Friday, May 25, 2007

Havdalah de-Rabbi Akiva: Jewish Sorcery

[woodcut of havdalah ritual. The man is examining his fingernails by the light of the candle. There are both halakhic and magical rationales offered for this practice]

I have never seen an English translation of Havdalah de-Rabbi Akiva, a Hebrew theurgic text of late antiquity-early medieval origin. So, over the summer I will attempt to produce my own. We will see if I can sustain this ambition. If anyone knows of an existent English translation, please let me know. These will also be draft translations. I welcome any insights into how to improve on wording or arrive at a better translation.

I am using the printed edition text that appears in the collection Abia Chidot published by Backal Publishers, Jerusalem. There are quite a number of textual versions of HdRA, but this is the one currently on my shelf.

Page 1

(1) This is the Havdalah[1] of Rabbi Akiba against all witchcrafts and against injury from an evil spirit, or for [one] who his woman is forbidden him,[2] or to open a heart.[3] The one who desires to remember at the going out of Shabbat[4] needs to wash in water and to dress in clean clothes and sit in a pure place[5] or in a synagogue. He will have pure hands,
(5) so when he is about to recite it, he will place before him a clean vessel and he will pour pure water once upon his hands. The one pouring will recite, “To Jews let there be light, celebration, joy, and dignity,” while the recipient [of the water] will say, “Bring to us help from distress and falsehood; the deliverance of humanity.[6] Through God may we do virtue and may He trample our enemies.”[7] And they will be observing the water before him until he completes reciting the entire havdalah. And he needs to wash and rinse a cup clean and fill it from a
(10) full pitcher of good wine. But the wine-bearer is not to speak until it [the cup] is given in to the hand of the one reciting [the ritual]. And he will grasp the cup in both his hands and will focus his attention into the cup (There are those who recite in a house alone and there are those that recite it in the presence of everyone). And after he has received the cup, he will speak beginning from “A song of David: Ascribe to the Eternal, O divine beings…” the entire psalm, until “…may He bless His people with peace” (Ps. 29). [Then] “Untie the fetters of wickedness, loosen the binds of tyranny, and send away liberty crushers[8] and all oppression
(page 2 printed ed., line 15) be cut off.”

The translation continues:
The Havdalah of Rabbi Akiba, pg. 2: Angelic Names,...
Habdalah of Rabbi Akiba, page 3
Defense Against the Darks Arts (Jewish Division): ...

[1] Havdalah may have a dual meaning here, referring both to the ritual that ends Shabbat, but also to the literal sense of the word, “separation,” as this ritual separates the adept from all the negative forces described in the text.
[2] This translation of ul-mi she-asur mei-ishto is speculative. I suspect the phrase has become abbreviated over time. I am currently looking to see if there is similar phrasing among the many love spells found in other Hebrew magical books. Possible meaning include: there is a loved one who is alienated from him, or that he actually desires a woman legally forbidden to him (a married woman) -- though given the moralistic tone of the rest of the book, this seems doubtful. The word ausar (transpose the holam) means "fettered" or "shackled." This is an idiom in other magical texts for erectile dysfunction. So perhaps it means, "...for one who is impotent with regards to his woman..."
[3] This usually refers to improving memory, specifically for the purpose of study, especially religious and/or [other] magical spells (See Swartz, Scholastic Magic).
[4] It is not clear whether this refers to retaining what he learned over the Sabbath [but could not write down] or it refers to remembering to perform the theurgic ritual of Rabbi Akiba itself.
[5] Other sources, such as Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael (be-Shallach 1) and Hekhalot texts specify an outdoor body of water as a “pure place.” There is also evidence that many synagogues of late antiquity included water installations – either a mikveh or other reservoir for hand [and feet] ablutions (see Levine, The Ancient Synagogue and Fine, This Holy Place).
[6] This may also be meant as a divine title: …”O Deliverance of Humanity!”
[7] Or “crush our sorrows.” The use of the martial chiyil for “virtue” suggests a more militant tone to this invocation.
[8] Yeah, I know, that’s hardly a felicitous translation. I am open to any more elegant phrasing of v’sh’lach r’tzutzim chofshim.


Blogger דליה מרקס said...

shalom rav,
I'm writing now an essay in which I'm hoping to compare between Kol Nidrei and magic texts that have similarities with it (magic bowls, amulets etc.). I would like to ask for your permission to use some of your translation for the R"A Havdala.
Would you be able co return to me by email ?
Thank you very much,
Dalia Marx


4:47 AM  
Blogger Geoffrey Dennis said...

Certainly you may

8:19 AM  

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