Friday, December 28, 2007

Defense Against the Darks Arts (Jewish Division): pages 4-5 of Havdalah de Rabbi Akiba

Prior pages:
5-25-07, page 1
6-6-07, page 2
11-28-07, page 3

[A havdalah spice box in the form of a fortress tower]

In this entry I continue my translation of the Hebrew theurgic manual, "The Havdalah of Rabbi Akiba." The going is rough. Whether because of poor transmission, a deliberate effort at obscurantism, or the limitations of my Hebrew and Aramaic, parts of the translation of these two pages are largely speculative. I take comfort in the fact that in the Hebrew published version, most of these two pages are taken up in extensive notes and proposed emendations, indicating that wiser men than I have also been baffled in trying to make good sense of this section. The translation:

By means of the angels of Adonai is a bright leopard burst.[1] I adjure[2] and I surely bind and I surely cut off, I surely forswear[3] against a[ny] spirit[4] or demon [Page 4]

Page 4

or shade[5] or spells or bindings or charms, evil acts or an evil eye, or any bad women, or any evil word, or any evil creation (woe) that is in the world; you[6] will clear away and cancel from the 248 limbs[7] of Peloni bar Peloni,[8] from this day and beyond in the name of Adiriron,[9] Adonai Tzevaot, Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh,[10] amen, amen, amen, selah! [Blessed are You….] Creator of the fruit of the vine. [11] [Blessed are You…] Creator of the Light of Fire. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who distinguishes between the sacred and the ordinary, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, and between the seventh day and the six days of creation.
How the proclamation of Your mouth[12] discloses Your fury,[13] Your Name, it will smite with fire. Who is He that His primordial name[14] [Page 5] declared it night – Hormin and Azariyah sat close to Masa.[15] [Page 6] And how…

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] This speculative translation is based on the premise that the first word, which has no obvious meaning, is actually an abbreviation. A “bright leopard” may refer to a shape-shifting demon that takes on animal form (See Amulets and Magic Bowls, pp. 200, 201) . If someone else has a better translation of bama n’fatz tzaf n’mar, I welcome it.
[2] See Amulets and Magic Bowls, pp. 164 - 65.
[3] Derived from “vow.” It can also mean “roll down/pour out,” but as phrases of power, oaths are a critical element in adjuration rhetoric.
[4] Most likely meaning a ghost, dybbuk, or poltergeist.
[5] A kind of night specter, Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae pp. 72-73
[6] The angels.
[7] The tradition that every person is made of 248 component limbs/bones appears in M. Ohel. 1.8 and Talmud Bavli Moed Katan 17a. A similiar formulation appears in the amulets TS K1.127 and TS K1.42 (See Schiffman and Swartz, Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Geniza, p. 120).
[8]Peloni bar Peloni” is the Jewish ideom for “John Doe,” indicating the adept should insert here the name of whomever is to be the recipient of this protective formula.
[9] This title, meaning something like “Mighty of the Mighty,” is sometimes used as a euphemism for YHWH, but also appears frequently, as it does here, in herem (expiation) adjurations.
[10] “Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord of Hosts…” This is derived from the angelic adoration spoken in Isaiah 6:3. It is unclear from the text whether the adept is expected to recite the entire verse here, which concludes “…the fullness of the earth is His glory!”
[11] Having concluded this adjuration, the adept now recites the next part of the (non-esoteric) havdalah ritual that concludes the Sabbath and initiates the new weekday. Note that the blessing over spices does not appear here. According to Maimonides [Rambam], the symbolic use of fragrant spices is to cheer the soul which is saddened at the departure of the Shabbat. One inhales the aroma of the spices because during the Shabbat humanity is given a neshama yetera ("an additional soul"). (Ta'an. 27b; Bez. 16a). By custom, spices are not used during havdalah for a festival that ends on a weekday. It is not obvious why this passage would be using the festival form of havdalah. Perhaps the additional soul of Shabbat grants a measure of protection that the festivals do not, hence the rituals of protection surrounding this havdalah is intended to fortify the adept in the absence of the neshama yetera.
[12] The havdalah ritual complete, one continues with an adjuration. Wording based on emendation of p’nekha to pikha.
[13] Translation based on emendation of razkha to rogzekha. Meaning of this passage remains uncertain.
[14] Meaning is unclear. Perhaps this refers to Elohim, the term used for deity when He created day and night (Gen. 1).
[15] Hormin is a demon, a son of Lilith (Baba Batra 73a), while Azariyah is the nom de guerre of the angel Raphael by which he travels incognito in the Book of Tobit. Why these two names should paired remains a mystery, and perhaps the entire passage suffers from poor transmission, for the meaning eludes this translator.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jesus: Myth, Man, or Messiah?

When I was in seminary, I was required to take a course in the New Testament. It irritated me at the time, going to a Jewish institution and having to learn about Christianity, but it was really a very wise requirement, and not just because the instructor, Dr. Michael Cook, is a great Jew, an excellent scholar, and a real stitch. It was wise because, like most rabbis in America, I end up spending a lot of time talking about Jesus. And, as often happens at this season, I've had a flurry of recent conversations about Jesus with curious Christians. So what do Jews think?

Confusion about Jesus and Jews abounds, which really should come as no surprise. I mean, Christians have, by recent count, several thousand denominations, a good percentage of them born of disputes over the nature and person of Jesus (the others resulting from disputes about Church governance - Jews like to argue over the calendar, if it makes you feel any better). So if they are confused about Jesus, what chance to Jews have?

Most people, even a few Jews, seem to thing Jesus has the status of a prophet in Judaism. I have to explain to them that that's Muslims who hold Jesus to be a human prophet, in the line of prophets to Muhammad.

Truth be told, we have done our part to contribute to this particular confusion. Back in the 19th Century, when all kinds of new theories were being floated about Jesus, "the historical Jesus," Jews got into the fray. There were those skeptics, for example, who posited that Jesus was not a historical figure at all, that he was a myth constructed whole cloth out of the imagination of the early Church. Some Jews at the time jumped on that bandwagon (a few are still on it), insisting there was never a historical figure who bore any real resemblance to the literary Jesus at all. Almost at the same time, however, some rather prominent Jewish thinkers, like Kaufmann Kohler and Martin Buber, wanted to reclaim the "historical" Jesus (but not the doctrinal Jesus) for Judaism. A couple of rabbis even wrote essays about Jesus the "Jewish prophet." I think these efforts set into motion this persistent idea that Judaism regards Jesus as a prophet.

But that notion was 86ed almost as soon as it was proposed. Most Jews regard Jesus neither as a myth, a prophet, or a (successful) messiah. Judaism certainly gives him no religious status (Though Jewish scholars have lately given more serious thought to Christianity as a whole - see the document Dabru Emet posted on the Web). So how do we think of him? Well I think of him as Jesus IHS. Not Iesus Hominum Salvator, "Jesus Savior of Humanity", but IHS meaning - "Interesting Historical Semite."

When people ask what I mean by that, I explain it this way: "For Jews, Jesus is like Albert Einstein." (I used to use Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx also, but too many people got hostile about those analogies; everybody apparently feels positively about Albert). To Jews, Jesus is like Albert Einstein: A Jew who formulated new ways to think, and in doing so, transformed the way the world thinks and works. Like Einstein, Jesus offered up novel ways to understand the world. Like Einstein, he had many Jewish disciples; like Einstein his ideas were embraced by people outside of Jewish circles, and like Einstein, none of this makes him a religious authority for Judaism. He's just an IHS, an "Interesting Historical Semite."

C.S. Lewis is famous for formulating the "3L" argument: given what he said about himself in the Gospels, Jesus has to be one of three things: Lunatic, Liar, or Lord. I for one hate these forced choice questions, questions like - "Given the choice, would you rather be blind or give birth to the Anti-Christ?" Well, circumstances are such that Jews don't have to make that choice, and by the same token Jews don't have to make the 3L choice either. Lewis is, I suppose, relying on us not to be so impolite as to tell our Christian friends we think their savior is a fraud or delusional. But, in fact, we don't have to argue either of those positions. Since the Gospels are not sacred scriptures to Jews, we are under no obligation to assume that the Gospel authors provide us with an inerrant transcript of Jesus' actual words, much less his thoughts. We know from the Gospels what the authors thought Jesus thought of himself, but absent an autobiography, we needn't take the Gospels as, well...gospel.

I can also imagine that Jesus sincerely thought himself to be the eschatological messiah. But that doesn't make him a lunatic, it just makes him wrong. Jewish history gives us multiple examples of well-meaning, sane Jews who thought themselves to be positioned in such a unique time and place in history that God had placed messianic power in their hands. Its just never worked out. The world is still unredeemed. While Jesus has transformed the hearts of his followers, he has failed to transform the world at large. Changed it, yes, but not to messianic dimensions.

So until the world changes to the extent that lions lie down with lambs, men beat their M-4 carbines with undermounted M-203 grenade launchers into composite plumbing fixtures for the poor; until oppression and cruelty ceases, we Jews, at least, know the Messiah has yet to come.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Privy Counsel: Jewish Spirit Etiquette for the Toilet

[Toilet unearthed in the City of David. I'd be worried]

So, as a former Registered Nurse, I often emphasize to my congregants that Judaism is a spiritual tradition that embraces every aspect of what it means to be human. Hence, at Kol Ami we encourage use of the b'rukhah of Asher Yetzer ha-Adam, the blessing for having a bodily function.

This prayer is said once you have completed your business. But the Shulkhan Arukh, the 16th Century digest of Jewish law by the legal and mystic genius Joseph Caro, also reveals a more complex spiritual tradition concerning defecation. In 3:3 Caro states:

If one wishes to palpate the rectum with a pebble or a piece of wood in order to open up the hole, he should do so prior to sitting but not after sitting in order to thwart sorcery.

OK, so perhaps only a person with a medical background would care that Caro is talking about mechanical digitalization for the purpose of relieving constipation [1]. But that aside, what's with the threat of witchcraft while sitting on the john? Well first of all, Caro may simply feel the obligation to reiterate this bit of folkish advice because it appears in the Talmud and relates to his current topic of proper deportment in the toilet (see below). But that answer only defers our questions back 1200 years earlier. So what were the Talmudic Sages on about?

Well, it all starts with the indigenous Jewish tradition that we are surrounded by spiritual forces:

It has been taught: Abba Benjamin says, if the eye had the power to see them, no creature could endure the demons. Abaye says: They are more numerous than we are and they surround us like the ridge round a field. R. Huna says: Every one among us has a thousand on his left hand and ten thousand on his right hand (Berkhot 6a)

By the same token, we are also equally hedged around by guardian spirits:

For He will order his angels to guard you wherever you go (Ps. 91:11)

If a person makes himself to be a righteous person and speak the truth, he is given an Angel who guides him along the path of righteous people and truth is always spoken to him . If a person makes himself to be wicked, to corrupt and speaks lies, then an angel will be attached to him who will corrupt him/her and mislead them in life . If a person makes himself a "chasid" - an especially kind and thoughtful person, accepting everything painful, then a special angel is given to the person which can guide along the pathway of the exceedingly righteous, giving them strength to sustain any pain (Tana Deve Eliyahu Zuta 3:4)

But there are circumstances and places where that protection is weakened, or not applicable at all. Thus, it's considered impolite to force the angels to escort you to the restroom:

Upon entering a toilet, a person should recite:
Honor yourselves, honored ones, holy ones who serve Above. Give honor to the God of Israel, leave me alone until I enter and fulfill my desire, and then I will return to you (Ber. 60a).[2]

The result of this leaving our spirit guardians outside the door is that we are spiritually vulnerable while doing our business in a way we aren't at other times of the day. This negative force is personified as the sheid beit ha-kisei, the djinn of the privy.

In the same way one becomes vulnerable to spirits, one also is subject to assault by witchcraft or the evil eye (here's Caro's Talmudic source):

Palpate yourself before sitting, but do not sit and palpate, for if one sits and then palpates, should witchcraft be used against him, even as far away as Aspamia he will not be immune from it. And if he forgets and does sit and then palpates, what is his remedy? When he rises he should say thus: Not for me, not for me; not for takhtim, nor takhtim [literally, "bottoms"]; not for these nor any part of these; neither the sorceries of sorcerers nor the sorceries of sorceresses! (Ber. 62a)

The concern here is, quite literally, with creating an opening to attack. In other places in the Talmud, we learn that unclean spirits enter through the orifices of the body like the mouth and eyes. Apparently, so too the anus. Now that was the formula against witchcraft; this is a handy phrase against daemons:

For [defeating] a sheid of the privy one should say thus: 'On the head of a lion and on the snout of a lioness did we find the demon Bar Shirika Panda; with a bed of leeks I hurled him down, [and] with the jawbone of an ass I smote him' [3](Shabbat 67a).

But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If spells are good, amulets are even better:

Rabbah bar bar Hannah said: We used to walk behind R' Yochanan,
And when he needed to go to the bathroom -
When he was carrying a book of Midrash he'd give it to us.
But when he was carrying tefillin, he wouldn't give them to us.
He would say: “Since the Rabbis permit us [to take tefillin into a privy],
They will guard me [against demons]!” (Berakhot 23a-b)

From whence does all this anxiety come? I can only guess, but here again, I turn to my prior profession for insight. And in my experience, more than a fair share of medical misadventures happen in the loo - bleeding hemorrhoids, vagal responses that result in syncope and fainting, rectal prolapse from over-straining...the list goes on and on. And these don't even include the classic slip-and-fall. Turns out, just as our modern statisticians tell us, bathrooms are dangerous places.

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] inclusion of such toilet hygiene and health advice, shocking to the modern 'religious' sensibility, is completely in keeping with the dictum of the Talmudic Sage Rav Hiyya, who declared seemingly mundane matters that nevertheless "concern the well-being of all humanity" to in fact be equal to religious imperatives. No spirit-body dichotomy here.

[2] This passage provides one of the only recorded exceptions to the claim of the great J. Heinemann, ‘It is a well-known fact that there are no prayers from the Talmudic period which are addressed to intermediaries of any sort - neither to angels, nor to saints or patriarchs.’ That some Jews did, in fact, pray to their guardian spirits is demonstrated by the necessity of this prohibition the Palestinian Talmud: If a person faces trouble, he should not cry out to the angels Michael or Gabriel. But he should cry out to Me, and I will immediately answer him. In this regard [it says], ‘All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered’ Ber. 9:1 13a. While praying to intermediary spirits was generally frowned upon by the Sages, the Rabbis of Eretz Israel were apparently somewhat more doctrinaire about this then the Rabbis of Babylon.

[3] It is sometimes the case in Jewish ritual declarations that the phrases of the incantation are meaningless to us. The assumption is either that the words function like a passcode (Ever experience this? "Your proposed password is too weak; it should not include words found in the dictionary") or are encrypted to us but comprehensible to divine beings.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Like Sands Through an Hour Glass...: Jewish Magical Soap Opera

[Two women walking on the sand - not that there's anything wrong with that]

I just read a story that even left me baffled. Apparently a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) man in B'nai Brak, Israel, learned that his wife was having a lesbian love affair. Consulting his rabbi, the rabbi handed him a sack of sand, told him the sand was "special," and told him to spread it over the threshold of the offending lesbian. As soon as his wife set foot on the sand, so he was told, his wife would return to him.

Apparently the man sent his son to lay the sand before the doorway, but in an improvisation on the ritual, decided to torch the woman's laundry also. This may have made a pleasing odor unto the Lord, but it also drew the police. Father and son were pinched and confessed to the whole affair (the magical one, that is).

So, this is a novel ritual even to me. I know one may write in sand as part of a ritual, or use it to detect the passing of demons, but I know of nothing like this. Anybody have a source or lead for the use of sand as a love segullah or as a defense against lesbianism?

To learn more about the other Jewish occult practices I do understand, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Jewish Occult Masters

I recently received this comment:

Rabbi, I find your blogs interesting and insightfuil, thank you. My question is...Are these kinds of rituals and esoteric practices necessary for salvation or anything else? What is the purpose of practicing all these types of rituals, incantations, etc...? Is there such a thing as the spiritual elite who can do these things and then the rest of us "normal" spiritual beings?

There are a number of issues embedded here. First, Judaism does not have the issues of "salvation, " at least not as defined in traditional Christianity. Judaism does not have a "one life: pass/fail" metaphysical model. We also do not share in the orthodox church doctrine of "eternal damnation" [I say this with the acknowledgement that the varieties of Christianity and Christian doctrines are virtually infinite and there are no doubt countless nuances to be found among Christian sects]. According to Judaism, virtually all spiritual matter (like the soul[s])[1] eventually finds its way back to God. At worst, the evil that men do will be "blotted out under heaven," which is to say, annihilated and forgotten. Putting it fliply, God is not a cosmic cat that simply tortures something [even an evil something] for its pleasure for all eternity.

As for the function of the esoteric rituals and practices I describe on this blog, well, their practice is understood to empower us and make our lives better. Perhaps the hardest thing for us to grasp, growing up in the Western theological/philosophical tradition, is just how [potentially] empowered and powerful human being are perceived to be in Jewish tradition. We are potentially "Godly" in the Old English sense of that word, "God-like." Even the angels envy us. These rituals are supposed to give us greater access to that divine capacity and power. That being said, as I remark in my introduction to my book, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, Jews can and do live happy and spiritually fulfilling lives never practicing, or even knowing, most of these esoteric traditions.

As for who can access such things, well, that's a matter of debate. But regardless of the nuances of that debate, the adepts who do these things are, almost by definition an "elite," because few Jews ever learn these skills, much less master them. That being said, the esoteric tradition is elitism by meritocracy. Anyone can learn these traditions who wishes to. There are no real gatekeepers or priesthood. Even the supposed rules, like - "You have to be 40, married, etc...." before you learn - are in fact meant to be broken [Off the top of my head I can think of three great esoteric masters who taught and died before they reached 40: Isaak Luria, Nachman of Bratslav, and Aryeh Kaplan].
The only real limit is that few have the combination of inclination, knowledge, moral excellence, and aptitude to achieve a real mastery of these traditions.

[1] the poly-psychic nature of the human soul is a topic for another entry

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dreidel Mysticism

[The account of Zechariah's dream lamp is read every Hanukkah. Medieval illuminated manuscript]

This drash is not my composition. It came to me via e-mail and I'm trying to track down the source [addendum - it's handed down from CHaBaD]. I thought it apropos for the time of the season:

Rabbi Refael of Barshid said: "Just like there are 70 facets to Torah, so too there are 70 facets to Jewish customs, and the sages say that all the miracles come from the palace of Moshiach {the Messiah}, and during Chanukah light from Moshiach descends. This is hinted at in the letters on the dreidel which add up to Moshiach=358.

The Bnei Yissoschor writes that by playing dreidel one can nullify many negative forces: "And with this you'll understand the custom of our fathers which is Torah, that during Chanuka (which is the education and preparation for the future Geula speedily in our days), the children play with squared off pieces of wood with the letters gimmel, shin, hei, nun etched in them,one letter per side, and this wooden top spins on a central point to show that these kingdoms which are alluded to in these letters - which oppose Holiness by way of separating [from the Divine Unity] by spreading out to all sides, all spin on the central point - the Jewish people who unite all the sides, therefore the sides rotate on the point and all will be nullified to the center, [as the prophet says] "v'az yahapoch el amim, safa berurayachad likro b'sheim Hashem" (then the nations will be transformed into[one] clear language to call upon the name of Hashem [G-d]), at which time the zohamas na'ch'ash ( the filth of the primeval snake) which has the letters of gimmel, shin, nun, hei will be nullified - and then Hashem rules, ruled and will rule ....with the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily in our days amen."

To which I may add this thought - that if we take the 358 of the dreidel and add to it the 7 days of the miracle of the oil (the first day it burned as it naturally would - the miracle began the 2nd day), the resulting number is 365, teaching us we should take the values of the 8 days of Hanukkah and extend them to our spinning globe the rest of the year. And just as Jews may be the fulcrum, so too the rest of humanity makes up the 'faces' of the dreidel, and therefore cannot be ignored. So our constant engagement with and concern for all peoples is part and parcel of what will (may he come speedily and in our day] bring Mashiach ben David.

I hope everyone has an enlightened Hanukkah.

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Habdalah of Rabbi Akiba, page 3

I continue my translation [entries on 5-25-07 and 6-6-07 The Havdalah of Rabbi Akiba, pg. 2: Angelic Names,... and Havdalah de-Rabbi Akiva: Jewish Sorcery ] of the Hebrew magical manual, Havdalah de Rabbi Akiva. Having completed the ritual recitation of Ps. 91 on page 2, a new mishna begins on page 3,

[Sentient Alef, by the artist David Singer]

consisting almost entirely of a string of names of power.

The centerpiece of this invocation is the recitation of the Hebrew alef-bet, first in regular order, then in reverse (the pattern of the atba”sh code, one of oldest forms of encryption known). The belief that reversals and permutations of the alef-bet have constructive power is first articulated in Sefer Yetzirah 2:4-5.

The typesetter has grouped the letters in clusters, suggesting that this is the necessary pattern for recitation. The purpose of this may be to create a meditative state in the adept performing the ritual, or it may have purely magical effect.

Page 3
[Mishna Bet] You holy signs[1] Ad’tae”l, the Light of Your Presence.
And before Him – Yatzkhe”l and Palie”l, P’lai”m, Pel”e, Nifl”a, Magli”a, P’lao”t,[2] Z’vu”d, the pruner Akh’s’kas,[3] Marmaraot surely comes Sabaot,[4] T’rami,[5] the Host of Yisrae”l Par’pare”l, Anaei”l,[6] Y’hudie”l Y’h”u[7] Nakh’v’die”l

אבגדהוזחטיכך[8] למם נן סע פף צץ קר שת תשרקצץ[9] פע סן נם מלך כיט חז והד גבא

By means of the angels of Adonai is a bright leopard burst.[10] I adjure[11] and I surely bind and I surely cut off, I surely forswear[12] against a[ny] spirit[13] or demon [Page 4] or shade[14] or spells or bindings or charms…


[1] The psalm now recited, this begins an incantation. This same opening phrase is used in a Geniza Fragment, T-S K 1.91, in a spell to combat impotence (As it appears in Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, pp. 176-178). In the Geniza passage, “holy signs” refers to magical characters. Here the phrase apparently refers to the alef-bet itself, which is suggestive of how the author viewed the theurgic nature of the Hebrew language.
[2] The previous six names are a series of variant forms of the word “wonder.” The purpose of this permutation-configuration is not self-evident. This last name appears on an amulet as “Pelaot the angel.” Magic Spells and Formulae, p. 106.
[3] Literally, “I will scour.” Perhaps it is a name, a corruption of “Abraxas,” a popular angel in amulet texts.
[4] This is likely either a euphemism or corruption of tsevaot.
[5] Variant form of this name appears on an amulet
[6] This name appears on amulet Horvat Kanaf, Qasrin No. 3163, as transcribed in Amulets and Magic Bowls, p. 50.
[7] Most likely variant of the Tetragrammaton, this is a form popularly appearing on many amulets. The writer may well have regarded it as yet another angelic name. It may also be an acronym for yishmar’hu ha-Shem v’khuihu.
[8] It is unclear whether these letters are simply recited in a cluster or meant to be pronounced as one long word – a daunting task given this first grouping.
[9] The pattern breaks from absolute reversal here, having the tzadi come before the tzadi sofit, just as it does in the normal order. Perhaps it is simply a typesetter’s error, but assuming it is deliberate, it provides us a clue pointing to the idea that these clusters are to be pronounced as words, because a full reversal would have resulted in the next cluster of two letters beginning with the tzadi sofit, a violation of Hebrew word morphology.
[10] This speculative translation is based on the premise that the first word, which has no obvious meaning, is actually an abbreviation. A “bright leopard” may refer to a shape-shifting demon that takes on animal form (See Amulets and Magic Bowls, pp. 200, 201) . If someone else has a better translation of bama n’fatz tzaf n’mar, I welcome it.
[11] See Amulets and Magic Bowls, pp. 164 - 65.
[12] Derived from “vow.” It can also mean “roll down/pour out,” but as phrases of power, oaths are a critical element in adjuration rhetoric.
[13] Most likely meaning a ghost, dybbuk, or poltergeist.
[14] A kind of night specter, Magic Spells and Formulae pp. 72-73

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Women Jewish Mystics

A reader writes:
Stumbled across your blog while doing some digging into what little history I could find regarding mystic Jewish women (the middle ages seems replete with Christian women mystics, so I wondered where the Jewish women were...) Anyway, kick-a** d'var torah! [she is referring to my entry entitled

[Cover illustration of Judaism personified as a woman by E. M. Lilien]

Occult Bible III] Thanks for sharing this! Would like your thoughts on if there's any value to this simple, kinesthetic deeper dive: why did the book [she means the Torah] begin with beit and not aleph? The unspoken breath had to be sealed and thus given form by Divine lips for creation to begin.

Intriguing insight on God's breath. I have partially addressed something along these lines in an article I wrote on the role of silence in Jewish metaphysics and prayer entitled "The Sanctuary of the Heart." It just got republished this summer in an anthology entitled The Inner Journey: The Jewish View.

But rather than go there (maybe I'll develop what I've found more toward the theme of "God's lips/unspoken breath" in a future entry), let me tell you that one place to start on questions of medieval Jewish women mystics would be Jeffrey Chajes' outstanding article, "Women Leading Women [and Attentive Men]: Pietistic Models of Jewish Women." Chajes gives us accounts of Jewish women sorcerers (Sonadora), mediums (the daughter of Raphael Anav) and visionaries (Rachel Amberlin ha-Ashkenazit). Also look at the female authors of "women's prayers" known as thkines.

You can also find entries and primary source citations concerning women and mysticism in my book, the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Anyway, I'm on a tear in the field of Hebrew magic for the moment, so I will likely post one or two more entries on that before I return to alef-bet/silence-speech.

Thanks for the interest!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Crack My Cup and Cut Me Up: Jewish Curses

Cross my heart and hope to die! It is a childish phrase, so familiar to us all. But a moment’s reflection reveals it is anything but childlike. Rather, it is quite a potent statement.

Last year the Dallas Morning News gave us a delightful article on the contemporary fate of curse words, but there is another form of religious maledictions they didn’t discuss. It is what scholars call a “conditional self-curse.” It means, in effect, if I break this promise, may I be killed! The above example is a profoundly Christian version of that concept, for the speaker is invoking the cross, which is to say, the God of the cross, to witness the promise and enforce the curse.

But conditional self-curses predate Christianity. Multiple forms of conditional self-curses appear in the Hebrew Bible. Sometimes it is just expressed as a spoken oath, along the lines of “May thus and more happen to me if…”(I Samuel 19:2; 20:10). But if you're Biblical figure who wants to be really serious about your promise, then what you do is break or destroy something, often a living thing, to ritually act out what should happen to you if you fail to live up to your word (Jer. 34:18-20).

That’s exactly the kind of promise God makes to Abraham in the episode known as the "covenant between the pieces," or more viscerally, the “covenant of the chunks” (Gen. 15). God commands Abraham to cut up several animals and then arrange them in a row on the ground with a path between the severed parts. God then appears as a flame (think burning bush) that passes between the chunks. This is meant to be a shocking moment - but not for the reason that seems gruesomely obvious to us. God is, in effect, saying “let Me be cut up if I don’t keep My oath to you, Abraham!” It is hard to imagine exactly how God can curse Himself, but if the theology is problematic, the symbolism is clear and powerful: God’s commitment to fulfilling the promises made to Abraham is absolute, grounded in God’s very being.

Though all this seem very arcane from a modern point of view, this kind of oath-taking has never really gone away. “Cross my heart…” is still part of our language of promise-making, as is crossing one’s self when one does it. And Jews still observe a dramatic form of this Biblical oath-taking today. For the same logic is working in one of the most memorable of all Jewish customs: breaking a glass at a wedding. It is meant to convey to all the witnesses present, “If I break the vows made here today, may I be broken thus!”

All of which comes to remind us that, from a religious perspective, promises matter. We moderns regard promises, be they political commitments, marriage vows, or personal promises, as easy to make and easy to break. The God of Israel, however, takes Her promises more seriously then we take our own. Perhaps we humans should consider reclaiming a more Biblical attitude towards standing by our words. We should only say what we mean, and always mean what we say. And we could show our seriousness by saying something like this: “…crack my cup or cut me up, so help me God!”

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Perfect Gift for Chanukah, Hanuka, Hanukka, Chanuka, Hanukkah - whatever

Give the gift of amazement to your family and friends this holiday season!

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism is the definitive one-volume reference book on the Jewish occult with over a thousand entries on authentic Jewish traditions, people, and events. Individual entries, such as “Angels,” “Amulets,” “Dreams,” “Ghosts,” “Magic,” “Sefirot,” and “Witchcraft,” are all drawn from the full scope of Jewish literature. The EJMMM also incorporates a wealth of recent scholarship.

This is a truly unique book. Though written for a general audience, it completely takes the “pop” out of Kabbalah and is faithful to authentic Jewish teachings. Any reader interested in metaphysics, shamanism, Kabbalah, spiritualism, or the Western magical tradition, will find the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism offers both authentic traditions and new insights. It is a book you will consult again and again.

For the first time ever 3500 years of accumulated secret wisdom, drawn from the wells of a great spiritual tradition, is at your fingertips. It shouldn’t be so easy.
Enlighten someone this Holiday of Lights.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hebrew Magic Love Charms

[Standing beneath a potent palm tree (see below) are the hunky Jacob with the babalicious Rachel - known to the celebrity press as "Jakhel" - the first lustbunnies of the Bible]

Long (at least 3000 years) before Viagra came along, Jews were been looking for love in a bottle.

The first reference to a aphrodisiac may appear in the Torah itself. In Gen. 30:14, we read of the love-deprived Leah gathering something called דודאים. As it turned out, they worked for her, though not in the expected fashion. Now we translate this term as "mandrake," a root with long sexual associations, but the word itself is evidently derived from the verb דוּד, "to love." So it could easily mean, "love root" or even "love potion."[1] Unfortunately, the only other use of the word, in the Song of Songs 7:14, doesn’t really resolve the ambiguity.

But there is no ambiguity in the fact that later generations of Jews were looking hard into the lusty Song of Songs for that special formula, amulet, or magical potable that would ensure the affection of a beloved and/or the cure for what my commercial-watching 8 year old misinterprets as "reptile destruction."

Thus we find the words of Song of Songs, which the Rabbis banned from being sung in taverns, nevertheless appearing on amulets with fraught phrases such as אמרתי אעלה בתמר אחזה בסנסניו "I say: I will scale the palm; let me grip its branches" (7:9). I suppose a non-sexual, even theological, meaning could be attributed to this, but given the context from which it was extracted ("your awesome body is like a palm; your breasts are like clusters") the function of this talisman seems pretty clear - its the agrarian forerunner of "Your body's name must be Visa, because it's everywhere I want to be"- but with the the power of the divine, a kind of spiritual Porche, to help reel 'em in. Now we know why the Sages said we had to keep it out of the bars.

And if the quest for the ultimate pick-up line reaches all the way back into the hoary antiquity of Scripture, the battle against impotence is always looking for the next great solution. Here’s one I never thought of. This formula appears in a magical manual found in the Cairo Geniza:

ל [ח] ל אלמעקוד יכתב עלי ורק נאר וישרב בנביד והדא אלדי תכתבה....אתון אתיא קדישיא וקל קטיריא שרין וכשרין לגידא רביא דפל' בן פל'

"To release someone who is 'bound': Let him write on a leaf of pomegranate, and drink it in wine. This is what you should write (magic figures and letters) ‘You, holy symbols and characters, loosen and make fit the big sinew of Ploni ben Ploni’..."[2]

Both examples on message and straight to the point. You gotta wonder, how could these ancients fail with God as their wingman?
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism makes the perfect Chanukah gift: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] Davies, Magic, Divination, and Demonology Among the Hebrews and their Neighbors, p. 35.
[2] T-S K 1.91, as transcribed and translated in Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, p. 178.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jewish Magic Spells: The Secret Language of Amulets

[A famous paper amulet against Lilith. The top line names the primordial beings: Adam, Eve, and Lilith.
The second line illustrates and names the three angels empowered against Lilith (who knew Big Bird was an angel of God?).
The third line is a series of abbreviations for biblical or rabbinic phrases of power.]

Early in Jewish history, as a way to save space on precious and scarce writing materials (easy to produce paper was centuries away), Jewish scribes developed an elaborate list of abbreviations for commonly used phrases and terms. For example, the title for God, Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu "The Holy Blessed One," became HKB"H.

Such acronyms, known as Roshei Teivot, "heads of words," litter the page of traditional Jewish works such as the Talmud and Midrash.

On Jewish amulets, too, abbreviations are common. In fact, Jewish talismans seem indecipherable, even to a Hebrew reader, precisely because acronyms rule. Many amulets are small, in order to be worn or carried. Often they are made out of precious or difficult to work materials (silver, for example). But abbreviations are also used precisely because they are a kind of code, and occult speech is powerful speech.

There are many types of magical abbreviations that appear on Jewish talismans-

A Biblical verse or phrase (It should be noted that Mishna Sanhedrin 10:1 objects to the use of Torah verses in medicinal spells. Jewish folk healers may have regarded the abbreviation of such verses as a way to make an end-run around that objection [1]):

ShYCh"G - Shuvah Yah Chatzah Nafshi, "Return O Eternal, save my life" (Ps. 6:5).

or a title of God:

Sh"Y - Shomer Yisrael, "Guardian of Israel" (Ps. 121)

It can be a verse from Jewish prayer:

AGL"A - Atah Gibor L'olam Adonai, "You are Forever Powerful, O Eternal" (Gevurot prayer)

or an adjuration:

BACh"V - Bashem El Chai V'kayyam, "[Do this] in the name of the living and enduring God"[2]


BM"T - B'Mazal Tov, "[bless me] with good fortune."

It can be for invoking the protection of angels:

ARGM"N - Uriel, Rafael, Gavriel, Mikhael, Nuriel

or for the kabbalistic sefirot:

CHBT"M - Chochmah, Binah, Tiferet, Malchut

Such phrases number into the hundreds. Even a reader of traditional Jewish texts may be at a loss to decode many amulet abbreviations. There are a number of books that can help, but I recommend ha-Kamiya ha-Yehudi, "The Hebrew Amulet" by Avraham Green, which provides exhaustive tables of such roshei teivot and their interpretation.

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] Davis, "The Psalms in Hebrew Medical Amulets," Vetus Testamentum, XLII, 2 (1992)

[2] I use a capital "A" to transliterate the alef, a silent letter which can bear several vowel sounds. Here it is the "e" in "El." In a later example it will be a "u" in "Uriel."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Secrets of Bereshit: The Occult Bible III

In earlier entries (Nov. 2006) on the blog, I discussed how esoteric readings of the Hebrew Scriptures are commonplace. Here I want to share with you a few examples of how occult meaning has been uncovered in the first word, of the first verse, of the first book of the Torah. Let us see what Bereshit reveals for us:

בְּרֵאשִׁית In the beginning/When [God] began... (TaNaKH)

Since RaSHI, it has been widely understood that the conventional sequential translation, "In the beginning.." is inaccurate. Bereshit is a construct, not absolute form, so a temporal "When [God] began..." is better. So already on the merely syntactical level the word has its complexities.

But Jewish tradition has also held the six letters contain secrets that the wise will understand:

By making a notarikon (in this case, separating the word into two words:

בָּרַא שִׁית He created six [things]....
(Genesis Rabbah 1:4; Midrash ha-Gadol)

A secret is revealed - six critical entities preceded the actual creation of heaven and earth: The Throne of Glory [positive existence], Torah [the blueprint for existence], the Ancestors [the righteous pillars that support existence], the concept of the Temple [the link between worlds], and the name of Messiah [redemption and rectification].

Although the Torah itself suggests that certain hylic entities co-existed with God at the beginning (water, darkness), by separating out the diacritical dagesh from the word [it is the dot in the first letter]:

Beginning with a point...בְ • רֵאשִׁית
(Zohar I:15a)

the Zohar finds the philosophic principle creation ex nihilo [from nothing] in the first word. Zohar also finds hints of the Sefirotic structure in the first sentence:

"With Wisdom [reishit = chokhmah, a claim based on Proverbs 8:22; 3:18], the Infinite [= Keter, the subject being implicit in the verb form bara] created Elohim [binah]"

All Jewish mysticism takes very seriously the pathos (the caring) of God, that God is driven by a 'need' to create and relate to that creation, an idea scandalous to rationalist philosophy, which posits that God must be impassive. Re-arranging the six letters yields that creation is a:

שִׁיר תָאֵב A song of desire
(Attributed to Isaac Luria)

And confirms the mystical premise of a deity longing for us.

All of which is very cool and enlightening. And its just a sample. Tikkunei Zohar has many, many d'rashot on the word Bereshit (70, I'm told, but I've never counted them). But this kind of free-form interpretation creates other problems for the tradition. For example, Christians can play this game too:

the letters can yield:
father אב
son בּר
fire [ = holy spirit, though don't ask me how] אישׁ
a fortunate daughter [guess?]בּת אשׁרי
crucifixion on the sixth [day] ת
[This last one's another stretch - the Hebrew tav is the equivalent of the Greek tau....which is cross-shaped!]
(courtesy of Alexander Neckham, a 12th Century monk, in his De Naturis Rerum)[1]

Which may in part explain the gradual shift to more contextual, plain-sense [peshat]interpretations of the Bible by later generations of Jewish commentators - less chance of having your hermeneutics used against you!

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050
[1] Thanks to my colleague at UNT, Leona Marsh, for calling my attention to Alexander. She has been translating Alexander's work from Latin and approached me because she needed help making sense of his Hebrew homilies.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Inviting Trouble: Drawing Down Angels

[Jacob has uninvited encounter with an angel. Be careful what you ask for. Postcard by E. M. Lilien]

A reader writes responding to an older blog entry on Uriel:

doing research on my own spontaneous experiences with the sar ha panim. your work is wonderful. Is it common for these things to just occur without prayer or meditation?

Thanks for the compliment. A general rule of thumb is that prophecy is usually characterized by the divine seeking out the person, while mysticism requires the person to seek out God. Though some may be graciously granted an angelic visitation unsolicited (Hagar, Joshua, Menoah's wife), and we ordinary folk may have moments of encounter we regard to be angelic visitation (I've had two such memorable experiences), Jewish indigenous tradition assumes that if you want to meet angels, you have to make it happen. This is the premise, for example, of the Sar ha-Torah texts in the Hechalot literature, in which the rituals of power needed to interact with an angel are [partially] specified. All the texts consider this practice to be fraught with danger.

I have a pending article entitled "Water as a Medium for Altered States of Consciousness in Early Jewish Mysticism" that will appear in the Spring 2008 issue of the Journal of the Anthropology of Consciousness that catalogues some of these practices.
Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tehirin: Pure Evil, Demons of Dreams

Loosely derived from the “…scourge that ravages at noon” (tsohoriyim) mentioned in the anti-demonic Psalm 91 (verse 6), the Tehirin are a class of demons [1].

Based on their name and the context, the unique attribute of these creatures would seem to be their propensity to move about in daytime, a quality not generally associated with the demonic (Megillah 3a; Ber. 3b; Sanhedrin 65b).

[Attractive sleeping angel, New Orleans grave monument]

Never brought up in Talmud or early Midrash, they first get explicit mention Targum Shir ha-Shirim 4:6. [1]

Yet they receive the most prominent treatment in Zohar, where they are referenced multiple times (ironically, given their name derivation) as a creature that interferes with the night flight of the soul to heaven (Zohar I:83a). Perhaps there is another layer of irony, because the name closely resembles the Hebrew word for “pure” and “glittering,” yet these may be the very demons that trigger entrancing yet impure dreams in men (I:200a). Wittily, in his new Zohar translation Daniel Matt translates tehirin by the seductively charming alliterative “dazzling demons.”[2]

(SEE: Did Satan Fall?: The Devil is in the Details
Lilith - semen demon or feminist icon?
Does the curse of Cain live on?
Spawns of Satan, Children of Cain )

[1] "Demon" is a catchall term for the many Hebrew terms for spirits such as sheidim, mazzikim, and lilin (djinns, imps, and night spirits). Yet the word is problematic, because these Hebrew terms do not carry same the infernal, satanic, essence of evil connotation of the English word "demon." While these spirits usually spell trouble for humans, they are as much like fairies and/or ghosts as they are like devils. Nevertheless, "fairy" has too mild a connotation in itself. Therefore I choose the word "demon" as a global term for all spirits in Jewish tradition that are not angelic.
[2] In the critical text, The Song of Songs in the Targumic Tradition, they appear as teiharei and is translated as "noontime ghosts."
[3] Pritzker Zohar, vol. 3, p. 162.

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Received this nice comment:

Dear Rabbi, I just discovered your blog, which for me is LivingWater. I look forward to your book; I'm wondering if it will supplant Joshua Trachtenberg's Jewish Magicand Superstition, which is my all-time favorite.I'll be joining the discussion!Be well.

Todah rabbah/Many thanks

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Erelim: Tearful Angels, Jewish Valkyries

There are many classes of angels in Jewish angelology. We have already discussed cherubim and serafim in earlier entries. A less familiar category is that of the erelim. Their existence is derived from Isaiah 33:7, which reads

[Israels klage und hoffnung Ps. 22, Die Bucher der Bibel, by E.M. Lilien]

Behold the valiant [erelam] shall cry out, the angels of peace shall weep bitterly.

While there may be a progressive parallelism intended here, i.e., "both mortals and divine beings weep," esoteric readers of this verse draw a straight parallel between the erelam and the "angels of peace" -- the verse refers to two types of angels.

Maimonides lists erelim among the ten classes of angels (Hilchot Yesodei ha-Torah 2:7). They are ascribed a number of overlapping functions in different sources.

They seem to be closely tied to moments of death and destruction. Thus Hagigah 5b reiterates the Isaiah passage regarding the destruction of the Temple, while Jewish mystics make them witnesses to the humiliation of the Shekhinah (Zohar I:182a; also see Lamentations Rabbah Proem 24 and 1:23)

Erelim apparently have the responsibility to retrieve the souls of the righteous dead. Thus in the account of the death of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, during which the Sages attempted to keep him alive via continuous prayer, a disciple finally admits defeat by saying, "Both the erelim and the mortals held on to the Holy Ark [Rabbi Judah]; but the angels overpowered the mortals, and the Holy Ark has been captured" (Ketubot 104a) [notice the militaristic turn of phrase, an allusion to the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines in I Samuel. Since erelim are linked to war and destruction elsewhere, perhaps there is a Valkyrie-like element to them]

They also have a strong predisposition to cry; in Genesis Rabbah 56:6, it is the Erelim that weep over the thought that Abraham will go through with the divine instruction to kill his son. They personify divine pathos.

Paradoxically, given what appears above, they are also associated with life. In Midrash Konen, they are the angels described as the genius of foliage, impelling plant growth (2:25).

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Monday, October 01, 2007

Clouds of Glory: God's Sukkot, God's Shekhinah

[Clouds, rainbows, and a pillar of smoke - Die Bucher der Bibel, by Ephraim Moses Lilien]
Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons ev'rywhere
I've looked at clouds that way....
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

As we are celebrating the hag/holiday of Sukkot, I thought I might devote an entry to the popular and recurrent motif of the ananei ha-kavod, the “Clouds of Glory.” What does this have to do with Sukkot? Well, in the Tosefta we read concerning the Israelite’s time in the desert:

God gave to [Abraham's] children seven clouds of glory in the desert, one to their right, and one to their left, one before them, and one after them, and one above their heads, and one as the Shekhinah that was in their midst. And the pillar of cloud would precede them, killing snakes and scorpions, burning brush, thorns and bramble, leveling hillocks and raising low places, and making a straight path for them, a straight continuing highway, as it is said, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord traveled in front of them...and the Eternal's cloud kept above them by day... Num 10:33-34.” ( Sotah 4:2).

But this doesn't make sense; didn’t we dwell in huts (sukkot) for the journey in the wilderness? Seems there is a controversy:

R. Eliezer says: They were real sukkot. R. Akiba says: The sukkot were the clouds of glory (Sifra to Leviticus, Emor 17:11)

This reads sort of like a conversation between Carl Sagan and Timothy Leary. Eliezer, the rationalist, restates the obvious. Akiba, on the other hand, seems to pull this idea out of a hallucinogenic cloud of his own. But it turns out the ever-mystical Akiba actually has some exegetical ground to stand on:

He made darkness His screen; dark thunderheads, dense clouds of the sky were His sukkah round about him (Ps 18:11-12)

Can one, indeed, contemplate the expanse of clouds, the thunderings from His sukkah? (Job 36:29)

OK, these read poetically; clouds as metaphor for God’s shelter, but the link is clear: clouds = God’s ‘sukkah’. Akiba just takes it a step further, making the equation that if clouds are God’s sukkah, then the sukkot that God caused us to dwell in:

You shall live in sukkot seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in sukkot, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Eternal your God (Lev 23:42-43, all translations based on NJPS)

…were also clouds! And supernatural clouds to boot, cloud of the Kavod, of the divine glory. These clouds had supernal letters written on them, serving as banners for each tribe (MdRI, Bo 14; Pesik. R. 20; Targum Shir ha-Shirim).

But these clouds were not just reserved for Israel’s use as sukkot. When God becomes manifest on earth, clouds obscured what was happening (Ex. 19-21; Job 22:13; Ex. 19; Lev. 16:2). Angels too manifested themselves as cloud; most famously the pillar of cloud that guided the Children of Israel during the day on the Exodus alluded to above (Ex. 13:21, 14:19-24).

Rabbinic tradition goes to designate a cloud as a sign of the Shekhinah, the feminine Divine Presence (Gen. R. 1:6; 1:10). Such clouds hovered over the tents of the matriarchs (Gen. R. 60:16). Moses ascended into heaven to receive the Torah enwrapped in clouds (Men. 29b; Shab. 88b-89a).

Even after the entry into the land, a pillar of cloud became manifest over the altar of the Temple on Yom Kippur, and its appearance was an augury of the future (Yoma 21b). The presence of these clouds diminished and eventually disappeared due to the accreted sins of Israel. Bar Nifli, “son of a cloud,” is a title for the Messiah, who will appear riding one, according to the Book of Daniel (7:13). Virtuosos of Kabbalah, such as Moses Cordovero, sometimes had pillars of cloud appear over or around them (Sefer ha-Hezyonot).

Thus it becomes clear from all these images that the clouds of Glory are multivalent in their mythic significance – having viewed sukkot from both sides now (with apologies to Ms. Mitchell) they (and clouds) symbolize divine presence (specifically the feminine divine presence), but also divine protection and favor, along with God's love and salvation.

Zal g'mor - to learn more about Jewish mythic traditions, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Original Sin in Judaism?

[Adam und Eva, from Die Bucher der Bibel, by Ephraim Moses Lilien]

A comment I recently received asks:

I have an unrelated question to this post. Can you elaborate on the traditional Jewish understanding of the concept of original sin? (if there is one at all as this may be a later Christian development) Since sacrifice for sins plays an important role in Judaism, i was wondering if it started with the Genesis account and the eating of the fruit by Adam/Eve. (or maybe that story has an alternate explanation within Judaism)thank you for your time and your knowledge.

The short answer is that Judaism does not have a doctrine of Original Sin. Jewish theology emphasizes the freedom humans have to make moral choices. Humans are born with conflicting impulses (See my earlier entry, Yetzer ha-Ra: A Necessary Evil), but we are not born already "in the red," sin-wise, because of actions not our own.

The longer answer is this: Christian Scriptures have a notion of inherited sin (Romans 7; John 5:19; Luke 11:13) which evolves into the dogma of “Original Sin” in the Church. This worldview of sin that is inherited from earlier generations, either from the mythic progenitors, Adam and Eve, or from the devolution of the generations prior to the Flood, is not entirely de novo to the early church. They are drawing upon and elaborating on a thread of thought found in Jewish apocalyptic literature (see Jubilees I:12-13; 2 Esdras 7).

These Apocalyptic beliefs of inherited sin, however, are not adopted by Jews outside of apocalyptic circles. The Rabbis, who formulated Jewish thought based on the Bible, certainly do not adopt this position about the state of the human soul, either formally or informally. The punishments meted out to Adam, Eve, and their children, for example, are explicitly listed in Gen. 3 and "innate sinfulness" is not one of them. Jews have seen attempts to attribute the doctrine to other passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Gen. and Numbers 15:37-41, but such interpretations strike us as eisogetical, retrojecting a later doctrine into these verses by over-reading them. These passages describe an "inclination" to sin, but that's a far cry from an innate depravity that prevents us from making good moral choices. Rather, the Torah assures us that we can, of our own free will, do what is required of us - Deut. 30.

The daily prayer, Elohai Neshamah, likewise affirms that "God, the soul you have given me, it is pure...", reflecting the absence of any Jewish doctrinal belief that the human soul is "sinful" or ontologically flawed.

Since this really kind of tangential to the stated focus of the blog, I refer all interested people to a more detailed discussion of this, which can be found on the website of my colleague and teacher, Rabbi Toviah Singer:

Zal g'mor - to learn more about Jewish traditions, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Metatron: Angel Prince, Enoch Transformed

A Sar (Princely, Chieftain Angel) who features prominently in Jewish esoteric literature. The name “Metatron” itself is a puzzle, being either a Greek derived word meaning meta-thronos, “beyond [behind] the throne” or meta-tetra, “beyond the four [Angels of the Countenance],” or the Latin metator, “guide.” Less plausible is the argument that it is a corrupted form of the Persian God Mithras.

[William Blake's illustration of the Chariot-Throne as a fiery four-headed angel. Is that Metatron sitting there?]

Intriguingly, gematria reveals that one spelling of his name has the same numeric value as the divine title Shaddai.

Metatron has many other names and titles. Among the most common are Sar ha-Panim (Prince of the Countenance), Sar ha-Olam (Prince of the World), ha-Naar (the Youth), Marei de-Gadpei, (Master of Wings), and Yahoel. The very name “Metatron” is spelled differently in different documents. In the Merkavah traditions we learn that Metatron has twelve names, corresponding to the twelve tribes. This may account for why there are so many overlapping names and titles in the Metatron traditions (Sanh. 38b; Zohar I:21a).

Metatron’s place in the angelic host is truly unique for several reasons. So exalted is his status that in some sources he is referred to as the “Lesser YHWH”:

A heretic challenged Rabbi Idit: It is written, "[God] said to Moses, 'Go up to YHVH'" {Exodus 24:1}. [Since God was speaking], it ought to say 'Go up to Me!' Rabbi Idit answered: [YHVH] here refers to Metatron, whose name is the same as the name of his master. As it is written, "Behold, I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way... My name is in him" (Exodus 23:20-21). -Sanhedrin 38b (also see Yev. 16b).

He is also unique in that he alone among the angels sits upon a throne, as does God. Because of this, Elisha ben Abuyah mistakes Metatron for a god and concludes there are “two powers in heaven”:

What happened [to make Elisha ben Avuyah deny the oneness of God] ? He had a vision of Metatron, who had received permission to sit and write down the merits of the Jewish people. He said: We have learned that on High there is no sitting... Perhaps there are two Powers! [The celestial order] demoted Metatron and beat him with sixty whips of fire. They said to him: When you saw [ben Avuyah], why did you not stand up? Then they gave him permission to erase the merits of Elisha ben Avuyah. - Chagigah 15a

The other remarkable fact about Metatron is that he was once human – the antediluvian hero Enoch (Gen. 5; Jubilees 4:23; Sefer Hechalot 12:5). In III Enoch, Metatron describes to Rabbi Ishmael how he was transubstantiated from mortal to angelic form: Under the direction of Michael and Gabriel he grew in size until his body filled the whole universe (signaling a reversal of the “fall” of Adam Kadmon). He sprouted 72 wings (for each of the 72 names of God), grew 365,000 luminous eyes (indicating he had became omniscient, symbolized by acquiring 1000 eyes for each day of the year), and his material body burned away to be replace with a form of pure fire. According to the Zohar, he has the appearance of a rainbow (1:7a). Finally, he is given a crown resembling the crown worn by God.

Metatron has a very prominent role in Hechalot literature, where he appears as a guide to human adepts visiting heaven, (except in Hechalot Rabbati, where that role is filled by Anafiel). At times Metatron is associated with the supernal Mishkan (see my earlier entry), and is described as the High Priest in the heavenly Temple, a role ascribed to Michael in other texts. The Zohar attempts to reconcile these conflicting traditions:

From this we see that the Holy One, blessed be He, actually gave Moses all the arrangements and all the shapes of the Tabernacle, each in its appropriate manner, and that he saw Metatron ministering to the High Priest within it. It may be said that, as the Tabernacle above was not erected until the Tabernacle below had been completed, that "youth" (Metatron) could not have served above before Divine worship had taken place in the earthly Tabernacle. It is true that the Tabernacle above was not actually erected before the one below; yet Moses saw a mirroring of the whole beforehand, and also Metatron, as he would be later when all was complete. The Holy One said to him: "Behold now, the Tabernacle and the ‘Youth’; all is held in suspense until the Tabernacle below shall have been built." It should not be thought, however, that Metatron himself ministers; the fact is, that the Tabernacle belongs to him, and Michael, the High Priest, it is that serves there, within the Metatron's Tabernacle, mirroring the function of the Supernal High Priest above, serving within that other Tabernacle, that hidden one which never is revealed, which is connected with the mystery of the world to come. There are two celestial Tabernacles: the one, the supernal concealed Tabernacle, and the other, the Tabernacle of the Metatron. And there are also two priests: the one is the primeval Light, and the other Michael, the High Priest below. (II:159a, translation taken from the Soncino Zohar)

In Sefer Zerubbabel, he is explicitly identified with Michael. He also functions as the heavenly scribe, writing 366 books. He also teaches Torah to the righteous dead in the Yeshiva on High (A.V. 3b; Seder Gan Eden). He is involved in events on earth as well as in heaven. He led Abraham through Canaan, delivered Isaac from his father’s knife, Wrestled with Jacob, led the Israelites in the desert, rallied Joshua, and revealed the End of Times to Zerubbabel (Sefer Zerubbabel). Even so, he is only rarely adjured in angel summoning incantations. One magical book, Sefer ha-Cheshek, is devoted to the power of his 72 names.

He continues his function as heavenly tour guide in medieval works like Gedulat Moshe, though Metatron does not enjoy the singular prominence in later Kabbalah that he does in early Maasei-Merkavah.

In the Zohar, Metatron is a manifestation of Shekhinah (I:179b), the first “offspring” of the supernal union of God’s feminine and masculine aspects (I: 143a, 162a-b. Also see Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 187).

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Shem ha-Kotev: Jewish Automatic Writing

[A scribe from Die Bucher der Bibel, illustration by Ephraim Moses Lilien]

In Jewish mysticism we find a pneumatic phenomenon parallel to xenoglossia; that of “automatic writing,” composing while in an altered state of consciousness.

This phenomenon is sometimes thought to be inspired by the incident in Daniel of the “writing on the wall,” though the Biblical account doesn't actually describe a spiritual possession.

Moses DeLeon is a notable example under the influence of this, as there are indications he wrote parts of the Zohar while in an altered state of consciousness [1]. Medieval mystics describe it as the shem ha-kotev, “the writing Name.” This divine name can be invoked, sometimes through the angels Gabriel and Michael, to trigger the trance-induced writing (Sha’arei Tzedek). Sources mention the practice, but do not record the actual “name,” though Taitazak provides some details:

The secret of this supernal writing is the secret of the descent of the power of God in His glory…the secret included in this writing should be believed by everyone…for it is prophecy and will come true fully…you shall understand the secret of the “writing name,” guided by an angel, whenever you wish it...It should begin by two days of fasting, and on the third day should be performed. The person doing it should not drink any wine and he should eat on that day only after performing the practice. Before that he should eat three eggs, to give him the power for the Names. It should be performed in the morning and after midnight…[2]

Thise description of ritual preparation is almost stereotypical of Jewish rituals of power, with parallel features (fasting a number of days, but especially the eggs) that appear in Hekhalot texts and in magical texts as well.

Zal g'mor /Go forth and learn - more can be found in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

1. Jacob, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, pp. 138-139.
2. Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, pp. 177-180.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Deyokna -Tzelem - Guf ha-Dak: The Astral Body

I recently received this question:

I spend a good deal of time studying with Rabbi Gershon Winkler.

[A diagram of the hands, revealing their supernal structures]

He has discussed deyokna, the concept of a holy garment that we all possess. I would like to know more about the deyokna. I've picked up your book and examined your blog and notice you don't discuss the concept of deyokna. Unfortunately I don't read hebrew and was hoping that you could further clarify and explain the idea of deyokna. Thank you for your incredible contributions to Jewish mysticism, myth and magic.

Thank you for your kind words. Rabbi Winkler is both a wonder and delight. His hiddush of aboriginal Judaism is both truly originally and true to the most ancient traditions of our people.
I do not have an entry for this term in the current edition of the EJMMM because it is covered under other entries, but I should have had a cross reference. Let me give you a full entry now -
Deyokna; Deyokan ("Form/Template/Portrait"). The ideal form of a person. This elusive term refers to an image, seemingly shared simultaneous by God and a person. It is philosophically related to the Platonic notion of "forms," of idealized templates of all existent things that dwell on high simultaneously with the realized object in the lower world. As the Zohar puts it, it is the "Likeness that includes all likenesses." Rashi uses the term, commenting on Gen. 1:27:

God as Judge, alone without the angels, created the human being, by hand, in a mold which was like the mold with which a seal is made or like the die from which a coin is produced, and which had been specially crafted for the human being. In a mold which was a tzelem deyokon of God, God created the human being. One being which was both male and female and which was subsequently divided into two beings, God created them.

In Zohar, it is described as something that is bonded to the body at birth. It appears to a couple in sexual union and, if the relationship worthy, imprints upon the seed of the child generated by that union (III:104b, Emor). Though invisible, the righteous can interact with their deyokna, even see through its "eyes," which gives the person the special sight of prophecy.
There are a number of cognate notions of an ethereal body or spiritual membrane that accompanies the material body which also appear in Kabbalah: Guf ha-Dak ("The sheer body") and/or the Tzelem ("image") [Zohar I:7a, I:224a-b; Miflaot Elohim 48:6; Nishmat Chayyim 1:13].[1]

If, God-willing, I get the opportunity to produce a 2nd edition of the EJMMM, I will include this information
Zal g'mor - Go learn more by reading the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] Scholem, Mystical Shape of the Godhead, pp. 251-270.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Maggid: Jewish Spirit Guide, Revealing Angel

[From Die Bucher der Bibel, by E.M. Lilien]
("Teller/Revealer”). While the term is frequently used to refer to an itinerant Jewish preacher, in Jewish esoteric traditions a maggid is an angelic teacher; a spirit guide. The maggid is related to the historically earlier phenomenon of the Sar ha-Torah and to other angels of revelation and dreams (particularly Gabriel), but there does seem to be a meaningful distinction: A maggid is often the genius, the hypostasis, or personification of some high attribute or non-personal supernal reality like the Torah, Shekhinah, Wisdom, or the Mishnah. Occasionally the maggid is described as a kind of angelic apparition, but in most accounts it appears in the form of pneumatic possession. Though there is considerable variation in maggid accounts, conventionally a maggid manifests itself within the person, triggering automatic writing and xenoglossia (Maggid Mesharim; Hesed l'Avraham). Take, for example, this description of what happened to Moses Luzzato:
There is a young man...he is a holy man, my master and teacher...Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzato. For these two and half years a maggid has been revealed to him, a holy and tremendous angel who reveals wondrous mysteries to him....This is what happens. The angel speaks out of his mouth, but we, his disciples, hear nothing. The angel begins to reveal to him great mysteries. [1]

In contrast to this "silent speech," Joseph Caro's maggid was quite vocal:

No sooner had we studied two tractates of the Mishnah then our Creator smote us so that we heard a voice speaking out of the mouth of the saint, may his light shine. It was a loud voice with letters clearly enunciated. All the companions heard the voice but where unable to understand what was said. It was an exceedingly pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong. [2]
It should be noted that in other accounts, Caro's maggid was understandable to bystanders.

Joseph Taitazak experienced his maggid as automatic writing [3]. The presence of the maggid is sometimes unsought and spontaneous, but is more usually associated with intensive text study combined with some mystical discipline and or/ritual [4]. It is in some way analogous to the Greek notion of a muse, though the maggid is largely bereft of the aesthetic dimension associated with a muse.

By the time of Chayyim Vital, the phenomenon was common enough that his teacher Isaac Luria had to spell out some criteria for distinguishing a legitimate maggid from a charlatan or mentally disordered person:

My master the Ari [Isaac Luria] gave a sign [through which one can recognize a reliable maggid]. It must constantly speak the truth, motivate one to do good deeds, and not err in a single prediction. If it can explain the secrets and mysteries of the Torah, it is certainly reliable. From its words, one can recognize its level. The mystery of ruach ha-kodesh [divine inspiration] is this: It is a voice sent from on high to speak to a prophet or to one worthy of ruach ha-kodesh. But such a voice is purely spiritual, and such a voice cannot enter the prophet's ear until it clothes itself in a physical voice. The physical voice in which it clothes itself is the voice of the prophet himself, when he is involved in prayer or Torah study. This voice clothes itself in his voice and is attached to it. It then enters the prophet's ear so that he can hear it. Without the physical voice of the individual himself, this could not possibly take place. [5]

Zal g'mor /Go forth and learn - read more in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

1. Louis Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, pp. 171-172

2. Ibid., p. 124

3. Joseph Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, p. 177 - 179

4. Lawrence Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, pp. 69-71; Dan, pp. 178-180

5. Aryeh Kaplan, Kabbalah and Meditation, pp. 223-224