wife (onah, which, according to the rabbinic interpretation, means that he must have intercourse with her a minimum number of times depending on his profession),41 the Rabbis decreed that, after giving birth to a son and a daughter, a woman can voluntarily forego her right to sexual relations with her husband and commit to a life of celibacy.42 It is possible that R. Hiyya exacted permission from his wife to end their sexual relations. From the evidence of the story, however, it is clear that she could not have consented with her whole heart. When R. Hiyya’s wife catches her husband praying each day to be saved from the evil inclination, she realizes that struggling or praying for celibacy is already not celibacy.43 It is obvious to her that her husband still remembers and passionately yearns for the pleasures of the senses.

If, as the end of the story suggests, R. Hiyya’s wife had intended all along to change the nature of her relationship with her husband, then why does she go about it by such a devious route? Why not approach him directly, or why not try to lure him back into her wifely arms? Apparently, within the spiritual context of their relationship, such an alternative was out of the question. R. Hiyya and his wife are trapped in the confines of their own life choices.

Within the gender asymmetry of the halachah, she refrains from any dialogue unacceptable to the value system which they have internalized.

We can assume that, even if R. Hiyya’s wife had broached the subject with her husband, R. Hiyya is unlikely to have listened. He may have confessed to a certain ongoing attraction for the sensual world, but he probably would have maintained that this attraction was the very obstacle needing to be overcome. The woman in the story therefore knows herself to have no meaningful voice in her marriage.

Masks and Truth

It is only when R. Hiyya prostrates himself in prayer that he reveals his true face, shedding his mask of piety. When R. Hiyya takes off his mask, his wife is able to witness, albeit fleetingly, her husband’s face. And this is the very moment at which she chooses to wear a mask of her own. There can be no comparison between the woman’s mask and that of her husband. He masquerades as what he would really like to be but is not, whereas she disguises herself as what she in fact already is – a sensual woman – but is prevented from externalizing. His mask is his lie, while her mask reveals the truth. She could not find a voice when playing her role as R. Hiyya’s wife. Therefore, in order to disclose the other sides of themselves, this married couple need to deviate from their usual, prescribed modes of behavior. They need to masquerade.

R. Hiyya went to study Torah in his garden. He does not stay in his house, and he does not go to the study hall. An unusual setting is an invitation for unusual events. People often dream special dreams when not sleeping in their own beds. A change in physical location invites a change in the soul.

R. Hiyya’s wife disguises herself as a whore, “a well-known prostitute that lived in the city”44 – Charuta. In talmudic Aramaic, charuta means the branch of a palm tree, a tree with erotic associations.45 We see this in R. Hiyya’s youthful vigor in climbing the tree for the desired fruit, just as, in another story, R. Akiba climbs a palm tree toward Satan disguised as a beautiful girl.46 The letters of Charuta’s name in Hebrew spell out the word freedom, so subconsciously, these associations also cling to her actions. Note also that, through her actions, R. Hiyya’s unnamed wife gets a name and identity; she is no longer simply devaitu, “(the woman) of his house,”47 implying male possession and ownership. Ironically, she gains her freedom in the guise of a prostitute, a profession that toys with men’s ownership of women as being at best temporary and non-exclusive.

R. Hiyya is incapable of perceiving his wife’s erotic nature, but he is more than willing to recognize these features in Haruta the prostitute. What is more, the prostitute costume is so perfect that R. Hiyya bar Ashi does not recognise his own wife parading before him so seductively. Though there are places in the tradition that claim that not looking at one’s wife is a mark of extreme piety,48 his failure to recognize her strains credulity in a story drawn from domestic life. The only way to account for it is to acknowledge the degree to which R. Hiyya is estranged from intimacy with his wife.

For R. Hiyya, his fall is a total collapse. It is as if his whole life has been a failure, and he cannot forgive himself. He finds no way to fan the fires sweeping his soul, except by entering into the heat of the same hot oven that had been lit by his wife upon returning home to her everyday life (as if nothing spectacular had happened). After succumbing to Haruta, R.Hiyya finds his wife by the hearth, ready to bake bread, which is itself a figure for her housewifely devotion and, elsewhere in the Bible, for sexual relations.49 When she begins to knead the dough and heat up the oven, it is as if she is humorously making a transference from the sexual act to a symbol for it.

In our story, R. Hiyya’s wife has a far greater ability to integrate sexuality into her personality than her husband, for whom desire is unwholesome and deserving of severe punishment. While she is forced into a masquerade to satisfy her desires, she is not unduly distressed by the meaning of the sexual act itself. On the other hand, he chooses to repress his sexual desire so much that when he surrenders to it, he is inconsolable and unforgiving, especially towards himself.

The voice of R. Shmuel bar Nahmani and the story of R. Hiyya and his wife each in their own way define the problematic nature of eros in post-biblical Jewish thought. While women’s sexual pleasure is affirmed, their desire is seen as threatening, and as a result they are deprived of a voice in their own sexuality. They are set up to be dominated. Some husbands can choose to take care of their wives’ sexual needs, while others choose to evade this issue through avoiding sexual desire altogether, until the woman sees to it that it can be avoided no longer. These are the dynamics of desire in a fallen, patriarchal world that the Lurianic interpretation of Lilith and her destiny seek to overturn.

Chapter 4: Lilith Incarnate

In this chapter we deal with the pre-Lurianic Lilith, the demon incarnate, whose story was briefly told in our first chapter. By looking at elements from the mythological and Jewish traditions that culminate in the (Pseudo) Ben Sira story and which are then elaborated further in early Jewish mysticism, we aim to present here a composite, though not exhaustive portrait of the demonic woman who comes to represent men’s fears and anxieties about sexuality in the pre-modern period. The problematics of eros in Jewish men’s consciousness are writ large, as we shall see, in this mythological depiction of Lilith.


In the Bible, Lilith is first mentioned in the book of Isaiah in a section prophesying how a settled city will become a desolate hill:

Thorns shall grow up in its palaces,
Nettles and briers in its stronghold.
It shall be a home of jackals,
An abode of ostriches.
Wildcats shall meet hyenas,
Goat-demons shall greet each other;
There too the Lilith shall repose
And find herself a resting place.

It is clear that the Lilith finds a place of rest amidst human ruins, but what exactly is the Lilith – beast, bird or demon? The classical Jewish commentaries are divided over this point. Targum Yonatan and Rashi maintain that we are dealing with a species of demon who likes to frequent ruins. Radak admits that Lilith may be a demon, but also raises the possibility that it may be a beast who “screams at night, or a bird who flies at night.” He notes that the root of the word Lilith can be found in two other words – one is laylah (night), with which it has a phonetic resemblance, another is the word y’lala (howl). Hence, he postulates that this animal is not only active at night-time, but also “screams at night.” Biblical scholar, S. R. Driver, argues that the Lilith is a bird of the night who flies in a circular fashion. Drawing a link to the root lili or luli, indicating the circular motion of a storm, he connects it to the Sumerian storm spirit.51 This circular motion is embodied in the biblical lul, signifying a spiral staircase.52

Most contemporary scholars agree that the Lilith is a devil. Lilith already appears as a she-demon in the Epic of Gilgamesh (Sumeria, 1800-1700 B.C.), where the story is told of a mythological tree “by whose trunk the maiden Lilith built her house.”53 She is the female counterpart to Lillu in the Sumerian “King List,” and is believed by scholars to be both a harlot and a vampire.54 In ancient Sumerian, lil signifies a spirit or a storm, in both concrete and mythological contexts. According to Yehezkel Kaufmann, the Lilith is the spirit of ruins. Only at a later stage did the word Lil become associated with the Semitic word for night (laylah), so that the storm-demons were additionally identified with the demons of the night.55 Another possible source for Lilith is the root lalu or lulu. In the extensive library of King Asurbanipal there are thousands of tablets, many of which are full of conjurations whose purpose is the exorcism of various demons. The Babylonian she-devil, Lilith, usually appears as a member of a demonic triad including Lilu, Lilitu, and Ardath-Lili. The Akkadians, who adopted the Sumerian pantheon, often translated the names of gods into their own Semitic language. In Akkadian, Lalu implies plenty or excess, while lulu signifies lust and promiscuity.56 This adds two additional character traits that might be ascribed to Lilith: a sense of ever-increasing abundance which can lead to greed, and the desire for this abundance, which may devolve into lust and promiscuity.57

We like to link this dimension of Lilith to the Hebrew word holalut, meaning folly or madness, with an entire system of related associations.58 Rashi claims that holalut implies something mixed up or muddled59. This is also the sense in which it is used in the Mishna, where holalut indicates a state of consciousness characterized by chaos and confusion – possibly connected to the spiral movement we earlier linked to the Sumerian roots of lil, or lilu. The name Lilith associates these turbulent features with the rebellious woman who brings her inner turmoil into the lives of those who fall under her spell.

To summarize, then, we can list the following traits as ramifications of the name Lilith:

– night (leila)
– howling (y’lala)
– demonic spirit (lil)
– storm (lil)
– circular movement (lil, lul)
– spiral ascension (luli)
– abundance and excess (lalu)
– lust, promiscuity, and debauchery (lulu)

Rabbinic Interpretation & Fantasy

When a rabbinic storyteller in 9th century Babylonia gave the name Lilith to the first woman on earth, he was building on this web of associations. Before that, she was called by the rabbis of the midrash, “the first Eve.” They came to this idea as an interpretation of the verse in Genesis: “male and female He created them” (1: 27).60 The literal interpretation of this verse indicates that male and female were created simultaneously, both receiving the name “Adam.” Thus, the first Eve was created together with Adam from the earth (Heb. adamah), without partiality to either one. In one version of this interpretation, Adam and the “first Eve” were created back-to-back and later separated, paralleling the legend Plato tells in The Symposium of an originally hermaphroditic and thus androgynous creature.61 But “the first Eve returned to her ground”62 – because, in one midrash, God despairs of her bloody secretions63 – and another needed to be created, which explains the account in Genesis 2 of woman created from man’s rib. This second creation story is the source of rabbinic sources on preferred sexual positions for men and women, the focus of the debate in the Lilith story. The rabbis say each should face toward where he or she was created: “the man toward the earth, the woman toward the man.”64

In addition to the midrashic first Eve, a demonic Lilith is named in the Talmud. “R. Hanina said: It is forbidden to sleep in a house alone. Whoever sleeps in a house alone is liable to be taken hold of by Lilith.”65 Adam and Eve were also at-risk to these same nocturnal forces. After Cain killed Abel, they are said to have been chaste for 130 years to avoid producing further offspring who might kill one another, but during this time their sexuality was not completely dormant. They were attacked at night by lilin and lilot, male and female succubi, who seized hold of them and drew out their sperm and eggs in order to give birth to demon children.66 These midrashic traditions draw attention to the biblical account of “divine beings cohabiting with the daughters of men, who bore them offspring” (Gen. 6: 2). The idea of a deep spiritual charge in sexuality, which can easily be turned toward the demonic, will be extensively developed in the Zohar and other works of early Jewish mysticism.

For the rabbis of the Talmud, the distinguishing features of the she-devil, Lilith, were her wild, long hair and wings. Women’s hair as a symbol of their sexuality was deeply problematic for the talmudic rabbis. According to the Talmud, “the hair of a woman is like nakedness.”67 The Talmud’s discussion of the curses pronounced upon Eve mentions women’s long hair among them. In the opinion of the sages, long hair recalls the hair of the demon Lilith: “she grows long hair like Lilith, she crouches when urinating (Rashi: like an animal), and becomes a cushion for her husband (Rashi: because he is on top during intercourse).” In the same passage, commenting on the phrase that a woman is cursed in being “dressed as a mourner,” Rashi notes that a woman is embarrassed to go outside with wild hair.”68 This entire train of thought views woman as an object, (a “cushion for her husband”), bestial (“she urinates like an animal”), and seemingly malevolent (“she grows long hair like Lilith”). These images evidence a deep revulsion toward women on the physical level. Whether or not women were embarrassed by their physical beings, it is clear that male, patriarchal culture was embarrassed by something untamable and unfathomable about women’s sexuality, which was associated with being wild and hairy, like an animal. The Babylonian Lilith was ready at hand as a cultural icon who concretized and gave shape to these rabbinic fears.

The Lilith Myth Is Born

In the tenth century in Babylonia, these two discrete rabbinic traditions – that of a midrashic “first Eve” who made a brief appearance in Adam’s life and was then gone, and that of a Babylonian she-devil who seduces men with her wanton ways and appearance – were fused in a single story. In that juxtaposition, the myth of Lilith was born. The story is still midrashic insofar as it accounts for the creation of a “first Eve,” but it goes far beyond the realm of midrash as it develops its central figures into a literary construct closer to a short story.69 The anonymous story-teller took the pseudonym “Ben Sira,” after the 1st century c.e. apocryphal writer of proverbs and parables. The book is currently extant in over a hundred manuscripts, has been published many times, and translated into Yiddish, Persian, and Arabic.70 No doubt, a great part of the appeal was the frankly sexual way in which the author told his scandalous tales:

When God created Adam and saw that he was alone in this universe, God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ (Gen. 2: 18). He immediately created a woman for him, who was taken from the earth, like he had been. He called her name Lilith, and brought her to Adam. They both immediately began to quarrel. This one (Adam) said, ‘You should lie underneath me,’ and this one (Lilith) said, ‘You lie underneath me, as we were both created equally, and we both are of the earth.’

Neither of them could convince the other.

When Lilith saw that this was the case, she pronounced God’s ineffable name, flew into the air, and ran away. Adam immediately beseeched God in prayer, saying: Master of the Universe! This woman You gave me has already run away. The Holy One, blessed be He, immediately sent three angels, and He said to them: Go bring Lilith back home! If she so desires, she will come (back home). If not, do not bring her against her will.”

These three angels went immediately…and found her in the sea, in the place where the Egyptians would drown in the future. They took her and said to her, ‘If you come with us, then all is well, and if not, we will drown you in the sea.’

She said to them, ‘My friends, I know that the reason God created me was so that I could weaken the newborns until they are eight days old. From the day they are born until they are eight days old, I have power over them. From eight days onward I have no more power over male babies, but if it is a female, I have power over it for twelve days.”

They said to her: If you don’t come back with us, we will drown you in the sea!

She said to them: I cannot go back, because it is written in the Torah: ‘Then the first husband who divorced her shall not take her to wife again, since she has been defiled” (Deut. 24:4), and I have already slept with the Great Demon.71

They said to her: We will not leave you be until you agree that one hundred of your children die every day.”

At this point in the story, the angels explain to her that Jewish women will write out amulets, saying “Out Lilith!” and that they will inscribe the names of the three angels, Sanoy, Sansenoy and Semangalaf,72 to prevent Lilith from harming the mothers and newborns (a practice continued in some circles to this day). Lilith realizes that her power has indeed been circumscribed and that some of her demonic children must die every day. Despite this, she does not go back with the angels.

The first point to remark in the story is that Lilith asks “to lie on top,” that is, not to be subordinate in her ability to express sexual desire during intercourse with Adam.73 Adam perceives her request as a threat. He would rather destroy the peace in the Garden of Eden than allow his wife to realize her desire. He fears losing control. What Lilith has requested not only threatens his authority in the marriage, but it also disturbs his sense of mastery in all areas of life. He thus prefers a model of the family in which he alone is given the right and the power to decide how desire should be expressed. So conceived, his wife’s function is essentially passive, since it precludes any desire on her part. Adam decides when and how much sexual activity will take place between them. If Lilith demands her own sexual voice, she upsets Adam’s emotional balance, and this in turn threatens everything in his world. Such a woman is deemed devious and demonic.

In the confrontation with Adam, Lilith stands up to unreasonable domination. She knows that she and Adam have been created equally, and she will not tolerate being controlled by her equal partner. In the confrontation with the angels, she uses her knowledge of Torah to foil their errand. The angels themselves are portrayed as compromising their mission, for God told them explicitly not to force Lilith’s hand. Like Milton’s Lucifer, she concludes that it is better to be a demon at the Red Sea, than a slave in Eden. All of this indicates that the author of this midrashic short story seems to have a hidden sympathy for the problematic and even tragic figure he has created. At least one feminist author has suggested that there was an original women’s folktale embedded in this story, which was turned by a male author into an anti-feminist fable.74 The misogynist element enters the tale in Lilith’s transformation into a baby-killing demon, who is hell-bent on destroying the progeny of Adam and Eve and their descendants. This demonization of the threatening feminine is carried much further in the medieval elaborations of the Lilith legend.

Lilith’s Career as a Demoness

Daniel Boyarin has argued that “a change took place in Jewish gender ideology in the early Middle Ages – a change that resulted in a much more essentialized notion of women as dangerous and threatening.”75 We can see this in the revision of the Lilith story by a commentary on the Zohar. The Midrash HaNe’elam on Zohar Hadash cannot bear the thought that Adam and his first wife were both created equally from the earth. If they had both been created from the same elements, they should have reacted similarly to life’s challenges, and both would have resisted the importuning of the serpent equally. It therefore maintains that woman was not created from the earth, but rather from its refuse and dregs, while the inner quality of the earth that Adam was created from was good. This is how the commentator explains why she became identified with the damaging force rather than Adam”

“R. Yitzhak said in the name of Rav: Adam and his soul-mate were created together. As it is written, ‘Male and female He created them.’ And then He took her from his back, and prepared her, and brought her to Adam. As it is written, ‘He took one of his ribs” (Gen. 2:21) R. Yehoshua said: This is the first Eve, who was taken from him. She is the one who does damage to people. As it is written: ‘And He took one of his ribs’ – this means He took (away) the first woman, because she was a damaging spirit. ‘And closed up the flesh at that spot’ (literally, ‘underneath her,’ i. e. instead of her) – meaning that he brought a different one instead of her. Rava said: This one (the second Eve) was made of flesh and bones, while the other one (the first Eve, Lilith), was not. And what then was she? R. Yitzhak said: The filth of the earth and its dregs.”76

In this misogynist, essentialized version, Lilith was created from the earth’s pollution. In this reading, she was meant to be a demon from the start. Thus, it is natural that she be matched up with demon husbands. Already in texts prior to the Zohar, Lilith appears as the bride of the Great Demon, who is named Samael. As the literature develops, Lilith splits into two – Big Lilith and Little Lilith, in order to accommodate several husbands. She is Samael’s bride in the realm of the supernal kelippot, and on earth, she is the bride of the King of Demons, Ashmodai, who is known in many legends as a great antagonist of King Solomon.77

In addition to these demonic husbands, Lilith attaches herself to Adam and to other men when they are asleep. She arouses them with erotic dreams, copulates with them and steals their semen in order to impregnate herself. From this human seed, Lilith begets demons, evil spirits, and other malevolent beings, all of whom take great pleasure in causing vexation to humans, including the death of their infants.78

The Zohar supplies some details about how Lilith goes about seducing men by virtue of her unreserved sexuality. She spares no pains in making herself up for these trysts, like the married adulteress described in Proverbs:>

“Her hair is well cared-for, red as roses;
her face is pale, and blushes.
Six earrings has she on her ears,
fine cloths of Egypt cover her thighs.
All the earth’s hosts are before her mouth, ready and expectant.
Her tongue is a sharp sword, her words soft like oil,
her lips are beautiful, red as the rose, sweeter than any sweetness.>
She wears clothes of royal purple,
adorned with forty less one pieces of jewelry.
The fool is engaged by her and drinks from her cup of wine,
commits adultery with her, and is led astray.”79

The Zohar goes on to say that, after the fool has fallen asleep in the whore’s bed, she will ascend to the heavens and testify against him. When she returns to the bed and he wakes up from his sleep, he wants her again. She then takes off the guise of the alluring woman and stands before him in the form of a male warrior, sword in hand and ready for battle: “She takes off her adornments and turns into a stern man, standing before him dressed in fiery attire.”80 Lilith undresses to reveal her manhood, which is presented as if this were her true identity. Lilith’s complex nature thus encompasses both the seductive feminine and the aggressive masculine.

She/he is also a figure whose human characteristics are combined with bestial, wild elements. In another description of Lilith, her entire body is covered by long hair, though her head is smooth, like a goat, whose head has short, smooth hair and whose body hair is long and droopy.81 In this version, Lilith is imagined as a totally wild female creature, akin to a primal Neanderthal woman, half-ape, half-human, the absolute essence of primordial and prehistoric wildness. Or, she is like the terrifying winged harpy, the monstrous woman of Greek mythology. Lilith symbolizes the essence of female nature before culture stepped in to civilize it. She is free of any cultural code, and she is therefore both threatening and attractive at the same time.

Precisely because of this duality, Lilith could gain great power over men’s moral character, through their sexual nature. Here is what R. Eliezer Azcari has to say about Lilith’s demonic vices: “Sometimes a person has fantasies about either men or women, and has a seminal emission during the day, or in a dream at night caused by Lilith, who appears to this sinner as either a man or a woman.”82 In his interpretation, R. Eliezer Azcari follows the lead of the Zohar concerning Lilith and her entourage. Men who sleep alone are teased and enticed by one of the female demons, like Na’amah, for example:

“… Until Na’amah came, and because of her beauty, the sons of God erred after her…for she goes and wanders in the night, passing through the world, mocking men, causing them nocturnal emissions. Wherever there are men sleeping at home alone, (she) is with them, grabbing hold of them and clinging to them, taking their longings, and begetting their seed.”83

Lilith takes on the form of different demonic apparitions to excite men as they dream. She lies behind the sexual fantasies of masturbation and, for R. Eliezer Azcari, it makes no difference whatsoever whether the dream occurs during sleep or waking. It also makes no difference whether it is a heterosexual or a homosexual fantasy, for Lilith can appear to men as a man.84 Lilith dons the dress of every forbidden passion.

Their anxiety about masturbation was so great that the Kabbalists believed that Lilith and her host became pregnant from drops of male seed spilt during dreams or erotic daydreaming, which then spawned all sorts of wicked demons. R. Hayyim Vital describes this process:

“…And that soul is drawn to her (to Lilith), and then the power of a damaging spirit which is born of that wife of harlotry unites with her, and it becomes one body for that soul. So it is that he who spills his seed in vain causes those drops of semen from which the future souls of his sons would have been born to become intermingled with the Sitra Ahra, where they receive bodies who were fashioned from the side of the Snake, the wife of harlotry.”85

This process is equally at work if the father’s imagination is preoccupied with forbidden erotic fantasies during intercourse with his wife. The baby conceived at that moment will be given over to Lilith and vulnerable to her and her host at birth. According to the kabbalistic view, a man who sanctifies himself at the time of intercourse spares his children the dangerous encounter with Lilith: “Lilith has no power over the children of a man who sanctifies himself at the time of intercourse. The triad of angels known as Sanoy, Sansanoy, and Semangalaf watch over the child so that she cannot harm him/her.”86

Lilith’s demonic sexuality not only imperils men. Women’s erotic dreams and fantasies are also the work of demons.87 These are usually male demons affecting the souls of women in much the same manner as their female counterparts. Male demons cause women’s illicit sexual fantasies, which are regarded as “nocturnal emissions.” These demons can impregnate a woman and possess the souls of her children. A hasidic spiritual manual advises women who have had such evil dreams to bathe in the mikveh to purify themselves and protect their unborn children.88 Other sources maintain that those male demons who seduce and sleep with dreaming women are themselves born from the fornication of the she-devil Na’ama, who gives pleasure to sleeping men by causing wet dreams. She uses these men to impregnate herself and then issues male demons. According to the Kabbalist R. Shlomo Algazi, although Na’ama gives birth to these demons, it is their spiritual mother, Lilith, who rears them. If man awakes from his sleep full of sexual desire and makes love with his wife as a result of that passion, then the child born will be enslaved to Lilith. The child is rightfully hers, because the man’s desire during intercourse had been for Lilith and not for his chaste wife, a daughter of Eve.89

According to an early kabbalistic tradition, among the victims of Lilith’s host we find none other than King David. A thirteenth- century manuscript, from the school of R. Solomon ben Adret, tells of a she-devil by the name of Igrat bat Mahlat, a member of Lilith’s circle of demons, who entered into David’s dream fantasies while he was sleeping in the desert. She caused him to spill his seed and with it subsequently gave birth to the king of demons – Ashmodai.90

Perhaps it is their very lack of corporeal reality that provokes demons like Lilith, Na’amah, Igrat and Ashmodai to operate parasitically upon the body and soul of humans – through human psychology. In sixteenth-century Safed, R. Eliahu de Vidas explained:

“Whenever a man defiles himself through sin, through evil passion, (he) sleeps with Lilith. All the passions of the world come from Lilith, because Samael, who is a on a very subtle level of existence, does not have a way of taking hold of man, who is material. He therefore sends his woman, who is more physical…And these are all metaphors, just like King Solomon, of blessed memory, compared material possessions and worldly pleasures, (which draw their energy from Lilith), to a whore, as it says: “A woman comes toward him/ Dressed like a harlot, with set purpose.” (Proverbs 7:10).91

While hasidic folklore does portray Lilith as an actual demon, against whom there is an herbal remedy,92 Hasidism’s unique contribution is to understand the mythical demonology of the Kabbalah psychologically. While Samael, Lilith and their host may lay siege to human beings from the outside, they also represent, in the kabbalistic-hasidic tradition, the dark forces inside the human psyche – our unconscious drives and impulses. In such works of R. Tzaddok HaCohen of Lublin as “The Conversations of Demons” and “The Conversations of Servicing Angels,” his discussion of these angels and demons is almost exclusively concerned with the nature of the human soul. In another work, R. Tzaddok offers his interpretation of the talmudic injunction against sleeping in a house alone:

“He who sleeps in a house alone is taken hold of by Lilith” – the meaning is that he has a nocturnal emission, which is what the wife of harlotry seeks and desires…This means that this desire envelops man when he sleeps. Because of the powerful passion (he experiences) in his dream, he has a nocturnal emission. During his sleep, he has no conscious intention of overcoming his passion by means of his wisdom, so this desire is free to act upon him.”93

Lilith’s hold on man is thus the illusion (Heb. achizat einayim, lit. “the holding of the eyes”) of forbidden desires in dreams. Now it becomes clear why Lilith tends to take her hold of men while they are sleeping “alone in a house.” Sleeping alone, away from society, facilitates the breakthrough of forbidden passions and deviancy can gain entry into consciousness.94

When men lose control over their sexual desires, they feel that women pose a serious threat to their self-mastery. The dread which they experience causes them to have nightmares of a realm of dark, unfathomable beings. The Lilith myth incorporates masculine fears of the sensual, licentious woman who, because she possesses man during his sleep, is also making a mockery of him. As a projection from the world of men’s unconscious fears, this archetypal image becomes hardened into the eternal enemy of civilized men and women.

In her book, A Different Voice, Carol Gilligan argues that masculine thinking is characterised by its patterns of control.95 Consider, for example, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, after which the relationship between the man and the woman hinges upon God’s curse of Eve – “And he shall rule over you.” Accordingly, men’s losing control to women is ominous and appears, mistakenly, as a violation of the divine order. The Zohar interprets the verse “My people’s rulers are babes,/ It is governed by women” (Isaiah 3:12), as describing a situation in which demonic, evil-minded women, are sent from Lilith to rule over Israel:

“Whenever men are found guilty before the Holy One, blessed be He, as we have previously explained, those women from above (who come) from the side of strict judgment, will in the future rule over them from the side of strict judgment, as it is written: ‘My people’s rulers are babes, It is governed by women.’ Women most certainly rule over them, and they are called ‘the bright blade of a revolving sword,’ not that they are the revolving sword, but they are rather the blade of that sword which is called “the sword that shall avenge my covenant, the ‘sword of God, full of blood.’96

Lilith and her host threaten to topple male supremacy. The moment women gain power, patriarchal man sees the demonic coming into play. Indeed it would seem that, for a man raised in this system of thought, an assertive woman cannot be other than a demon.

In this chapter, we have explored some of Lilith’s salient character traits. Her persona has been forged out of two separate sources – that of the rebellious woman who demands equality, and that of the murderous demon, who kills babies and rapes men while they sleep. Lilith’s figure is contrasted with other constructions of woman. Eve, as the chief example, represents the opposite pole: a woman who accepts male dominance and whose power lies in childbearing, in family stability, and in chastity. The Ari sought to re-unite the two wives of Adam, i.e. the two faces of the female archetype – Lilith and Eve – in order to end the schizophrenia of women’s condition and thereby reconcile these two faces into one complete feminine whole. As we move on to the Second Gate we will encounter that “strange and wonderful metamorphosis,” as Isaiah Tishy puts it, of our mother Leah, the wife of Jacob, transformed into Lilith.97


1.Boyarin, Biale, Adler, Plaskow, Blu Greenberg

2. Wherever possible we have quoted from the NJPS translation of the Hebrew Bible. For a number of citations where we are explicating rabbinic midrash, a more literal translation has been necessary, and we have substituted our own. B.Eruvin 100b, Rav Yitzhak bar Avdimi enumerates ten curses upon Eve. On the messianic overturning of these curses, see Luria, Sefer Hagilgulim, chap. 23: And this is the curse of “and he shall rule over you”… and after woman is freed of this cursem when “death is destroyed forever” (Isa. 25:8), she will be “her husband’s crown” (Prov. 12:4). Understand this well.” Shabetai Tzvi, who saw himself as the Messiah, is quoted as saying: “Woe unto you, poor women, who, because of Eve’s sin, must give birth with pain, and you are subjugated to your husbands, and everything you do is dependent upon their approval;” Happy are you, that I have come to the world, to make you free and happy like your husbands, for I have come to do away with the sin of Adam. ” (Gershom Scholem, Shabbatai Tzevi, p. 327).

3. B.Eruvin 100b, Rav Yitzhak bar Avdimi enumerates ten curses upon Eve. On the messianic overturning of these curses, see Luria, Sefer Hagilgulim, chap. 23: And this is the curse of “and he shall rule over you”… and after woman is freed of this cursem when “death is destroyed forever” (Isa. 25:8), she will be “her husband’s crown” (Prov. 12:4). Understand this well.” Shabetai Tzvi, who saw himself as the Messiah, is quoted as saying: “Woe unto you, poor women, who, because of Eve’s sin, must give birth with pain, and you are subjugated to your husbands, and everything you do is dependent upon their approval;” Happy are you, that I have come to the world, to make you free and happy like your husbands, for I have come to do away with the sin of Adam. ” (Gershom Scholem, Shabbatai Tzevi, p. 327).

4. Adler, Engendering Judaism, p. 124. Adler notes the possible exception of Berachot 61a, that men shouldn’t walk behind women, because they were created first.

5. Blu Greenberg, On Women and Judaism, p. 45.

6. Robert M. Cover, “The Supreme Court 1982 Term, Foreword: Nomos and Narrative,” Harvard Law Review, 97 (1983), pp. 4ff.

7. David Damrosch, The Narrative Covenant

8. “Halakhah and Aggadah,” in The Complete Works of C.N. Bialik, (Tel Aviv: D’vir, 1947), p. 207; Gordon Tucker draws the connection between Cover and Bialik in “The Sayings of the Wise are like Goads: An Appreciation of the Works of Robert Cover,” Conservative Judaism (REF), pp.21-22.

9. Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love (1988)

10. Tania Modleski, Feminism Without Women: Culture and Criticism in a “Post-Feminist” Age (New York: Routledge, 1991), 7.

11. Jo Milgrom, “Some Second Thoughts about Adam’s First Wife,” in Genesis 1-3 in the History of Exegesis: Intrigure in the Garden, ed. Gregory Allen Robbins; see also Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype

12. See Eli Yassif, The Stories of Ben Sira in the Middle Ages (Hebrew), pp. 63ff.

13. Scholem, Kabbalah, 356-61.

14. Patai (1967), 180-225.

15. See the anthology, Which Lilith? Feminist Writers Recreate the World’s First Woman (1998), and the magazine, Lilith, which has been promoting a feminist Jewish agenda since 1976.

16. Howard Schwartz, Reimagining the Bible,: The Storytelling of the Rabbis, p. 65.

17. Plaskow, :the Coming of Lilith,” in Ruether, ed., Religion and Sexism

18. This comment draws upon the language of Catherine Keller, From a Broken Web: Separation, Sexism and the Self (Boston: Beacon, 1986), 11-15.

19. Jakov Lind, from The Stove and Other Stories (1986), 59-61. Freud, Totem and Taboo

20. Freud, Totem and Taboo

21. Nitzah Abarbanel, Eve and Lilith (Hebrew), p. 15.

22. Siegmund Hurwits, Lilith: The First Eve: Historical and Psychological Aspects of the Dark Feminine

23. Emma Jung, :The Anima as an Elemental Being,” in Animus and Anima, p. 46

24. Look up David Biale book (Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counterhistory)?

25. For a survey of the continuities between kabbalah and earlier versions of the Jewish myth, see Yehuda Liebes, Studies in Jewish Myth and Messianism, Ch. 1; on the development of the theological continuum stretching from Assyrian and Canaanite paganism to highly developed Kabbalistic myth, see O. Ezrahi, “On the Theology of King Solomon” (Hebrew), Hayyim Acheirim, REFERENCE.

26. This is the view of Yehuda Liebes, “Myth vs. Symbol in the Zohar and in Lurianic kabbalah,” 225-26.

27. Our summary is based on Gershom Scholem’s scholarship on Lurianic kabbalah, which is spread throughout his writings: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, On Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, The Messianic Idea in Judaism, On the Mystical Shape of the Gohea. Perhaps the most accessible and succinct version is found in the volume, Kabbalah (1974), a reprinting of all Scholem’s essays from the Encyclopedia Judaica. See especially, pp. 128-44.

28. There was a thin film of divinity left, the reshimu, which is compared to “the drops of oil that remain in a vessel after it has been emptied.” Scholem, Kabbalah, 130. Liebes argues that Scholem has overemphasized the idea of a vacuum. Rather, he sees that the light of the Infinite returned to fill the empty space and that out of this light came the created worlds, which are not qualitatively different from the essence of the infinite itself, except in intensity and clarity. “Myth vs. Symbol in the Zohar and Lurianic Kabbalah,” p. 227.

29. Aryeh Kaplan, Inner Space, p. 92.

30. Pesikta de Rav Kahana 12, 24. See also Shemot Rabbah 28:5. This is the Lurianic comment on the midrash: “This is how you should understand Chazal’s comment that at the Red Sea God appeared to them in the form of a young man with a black beard, like a warrior full of zeal, ready to engage the Egyptians and drown them in the sea; and at the giving of the Torah on Shavuot He seemed like an old man whose beard is white as snow. In fact, the beard of Ze’eir Anpin is black as a raven…and at the time of the giving of the Torah, on Shavuot, it ascends up into the beard of Arich Anpin, where it becomes white. This is the reason why He appeared to them then as an old man dressed in white at that time…” Sha’ar HaKavannot – discourses on the holiday of Shavuot, no. 1.

31. Lawrence Fine, “Purifying the Body in the Name of the Soul: The Problem of the Body in Sixteenth Century Kabbalah” in Eilberg-Schwartz, ed. People of the Body, p. 130.

32. Rachel Elior, “The Doctrine of Transmigration in Galya Raza”

33. Scholem, “Gilgul: the Transmigration of Souls” in On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, 212

34. Scholem, Gilgul, 214

35. Liebes, “Myth vs. Symbol,” 227.

36. See Liebes, “The Two Ewes of the Doe” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, Vol. 10, ppp. 114-16.

37. Elliot R. Wolfson, “Beautiful Maiden Without Eyes: peshat and Sod in Zoharic hermeneutics”

38. Sha’ar haHaqdamot, quoted in Wolfson, p. 187.

39. Boyarin, p. 129.

40. B. Shabbat 36a.

41. For the scholar, this minimum was once a week. M. Ketubot


43. On the evil inclination being understood generally as sexuality, see the comprehensive survey by F.C. Porter, “The Yetzer Hara: A Study in the Jewish Doctrine of Sin,” in Biblical and Semitic Studies: Critical and Historical Essays by the Members of the Semitic and Biblical Faculty of Yale University (N.Y.: Scribner’s, 1901).

44. Rashi, ad locem./

45. Rashi on B. Sukkah 32a: “Charuta: a palm branch which has become stiff, like the branches of other trees.”

46. NEED TO FIND SOURCE. See also Midrash Tehillim on Ps. 92 on the date palm’s desire for its mate as an emblem of Israel’s desire for the Holy One.

47. See B. Yoma 2a on the definition of household implying one’s wife. Yet, see Shulhan Aruch, Even HaEzer 33,7, for citation of a pietist who claimed that he had never looked at his own wife, “as he had turned his heart away from vanity.” See also Midrah Tanhuma Lech Lecha 5 on Gen 12:1, Abraham’s comment to Sarah “Now I know that you are a beautiful woman,” implying that he had not previously looked at her.

48. See Gen, 39:6: Potphar “left all that he had in Joseph’s hand… save the bread that he ate,” and Rashi ad locem. “‘Save the bread’ – meaning his wife, but the Torah speaks in a clean language.” See also Proverbs See B. Yoma 2a on the definition of household implying one’s wife. Yet, see Shulhan Aruch, Even HaEzer 33,7, for citation of a pietist who claimed that he had never looked at his own wife, “as he had turned his heart away from vanity.” See also Midrah Tanhuma Lech Lecha 5 on Gen 12:1, Abraham’s comment to Sarah “Now I know that you are a beautiful woman,” implying that he had not previously looked at her.

49. See Gen, 39:6: Potphar “left all that he had in Joseph’s hand… save the bread that he ate,” and Rashi ad locem. “‘Save the bread’ – meaning his wife, but the Torah speaks in a clean language.” See also Proverbs 30:20, where sex is called food: “So is the way of an adulterous woman,; she eats and wipes her mouth and says, I have done nothing wrong.”

50. See Ruth Caldron, “The Secondary Figure as an Archetype in the Aggadic Literature in the Babylonian Talmud” (Master’s Thesis, Hebrew University), for a discussion of this story as an example of how women and men react differently to sexual failure.

51. Driver, “Lilith,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 1959, pp. 56-57. He does not identify the biblical lilit with the night raptor owl presently known as a lilit (Strix aluco), but with the night bird called tahmas (Caprimulgus), in English, Goat sucker or Night jar. In fact, the tahmas flies at night in circular movements. It is often seen flying around goats and other animals in order to eat the insects usually found near such animals. See Animals and Plants of Israel, published by the Society for the Protection of Nature and the Ministry of Defense 1986, Birds, p. 294.

52. See I Kings 6:8. Rashi: “lulim – the Targum Yonatan says: a spiral…which means a stone construction with stairs. One who walks up this is like someone encircling a pillar, which ascends higher and higher, but it does not need a slope like a ladder, as its circumference is already inclined.”

This verse comes directly after the verse which tells us that the Temple was built without the usage of metal tools: “And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone that was made ready before it was brought there; so that there was neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was being built.” This became one of the focuses for discussion in ancient Jewish demonology, since there is a Talmudic legend (B. Gittin 68), whose source is in The Testament of Solomon (first to third centuries A.D.), which discusses Solomon’s complicated relations with Ashmadai the King of Demons. Solomon called him to help with the construction of the Temple. In the Talmudic version, Ashmadai is asked to help find the shamir – a special worm that can drill into stones and cut them without any need of metal tools. If we further examine Solomon’s ties with the world of demons, we find that commentators from the Targum Yonatan on Job until the middle ages, identified the Queen of Sheba as an embodiment of Lilith (see Scholem, New Topics…).

53. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, REF.

54. Jo Milgrom, NEED PAGE.

55. Y. Kaufmann, The History of the Faith of Israel, Bialik, Jerusalem, and Dvir, Tel Aviv, 5736, vol. 1, p. 428.

56. See Pintel, REF (Hebrew), the chapter on The Babylonian Lilith.

57. Building on the theme of lust, R. Tzaddok HaCohen of Lublin attempts to link the two approaches – demon and animal/bird. He asserts that every spiritual entity has its terrestrial counterpart. The damage that these demons cause, he says, is very concrete, so the demon or evil spirit is named after the type of damage which he or she causes. The Lilith, then is a female animal “common to the country of Sabea (in Africa), in which, because of its airs, sexual lust is very strong. And the nature of this animal… is great lust, demanding and grabbing any male beast.” This, on the “natural” side. On the spiritual side, it is also called “the power of the wife of harlotry in the world.” The ancient “theory of the airs” assumes that every place has a special quality in its air. This quality, be it good or bad, passes into the souls of those who live there. The Rabbis said that the air of Israel makes one wise (Baba Batra 158/b), while R. Zaddok thinks the air of Africa causes unbearable lust and passion. See Dover Tzedek, 4, the entry beginning with the word u-vakasha.

58. Holalut must certainly be an expression of the negative aspect of the word hallel (praise) which may also be related to hilat (a halo) of light. As it says, “the light shining” (yahel) (Job 31: 26) or “When his lamp shone (behilo) over my head (Job 29: 3). Kabbalists and Hasidim have noted this in their discourses on the significance of praise (hallel); see REF.

The Rabbis commented that the letter heh can be interchanged with the letter het (hallel – challel), so that kodesh hilulim (holy for praise-giving) mentioned in Leviticus 19:24 can also be read kodesh chilulim (holy for secularizing or desecrating), in the case of taking that which was designated as ma’aser sheni (the second category of tithes, which was to be eaten in Jerusalem) and freeing it of its holiness by redeeming it with money (see B. Berahot 35a). If we have already taken Lilith from holalut to hilul, and from hilul to chilul (desecration), then we have gone a significant distance. There is also challal (a dead person). Lilith’s soul is also the seat of emptiness, which seeks fulfillment through revenge. Pregnancy is also linked to this root, since a pregnant woman is called hallah – “Zion travailed (hallah) and at once bore her children!” (Isa. 66: 8). We have gone from the two-letter combination l”l to ch”l, which can both be found in the word challel. In this analysis, we have used “gates” of two letters as does the Sefer Yetzira – not confining ourselves only to three-letter roots, which were imported into Hebrew in the middle ages from Arabic grammar. The linguistic gate ch’l takes us even further, to the mystery of dance (machol), forgiveness (mechila), and challal (space).

59. The verse “Wanton (or foolish) men (holalim) cannot endure in your sight” (Psalms 5: 6) is interpreted by Rashi: holalim – foolish ones, and in the language of the mishna ‘mixed ones’ (see B. Sanhedrin 42a). This is also how the concept of holalut was explained in Kohelet 7: 25 “and foolishness is madness.” There Rashi comments: holalut is foolishness and confusion. Elsewhere in Kohelet, it says “His talk begins as silliness and ends as disastrous madness” (10: 13) – “confusion and something which is mixed up” (Rashi).

60. See Gershom Scholem, Elements of the Kabbalah and its Symbolism (Hebrew), p. 386, on how the Lilith legend reads the difference between the two creation stories in a new manner. [WHERE POSSIBLE – YOU”LL WANT TO FIND ENGLISH REFERENCES FOR SCHOLEM & OTHERS AVAILABLE IN ENGLISH.]


62. Bereishit Rabbah 22, 7

63. See Bereishit Rabbah 17, 7: “In the beginning He created her, but saw her full of secretions and blood flowing out of her. So he returned and created her a second time.”

64. B. Niddah 31b.

65. B. Shabbat 151b. As we find suggested in the Will of R. Eliezer HaGadol: “My son, do not sleep alone at night in any house, for in these circumstances Lilith is liable to cause damage. And if she takes hold of a man or a baby, she takes them out of the world” (Para. 54). Later authorities took this view to be law, as we find in the Mishna Berurah, Orakh Hayyim, chap. 239, sub-chapter 9: “Our sages of blessed memory have stated that whoever sleeps in a house alone, meaning at night, is taken hold of by Lilith, and house means even a room.” The Zohar interprets “alone in a house” to mean “a house alone” – i.e. to sleep in a house which itself is alone, i.e. an isolated house in a field. “Whoever is alone in a house, whether it be day or night, in a solitary house – especially at night. What is meant by alone? Isolated from other houses, or someone walking alone at night, might also be hurt” (Zohar III, 45a.). See also the references brought by the Nitzotzei Zohar, there.

66. REF.

67. REF. – THIS WAS IN YOUR FN. #76, unattributed.

68. B. Eruvin 100b. The full text of this passage is based on a word-by-word interpretation of Gen. 3: 16: “Eve was cursed with ten curses, as it is written, “And to the woman He said, ‘I will make most severe’ (alt. ‘I will greatly multiply’): this is the two drops (sorts) of blood, one being that of menstruation, and the other that of virginity; ‘Your pangs’ – this is the pain of raising children; ‘in childbearing’ – this is the pain of pregnancy; ‘in pain shall you bear children’ – this is self-evident; Yet your urge shall be for your husband’ – this teaches us that the woman longs for her husband (Rashi: ‘desires intercourse’) when he travels; “and he shall rule over you” – this teaches us that the woman asks (for sex) in her heart, while the man demands it verbally.

So far, we have only numbered seven curses!

When R. Dimi came back from Babylon, he said (i.e., numbered three additional curses): she was dressed like a mourner, excommunicated from the society of man, and imprisoned in jail” (Rashi: imprisoned in jail – ‘it is honorable for the daughter of the king to remain inside.’)

69. See G. Scholem, “Elements of the Kabbalah and its Symbolism,” p. 386, on this legend and how it reads the difference between the two creation stories in a new manner.

70. A scientific version of the book, including extensive debate on its structure and history was published by Eli Yassif, The Ben Sira Fables from the Middle Ages (Hebrew), Magnes Press, 5745. For the text of the story, see pp.

71. However, according to the halakha, only if the divorced woman married another man is it forbidden for her to go back to her first husband. If she was divorced, and someone else slept with her without marriage, she is permitted to her first husband. See Me’oray Or, (a alphabetically arranged collection of definitions of Kabbalistic terms compiled by R. Meir Paporos, one of the authors of the Lurianic corpus) in which Lilith is presented as an archetype of a divorced woman: “A divorced woman is known as Lilith, who was divorced from holiness and became the wife of another man, an other man” (the letter Gimmel, entry 25).

72. Reuven Margoliot, Malakhey Elyon, p. 236, suggests that the name Sansanoy may be derived from sansenay (the boughs of) the date palm, mentioned in the Song of Songs (7:9) “Let me climb the palm,/ Let me take hold of its branches (sansenav)”. We discussed the sexual connotations of the date tree in relation to several Talmudic stories in Ch. 3. In the Zohar, vol. 2, in the Haichalot d’kedusha 251a., there is a similar name of an angel – Sansanaya – who is appointed over one of the gates of the Fourth Hall. There is another angel facing him on the left side, with the same name – “And he is responsible for the askara disease which attacks babies.” The severe throat disease known as askara in often identified in the Zohar with Lilith, the killer of babies. It is therefore reasonable to assume that we are talking about the same angel, the one who is appointed over Lilith, and is known as Sansanaya in the Zohar, and Sansanoy in the Alphabet of ben Sira. Semangalaf is a self-referential name, meaning the symbol is engraved.

73. In Tractate Kallah (chapter one), we find the following sentence: “If he is underneath and she is on top, he is seized by shaking. If he is on top and she is underneath, this is the way of human beings. If both of them were as one, this is the way of the stubborn.” According to ben Sira, what is called in the Talmud “the way of the sons of Adam (man)” is the only position acceptable to Adam, their father. It is possible that this fragment was the basis of the Ben Sira story. It is interesting to note that if someone uses the position that Lilith prefers, “shaking seizes him” (Heb. ochazat-hu avit). Compare B. Shabbat 151b, quoted above, about someone who sleeps in a house alone at night and is “taken hold of by Lilith” (Heb. ochazat-hu Lilit). This entire section addresses itself to the man – he is the one who uses her – has sex with her. The woman is not a partner to this halakha, which defines “the way of the sons of Adam.”

74. See Aviva Cantor, “Lilith, the Woman Who Would Be a Jew,” in Which Lilith, p. 19.

75. Boyarin, p. 193. For a more nuanced view, see David Biale, Ch. 3-5.

76. REF. to where in the ZOHAR.

77. On the two Liliths, see Ma’amar HaAtzilut HaSmalit (Treatise on the Emanation of the Left Side). On the development of the figure of Samael in the Hebrew sources, and on the difference between him and the “king of the Jewish demons,”Ashmodai, see, once again, Idit Pintel, G. Scholem, “New Elements,” page 165, and Joseph Dan, ” Samael, Lilith and the Concept of Evil in the Early Kabbalah,” Essential Papers on Jewish Mysticism.

78. In the Zohar, Lilith is commonly identified as the spiritual force causing the disease of askara, a fatal throat disease in infancy.

79. Zohar, II, 148a, in the Sitrey Torah section. In Zoharic thought, red hair is identified with the root of din, strict judgment, whose color is red. The number of Lilith’s pieces of jewelry – forty less one – is connected to the forty curses with which creation was cursed, the same as the number of lashes that the sinner receives – forty minus one (lamed tet, or la”t like the Aramaic word latia, which means curse). The Zohar, in the section on Parshat Behukotai (114b – 115a), also links this to the number of plagues that the Holy One, blessed be He, smites the sinning people with. He does so by means of thirty nine appointed officers who fly through the universe, descend to the “pit of the great abyss, get empowered there, surface, and smite the earth as punishment for the sins of man.”

This entire description is a paraphrase of the description of the adulterous woman found in Proverbs 7: 16-23: “‘I have decked my couch with covers/ Of dyed Egyptian linen;/ I have sprinkled my bed/ With myrrh, aloes and cinnamon./ Let us drink our fill of love till morning;/ Let us delight in amorous embrace./ For the man of the house is away./ He is off on a distant journey./ He took his bag of money with him/ And will return only at mid-month.’/ She sways him with her eloquence,/Turns him aside with her smooth talk./ Thoughtlessly he follows her,/ Like an ox going to the slaughter,/ Like a fool to the stocks for punishment–/ Until the arrow pierces his liver./ He is like a bird rushing into a trap,/ Not knowing his life is at stake.” This passage on the stormy licentious woman can be juxtaposed to the chaste “woman of valor” in Proverbs 31, as a parade example of the dichotomy in women’s images in patriarchal culture, which is central to this book’s argument.

80. Zohar, II, 148a, in the Sitrey Torah section. SAME PAGE REFERENCE?

81. “That group known as lilin are covered by hair from head to foot…Lilith has hair on her body but not on her head…just like a goat whose entire body is covered by hair while his head is smooth.” See Emek HaMelekh, Sha’ar Raisha d’Zaya, Ch. 30, p. 42b. See also the encyclopedia, Reuven Margoliot, Malakhey Elyon, p. 235, footnote 3. See also the Ner Mitzvah commentary on Sefer HaMitzvot Hagadol, (Saloniki 5570), the chapter on “The Ways of the Amorites,” p. 215b., and see Margoliot there.


83. Zohar, I, 19b. In the original there is a linguistic shift from the singular to the plural. We should therefore have translated this as “they mock men, and they beget their seed.” In order to create a unified sentence, we presented it in the singular. It is possible that this vagueness is intentional, in order to emphasize that we are not talking about one she-demon in particular, but rather about all of Lilith’s host (asksara).

The reference to the “sons of God” connects Na’amah to the beautiful daughters of man, whose beauty was so appealing to angels before the flood. The Zohar connects Na’amah to the sister of Tuval-Cain. However, in the midrash brought in the Yalkut Shimoni, this beauty is attributed to a woman by the name of Istahar. According to the midrash, Istahar refused to sin with these fallen angels and she escaped back to the heavens by means of the ineffable divine name: “Shamhazai (one of the angels) immediately saw a maiden by the name of Istahar. She found favor in his eyes, and he requested that she obey him. She answered him ‘I will not obey you until you teach me the ineffable divine name by which you ascend into the firmament when you pronounce it.’ He taught her the Name. She then pronounced it, ascended into the heaven, and did not defile herself. The Holy One, blessed He, said to her: ‘Since you did not succumb to sin, go, and take a place among these seven stars, in order that you be remembered forever. She was given a place in (a constellation). When Shamchazai and Azael saw this, they married women and begat Hewa and Hiya (sounds made when sighing)” (Yalkut Shimoni Bereshit, 6 – remez 44). In contrast to Na’ama, who apparently did whore with the sons of God, Istahar refrained from this temptation. What is common to them both is the transformation into a heavenly being, although Na’ama becomes the mother of demons while Istahar becomes a star in the heavens. Elsewhere, the Yalkut Shimoni quotes a tradition that identifies Queen Esther with the Babylonian Ishtar and the planet Venus: “R. Nehemia said; Her name was Haddasah. Why was she called Esther? Because the idol worshippers called her Ishtar, like the planet Venus.”(ibid., Esther 2, remez 1053). CHECK: SHOULD IT BE ISHTAR THROUGHOUT?

84. Lilith’s ability to also appear as a male is mentioned in the Zohar in another context: In the section called Sitrei Torah on Parshat Va-yetze, (I, 148a), there is a description of how Lilith dresses up and seduces man into having sex with her. As he sleeps peacefully, she ascends up to the heavens to prosecute him, receives permission from the heavenly court, and comes back to his bed. Then “that fool awakes and thinks to play with her like before, and she takes off her clothes, and is transformed into a valiant warrior facing him, wearing a terrifying and fiery armor, causing bone and soul to tremble…”

85. R. Hayyim Vital, Sha’ar HaKavanot, D’rushei Ha-laylah, discourse no. 7.

86. See Kehillat Ya’akov, the entry on “Death of Children.” This Kabbalistic writer distinguishes between someone who on the one hand, did not sanctify himself at the time of intercourse, but on the other hand also did not “defile himself” by forbidden thoughts. The dead child of the first sort of person is not totally in Lilith’s hands – she can only possess his dead body, while his soul is saved by the angelic triad. This is not the case with the son of the second sort of person, whose soul is also in Lilith’s clutches. It is interesting to note that the angels who save the child’s soul are also regarded by this author to be human-like incarnations of pure thought patterns that occur in the human psyche: Malakhey HaSharet (servicing angels) is a name for man’s intellectual powers, being the pure thought in man.”(entry on “angels”).
On the sanctification of intercourse, see also Ezrahi, “Two Cherubs” (Hebrew), pp. 32-33.

87.It seems that the meditations proscribed for the Sh’ma which is recited before going to sleep are also effective against these demons! The Kabbalist and Halachic authority, R. Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad, in his book Ben Ish Hai (First Year Lectures, Parshat Pekudey), recommends that women, too, recite the Sh’ma, in order to heal the souls that were taken captive by the forces of uncleanness because of the sin of their having spilled their seed in vain, which refers to their erotic waters of desire: “Reading the sh’ma is efficacious for a woman also, for the seed that she expels due to the great degree of arousal awakened in her.”

88. R. Eliezer Tzvi of Komarno, Hanhagot HaTzadikim, letter dalet. The parentheses appear in the original:

“When a woman, God forbid, has an evil dream, which is her nocturnal emission, just like a man, as it written (Zohar, Bereshit 54b):

‘When a man dreams, female spirits come and make merry with him, and get sexually aroused by him, and afterwards give birth. These are called ‘the affliction of mortals’ and they take on human forms, and they have no hair on their heads. Concerning this matter it is written in relation to King Solomon: “I will chastise him with the rod of men, and the affliction of mortals” (II Sam. 7:14). In the same fashion, there are sometimes even male spirits that come to the women of the world, become impregnated from them, and give birth to spirits, and they are all called ‘the affliction of mortals.’ In the same fashion, there are even (instances) of male spirits that come to the women of the world, become impregnated from them, and give birth to spirits. And they are all called ‘the affliction of mortals.'”

Therefore, a woman who has had this experience should immediately purify herself in the mikveh, because the external forces and the kelippot may take hold of her children and kill them in terrible ways. Even if she is already pregnant, and the male spirits come to her, there can be no doubt that damage will be done to her unborn baby. But if she immerses herself in the purifying waters after such an evil dream, then the kelippot no longer have power to harm either her children or her unborn babies.”

On the phrase “laugh with him,” the Aramaic is v’hayekhin ima, lit. “They smile with him.” We think “laugh with him” is a better translation, as the Zohar is echoing biblical laughter, with its erotic connotations. For an extensive treatment of the subject of laughter in the Torah and its erotic context, see M. Gafni, “The Dance of Laughter.” (English?), Forthcoming. For a limited treatment see Gafni, Non Dual Humanism vol. 1 of 3 chapter on Laughter in the Zohar.

89. In the book Meu’lefet Sapeerim (the nineteenth day), the author, R. Sholomo Algasi, writes the following: “Concerning the matter of the sister of Tuval-Cain, Na’ama: “The heavenly angels went astray after her, and spirits and devils were born of her. They are suspended in the air and reveal things to people. Until this day, Na’ama’s abode is in the Mediterranean Sea. She comes out at night, warms herself on sleeping men’s bodies and clings to them, and from that passion she becomes pregnant, eventually giving birth to spirits. Now these spirits that she expels come to women at night in order to give birth to spirits from them. All of them then go to Lilith, and she raises them. Then Lilith goes out into the world and sees peoples’ babies, and attaches herself to them in order to kill them… These babies, which Lilith has the power to kill, (are brought into the world in this fashion:) When a man sees Na’ama in his dreams, and desires to sleep with her, and he wakes up and has sex with his wife, but his real intention is to be with the figure that he saw in his sleep, then the son that will be born is familiar to Lilith, (since) he came from her sphere.” (See Marrot HaTzovot by R. David ben Yehuda ha-Hasid of the fourteenth century, parshat Ahare Mot).

90. “One night, David was sleeping in his camp in the dessert, and Igrat copulated with him in his dream. He had a seminal emission, and she became impregnated, and gave birth to Adad. When he was asked what his name was, he answered, ‘My name is Ad, Ad is my name (shmi Ad, Ad shmi)’. They called his name Ashmadai, this is Ashmadai, the King of the Devils, who threw King Solomon off his throne and sat on it in his place.” From a kabbalistic anthology from the school of the Rashba, MS Parma de Rossi 1221, f. 285a, quoted by Scholem, New Elements, p. 172.

In a Kabbalistic manuscript from the fifteenth-sixteenth century we find a tradition concerning the various preferences of the mothers of the demons when choosing a human mate: “Igrat bat Mahlat and all her company do not cling in their dreams to anyone other than the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not to Ishmael and not to Esau. All the others attach themselves to all the other nations of men” (Sasson ms. 56 pp. 128-137, quoted by Scholem in “New Elements,” pp. 173-174). Igrat prefers Jews (in spite of her connection to Ishmaelite genealogy, and maybe because of it). Igrat hits the jackpot in her search after Jewish seed, and she manages to get the very best – the seed of King David, who was sleeping innocently in the desert. She bore him Ashmadai, the King of the Demons.

The son to whom the text refers is Hadad the Edomite, the enemy of King Solomon: “So the LORD raised up an adversary against Solomon, against Solomon, the Edomite Hadad, who was of the royal family of Edom” (I Kings11:14). The author claims that Hadad and Adad are one and the same. Hadad is said to be of the king’s seed, and our text comments that Hadad was born from the seed (that was spilled in vain) of King David. This is why two of David’s sons, Solomon who was born of Batsheeba, and Adad-Ashmadai who was born of the she-demon Igrat, became enemies who were competing over the inheritance of the kingdom.

In addition to Igrat, there are three other “Queens of the Demons,” whose initials form the acronym Alman (Me’orot Natan, by R. Meir Paparos, letter dalet, entry dalet, and “Spirits” in Margoliot, Malakhey Elyon, p. 205). They are Igrat, Lilith, Mahlat, and Na’ama.

In the Babylonian Talmud, the she-devil named Igrat is already clearly linked to men’s fear of women’s strength: In B. Pesahim (111b – 112a), there is a tradition according to which someone who sees two women sitting facing each other on either side of the road, can assume that they are involved with sorcery. The Talmud recommends that he exercise caution and recite a special spell: (Igrat azlat asya blosya mitqatla bakhek kabel). In this spell, Igrat’s name is combined with the names of other demons, whose power can be deflected by this spell (see also Bamidbar Rabbah 12, 3). We know the name of a woman by the name of Mahlat from the Bible – this is Mahlat, the daughter of Ishmael, whom Esau married (Gen. 28: 9). We have no information that she had a daughter by the name of Igrat. However, one of the commentators on the Zohar (R. Sholom Lavi, the author of Ketem Paz), brings an interesting tradition about the birth of Igrat: “I found writings in which I read that a master of sorcery left Egypt in order to do solitary meditation in the desert. He came upon a cave, in which an ancient book was hidden. He studied its wisdom, to the point that no one excelled him among all of Egypt’s sorcerers. They say that he had a daughter, and she also learned wisdom and sorcery. When Ishmael went to the Wilderness of Paran, he took her as his wife. She led Ishmael astray by her magic, until Abraham his father came and took him away from her. She, however, was pregnant, and she gave birth to an exceedingly beautiful daughter. And they say that there is a demon by the name of Agartiel who is in charge of that desert, and he was drawn to this maiden, and she bore him a daughter. And her mother called her name Igrat, after her father the demon. She is none other than Igrat the daughter of Mahlat the daughter of Ishmael, who leads a host of tens of thousands of damaging angels” (see Margoliot, Malakhey Elyon, p. 204).

It is possible that there is a connection between the kabbalistic demonology that crystallized around the figure of Mahlat the daughter of Ishmael and the historical fact, emphasized by Yitzhak Baer, that there was a widespread phenomenon of sexual liaisons between Spanish Jews of the thirteenth century and Muslim girls, who were called “the daughters of Ishmael.” See Y. Baer, “Researches and Essays in Jewish History” (Hebrew), chapters 13-14. It is not far-fetched to assume that Jewish men, who had young Moslem girls working as maidservants in their houses, had erotic dreams about “the daughter of Ishmael.” If so, the demonic figure that developed in the Kabbalah around the figure of Mahlat the daughter of Ishmael could have been an expression of both fear and forbidden desire. The comments of R. Todros Abulafia, the head of the community of Toledo, who was also a great kabbalist, prove that this was a common phenomenon, and was perceived, at least by this kabbalist, as a threat to the future of Jewish souls. “…It would be fitting to excommunicate…any son of Israel who has relations with a Ishmaelite…and anyone who knows that his friend had relations with an Ishmaelite…for it is not fitting for Israel, who is a holy people, to defile their seed in the bowels of strangers, and to bear children for idol worship. It is therefore fitting for every Jew who is zealous for God to do away with this abomination” (Baer, p. 291). The section of the Zohar known as the Raya Mehemna is full of disdain and insults for children born of illicit relationships, which the author refers to as the “mixed multitudes.” And the Raya Mehemna (fn. 111) identifies such handmaidens with Mahlat bat Yishmael; “He who plants his seed in (the body of) a handmaiden, Mahlat bat Yishmael, or in the daughter of a foreign god, who is evil, darkness, etc.”

91. Reshit Hokhmah, The Gate of Fear, Ch. 8.

92. See Buber, Legends of the Hasidim (p. 159, Schoken 1979): “There was a man who was possessed by Lilith, and he came to Neschiz to beg R. Mordechai that he release him from her clutches. The master sensed in his heart that this man was on his way to him, and he ordered that in the evening, all the doors of the city’s houses be closed, and no one should allow him to enter their abode. When the man arrived in the town at night, he could not find anywhere to lodge, so he was forced to sleep on a pile of hay.

Lilith immediately came to him and said, ‘Come down to me from the hay pile.’ The man asked: ‘Why are you demanding this of me? You always used to come to me.’

‘In the hay pile that you are lying on,’ she said, ‘there is a certain herb that prevents me from coming close to you.’

‘Do you know which one it is?’ he asked, ‘I will throw it out and then you can come to me.’

He stood up and showed her herb after herb, until she said, ‘That’s the one.’ He immediately tied it to his chest and was delivered from her.” We have not yet found any other evidence of an herb that was used as a folk remedy against Lilith.

93. Dover Tzedek, the letter “dalet.”

94. Concerning sleeping “alone in a house,” it is worthwhile to note a Jewish magical text from the fifteenth century which is quoted by G. Scholem in his article “New Chapters Concerning Ashmodai and Lilith” (p. 175). The author of the said magical text intends to consciously take advantage of Lilith’s nature. He appeals to Igrat bat Mahlat, one of the sexual she-devils who belongs to Lilith’s entourage, and enjoins her, i.e. compels her, to appear before him in the form of a maiden that he desires, a beautiful girl whom he can be with only in his flights of imagination: “I adjure you O Igrat bat Mahlat, queen of demons…that you send me plonit the daughter of plonit, one of the beautiful maidens that accompany you…and there is need of a solitary room, and a bed, and white clothes, clean, very clean…and the wise will understand (on their own).” Concerning the subject of adjuring the forces of Lilith for the sake of supplying beautiful women for human pleasure, G. Scholem (pp. 170-171) quotes interesting testimonies about how the Queen of Sheba and her handmaidens were brought for this purpose (she, too, is considered to be one of the embodiments of Lilith in many sources). Here is one of the testimonies: “…it is possible to bring beautiful women, and even the Queen of Sheba, and they walk daintily and prettily.”

Going in an opposite direction, we find a directive in the writings of R. Hayyim Vital to sleep “alone in a house” as one of the conditions for a question asked in a dream: “…and he should be alone in a house, in a place where no person can wake him up, and then his question will be answered during sleep..” (Sha’arey Kedushah, section 4, the end of Gate Aleph).

95. Carol Gilligan, REF.


97. In his book The Doctrine of Evil and the Kelippah in Lurianic Kabbalah (Hebrew), p. 81. Tishbi noticed the subject and its inherent fecundity, but suffices himself with a short quote from Gate 38 of Etz Hayyim, and does not really attempt to lock horns with this “strange and wondrous metamorphosis.”

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