A - The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism: Second Edition (2016)

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism: Second Edition (2016)



Aaron: The brother of Moses and Miriam, Aaron was both a prophet and the first High Priest. In Jewish tradition, he exemplifies the virtues of duty and peacemaking.

Alongside Moses, he performed various miraculous deeds and signs before Pharaoh and his court. Aaron transformed his Rod into a Serpent, which consumed the serpents created by Egyptian magicians (Ex. 7). The first three of the ten Plagues (Blood, Frogs, and lice) were initiated by Aaron at God’s command (Ex. 7-8). He is one of a few select individuals who were permitted to gaze upon God while alive.

In his role as High Priest of the new sacrificial cult of God, Aaron enjoyed supernatural protection. He survived a trial by Ordeal when his authority was challenged by Korach ben Izhar and his kinsmen. His status as High Priest evidently immunized him from divine punishment (Ex. 34; Num. 8), and he was instrumental in checking a plague sent by God among the Israelites by performing a rite with Incense from the Altar (Num. 17:1-15). According to the Bible, Aaron died by the will of God before entering the Land of Israel.

Rabbinic literature describes miraculous events surrounding the death of Aaron. God placed one Mountain on top of another to mark where Aaron would be buried, which is why the Bible calls his Burial place Hor ha-Har (“Mount Mountain”). Aaron was laid to rest on a couch in a luminous Caves on Mount Hor by Angels. He was then enveloped by a Cloud and he died by the Kiss of God (Yalkut Chukkat 764; Lev. R. 10; Mid. Teh. 83.1).

In the mystical theosophy of the Sefirot, Aaron symbolizes the Emanation of Hod, divine glory. He is also one of the Ushpizin, the spiritual ancestors invited to sit in the Sukkah with the living during the holiday.

It is interesting to note that despite the many theurgic-religious elements in the biblical accounts of him and the magical attributes of his Rod, unlike Moses, Aaron is not widely portrayed as a magician in non-Jewish circles.

Aaron of Baghdad: A mysterious, possibly mythical figure, whom early medieval mystics in Western Europe credited with the pivotal role of bringing Jewish esoteric traditions to them from the East.1 A number of miraculous tales about him have been preserved in books such as Yuhasin, Sefer: Exorcism, dispelling witchcrafts, and combating Zombies . He is also referred to by the honorific Abu Aharon “Father Aaron.” SEE Abba.

1. G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1961), 41, 84.

Abaddon: (57254). “Destruction.” One of the compartments of Gehenna/Gehinnom (MG). In the book of Job, it is Death personified. The New Testament identifies Abaddon as the “Angel of the Abyss” (Rev. 9:11).

Abba: (57252). “Father.” A Talmudic holy man who, although not an ordained rabbi, has shown spiritual or healing powers. The word is also applied in various ways to the mystical Pleroma.SEE Partzufim; Sefirot .

Abbahu, Rabbi: Talmudic Sage (ca. 3rd-4th centuries). Abbahu was a man of exceptional physical perfection, rivaling that of Jacob (also Israel) and Adam (B.M. 84a). When he sat and interpreted the Torah, supernal fire would flash around him (S of S R. 1:10). He experienced clairvoyant Dream (J. Tan. 1:4, 64b). He once escorted Elijah to Eden, Garden of, where he gathered Healing leaves, wrapping them in his cloak. Afterward he discovered his cloak had such a heavenly scent that he could sell it for a great price (B.M. 114a-b). An avid collector of lore, both legal and legendary, such as this Many Worlds teaching:

R. Abbahu said: This proves the Blessed Holy One went on creating worlds and destroying them until He created this one … This is Abbahu’s reason: And God saw everything that He made and behold; it was very good [comparatively, meaning]. This pleases Me, but those [worlds] did not please Me. (Gen. R. 3:7)

He also preserved stories of how Angels intervened in the lives of biblical figures (PdRE 16, 43). He was given a glimpse of his reward in the Olam ha-Ba (the World to Come) before he died, which appeared to him as thirteen rivers of soothing balm (J. A.Z. 3:1). When he did die, the building pillars in his hometown, Caesarea, voiced their mourning (M.K. 25b; J. A.Z. 3:1, 42c).

Abaye: A Talmudic Sage, folk and metaphysical healer. He credited his Healing skills to the teachings of his foster mother (Shab. 134a; Kid. 31b). He provided a pivotal interpretation of the Bible, which establishes that humans may attempt to heal others (i.e., practice medicine), even though God may have been the source of the affliction (Ber. 60a). Something of a trickster, Abaye once manipulated Rabbi Acha ben Jacob into exorcizing a Demons from his house of study (Shab. 66b; Kid. 29b).

According to later Kabbalah, Abaye was descended from Cain, which accounts for why he never settled in one place. Nevertheless, through his great mastery of the Torah, he brought significant rectification to his damaged “root-soul,” improving the future for his descendants (Sha’arei ha-Gilulim Ch. 36.4).

Abbreviations: (57290). The use of abbreviations appears in Hebrew writings as early as the 2nd century BCE. Variously called Notarikon, siman, or roshei tevot, abbreviations have been widely used for the functional purpose of saving space at a time when writing materials were costly and scarce. But even though the origins of the practice are obviously utilitarian, this method of writing is, in fact, a kind of Encryption. As such, abbreviations can also be a form of esoteric communication. Over time, certain kinds of abbreviations, such as acronyms (words formed from the first letter or syllable of other words) and Acrostic (verses arranged so that a particular letter from each line, taken in order, spells out a word or phrase), came to be regarded as dynamic sources of Secret knowledge and power to Jewish mystics and to magical practitioners of all persuasions.1 Thus the name for the month preceding the High Holy Days, 57292/ Elul, is seen as an acronym for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li (“I am my beloved’s and He is mine”). In another example, 57294/Bereshit (Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning”) is understood to be an acronym for Bara Rakia, Eretz, Shamayim, Yam Tahom (“He created the Firmament, land, heaven, sea, and Abyss”). The use of a biblical verse or phrase for the purpose of invoking its innate power as God’s words is very common, though it should be noted that the Mishnah (Sanh. 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.2 Examples of various such abbreviations include biblical verses:

57296/ShYChN—Shuvah Yah Chatzah Nafshi, “Return Adonai, save my life” (Ps. 6:5)

or a title of God:

57299/ ShYShomer Yisrael, “Guardian of Israel” (Ps. 121)

An abbreviation can also be derived a “powerful” verse from Jewish Prayer:

57301/ AGLA—Atah Gibor L’olam Adonai, “You are Forever Powerful, O Eternal” (Gevurot prayer)

or an adjuration:

57303/ BAChVBashem El Chai V’kayyam, “[Do this] in the name of the living and enduring God” [2]

Or a petition for blessing:

57305/ BMTB’Mazal Tov, “[Bless me] with good fortune”

It can be for invoking the protection of angels:

57307/ ARGMNUriel, Rafael, Gavriel, Mikhael, Nuriel

or for the kabbalistic sefirot:

57309/ CHBTM—Chochmah, Binah, Tiferet, Malchut

In Kabbalah, abbreviations are sometimes called tzeruf otiyot, or letter combinations. Perhaps the most famous of these is related to the Talmudic story (Ber. 55a) of the Four Sages who entered Pardes (“Paradise”). Tradition teaches that pardes (“orchard”) is also an acronym for the four methods of the Torah interpretation: 57318/Pashat, Remez, D’rash, and Sod (“plain meaning, allegoric, homiletic, and esoteric”). In other words, the living may find entry to Paradise by penetrating into the mysteries concealed within the Torah text.

Abbreviations are also an almost universal feature on Amulet. One talismanic acronym is the word Shaddai, El (57322) that appears on a Mezuzah. The word itself is a biblical Names of God, but also stands for Shomer Delatot Yisrael (“Guardian of the doorways of Israel”). The presence of this acronym-incantation helps give the mezuzah its protective power. Magic Square and diagrams constructed from different kinds of abbreviations dot medieval Jewish books on mystical knowledge, Magic, and Alchemy.

Names of worthy figures are sometimes held to be abbreviations of esoteric teachings. Thus the name Jacob, YAaKoV, is actually made up of four titles of God, Yotzrecha, Osecha, Konecha, and Borecha (your Former, your Maker, your Owner, your Creator), revealing God’s special relationship with Jacob, and through him, his descendants. The most notable and widespread name abbreviation custom to this day is the various methods adopted for writing an abbreviation for the Tetragrammaton so that it may not be pronounced and to thereby prevent the erasure or destruction of God’s written name. SEE Hafuch;Israel;Temurah;Tzeruf/Tzerufim.

1. I. Singer, Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (New York: KTAV, 1901), 39-43.

2. E. Davis, “The Psalms in Hebrew Medical Amulets,” Vetus Testamentum, XLII, 2 (1992).

Abdiel: (57334). “Servant of God.” An angel mentioned in Raziel, Sefer and Zohar Chadash (Yitro 39.4). John Milton uses him as a character in Paradise Lost.

Abel: According to Etz Chayyim, the Soul of the murdered eldest son of Adam and Eve underwent successive transmigrations, first into Seth, then Noah, and finally Moses, where he achieved the Tikkun, or rectification of his soul (“Palace of Adam Kadmon”).

Abihu: The brother of Nadav. SEE Nadav And Abihu.

ABiYAh: (57320). This word is a mystical acronym for the Four Worlds of Emanation of kabbalistic cosmology: Atzilut, Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah .

Ablution: SEE Immersion;Mikvah Or Mikvaot;Water.

Abner: The commander of Saul’s army. The Philistines were not the only ancients who employed Giants. Abner was so enormous that while he slept, David was able to crawl beneath his crooked knees and so escape a trap Saul had set for him (Eccl. R. 9:11; Yalkut Jer. 285; AbbS). He was the son of the woman of Endor (PdRE 33).

Abracadabra: (57324). The archetypal voce magica, magical word. Many claim it to be of Jewish origin, reading it as a kind of fractured Aramaic, 57327 /ab’ra k’dabra, meaning, “I will create according to the word.” This is plausible, assuming the Aramaic syntax has undergone corruption. It is also plausible that it is of non-Jewish origin. Some speculate it is derived from the same root as the angelic name Abraxas. SEE Hebrew And Hebrew Alphabet;Incantations, Spells, And Adjurations;Magic.

Abraham: The progenitor of the Jewish people, Abraham is also considered in rabbinic tradition to be a natural philosopher, a mystic, and a Prophet second only to Moses. He personifies loving-kindness, devotion, and faithfulness.

In the Bible, Abraham not only responds to the direct command of God to leave his homeland for Canaan, he has several encounters with Angels (Gen. 18, 22). He also engages in a mysterious divinatory Ritual, either a dream Incubation or a summoning ceremony that brings no less than God to earth in the form of a fiery pillar (Gen. 15). In the Midrash, he is granted many miracles. To save him as an infant from the wrath of evil King Nimrod, he is secreted away in a cave, where the angels feed and minister to him. According to the text Ma’asei Avraham Avenu, God later delivers him from a fiery martyrdom planned for him by Nimrod.

In several sources, he is celebrated as an astrologer (Book of Jubilees; B.B. 16b). In one Midrash, he sees his infertility is written in stars, but comes to learn that God has power over even the astral influences. This then explains God’s decision to change his name from Abram to Abraham (Gen. 15), for in changing his name, God also changes his fate. From this experience, Abraham gives up the practice of astrology (Zohar III:216a; Aggadat Bereshit). He also possesses the legendary tzohar stone that gives him the power to heal others (B.B. 16b).

The reason God commands him to circumcise himself (Gen. 17) is that this act of self-perfection will make the spirit of Prophecy more accessible to him (PdRE 29; Tanh. Lech Lecha 20). The story of his self (and selfless) surgery leads one source to declare Abraham serves as a kind of psychopomp, directing Souls after Death to their destination. Just as he did in this world, in the World to Come, the beloved ancestor awaits wayfaring souls—just not in the place one would expect:

As he sat in the tent door in the heat … R. Levi said, “[I]n the World-To-Come, Abraham will sit at the entrance of Gehenna and permit no circumcised child of Israel to descend there …”(Gen. R. 48:8)

In the Zohar, he is credited with the knowledge to create a golem (Zohar I:79a), a knowledge alluded to in the biblical text (Gen. 12:5). This tradition springs from a single reference to him in the final chapter of Sefer Yetzirah. Because of this same reference, some mystics also regard Abraham to be the author of that work. Abraham also possessed a miraculous healing stone, the tzohar. After his death, God suspended it from the sun, enhancing the sun’s healing powers (B.B. 16b).

In early Kabbalah, Abraham comes to be regarded as an archetype, a personification of sefirotic attributes. In later works, this logic is reversed, with Abraham being treated as a divine attribute whose dynamic function in the world is expressed allegorically through the Abraham saga found in the Torah. He represents the sefirah of Chesed, pure love. (Pes. 118a; Gen. R. 38, 61; Seder Eliyahu Rabbah 1:13; Zohar I:203b). The spirit of Abraham still comes to call upon his descendants when they dwell in the sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot. He is welcomed in a ritual of greeting and hospitality. SEE PATRIARCHS AND MATRIARCHS; RIGHTEOUS, THE .

Abraham, Apocalypse of: A 2nd-century-CE document that contains revelations of future history and a vision of Heaven, probably of Jewish origin but also now including Christian glosses. It exists today only in Slavic language translation. It recasts Abraham as the archetypal priest, initiated into this role by the angel Yahoel. The rabbinic sources also preserve hints of the idea of Abraham initiating a priesthood that prefigures the levitical priests (Gen. R. 43:6, 46:5, 55.6; Ned. 32b; Lev. R. 25.6).

Abraham Azulai: Kabbalist (Moroccan, ca. 17th-18th century). He wrote Avraham L’chesed and an influential commentary on the Zohar. One source credits him with performing wondrous deeds, but as there are at least three prominent Abrahams in the Azulai family, this cannot be verified.

Abraham ben David of Posquieres: Legalist, mystic, and polemicist (Provencal, ca. 12th century). He experienced a visitation of Elijah, who provided him with guidance in his studies (Commentary on Yad ha-Chazakah).

Abraham ben Moses: Kabbalist (Egyptian, ca. 13th century). A mystic influenced by Sufism. Because most of his works have been lost or only survived in fragmentary form, he is most notable for being the son of Maimonides .

Abraham ben Simeon: Magician, alchemist, and world traveler (German, ca. 14th century). Abraham is the author of Cabala Mystica, “The Mysterious Tradition” (or alternately, Segulot Melachim, “Angelic Remedies”). Abraham not only told tales of how he enjoyed royal patronage from many European princes, he even claimed to have given two popes occult advice. Much of what we know about Abraham is in doubt—the veracity of these stories themselves, or even whether Abraham was actually a Jew or a Christian of Jewish parentage.1

1. R. Patai, The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 271-89.

Abraham ibn Ezra: SEE Ibn Ezra, Abraham.

Abraham, Testament of: The Testament is a 2nd-century-CE apocalyptic text describing Abraham’s ascent into Heaven. It appears to be a Jewish text heavily glossed by Christian copyists. It survives only in Greek.

Abraxas: An Angel mentioned extensively in the Gnostic tradition. His name may be an acronym for the Greek names of the planets. Modern scholars Abraham Geiger and Giuseppe Barzilai attempt to explain his name as derived from Hebrew, but their theories are not widely accepted. While most likely of non-Jewish origins, in Greek magical texts he is often listed alongside Hebrew-derived names for God. He eventually gets assimilated into Jewish angelology and appears in later Jewish amulets and in medieval Jewish lists of angels.


Abulafia, Abraham: (1240-1291?). Medieval Spanish Kabbalist, self-proclaimed Prophet, and failed Messiah. Abulafia practiced and taught a sophisticated and novel form of ecstatic (or as he called it, “prophetic”) Kabbalah that, until recent times, has not received much general attention, no doubt due to his controversial personality and career. In his own lifetime, his claims and unorthodox teachings earned him condemnation from rabbinical authorities. Fortified by belief in his own messianic identity, Abulafia at one point sought an audience before Pope Nicholas III in order to convert him. Not surprisingly, he was imprisoned for spreading his “gospel.” More surprising is that he actually survived the ordeal, outliving the pope in question. His teachings are enjoying a revival on two fronts: renewed scholarly research, and the revival of his techniques within contemporary meditative circles.1 SEE MEDITATION; TZERUF/Tzerufim; VISION.

1. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 120-46; A. Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1982), 57-71. Also M. Idel, The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia (New York: SUNY Press, 1988).

Abyss: (57360/Tehom). The name for the primordial waters that preceded Creation and are now trapped below the crust of the Earth (Gen. 1:2; Gen. R. 13:13; Ps. 104). Linguistically, the word is derived from the same root as the Akkadian Tiamat, the watery chaos monster of Mesopotamian mythology. It was the tehom that God released like fountains from under the earth to initiate the Flood (Gen. 7:11).

The stone upon which Jacob rested his head was the stone that kept the tehom sealed up. This would later serve as the foundation of the Temple (PdRE 23). In temple times, the ritual of the water libations was performed to draw up these tellurian waters to help to moisten and fructify the earth (Tan. 25b). The purpose of the ritual was to draw the now domesticated underground waters of the abyss toward the surface of the earth, to trigger the fructifying mingling of tellurian (subterranean/circular/feminine) and heavenly (rain/linear/masculine) waters that would allow growth in the coming season (T. Tan. 1:4; Tan. 10b; PdRE 23).

In its less literal applications, tehom can also refer to the realm of the dead, the place where evil spirits and wicked Souls dwell. In later Jewish eschatology, it is one of the seven compartments of Gehenna (MG). The Midrash also uses the term metaphorically, as referring to Israel’s subjugation under Rome (Gen. R. 2.4). Lovers of gematria note that tehom has the same numeric value as ha-mavet, “death.” The concept of the abyss is thus a multivalent mythic symbol for the negative and undesirable traits of this world, which have their roots in what preceded the formation of the cosmos. SEE CHAOS; WATER.


Acha ben Jacob: Talmudic Sage (ca. 4th century). He was a storyteller, folk healer, and exorcist.

In a famous extended discussion of Job reported in the Talmud, Acha expounded on the nature of ha-Satan, the adversary, explaining that both “Satan and Peninah have a pious function [in their roles as adversaries/antagonists].” This insight on the divine necessity of spiritual obstacles inspired Satan to appear before Acha in person and kiss his feet (B.B. 16a).

He once defeated a demon in the form of a seven-headed hydra:

Jacob the son of R’ Acha bar Jacob: his father sent him to Abaye [to attend Abaye’s house of study]. When he [Jacob] returned, he [R. Acha] saw that his lessons weren’t sharp. He said to him, “I take priority to you; you return [home] so I can go [study there and see the problem] … Abaye heard that he was coming. There was a djinn in Abaye’s Rabbinical academy, such that when they [students] entered in pairs, even during the day, they would be hurt. He [Abaye] said [to the academy]. “Perhaps a miracle will occur [because of Acha’s merit].” He [R. Acha] entered and slept in the academy. It appeared to him as a seven-headed serpent. Every time he prostrated himself [prayed], another head fell off. In the morning he said to them, “Had a miracle not occurred, you would have endangered me.” (Kid. 29b)

Acha’s end is also a cautionary tale of the dangers of the evil eye. According to Baba Batra 14a, he made a Torah scroll so perfect in form and dimensions that his colleagues were overwhelmed with envy, causing his death.

Acherit ha-Yamim: (57393). “The End of Days.” SEE ESCHATOLOGY; JUDGMENT, DAY OF; MESSIAH.

Acosmism: The doctrine that the created, material universe is an illusion. This radical theology is most commonly associated with the Hasidic CHaBaD movement, beginning in the early 19th century. According to this belief, God is the only reality. The biblical proof text for this claim is Deuteronomy 4:35, “It has been clearly demonstrated to you that Adonai alone is God; there is no more than Him alone.” The same can be inferred to the phrase in the Aleinu Prayer, “In truth, You are our King, there is nothing else.

In point of fact, the CHaBaD teaching is more complicated than simply denying reality. It is “subjective acosmism,” the belief that the world does not exist from God’s perspective because all things unfold within divinity (Tanya 320, 155, 174), while from human perspective, the universe is real, because we cannot discern the oneness and innate divinity of all things (Sha’arei ha-Yichud ve’ha-Emunah I:2). In short, we exist, but have no substance, like a [divine] thought. The resemblance between this and Hindu cosmology is often noted. The doctrine has not enjoyed wide popularity beyond CHaBaD, because it seemingly undermines the reality of all distinctions, especially moral ones, historically a central premise of Judaism.




Adam: (57397/Adam Rishon). Adam is the first human being and an archetype for all humanity. One Kabbalistic teaching reveals that the word ADaM is a mystical abbreviation for the essence of human nature: Adamah (earth), Dibur (speech), and Ma’aseh (action).

God placed him in the Garden of Eden. According to Alef-Bet of ben Sira, he was wed first to Lilith, whom God had made simultaneously with him. When they argued, she flew off to become the queen of demons. Only after that did God create Eve (AbbS).

He also had numerous other dealings with Angels and demons. Gabriel and Michael were the witnesses at his Wedding to Eve. Not only was he later tricked by the serpent, but he was also seduced by succubae, generating demonic offspring (Eruv. 18b; Gen. R. 20:11; PdRE 20). Before his expulsion from Eden, Adam was clothed in divine glory. After the fall, God made miraculous garments for both Adam and Eve that never wore out. Adam also received from the angel Raziel the tzohar , a gemstone holding the primordial light of Creation. Along with Eve, he was laid to rest in the Cave of Machpelah in the middle of the Garden of Eden, where their bodies lie concealed from mortal sight in a state of luminescent and fragrant preservation. The Zohar teaches that at the hour of Death every person sees Adam (Num. R. 19:18; Gen. R. 17; B. Eruv. 18b; A.Z. 8a; Sot. 9b; Tanh. Bereshit; Zohar I:127a-b). SEE GARMENTS OF ADAM.

Adam Kadmon: (57408). “Primordial Man.” Also called Adam Elyon or Adam Ila’ah. Not to be confused with the frail figure of Adam in the Genesis account, who is formed from clay (Gen. 2:7), Adam Kadmon is the supernal, first creation of God that is made in the divine image (Gen. 1:26-27). Drawing on Platonic notions of “forms,” the teachings about Adam Kadmon explain that he is the true “image of God,” a majestic vessel of divine glory, the ideal human (PdRK 4:4, 12:1; Lev. R. 20:2). All earthly humans are in His image. We are an image of an image, as it were (B.B. 58a):

Said Rabbi Hiyya: “When the Holy One created man to dwell upon the earth, he formed him according to the likeness of Adam Kadmon, the heavenly man. When the angels gazed upon him [Adam Kadmon], they exclaimed: ‘You have made him almost equal to God and crowned him with glory and honor.’ After the transgression and fall of Adam, it is said the Holy One was grieved at heart because it gave occasion for repeating what they had said at his creation, ‘What is man that You should be mindful of him, or the son of man that You should visit him.’ ” (Ps. 7:5)

According to the Midrash, Adam Kadmon is androgynous, incorporating all the aspects of both genders. He is also a macrocosm, extending from one end of the universe to the other and containing all Creation. The Rabbis believed Adam Kadmon embodied and exemplified the Creation. Thus the medieval Bible commentator Abraham ibn Ezra wrote,

One who knows the secret of the human soul and the structure of the human body is able to understand something of the upper worlds, for the human body is the image of a microcosm. (Commentary on Ex. 25:40) 1

When he was created, in fact, he was so awesome the angels mistook him for a god and began to worship him (Gen. R. 8:1; Lev. R. 14:1; Chag. 12b, 14b).

The “heavenly man” becomes a prominent aspect of many Kabbalistic systems, starting with the Bahir, which sees Adam Kadmon as the source Soul of all human souls:

In its [the World to Come discussed earlier] hand is the treasury of souls. In the time when Israel is good, these souls are worthy of going forth and coming into this world. But if they are not good, then [these souls] do not go forth. We therefore say, “The son of David will not come until all the souls in the Guf [Body] are completed.” What is the meaning of “all the souls in the Guf [Body]”? We say this refers to all the souls in the body of Adam [Kadmon]. [When they are completed] new ones will be worthy of going forth. (Bahir 184)

In many mystical sources, Adam Kadmon signifies the totality of the sefirot. Often, the ten sefirot are shown superimposed on the figure of the Adam Kadmon to represent his mediating role between God and Creation—he is literally the embodiment of divine attributes as well as the place of the universe.


Adam Kadmon

In Lurianic Kabbalah, he is the light that fills primordial space after the light of God is withdrawn. Luria sees the Jewish project as bringing a restoration of humanity to the state of Adam Kadmon. Chayyim Vital, elaborating on the Bahir, sees Adam Kadmon as a kind of “world soul” that precedes the rest of creation and finds repetitions of him at each stage of the chain of Creation (Gen. R. 8:1, 10; Sanh. 38a; Zohar II:48a, 70b; Etz ha-Chayyim 1). He also teaches that various facets of all the subsequent human souls reflect the location from which they were derived (Sefer ha-Hezyonot).

Some scholars theorize that Gnosticism is the source for the Jewish tradition of Adam Kadmon.2 Christian scriptures also allude to the tradition of Adam Kadmon, linking the idea to Jesus (1 Cor. 15:45-50). This idea reappears in the heretical sect of Shabbateanism, which holds Shabbatai Tzvi to be both the Messiah and the incarnation of Adam Kadmon.

The concept of Adam Kadmon has served mystics in their efforts to exalt and elevate the status of humanity (in potential) and emphasize the divine aspect of man.

1. Jacobs, “Olam Katan,” http://www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ethics/Our_Bodies/Themes_and_Theology/Body_as_Microcosm.shtml.

2. I. P. Couliano, The Tree of Gnosis: Gnostic Mythology from Early Christianity to Modern Nihilism (San Francisco: Harper-Cross, 1990), 99-100, 113, 165-66.

Adamah: (57423). “Earth.” In Midrash and the Zohar, based on the source, it is the second, third, or sixth of the seven material worlds (Hag. 12a-b; MhG I.16; Seder Rabbah ha-Bereshit 5-28). Adam had to journey through it after his expulsion from Eden. Abel, Cain, and Seth were born on this plane. The creatures that dwell there are perpetually sad. This is where humans and om God had made simultaneously with him. When they argued, she flew off to become the queen of demons interacted freely (Sitre Torah, Zohar I:253b-254a). SEE WORLDS, MANY.

Adar: (57413). This month in the Hebrew calendar falls in the spring. Its zodiac is Dagim. The minor holiday of Purim occurs in Adar. As the last month before Nisan, the month of Exodus, before the events of Purim it was considered an ill-fortuned month.1

1. G. Erlanger, Signs of the Times: The Zodiac in Jewish Tradition (Jerusalem: Feldman Publishing, 1999), 245.

Adat El: (57415). “Divine Assembly.” The Bible describes the God of Israel as presiding over a conclave of divine and numinous beings (Deut. 32; Pss. 82, 89:6, 95:3; Job 1). The assembly gathers in a sacred tent atop a cosmic mountain (Ps. 15; Isa. 14:13). This was likely derived from pre-Israelite Canaanites who believed that the gods assembled in the sacred tent of El, the supreme god:

She [Anat] stamped her feet and left the earth; then she headed toward El, at the source of the two rivers [Mount Zaphon] in the midst of the two seas’ pools; she opened El’s tent and entered the shrine of the King, Father of Time … 1

The construction of the tabernacle by the Israelites is meant to provide God with a parallel earthly abode (Ex. 24-34). In the later books of the Bible and post-biblically, this assembly was updated, refined, and reimagined into the concept of the angelic court attending upon God, who is envisioned as a divine monarch who consults with the court, but is not bound by their opinions (Sanh. 38b; Gen. R. 8:4). Coinciding with the creation of a permanent earthly Temple, the same sources start to re-envision the sacred tent of assembly as a heichal, a “palace.” SEE Angel And Angelology ; HOST OF HEAVEN.

1. M. D. Coogan, trans., Stories from Ancient Canaan (Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1978), 12, 95.

Adiriron Adiron: (57430). In quasi-Hebrew, this is “Mighty One” or “Mighty of the Mighty.” The odd -ron ending resembles the morphology of Metatron. Sometimes the name is divided into Adir Yiron.

This is a divine title, originally a euphemism for the Tetragrammaton, 1 but later regarded as a magical name in its own right, or a cherub, identified with Akatriel-YaH.2 It is most often mentioned in association with some aspect of the Merkavah, the divine chariot. Thus it appears in Hechalot Rabbati 14:

When a person seeks to descend to the Chariot he will call upon Surya, the Prince of the Countenance, and make him swear one hundred and twelve times in the name of Tutrusyiyah [with many titles] … and Adiriron-YHVH, Lord of Israel … 3

In Sefer Hechalot, he is listed as one of three high Angels that personify a divine attribute. In the case of Adiriron, that attribute is God’s koach (“power”). This association of Adiriron with “power” is repeated elsewhere—Michael receives some of his angelic power from Adiriron. He commands every Saraf Angel. Later he is described as the rokeiv (“rider”) upon the wheels [of the divine chariot], perhaps this means he is a cherub, but by any account Adiriron is a driving force in the divine superstructure, suggesting that he is a personification of the “dynamos,” the attribute of power within the Pleroma,4 and the reason that the name/entity fades from use is that later Kabbalah would refer to this same divine phenomenon as Gevurah. The name continues to be used in magical literature, as part of amulets made of deerskin to protect a newly constructed dwelling place (Mifalot Elohim 59) and in cherem adjurations.

1. D. Abrams, “From Divine Shape to Angelic Being: The Career of Akatriel in Jewish Literature,” Journal of Religion 76 (1996): 58.

2. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 56, 363.

3. R. Margaliot, Malachei Elyon (Jerusalem: Mossad ha-Rav Kook, 1987), 2 [translation is the author’s].

4. J. Dan, The ‘Unique Cherub’ Circle (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1999), 113.

Adjuration: SEE Magic

Adonai: (57432). “My Lord.” A Jewish appellation for God that gradually became a euphemism commonly used in order to avoid saying the Tetragrammaton (Yoma 39b-40a). The word Adonai eventually developed an aura of mystery itself. As such, it became a name of power, alongside the Tetragrammaton, attractive to both Jewish and non-Jewish magical practitioners. Consequently, it frequently appears in spells, amulets, and other magical devices. SEE NAMES OF GOD.

Adonaiel: An angel mentioned in the Testament of Solomon.

Adversary, the: SEE SATAN OR Ha-Satan.

Af and Chemah: (57446). Af and Chemah (or Hemah) are Hebrew for “Wrath” and “Anger.” The angelic names are derived from Psalm 37:8 and Deuteronomy 9:19, where these two words are understood to be proper nouns—the personifications of God’s fury.

Af and Chemah are two of the five—or six—Angels of Death (sources vary), the others being Gabriel over kings; Kapziel over youths; Mashbir over animals; Mashchit over children. Af and Chemah are the destructive angels over men and beasts (BhM 2:98). Unlike the others, however, these are often paired together, apparently because they are chained to each other with bonds of black and red fire on the seventh level of heaven (Gedulat Moshe).

They have been unleashed on Earth several times, most notably to destroy Jerusalem for its sins (Shab. 55a) and to punish Moses for failing to circumcise his son Gershon (Ex. 4):

R. Judah b. Bizna lectured: When Moses was lax in the performance of circumcision, Af and Hemah came and swallowed him up, leaving naught but his legs. Thereupon immediately Zipporah “took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son”; straightway he [they?] let him alone. In that moment Moses desired to slay them, as it is written, “Cease from Af and forsake Hemah.” (Deut. 9:19; Ned. 32a)

Though it does not mesh with the chronology of other stories about these entities, one of the most oft-repeated legends is connected to Exodus 32:11-13. In this story, God unleashes Af and Chemah as two of five “destroying angels” against the people of Israel. Moses summons the amudei ha-olam, the meritorious ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the three names he invokes in verse 13) to neutralize three of the angels with their powers of love, but Moses is left to dispatch the other two himself. Being a prayer-warrior, the son of Amram slays them with his sincere supplications. Af and Chemad are then buried in the valley of Moab, and Moses is buried in front of them to ensure they can never return to harm the Jewish people (variant accounts of this appear in Ex. R. 41.7, 44:8; Tanh. Ki Tissa 20; PdRE 45; and Deut. R. 3.11).



Aggadah: (57481). “Story/Narrative/Legend.” This is the catchall term for all the nonlegal materials in rabbinic literature—narratives, interpretations, poems, theology, etc. Most mythic, fabulous, and occult teachings are found embedded in the aggadic portions of Jewish literature.

AGLA: (57479). An acrostic name of God constructed from the Hebrew phrase, Atah gibor l’olam Adonai, “You are eternally mighty, O Eternal” (Gevurot prayer, Siddur). It was often used in exorcism rites, Christian as well as Jewish, and appears on amulets.



Ahijah: (Alternately, Ahia ha-Shiloni) . A biblical Prophet who lived in the time of King Jeroboam. He died a martyr’s death. The teacher of Elijah, he was a master of the esoteric Torah(J. Eruv. 5:1; Sanh. 102a; Mid. Teh. 5:8). Long after death, this biblical figure reappears in mystical testimonies. In the Zohar , his Soul undergoes a tikkun , a restoration, through the actions of Shimon bar Yochai (Zohar I:32a). Centuries after that, he reappears as the maggid, the spirit guide to the Baal Shem Tov (Toldot Yaakov Yosef 156a; ShB).1

1. G. Nigal, “The Rabbi and Teacher of the Baal Shem Tov,” Sinai 79 (1976): 150-159.

Ahimaaz, Megillat or Sefer: SEE YUHASIN, SEFER.

Ahimaaz ben Paltiel: Adventurer and wunder-rabbi (Italian, ca. 11th century). His magical deeds and the deeds of his family are recorded in Sefer Yuhasin.

Aish M’tzaref: “Fire of the Refiner.” A 16th-century tractate on Alchemy and Kabbalah.

Akatriel-YaH: (57483). “Crown of God-Yah.” Super-angelic figure mentioned in Talmud tractate Berachot 7a-b. In this passage, he is seen sitting on the Throne of Glory and the voice of God speaks through him:

It was taught as Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha says: “I once entered the innermost part of the Temple to offer incense and saw Akatriel-YaH, seated upon a high and exalted throne. God said to me: ‘Ishmael, My son, bless Me!’ I replied: ‘May it be Your will that Your compassion overcome Your anger. May Your compassion prevail over Your other attributes. May You deal with Your children compassionately. May You not judge us solely with strict justice!’ And God nodded to me.” (Ber. 7a)

This enigmatic passage, which parallels the prophetic call of Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-13) has been subject to much interpretation; some scholars regard Akatriel-YaH to be yet another name for Metatron, while others theorize that perhaps Akatriel is a personification of God’s glory. Extra-Talmudic texts only deepen the confusion.1 In his Sod ha-Yichud, Eleazar of Worms alternately calls him “the Glory” and “the Angel that changes to many forms.” The confusing nature of this entity is also discussed, without resolution, in the commentary to Berachot 7b in Otzar ha-Geonim. Later Kabbalah equates him with Malchut, the lowest of the sefirot. One angel-adjuring text includes Akatriel in a list of seven angels. On the other hand, a Cairo Geniza fragment clearly regards Akatriel-YaH to be a name of God.2 SEE MALACH ADONAI.

1. Abrams, “From Divine Shape to Angelic Being,” 46-63.

2. E. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 261-262.

Akiba (or Akiva) ben Joseph: Talmudic Sage, biblical exegete and mystic (ca. 1st-2nd century). He is arguably the most celebrated figure in the Talmud, and a seminal figure in the development of Jewish mysticism, giving his special imprimatur to the Song of Songs as the Jewish esoteric text, par excellent. He was the only one of the four Sages who entered Pardes and returned unscathed. His Prayers were credited with ending a drought. He encountered a ghost and subsequently exorcised it by teaching the dead man’s son the daily liturgy; this is credited by some with establishing the tradition of reciting Kaddish for the dead (Seder Eliyahu Zuta). As one of the ten martyrs, his willingness to die for the sake of God’s honor prevented God from undoing Creation (Midrash Eleh Ezkarah). His name becomes associated with a variety of mystical practices (Hechalot Rabbati; Hechalot Zuta) and magical (Havdalah de-Rabbi Akiba).

Akkum: (57495/Akkum). An acronym formed from the words Oved Kochavim UMazilim “worshipper of stars and constellations.” As such, it serves as a standard Talmudic term for a Pagan. Some Christians claimed it stood for Oved Kristos U’Miriam, “worshipper of Christ and Mary” (highly improbable, since it involves conflating Greek and Hebrew) and that all negative references to Pagans found in the Talmud were actually directed at Christianity, a belief that resulted in widespread Christian censorship of the Talmud in Europe.1

1. Singer, The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 312.

Akrav: (57498). “Scorpion.” The zodiac sign for the month of Cheshvan. This is the weakest of the signs, a water sign, and it is associated with the forces of decay, melancholy, and disorder. It is the month during which the Flood occurred and the Matriarch Rachel died.1

1. Erlanger, Signs of the Times, 145-58.

Alchemy: (57508). The Hermetic tradition, one part theosophy, one part astrology, and one part experimental science, was first expounded in writings attributed to the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus. Emerging in late antiquity, alchemy was a profoundly spiritual pursuit, a quest to uncover the potential for transformation of the natural order through the study of transformation in certain iconic natural substances—metals. Some alchemists even envisioned their ritualistic chemistry as a kind of sacrificial rite.1

Alchemy has been associated with Jews since antiquity. Moses is credited with being the teacher of Hermes himself, but this may also represent a conflation of the biblical Moses with the figure of Moses of Alexandra, an Egyptian-Jewish alchemist of antiquity. Some traditions credit the Patriarchs with transmitting alchemical knowledge (along with the philosopher’s stone) that was learned from Adam. Bezalel, the builder of the Mishkan (Ex. 31:1-5), is said to have been an alchemist. Late traditions associate David and Solomon with the Hermetic arts, based on biblical accounts of how David produced massive amounts of gold, and gave Solomon stones, assumed by later readers to be philosopher’s stones (1 Chr. 22:14). Other biblical figures, such as Elijah and Isaiah, were claimed as alchemists, on the most tenuous textual evidence. Ancient alchemists even interpreted the sacrifices made in Solomon’s Temple as nascent alchemical rituals.

Zosimos, a 5th-century Greek writer, claimed Jews learned the “sacred craft” and the “power of gold” from the Egyptians while in slavery, and they spread the practice of alchemy from then on. By far the most important and influential historical Jewish alchemist of ancient times is Maria Hebraea.

Medieval alchemists, both Jewish and gentile, frequently claimed occult knowledge of Kabbalah. The Zohar of Moses de Leon and the writings of Abraham Abulafia show a familiarity with alchemy. Directions for the making of gold appear in several Kabbalistic works, and Jewish scholars debated whether such transformations were actually possible.


Alchemical instruments from a Hebrew manuscript

Because Kabbalah was so widely applied by Christian alchemists to their work, by the dawn of the modern era alchemy and Jews were uniquely linked, though this appears to be more perception than reality. So ingrained was this perception that, in order to give their ideas more gravitas, a number of treatises on alchemy were evidently published by non-Jews using Jewish pseudonyms.

Actual Jewish practitioners include Jacob Aranicus (French, ca. 13th century), Isaac and John Isaac Hollander (Dutch, ca. 15th century), Mordecai Modena (Italian, ca. 16th century) and Samuel de Falk (English, ca. 18th century). Even Baruch Spinoza expressed an interest in it. Though there are hundreds of references to alchemy that appear in Jewish texts across the centuries, dedicated works on the subject, in a Jewish language, are rare. Moreover, no indisputably original works of Hebrew language alchemical texts have survived to the present.

1. N. Janowitz, Icons of Power: Ritual Practices in Late Antiquity (Oxford, OH: Littmann Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004), 109-22; also see Patai, The Jewish Alchemists.

Alef: (57512). The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it is a silent letter, taking on the sound value of whatever vowel is assigned to it. In gematria, it has the numeric value of one.

It is the first letter of the first word in the Ten Commandments. One tradition claims this silent alef was the only sound actually pronounced by God at Mount Sinai, but even that “silent sound” was too much for the mortal listeners, who were slain by the power of God’s voice and had to be revived with angelic kisses (S of S R. 5:16). Its very shape is made from the fusion of other letters, two yuds and a vav, whose combined numeric value is twenty-six, the same value of the Tetragrammaton. Alef is therefore a symbol of God’s utter unity and God’s mystery. In the writings of Moses Cordovero, alef flows from Keter, the highest of the sefirotic emanations .1 SEE HEBREW AND HEBREW ALPHABET .

1. M. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet (New York: Mesorah, 1983), 43-54.

Alef-Bet of ben Sira: (57518/Otiyyot ben Sira). Also called “Pseudo ben Sira,” it is a controversial satirical Midrash composed in the Middle Ages arranged in acrostic style: its twenty-two sections to mirror the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. Each begins with a proverb, and then launches into a series of midrashic interpretations. According to this book, Joshua ben Sira was both the child and grandchild of the Prophet Jeremiah. This is possible because a gang of villains forced Jeremiah to masturbate in a pool and his semen later entered into his daughter as she bathed. The resulting child is not only a prodigy, but born with a full set of teeth. The rest of the narrative about ben Sira’s life continues on in a similar insouciant tone. For example, the reader is treated to a treatise on farting, and Ben Sira cures the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar of a flatulent malady: she farts a thousand times an hour.

The whole book satirizes biblical figures, Jesus, and even God. Parts of the book were so offensive that even the scribes who took the time to copy it felt the need to censor it. Its most imortant passage is its unique version of the Lilith legend, with its innovative Midrash establishing her as the first wife of Adam. In the context of this work it is clearly meant as yet another parody on traditional Judaism. There are many manuscripts, yet it is rarely cited by other traditional commentaries and interpreters. Yet since its inclusion in printed 16th-19th-century anthologies of Midrashim, it has come to be regarded as a legitimate part of Jewish esoteric lore.1

1. Dan, The ‘Unique Cherub’ Circle, 16-29.

Alef-Bet of Rabbi Akiba: (57523/Otiyyot de Rabbi Akiba). A collection of Merkavah teachings built around the study of the Hebrew alphabet, it includes elements of Shi’ur Qomah, as well as many fabulous tales of anthropomorphized letters. Compiled sometime between the 7th and 10th centuries CE, the earliest version includes some magical traditions as well. It was ridiculed by some medieval scholars for gross anthropomorphism regarding God, and later recensions are bowdlerized, with the most controversial material being edited out.

Aleinu: (57525). This Prayer of Jewish liturgy, which makes one of its earliest appearances in the Hechalot text Ma’aseh Merkavah,1 is said to be effective against spirit possession if recited seven times, forward and backward (Zanfat Pa’aneah). Controversy seems to attach itself to this prayer. It was added to the service for the monthly blessing of the moon to discourage people from thinking Jews are worshipping celestial objects (Mishnah Berurah). From about the 15th to 19th centuries, Jews in some communities would spit upon reciting the word v’reik (“and emptiness”) when it appeared in the hymn. Like the practice described above, this was likely an apotropaic act of protection against the evil forces that would be attracted by such negative language, but it was widely perceived by Christian authorities as an insulting gesture directed at Jesus (using gematria, the word has the same numeric value—316—as Yeshu). This accusation persisted even after it was repeatedly pointed out that the phrasing is lifted directly from the book of Isaiah. Rabbis eventually extinguished this folk practice because of the controversy. On a more positive note, another phrase in the prayer, l’takein ha-olam (“to rectify the world”) mirrors, and may have even helped inspire, the kabbalistic doctrine of Tikkun . SEE INCANTATIONS, SPELLS, AND ADJURATIONS; REVERSAL.

1. G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 2012), 105-6.

Alemanno, Johannan: Magician and Kabbalist (Italian, ca. 15th century). Alemanno was a tutor to Pico Della Mirandola, the Renaissance-era Christian Qabbalist.

Alexander the Great: When Alexander (356-323 BCE) came to Jerusalem during his conquests, Simon the Righteous came out to meet him and Alexander bowed down to him, to the amazement of his servants. Alexander told them that a vision of Simon’s image appeared to him in battle and made him victorious. Alexander also saw God’s name written on Simon’s diadem, remembered it, and thus introduced the gentiles to the Tetragrammaton, God’s name of power (Ant. 6:317-39; Yoma 69a).

Alitha: (57527). A fantastic substance, or beast, capable of extinguishing any fire. The generation of the Flood claimed to be able to combat God’s fiery wrath with this phenomenon, not realizing God had other weapons in his arsenal (Sanh. 108b; MhG).

Alkabetz, Solomon: Mystical poet (Turkish, ca. 16th century). Author of the mystical liturgical poem Lecha Dodi, Alkabetz was a spiritual practitioner of gerushin, a mystical soul-projection technique achieved by incubation on the graves of saintly individuals. He also introduced the ritual-spiritual drama of meditative walking outdoors, dressed as a groom, on the eve of Shabbat to “receive” the “Bride of Shabbat,” the personified Shabbat.

Allegory: (57546). Today we assume the proper way to read Scripture is for its plain (and/or historical) meaning. This way of reading started to appear in the Middle Ages and accelerated with the Christian Reformation. While rarely acknowledged, however, the plain sense of Scripture often presents problems, to the point where modern exponents of the “religious” reading of the Bible are forced to elide over large sections of material. Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon or Canticles) is the signal example. The plain meaning is wholly secular. It’s a collection of ancient love poems, perhaps Wedding poems. This biblical book never mentions God, it teaches no ethics, and it contains no metaphysics beyond the romantic assertion that “love is stronger than death.” Even the most literal-minded person of faith today is forced to immediately abandon the obvious meaning when it comes to the Song of Songs.

In doing so, the readers revert to the indispensable ancient/medieval strategy of “allegorical” reading, first fully developed by the Greco-Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria and embraced by the early church. In order to uncover useful spiritual ideas, allegory is the preferred hermeneutic strategy. The book was probably included in the canon in the first place only because the Rabbis were persuaded that reading it allegorically as the love between Israel and God is the only real meaning.

For most of its interpretive history, in fact, the entire Hebrew Bible has been treated as a cryptic text. The Jewish allegorical assumption has been that all passages operate on (at least) two levels of meaning, the niglah and the nistar (“the revealed” and “the concealed”). And Song of Songs was held to be the most esoteric of all the canon, because it has no niglah, only nistar. Thus the medieval Jewish commentator ibn Kaspi wrote:

Solomon, alav hashalom [“may he rest in peace”] composed three books which we possess, corresponding to three types of discourse … entirely open and literal … entirely hidden, with nothing revealed … the third has both hidden and revealed … Song of Songs is the second type. … (Commentary to Song of Songs) 1

The challenge of the allegorical reading, then, is that once it is claimed one holds the key to unlock the secret treasure (i.e., “It’s about God and Israel” or “God and the Soul”) then the interpreter has to explain the parabolic meaning of all the figures, symbols, or imagery—what do the “garden,” “nut,” or “breasts” refer to? In Judaism, this has led to a vast array of interpretive strategies and conclusions. SEE MIDRASH; PARDES.

1. A. Berlin, Biblical Poetry Through Medieval Jewish Eyes (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991), 105.

Almoli, Solomon ben Jacob: Oneiromancer (Turkish, ca. 16th century). He is author of Pitron Chalomot, “The Interpretation of Dreams,” the most comprehensive text on oneiromancy written by a Jew. SEE Dream.

Almonds: (57552/Shaked). With their fruit encased in a shell and their eyelike shape, almonds are a symbol of concealed wisdom and divine favor. They seem particularly linked to the priesthood. The oil cups on the menorah were almond shaped (Ex. 26). Aaron’s rod was made of almond wood and sprouted blossoms during his ordeal with other contenders for the High Priesthood (Num. 17). Almonds are eaten in order to ward off the evil eye.

Almudhab: Arabic, “The Golden [One].” The demon that governs the first day of the week (Sunday). He may be summoned by an adept and forced to exercise his powers over love and friendship (Tzefunei Tzioni). This demon is derived from Islamic tradition.1

1. B. Huss,“Demonology and Magic in the Writings of R. Menachem Ziyyoni,” Kabbalah 10 (2004): 55-72.

Alphabet, Hebrew: (57560). SEE HEBREW AND HEBREW ALPHABET.

Alphabet, Magical: A set of symbols consisting of lines terminating in circles that was a popular feature in ancient and medieval magical inscriptions and amulets. Scholars sometimes refer to these symbols as “Angel script,” “sigils,” or brillenbuchstaben (“eye-glass” symbols) because the circles at the ends of the characters resemble monocles. The number of magical signs found on Hebrew magical texts far exceeds the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so evidently talisman makers assigned their own phonetic or hieroglyphic values to these symbols. Consequently, no definitive system for their translation or interpretation is available to us.1


Magical alphabet from Sefer Raziel

The methodology for their application is also somewhat of a mystery, though one 14th-century text, Tzefunei Tziyyoni (p. 70), describes them as seals which high angels use to subordinate om God had made simultaneously with him. When they argued, she flew off to become the queen of demons and compel them to serve God. The well-prepared adept may likewise use them to bend demons to the service of man.

1. J. Naveh and S. Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1991), 140-42.

Alroy, David: False Messiah (Iraqi, ca. 12th century). Alroy claimed to be the Messiah ben David and declared war against the Seljuk Sultan. He was an accomplished sorcerer, performing many wonders for his followers, and even once escaping captivity by magical means. According to one legend, he met his end by telling his followers to decapitate him so that he could be resurrected. The first phase of his plan worked perfectly (Benjamin of Tedula; Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah).

Altar: (57571/Mizbei’ach). A surface used for sacrifices, usually elevated upon a pillar of stone(s). Throughout the Hebrew Bible, altars are erected at the sites of divine appearances or revelations (Gen. 15, 22, 28), which were considered numinous places from that time forward. The presence of an altar therefore constituted a shrine. In later Jewish thought, the altar represents a harmonizing principle between God and humanity.

Israelite altars were made of a pillar of unhewn stones supporting a square platform with “horns,” or projections rising at each corner (Ex. 22, 29). Israelite practice featured two different kinds of altars, one for the animal and meal offerings, and another for the burning of incense.

The word itself, Mizbei’ach, is regarded to be an acronym for Mehila, Zachut, Berachah, Chayyim (“forgiveness, merit, blessing, and life”).

Once found on innumerable high places across the land, such altars disappeared when all sacrifice was centralized in Jerusalem as a reform measure to curb idolatry and syncretistic practices. Licit sacrifices in the cult of the God of Israel, according to the Bible, included incense, kosher animals, meal, oil, salt, and even water.

There is evidence that Jews living far from their homeland erected altars to the God of Israel, despite the prohibitions stipulated in the Bible. For example, the Jewish garrison in Elephantine, Egypt, had one, but also engaged in syncretistic worship of local deities alongside the God of Israel. There is also an episode reported in Talmud in which a sacrifice was made even without an altar (Zev. 116b). Over time this kind of practice was extinguished and anything even remotely resembling an altar in form or function was purged from Judaism. Thus any use of an altar from that period forward only occurs in occult or illicit rituals. The use of such an unsanctioned altar is mentioned, for example, in Sefer ha-Razim.

In the absence of the cult, the Rabbis declared the kitchen table (i.e., the Jewish home) to be the “small altar” of God.

Aluka: (57578). “Leech.” This is a traditional Hebrew term for a vampire. Some texts also identify it as a name for one of the seven compartments of Gehenna (Gedulat Moshe 41; SCh).

Amalek: The tribal and metaphysical nemesis of Israel. Deuteronomy commands Israel to “blot out” Amalek—originally identified in the Bible as a tribal people who massacred vulnerable Israelites coming up from Egyptian slavery—from under Heaven, for God “will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages” (Ex. 17, 18; Deut. 25). The later failure of Saul to kill Agag, the King of the Amalekites, alienates God from him.

Because of Saul’s error, descendants of the Amalekites continue to threaten Israel across the ages. Haman was a descendant of Agag. The Romans were also identified as children of Amalek. Since rabbinic times, it has been idiomatic to describe any implacable enemy of the Jews as “Amalek” (Ant. 11; Ex. R. 26; PdRK 27). In some Kabbalistic thought, “Amalek” becomes an idiom for impure things, including flaws within the believer. I. A. Kook, for example, considers “Amalek” any ungodly thing in the world, and that such things can only be overcome by love (Middot ha-Rayah).

Amazarak: This fallen angel taught sorcery to humanity (I Enoch 8).

Amemnar: Sorceress mentioned in Talmud (Pes. 110).

Ammi: Talmudic Sage, folk healer, and diviner (ca. 3rd century). His remedies appear in Horayot 12a and Avodah Zarah 28a-b.

Ammon of No: (57595). Variations of this name appear in lists of fallen angels and om God had made simultaneously with him. When they argued, she flew off to become the queen of demons across Jewish literature. He is the angel/demon governing Alchemy, dreams, and Christianity.1 SEE REINA, JOSEPH DELLA.

1. A. Schwarz, Kabbalah and Alchemy: An Essay on Common Archetypes (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 2000), 108.

Amtachat Binyamin, Sefer: An 18th-century compilation of segulot, formulae for making amulets, and medicinal prayers and treatments, composed by the Baal Shem Binyamin Binush.

Amulet: (57584‘/Kamia). An amulet or a charm is an object or a device, usually with writing on it, which provides protection against harm, whether of natural or supernatural origin. The use of amulets and charms is virtually universal across human cultures and across time, and Jews are no exception. Jewish amulets have been used to ward off a variety of ills: disease, mishap, dangerous animals, sorcery, and/or malevolent spirits. They can also serve as love charms. They have been particularly used by Jews to induce fertility, protect women during pregnancy, and to shield newborn infants. For many Jews, amulets signified human empowerment in the face of unseen and malevolent forces in the world.1

Amulets take many forms throughout the different periods of Jewish history. The use of amulets to ward off evil spirits and/or disease was pervasive in the cultures that surrounded ancient Israel, and examples of Canaanite, Phoenician, Assyrian, and Egyptian origin have been recovered. The use of amulets by biblical Israelites is specifically criticized in Isaiah 3:18-20. It is unclear from the context whether amulets qua amulets are being condemned, or whether they are merely included in a list of vanities and luxuries associated with women. Only two physical examples of amulets from the biblical era have been uncovered so far. The first is a tomb inscription found at Khibet el Qom dating to the 8th century BCE asking for the protection of YHVH and his Asherah. The second is also a tomb artifact, but this one consisting of two rolled-up copper plates inscribed with the Priestly Blessing (Num. 6:24-25) found at Ketef Hinnom and dating from the 7th century.2

Evidence for the use of amulets grows dramatically post-biblically. It is 2 Maccabees 12:40 that reports disapprovingly of slain Jewish warriors found wearing amulets with foreign gods inscribed on them. Again, it is unclear whether the author objects to talismans in general or to just these syncretistic examples. Of course, the tefillin worn by Jews on the head and arm to fulfill the commandment (Deut. 6:8) are regarded as having talismanic properties by some Jews, though that is not their formal function. The Latin word for tefillin, phylactery (“safeguard”) highlights this perception. Likewise, in some circles the mezuzah put on the doorpost of Jewish homes is also regarded as a charm against misfortune.

The Sages are largely at ease with the use of amulets, saying that “anything that effects Healing is not considered witchcraft” (Shab. 67a), and discuss their use to protect people (particularly children), animals, and property. Amulets were considered a regular part of the medical response to illness and the Sages speak of experienced kamia makers who have a proven track record of making efficacious amulets. They also discuss the criteria for judging a good medical amulet (Shab. 61b; Yoma 84a). They do, however, place limits on the sanctity with which amulets may be treated, even ones with God’s name inscribed on them (Shab. 115b). The Babylonian Talmud distinguishes between written amulets and folk amulets, the latter being called kamia shel ikrin and being made from roots (rather like a medicine bag). We have a number of written metallic amulets, mostly in Aramaic, from that era. Features of these charms include biblical phrases, names of God, and strings of nomina barbara, or nonsense words and phrases. Atbash (letter substitution) codes are sometimes used. Often foreign loan words appear and, on occasion, unpronounceable divine and angelic names. Diagrams, magical alphabets, and crude illustrations are common but not constant features. Many written amulets were rolled up and inserted in metal tubes, the same way a mezuzah is protected and displayed (Sanh. 63b; Pes. 111a-b).

Of the sample of amulets from late antiquity that have been found, perhaps the most intriguing are incantation bowls: pottery dishes painted with incantations and then buried under the doorpost of a house to trap underworld spirits who attempt to enter.3

Beginning in the Middle Ages, amulets appear that are designed to protect against the ayin ha-ra, the evil eye. Many more physical examples of amulets from the medieval period have survived, giving us a clearer picture of the forms, as well as the logic behind them. Many examples of silver, lead, and pewter amulets have come down to us, so metal is apparently a preferred material for amulet making, though it may also be that metal’s durability means more examples of these types of charms have survived.4

Despite the ridicule of a few rationalists like Maimonides, amulet making was considered a worthy religious undertaking by most Jews. Eleazar of Worms and Moses Zacuto were both advocates for them. Sefer Chasidim even permits the limited use of amulets made by non-Jews (SCh 247, 1114). Quite a number of amulet recipe books have survived, but by far the most influential was Sefer Raziel, which describes their manufacture in detail and prescribes specific times on certain days when engraving amulets will make them potent. Innumerable Jewish amulets have been preserved that were based on the models found in the 1701 printed version.


Amulet against Lilith from Sefer Raziel

Most controversies about the use of amulets arose not over their effectiveness, but about whether individuals were selling amulets with false claims or whether certain amulet designs may have originated in heretical circles, such as that of the false Messiah, Shabbatai Tzvi.

With the advent of modern printing and stamping techniques, amulets have been mass-produced in both metal and paper as pendants, small sheets, or broadsides. The most famous of these is the Middle Eastern tradition of the Shivitti talisman, using the words from Psalm 16:8 “I have placed the Eternal always before me.” Select amulet makers, like Chayyim Azulai (ca. 18th century), became celebrated figures. The Chasidic community has been very enthusiastic about their use from the very beginnings of their movement (ShB 23, 107, 187), which actually may have dampened the enthusiasm for amulets in the Orthodox community at large because of their distaste for all things Chasidic.

Even today, amulets enjoy widespread use in some traditional Jewish circles, especially among the Chasidic, Asian, and North African communities. More modern amulet makers will often use the same kind of animal skin parchment and ink that is used in making a Sefer Torah. These modern amulets, sometimes called segulot, feature either verses from Scripture with perceived protective properties, or permutations of the names of God. Often these words and anagrams are arranged in magic squares, circles, hexagrams, and other enclosed patterns (either to block out or to trap the malevolent forces) to enhance their power. These also have mathematical associations, being grouped in threes, nines, or other significant numbers.

Popular images appearing on amulets include the protective hand or chamsa, menorahs, fish, and Angels. A few examples even have crude pictures of the very demonic forces the amulet is meant to ward off. One suspects that the primitive quality of these demonic illustrations is deliberate—yet another way of degrading the power of the evil spirits—because many amulets are designed with attention given to aesthetics and are quite beautiful.

Beyond the materials used, there are rituals of power that must be observed when creating an amulet. Thus the maker will subject himself to a period of purification, usually three days, following the example of the Israelites who purified themselves for three days prior to receiving the Torah. Amulet-making manuals list Prayers and incantations that must be recited while constructing the kamia, along with those spells that will be written on it.

Certain days and times are better for making amulets, and these are carefully observed (Sefer Raziel). SEE ANGEL AND ANGELOLOGY; BIRTH; CIRCLE; HEALING; INCANTATIONS, SPELLS, AND ADJURATIONS; MAGEN, DAVID; MAGIC SQUARE.

1. M. Klein, A Time to Be Born (New York, Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 37-38, 151-52.

2. A. Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible: 10,000-586 B.C.E. (New York: Doubleday Publishing, 1992), 522-26.

3. Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1985), 15-20.

4. C. Roth, ed., Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter, 1974), 907-14.

Ana B’choach: (57605). A mystical Prayer used in both liturgical and theurgic contexts. Supposedly the composition of a 2nd-century sage, R. Nechunyiah, it is more likely a 13th-14th-century work. This prayer incorporates all the signal elements that mark all mystical thought—the idea of esoteric knowledge (God in the prayer is called Yodeia taalumot, “Knower of secrets”), mathematical symmetry (seven lines of six Hebrew words each), but most of all here, an allusion to secret divine names: 6 x 7 = 42, the 42-letter name of God that can be constructed from the opening verses of Genesis and is, therefore, the key to Creation. This poem is an acrostic, but not of the alef-bet variety common to many psalms and mystical poems. This is an acrostic formed from those 42 letters of God’s name. So this is a prime example of Kabbalistic name mysticism:

By the great strength or Your right hand [God’s “right hand” is an emblem of salvation. (Ex. 15:6)], release the bound [a petition that frequently appears in Jewish prayer].

Accept your people’s song, elevate and purify us, O Awesome One.

Mighty One, those who strive for Your Unification [of the male and female polarities of the Pleroma (Zech. 14:9)], guard them as the pupil of an eye.

Bless them, purify them, pity them, may your righteousness reward them.

Mighty Holy One, in goodness lead your congregation.

Unique Exalted One, turn to your people who recall Your holiness.

Accept our petitions, and hear our cries, O Knower of Secrets.

Blessed be the reputation of His noble kingdom for all eternity.

Ultimately, the semantic meaning of this prayer is secondary to the talismanic performance of the concealed/revealed name, invoking its power to heal the fractures in creation and restore life to its fullness at every level by simply reciting it. The Ana B’choach is often incorporated into amulets.

Anafiel: (57624). “Bough of God.” A princely Angel who appears in Merkavah literature (III Enoch 6, 18; Hechalot Rabbati; Zohar I:108b). He guards the heavenly palace of Zebul, or in other sources, Aravot, and was instrumental in assisting God with the process of Creation:

Why is his name Anafiel? Because of the branches of his crown of crowns, this is laid upon his head, which conceals and covers all the chambers of the palace of the arevot raqia like the Maker of Creation. What [is special about] the Maker of Creation? Scripture teaches in reference to Him: His majesty covers the sky [Hab. 3:3], so does this apply to the prince Anafiel, who is named after the name of his master.1

In Sefer Iyyun, he emanates seven serafim. He wears a crown and holds the “signet ring” of God (serves as God’s vizier). He is described as the “the head above all limbs” (Zohar III:289b). His status resembles that of Metatron in other texts, and in III Enoch it is Anafiel that administers the pulsa denura punishment upon Metatron. Joseph Dan argues they were once two names for the same entity.2

1. P. Schafer, The Hidden and Manifest God: Some Major Themes in Early Jewish Mysticism (New York: SUNY Press, 1992), 31.

2. J. Dan, “Anafiel, Metatron, and the Creator,” Tarbiz 52, (1982): 447-57.


Anak, Anakim: Human-angelic offspring, a race of giants related to the Nefilim (Deut. 2:12-21), especially associated with the city of Hebron (Josh. 14:15). They resettled in Philistine territory after the Israelite conquest, accounting for Goliath and his brother (Josh. 11:22). According to the Midrash, they received their name from the jewelry they heaped around their anakim (“necks”) (Gen. R. 26). Three Anakim brothers, Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, where the giants who terrified the Israelite spies in Numbers 17 and meet their comeuppance in Joshua 15:14.

Ancestors: (57622). The belief in the continuing presence of the dead and their influence on the living has been, in different forms, a feature of Jewish belief from earliest times. This has led to venerating the ancestral dead, and even cults dedicated to them. The Bible itself refers to such practices as ensuring the dead are gathered together with the clan on ancestral land (Gen. 50:24-25), caring for the dead spirits (Deut. 26:14; Isa. 57:6), and consulting them for occult knowledge (Deut. 18:11; Isa. 8:19-22, 19:3; 1 Sam. 28:3-25).

It is clear that ancient Israel venerated its dead (Deut. 10:15). Many scholars also believe that the Children of Israel inherited a cult of the ancestral dead, possibly even deified dead, from their Semitic milieu and that it remained a popular belief among Israelites despite the opposition of the prophets. References in the Bible to the ob (a familiar spirit apparently derived from the same Hebrew root as “father”) have been considered part of that covert tradition. Other scholars argue that a cult of the beneficent dead was introduced by influence of the Assyrians, who were obsessed with necromancy, in the 8th through 7th centuries BCE. From this perspective, all seemingly earlier references found in the Bible are actually anachronisms introduced by later editors.1 Contrary to the proscription of the Torah, the only clear example of a biblical figure who consulted the ancestral dead for guidance is that of Saul summoning the dead spirit of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 28:4-25). The account clearly illustrates that the author of Samuel believed necromancy was real, though the end results for Saul were personally disappointing.

With the prophetic verse Jeremiah 31:15-16 serving as locus classicus, “A cry is heard in Ramah, wailing, bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children, she refuses to be comforted …” The Sages of Talmudic times believed that their ancestors were aware of what transpired on earth and would plead before God on behalf of their descendants (Tan. 16a; Men. 53b). Midrash Lamentations Rabbah includes a description of biblical figures like Abraham, Moses, and Rachel interceding before the Divine Throne when God’s judgment is being pronounced against Israel (Lam. R. 24). They would even combat evil spirits attacking Israel (Ex. R. 41.7, 44:8; Tanh. Ki Tissa 20, PdRE 45; and Deut. R. 3.11).

In time, this idea of the positive influence of the beneficent dead expanded into the doctrine of zechut avot (the merit of the ancestors), which became canonized in the daily liturgy with the Avot Prayer (“You remember the faithfulness of our ancestors and therefore bring redemption to their children’s children …”). Sefer Chasidim describes how the dead pray for the living (452). As late as the Zohar, we find the theme of being reunified with one’s relatives is still a prominent expectation of the afterlife (Va-yehi 218b). In later Kabbalah, there is a shift from veneration of biological ancestors to “Soul” ancestors.

Under the influence of Christian and Muslim saint veneration, the doctrine of zechut avot eventually evolved into a more direct veneration of the meritorious dead, with practices such as praying to them for their intercession in personal matters. The purported graves of many luminaries—biblical (Rachel’s tomb in Bethlehem), rabbinic (Simon bar Yochai in Meron), Medieval (Meir ha-Baal Nes in Tiberias), and modern (Nachman of Bratzlav)—have become the focus of pilgrimages and prayers for divine intervention among the ultra-Orthodox. Even the tombs of Jews who would have scoffed at such behavior, like Maimonides, have become destinations for Jewish pilgrims and supplicants.

The custom of graveside veneration endures and thrives to this day in some sects of Judaism, and is extended even to such 20th-century figures as the Moroccan faith healer Baba Sali and the seventh CHaBaD rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. SEE DEATH; GHOST; IBBUR; Reincarnation; RIGHTEOUS, THE.

1. B. Schmidt, Israel’s Beneficent Dead: Ancestor Cult and Necromancy in Ancient Israelite Religion and Tradition (Lake Geneva: Eisenbraun, 1996), 132-263.

Ancient Holy One or Ancient of Days: (57631/Atik Yomin, also Atik Kadisha; Atik ha-Atika). Another idiom for God, based on Daniel 7:9. In Talmud, it is that aspect of God that will reveal esoteric teachings to the wise (Pes. 119a; Ber. 17a), but it is also the redemptive aspect of deity (Likkutai MoHaRan I:21). In the Zohar this term is used to specifically refer to the most hidden aspect of God, either Ein Sof or Keter (III:130a-b; III:136b). SEE PARTZUFIM.

Androgyny: According to the rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 1:27, the first human, Adam Kadmon, was created androgynous, with both male and female aspects. Noting that the Torah has no punctuation, the Rabbis parse the verse this way: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God he created him male and female.” Thus man was truly “one,” most closely resembling God. Later, God decided that man needed to be bi-sexual and more like the other creatures. Only then did God divide Adam into two persons, one male and one female:

“You have formed me before and behind” [Ps. 139:5] … R. Jeremiah b. Leazar said: When the Blessed Holy One created the first adam, He created it with both male and female sexual organs, as it is written, “Male and female He created them, and He called their name ‘adam,’ ” [Gen. 5:2]. R. Samuel b. Nahmani said, “When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the first ‘adam,’ He created him with two faces, then split him and made him two backs—a back for each side.” [Gen. R. 8:1; Ber. 61a]

When people enter into a fit marriage, the complete, primeval human is reconstituted through the union (Yev. 63b; Gen. R. 17:2; Zohar I:85b). Though this myth strikes us today as odd, it conveys the idea that God conceived humanity in essential gender equality, regardless of historical social realities.

Angel and Angelology: (57634/Malach). In Judaism, an angel is a spiritual entity in the service of God. Angels play a prominent role in Jewish thought throughout the centuries, though the concept has been subject to widely—at times wildly—different interpretations.

A number of numinous creatures subordinate to God appear throughout the Hebrew Bible; the Malach (messenger/angel) is only one variety. Others, distinguished from angels proper, include Irinim (Watchers/High Angels), Cherubim (Mighty Ones), Sarim (Princes), serafim (Fiery Ones), Chayyot ([Holy] Creatures), and Ofanim (Wheels). Collective terms for the numinous beings serving God include Tzeva (“Host”), B’nai ha-Elohim or B’nai Elim (“Sons of God”), and Kedoshim (“Holy Ones”). They are constituted into an Adat El, a divine assembly (Ps. 82; Job 1). A select number of angels in the Bible (three to be precise) have names. They are Michael, Gabriel, and (assuming it’s a proper name) ha-Satan.

Angels can come in a wondrous variety of forms, although the Bible often neglects to give any description at all (Judg. 6:11-14; Zech. 4). They appear humanoid in most biblical accounts (Num. 22) and as such are often indistinguishable from human beings (Gen. 18, 32:10-13; Josh. 5:13-15; Judg. 13:1-5), but they also may manifest themselves as pillars of fire and cloud or as a fiery bush (Ex. 14:3). The psalms characterize phenomena that we regard today as “natural,” like lightning, as God’s melachim (Ps. 104:4). Other divine creatures appear to be winged parts of God’s throne (Isa. 6) or of the divine chariot (Ezek. 1). The appearance of cherubim was well enough known to be artistically rendered on the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25). Perhaps the most ambiguous creature is the Malach Adonai, an angel that may or may not be a visible manifestation of God (compare the wording of Ex. 13:21-14:19).

Biblical angels fulfill a variety of functions in the lower worlds, including conveying information to mortals (Zech. 1-4), shielding (Ex. 14), rescuing (Gen. 21), and smiting Israel’s enemies. It is interesting to note that by and large, biblical angels have responsibilities but no authority. This begins to change with the biblical book of Daniel. Daniel includes a number of ideas about angels that are elaborated upon in post-biblical texts, including named angels and guardian angels. Most significant for future Jewish angelology, Daniel posits that all the nations of the world have their own angelic prince, that angels are arranged hierarchically, and that angels have actual, if limited, spheres of authority over mortal realms (also Deut. 32).

In Job, God grants temporary authority over Job to Satan (Job 1). Angels seem to have a particularly prominent role in those biblical books written by, or under the influence, of priests (Genesis, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah).

Jewish sources of the Greco-Roman period add considerable detail to the traditions of angels found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Jubilees 2:2; Ben Sira 16:26-30). We especially see the first systematic organization of biblical host of heaven into a hierarchy of different castes of angels governing and serving on different levels of Heaven. Zechariah’s reference to the seven eyes of God (4:10), for example, is understood to refer to either seven archangels or the seven angel hosts in the seven heavens (I Enoch 61; Testament of the Patriarchs Levi).

We also see a “quasi-polytheistic” view of the divine order recast in monotheistic terms. Now instead of having minor gods with specific spheres of power, lists of angels appear, all subordinate to God, but each designated with their sphere of authority (III Enoch). This is accompanied by a proliferation of named angels. For the first time we hear of Uriel, Raphael, Peniel, Metatron, and many, many others (I Enoch; Tobit; IV Ez.). Angels also increasingly represent the personification of impersonal entities, the forces of nature (lightning, clouds, rain), the reification of human concepts and constructs (childbirth, forgetfulness, nations), or the hypostasis of divine attributes (justice, love, forgiveness).

There is also an awareness of an affinity between angels and mortals. Already hinted at in the Bible, it is made clearer post-biblically that the boundary between human and angelic states can be quite permeable. Elaborating on cryptic passages found in the Bible (Gen. 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11), it is taught that exceptional mortals, such as Enoch, Elijah, and Serach bat Asher may be elevated to angelic status (I Enoch; Zohar I:100a, 129b; T.Z. Hakdamah 16b).

A sense of dualism, stronger than what is found in the Hebrew Scriptures, starts to find expression in late antiquity and leads to angels being divided into camps of light and darkness, as exemplified by the angelology in the War Scroll and the Manual of Discipline found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The mythic allusion to the misadventures of the sons of God in Genesis 6:2 becomes the locus classicus for this (I Enoch from the section sometimes called the Book of the Watchers). The mythos of fallen angels, central to the dualistic priestly mysticism of the Qumran sect, eventually becomes a major theological motif in Christianity, but remains largely in the background in rabbinic Judaism, exerting far less influence over subsequent Jewish angelology. It is here also we first see the idea that angels envy humanity, a theme that continues in rabbinic and medieval literature (Sanh. 88b-89a, 109a; Gen. R. 118:6). The belief that angels may be invoked and employed by human initiates, later a staple element of Ma’asei Merkavah mysticism, first appears at this time (Testament of Solomon).

Generally speaking, rabbinic literature de-emphasizes the importance of angels when compared with their role in the priestly Qumran, apocalyptic, and mystical traditions. For the first time, the idea is suggested that angels have no free will (Shab. 88b; Gen. R. 48:11). But they do have intellect and an inner life; they argue and are capable of errors (Sanh. 38b; Mid. Teh. 18:13). Most angels exist to do a single task (B.M. 86b; Gen. R. 50:2) and exalted as they may be, angels are subordinate to humanity, or at least the righteous (Gen. R. 21; Sanh. 93a; Ned. 32a; Deut. R. 1).

Still, references to angels in rabbinic literature are almost as vast as the host of heaven themselves.1 Many divine actions described in Scripture were now ascribed to various angels (Deut. R. 9; Gen R. 31:8; Sanh. 105b). Contrary to this trend, however, the Passover Haggadah pointedly denies that angels played any role in the pivotal event of delivering Israel from Egypt (ha-Maggid).

Angelic functions are revealed to be even more varied and their role in the operation of the universe even more pervasive. The figure of Mavet (Death) in the Bible is now identified as the Malach ha-Mavet (the Angels of Death). The Early Jewish concept of a personal angel, of malach shareit, mazal, or memuneh, “ministering” or “guardian” angel and an angelic “deputy,” also comes to the fore in rabbinic literature (RaSHI on Meg. 3a; Mid. Mish. 11:27; SCh 129, 633, 1162). The idea that the angels form a choir singing the praises of God also captures comment and speculation by the Sages (Gen. R. 78:1). While rabbinic writings offer no systematic angelology comparable to that coming out of contemporaneous Christian, mystical, and magical circles, certain parallel notions can be seen. Thus we learn in Talmud that Michael, the angelic prince over Israel, serves as High priest in Yerushalyim shel malah, the heavenly Jerusalem (Chag. 12b). Legends concerning the prophet-turned-angel Elijah (Ber. 4b) become one of the most commonplace angelic tales. Elijah frequently appears among mortals, bearing revelations from heaven and resolving inscrutable questions.

That all angels (and not just serafim and cherubim) have wings is first mentioned during this period (Chag. 16a; PdRE 4).


Lilien illustration of Balaam’s angel

The size of angels may vary from small to cosmic (Chag. 13b). Angels also move at different speeds, depending upon their mission:

A Tanna taught: Michael [reaches his goal] in one [flap], Gabriel in two, Elijah in four, and the angel of Death in eight. In the time of plague, however, [the Angel of Death arrives] in one. (Ber. 4b)

There is a debate as to whether angels eat, and argument driven by the question of whether they have any materiality at all (Yoma 75b). Later tradition attempts to split the difference, declaring they do eat, but not food of the same order as humans:

From whence are they [angels] nourished? Rabbi Yehudah says in the name of Rabbi Isaac: “From the splendor of the Shekhinah, as it is written, ‘In the light of the King’s face there is life.’ ” (Prov. 16:15; PR 16:15)

As the tradition makes more specific claims about angels, there emerges a fundamental disagreement about the nature of angels. Some consider angels to be God’s “embodied decrees,” while others regard them to be elementals made of fire, like an Islamic ifrit, or from an impossible combination of fire and water (SY 1.7; S of S R. 10; J. R.H. 58; Gedulat Moshe). Others regard them as immaterial, disembodied intellects. Likewise, there seems to be an ongoing controversy about what, or whether, angels eat (Judg. 13; Gen. R. 48:14; B.M. 86b; Zohar I:102b).

Angelology is a major element in Merkavah mysticism. Any practitioner wishing to ascend through the palaces of the heavens and achieve a vision of the divine glory needed to know how to get past the angelic guardians (usually by knowing and invoking their names) at each level (III Enoch). Perhaps even more important to this mystical tradition, angels can be summoned and brought down to earth to serve a human initiate. Many rituals and practices devoted to this end have been preserved in the Hechalot writings.

Starting in late antiquity, angels are increasingly related to and seen as part of the everyday life of individuals and the functioning of the world. Thus, the names of angels have protective properties and frequently appear on amulets, magical inscriptions, and formulae. In the bedtime ritual Kriat Sh’ma al ha-Mitah, the angels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael are invoked for protection through the night.

Unlike the biblical writers, the Sages allow themselves to speculate on the origins of angels. They teach, for example, that angels did not pre-exist Creation, but were formed as part of the heavens on the second day (Gen. R. 1:3, 3). Another Rabbi posits that they came into existence on the fifth day, along with all “winged” and “gliding” (bird and fish) creations. Later traditions reconcile the different positions by asserting different kinds of angels came into being at different stages of Creation (Chag. 14b; PdRE 4). The Zohar teaches that all angels are the products of specific sefirot—angels of love emanate from Chesed, punishing angels emanate from Gevurah—and each type came into existence coinciding with the emergence of the sefirah that is its source. (I:46a-b). Gradually, a distinction emerges between named angels, which are enduring, and anonymous ephemeral angels, which are constantly coming in and going out of existence (Chag. 14a; Gen. R. 78:1).

Medieval Midrash reiterates and further develops earlier teaching about angels, but it is during this period that individual philosophers start to offer systematic and idiosyncratic interpretations of angels. Maimonides, for example, talks about them at length in his Mishneh Torah, in Hilchot Yisodei ha-Torah (“Laws of the Foundations of the Torah”). While he meticulously classifies angelic rankings (there are ten) in his rationalistic system, Maimonides equates them with the Aristotelian “intelligences” that mediate between the spheres. As such, they are conscious and govern the spheres in their motion, but in his Aristotelian context Maimonides is saying they are forms of natural causation rather than supernatural beings. He also expands his definition to include natural phenomenon and even human psychology (he refers to the libidinous impulse as the “angel of lust”). He also denies that angels ever take corporeal form; the encounters described in the Bible are only the dream visions of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

By contrast, other thinkers, like the German Pietist Eleazar of Worms, adhere to esoteric and unapologetically supernatural angelologies. Because of the exalted status of Torah study among Ashkenazi Jews, rituals for summoning angels, especially angels who could reveal secrets of the Torah, like the Sar ha-Torah and Sar ha-Panim (“the Prince of the Torah” and “the Prince of the Presence”), became widely known.

The early medieval magical work Sefer ha-Razim catalogs hundreds of angels, along with how to influence them and use their names in constructing protective amulets, throwing curses, and otherwise gaining power. The Zohar continues the tradition of angelic taxonomy, ranking them according to the four worlds of emanation (I:11-40), as well as assigning angels feminine as well as masculine attributes (I:119b).

Visitations by angels were widely reported among medieval Kabbalists. The mystic-legalist Joseph Caro wrote of his maggid, the spirit of the Mishnah, who visited him in the night and taught him Torah ha-Sod, the esoteric Torah (Maggid Mesharim).

Despite the more traditional view of some Chasidic masters like the Baal Shem Tov, who characterized angels as “the garments of God,” the most novel contribution of Chasidic thought to angelology was a distinctly anthropocentric, even psychological, interpretation of angelic nature. Elaborating upon the teachings of Chayyim Vital,2 some Chasidic masters held that ephemeral angels, like om God had made simultaneously with him. When they argued, she flew off to become the queen of demons, were the direct result of human action. Goodly deeds created good angels, destructive behavior created destructive angels, etc. In other words, most angels are the creation—really a byproduct—of humans rather than God.3 Thus the balance between the angelic and demonic forces in the universe is a direct result of human decision and action: “Man stands upon the earth and his head reaches to the heavens, and the angels of the Eternal ascend and descend within him” (Ben Porat Yosef 42a). Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the Chasidic masters emphasize the value of seeking the help of angels. Again, a more psychological interpretation would be that they are calling on Jews to draw strength from their own past good deeds. The most comprehensive Chasidic meditation on angelology is Sichat Malachei ha-Sharet (“Meditation on the Guardian Angels”) by Tzadok ha-Kohen Rabinowicz.4

In the last quarter of the 20th century, there has been renewed interest in angels throughout the Jewish community as evidenced by a boom in books from a Jewish perspective on the subject.

1. J. Lauterbach, “The Belief in the Power of the Word,” Hebrew Union College Annual 14 (1939): 293-300.

2. R. J. Z. Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, Lawyer and Mystic (Philadelphia, PA: JPS, 1977), 79.

3. A. Steinsaltz, The Thirteen Petalled Rose (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998), 10.

4. T. Rabinowicz, ed., The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996), 23-24.

Angel of Death: (57645/Malach ha-Mavet, also Mar Mavet; Malach Ahzari). God’s agent of death in the world and the most dreaded of all numinous beings. First mentioned in biblical literature simply as Mavet (personified Death), Mashchit (the Destroyer), Malach Adonai (Angel of the Lord), and in at least one place as multiple “messengers/angels of death,” in later literature the title “Angel of Death” becomes conventional. God created the Angel on the first day, along with light. Some traditions fuse Satan and the Yetzer ha-Ra with the Angel. Others give the Angel the name Samael (“the Gall of God”) or Suriel (Seder Olam 10).

Death is the slowest of all the angels, except in times of epidemic, when he is the fastest. The Malach ha-Mavet is monstrous in appearance, full of eyes that see all creatures:

It has been said that the angel of death is all eyes, and that when a sick person is dying, the angel stands above him, sword drawn with a drop of bile dangling from it. When the sick person sees the angel he is shocked and opens his mouth; the bile falls into the open mouth and from this the person dies, from this the person deteriorates, from this his face turns green. (A.Z. 20b; Ber. 4b)

He can alter appearance, such as manifesting with seven dragon heads (Testament of Abraham). He is robed in a mantle that allows him to change appearance. Death can command hosts of om God had made simultaneously with him. When they argued, she flew off to become the queen of demons (Gen. R. 26). Some traditions hold the Angel was created on the first day, along with darkness, while others say he arose after the first sin (PdRE 13; A.Z. 22b; Zohar I:35b).

Despite the piety and cleverness of such extraordinary mortals as Abraham, Moses, and David, who delayed their demise, no one can resist this angel forever. A select righteous few, like Moses, die directly from the kiss of God, rather than through the harsh agency of the Angel. Supposedly the biblical city of Luz was immune to death, and the Angel could only strike those who left the confines of the city (Sot. 46b). One can, however, not give the Angel an opening to claim you before your time. This famous passage offers some advice from the mouth of Death himself:

R. Joshua b. Levi says: Three things were told me by the Angel of Death. Do not take your shirt from your attendant when dressing in the morning, and do not let water be poured on your hands by one who has not washed his own hands, and do not stand in front of women when they are returning from the presence of a dead person, because I go leaping in front of them with my sword in my hand, and I have permission to harm. If one should happen to meet them what is his remedy?—Let him turn aside four cubits; if there is a river, let him cross it, and if there is another road let him take it, and if there is a wall, let him stand behind it; and if he cannot do any of these things, let him turn his face away and say, (Zech. 3) “And the Lord said unto Satan, the Lord rebuke thee, O Satan etc.,” until they have passed by. (Ber. 51a)

As evidenced above, a number of people are said to have had dealings with the Angel while still alive, including David, Solomon, and a number of Talmudic Sages, most famously Simon (Shimon) ben Halafta and Joshua ben Levi (Ket. 77b). The greatest mortal nemesis of Death, until the coming of the Messiah, has been Moses, who had many dealings with it during his own life and was able to thwart it in various ways. Either God, or the Messiah acting as God’s agent, will slay the Angel of Death at the end of time (Passover Haggadah; Isa. 25; PR 161b).

The teachings about the Angel found in the whole expanse of Jewish literature are quite diverse and hard to reconcile into a coherent whole. There exists, for example, an isolated tradition that there are actually six malachei ha-mavet, with each one empowered to slay a different category of creature. Another strand of tradition teaches that the same angel that brings a Soul into the world is also the one that will bring it back to the higher realms. There are also traditions concerning Domah, the angel of the grave, who pronounces the initial judgment against the soul while it still clings to the Body. In some texts, Domah functions exactly as the Angel of Death does.

Fearful that the Angel will use a person’s name to “find” him or her, some Jewish parents will not name newborns until the day of their circumcision or synagogue naming, when they will enjoy the added protection of Jewish ritual. Symbolically “selling” an ill child, changing its name, or giving away its clothing to someone else can confuse the Angel. It is customary that the Prayers for Rosh Chodesh are not recited on the month of Tishrei in order to mislead the Angel about the coming High Holy Days, the time when it is determined who will die in the coming year. The giving of charity and the study of Torah has the power to postpone death, but not prevent it (Gen. R. 21:5; Ex. R. 30:3, 38:2; Num. R. 23:13; Tanh. Bereshit 11; Me’am Loez Bereshit).

Angel of the Covenant: SEE ELIJAH

Angel of the Lord: SEE MALACH ADONAI.

Angelic Script: An alphabet that appears in Sefer ha-Razim, Sefer Raziel, and on medieval amulets. SEE ALPHABET, MAGICAL.

Angelification: In early Jewish mysticism, the experience of unio mystica, mystical union with God, was most often expressed in the notion that a human could, either temporarily or eternally, achieve angelic status and become part of the divine assembly. The archetypal figure for this kind of transformation is Enoch, who was transubstantiated into Metatron(III Enoch 3). According to a medieval Midrash, nine people entered Paradise alive (and, by implication, underwent transformation into Angels): Enoch, Elijah, the Messiah, Eliezer (the servant of Abraham), Ebed Melech, Batya (the daughter of Pharaoh), Hiram (who built Solomon’s Temple), Jaabez (son of R. Judah the Prince), and Serach bat Asher (Derekh Eretz Zut 1).

The priests who contributed to the Dead Sea Scrolls also apparently believed they enjoyed a transitory fusion with the angels when they performed their mystical liturgy, the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. Ma’asei Merkavah mystics sought a similar kind of angelic experience on a personal level through their practices of mystical ascent.1

Medieval Judaism preserved a variant form of this idea in teaching that the Righteous are elevated after death and dwell among the angels (El Malei Rachamim Prayer). SEE PURITY OR PURIFICATION; THRONE OF GLORY; YORED MERKAVAH.

1. C.R.A. Murray-Jones, “Transformational Mysticism in the Apocalyptic-Merkavah Tradition,” Journal of Jewish Studies 43 (1992): 1-31.

Angelus Interpres: Latin, “Interpreting angel.” An angelus interpres is an entity who helps a prophet or other mortal experiencing a revelation to make sense of it. One of the conventions of apocalyptic writing is that divine messages are oracular; they are conveyed in linguistic and visual codes that conceal their full import—surreal images, obscure phrases, or the like, and some explanation is necessary. Probably through the influence of Angel-centric priestly spirituality (Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah were all priest), these angels become a prominent aspect of later Prophecy .1 For example, Ezekiel (40:3-44:4, where an angel guides him through the messianic Temple), Daniel (7:16, 8:16-19, 9:22, 10:14), and Zechariah (chapters 1-6)—these books all feature angels who assist these respective prophets in understanding the visions bestowed upon them. Occasionally, the explanations are as opaque as the visions themselves (Zech. 4).

These angels continue to appear in post-biblical sources, especially apocalyptic writings (many of them also priestly compositions), such as the Books of Enoch. Scholars have offered various theories as to why the angel becomes important, most arguing that as the biblical period draws to a close, there is a greater sense of God’s exalted transcendence, so an intermediary entity must be interposed between a perfect God and imperfect humanity, something analogous to a royal herald. This is the same attitude that made other kinds of divine intermediaries, like the logos of Philo, the memra of Targum literature, Wisdom, or Jesus, necessary in the minds of Greco-Roman religious writers and translators.

Moreover, in Judaism there emerges a kind of “parenthetical” concept of prophecy—that while prophecy brackets the time before and after our time (the biblical period and the Messianic Age), we live in a period of history when prophecy no longer functions. Still, lesser forms of revelation continue to be available to us. The angelus interpes occupies this role of “lower” communion.

There are any number of entities who can interpret the world for humans—sarei chalom (dream angels), maggidim (spirit guides), ibburim (the spirits of the righteous dead), and bat kols (echoes from heaven). But by far the most common and well known is Elijah, styled the angel of the covenant based on Malachi 3:1. Elijah appears frequently in rabbinic tradition, either to tell what is happening in the celestial spheres, to help someone make sense of an experience, or even to comment on controversies of Jewish law, as in this passage:

[in arguing concerning the rights of a concubine …] R. Abiathar said [so-and-so], and R. Jonathan said [so-and-so]. R. Abiathar soon afterwards came across Elijah and said to him: “What is the Holy Blessed One, doing [in this moment]?” and he answered, “He is discussing the question of the concubine in Gibea.” “What does He say?” said Elijah: [He says], “My son Abiathar says So-and-so, and my son Jonathan says So-and-so.” Said R. Abiathar: “Can there possibly be uncertainty in the mind of the Heavenly One?” He replied: “Both [answers] are the word of the living God.” (Git. 6a)

1. R. Elior, The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Early Jewish Mysticism (Oxford, OH: Littmann Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004).

Animals: (57677). The term chayya (“living thing”) usually refers to land creatures, birds and fish being traditionally classified separately. Jewish tradition teaches that all animals, regardless of intelligence, constantly praise God through their voices, sounds, and characteristic behaviors and gestures (Perek Shirah; Mid. Teh. End). But while the Bible clearly regards animals to have consciousness, the question of whether animals have souls begins in the Middle Ages, with the earliest rational philosopher, Sa’adia Gaon, responding in the positive. Jewish mysticism, with its belief in reincarnation, embraced Sa’adia’s position early on. Solomon Aderet taught that animals and humans share souls. Chayyim Vital argued that souls transmigrate between humans, animals, plants, and even inanimate objects. Numerous Chasidic masters claimed the Jewish tradition of showing compassion toward animals, baal chayyim, was partly based on the knowledge that animals were transmigrated souls. Consuming meat slaughtered according to the rules of Jewish ritual law, kashrut, allows those souls to be properly released and permits the consumer to absorb the nitzotzot, the holy sparks, contained in the flesh (Meirat Einayim 279; Tanya 7).

Animals possess innate wisdom from which human beings can learn (2 Kings 5; Job 12). Animals naturally acknowledge the Creator and his messengers (Num. 24; Pss. 65, 148; Yalkut Ps. 150). Certain enlightened humans, such as Solomon and Hillel, can commune with the animal world (S of S 16:9).

Normally regarded as mundane aspects of God’s Creation, Jewish sources nevertheless include stories of fantastic creatures and animals with supernatural abilities. The Bible credits two ordinary creatures with the human capacity of speech: the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) and the ass of the gentile prophet Balaam ben Boer (Num. 24). While the Bible explicitly accounts for the speech of the ass (it is a temporary angelic gift), no clear explanation is given for why the serpent, of all God’s other creatures, has the ability to speak. A subsequent tradition fills in this lacuna by proposing the animal was really Satan in disguised form, an interpretation that later became central to Christian exegesis.

Fantastic animals mentioned in the Bible include Leviathan (Isa. 27:1), Nehash (Isa. 27:1), and Rehab (Isa. 57:9), mighty sea monsters, which have their roots in the Pagan traditions of the Babylonian chaos monster Tiamat and/or the Canaanite sea god, Judge River. Like their Pagan counterparts, these mythic beasts threaten the cosmos and must be subdued. Two others, Behemoth and tannin, may in fact be references to mundane creatures, the buffalo and crocodile, but in later tradition become regarded as a monstrous giant oxen and a dragon, respectively.

A number of fantastic creatures borrowed from Pagan mythology appear in Jewish writings of antiquity, most notably the phoenix. The Apocalypse of Baruch, for example, incorporates the phoenix into its description of how Heaven operates. The sphinx is also mentioned in III Baruch.

While animal fables were a staple element of rabbinic literature, tales of fantastic creatures actually believed to exist are less common. The most famous such creature is the Shamir worm, the stone-eating creature the Rabbis claim allowed Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem without resorting to using iron tools, which God had prohibited (Ex. 22). Tales of Leviathan and Behemoth multiply, including a description of Leviathan as God’s pet and an oft-repeated tradition that these two beasts will be the main course at the messianic banquet, their slaughtering being a metaphor for the final triumph of God over the forces of chaos at the end of time. Ziz, a gigantic bird, appears along with Leviathan and Behemoth as being created on the fifth day of Creation (Mid. Konen).

The Jews of medieval Europe included in their bestiaries those creatures widely held to exist by their non-Jewish neighbors, including unicorns and barnacle geese.1 Animals also feature prominently as symbols in Jewish dream interpretation. SEE BIRDS; DIVINATION; DOG; DREAM; EAGLE; FISH; SOUL.

1. D. B. Ruderman, “Unicorns, Great Beasts, and the Marvelous Variety of Things in Nature in the Thought of Abraham ben Hananiah Yagel,” in Twersky and Septimus, Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies, 1987).

Anointing: SEE MESSIAH; OIL.


Apocalypse of Abraham: SEE ABRAHAM, APOCALYPSE OF.


Apocalyptic Literature: A genre of Jewish religious writing mostly composed between the 2nd century BCE and the 5th century CE. A few apocalyptic texts appear in the Bible (specifically the book of Daniel, parts of Zechariah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel), but the bulk of the writings considered apocalyptic, such as the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Testament of Levi, the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Books of Enoch, were never included in the biblical canon. The vast majority of them were not even preserved in the sacred Jewish languages of Hebrew or Aramaic, but instead have survived only in Christian revisions, having been translated into a variety of Western and African languages. Some never even existed in Hebrew/Aramaic, but were originally composed by Greek-speaking Jews.1

Inspired by biblical prophetic traditions, apocalyptic literature sees itself as the continuation of Prophecy, but there are certain features that distinguish it from classical Hebrew prophecy. These documents are usually (but not uniformly) characterized by:

1. Occultism: The revelation in these works is purportedly a “secret.” Unlike prophecy, it is meant to be revealed only to a privileged few, usually the “elect.”

2. Pseudepigrapha: Being cast as the work of some figure of the ancient biblical past, often a figure that is rather peripheral in the canonical Scriptures, such as Levi, Baruch, or Enoch.

3. Cosmic revelation: The books often provide a revelatory tour of Heaven, hell, the primordial past, and/or events at the end of time.

4. Symbolic images: The events portrayed will be presented in heavily encoded figurative images including hands, bowls, scrolls, Angels, or dragons, which must be interpreted in order to understand their import. Gematria and word mysticism is also a frequent feature.

5. Angel- and demonologies: The denizens of the divine spheres play a far more prominent role in apocalyptic texts than they do in most canonical biblical prophecy or in rabbinic literature. Often an angel is a mediumistic figure, called the angelus interpres, in the text who explains the meaning of the revelation.

6. Dualism: These books are starkly dualistic, more so than the Bible, with forces of good and evil, light and darkness, clearly and diametrically opposed to one another.

7. Determinism: This genre features a marked sense of fatalism. The prophetic sense of contingency, that the future could change based on human moral decision and action, is largely absent in apocalyptic works. Instead, history is seen as a vast, cosmic machine moving toward an inevitable conclusion. The only role of human free will is in making the decision of which cosmic force to ally with.2

Recent scholarship suggests that apocalyptic literature may have largely been a product of priestly circles in Early Judaism.3 During the later corruption of the Temple and then after its destruction, these writings flourished as a mystical visionary alternative to the lost earthly sanctuary. This also explains its decline. It began to fade with the progressive loss of priestly prerogatives and the rise of rabbinic influence. Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Islam inherited and continued to produce and study apocalyptic traditions for centuries after they had lost their currency in Jewish circles. Still, these works continued to have an influence in Judaism, shaping the language and practices of the Ma’asei Merkavah and Hechalot literature, which pursued apocalyptic and occult visions, but muted or discarded their eschatological and dualistic preoccupations.4

1. Metzger and Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible (New York: Oxford Press, 1993), 34-39; I. Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1980), 2-23.

2. M. Buber, Israel and the World: Essays in a Time of Crisis (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997), 36.

3. M. Barker, “Beyond the Veil of the Temple: The High Priestly Origins of the Apocalypses,” Scottish Journal of Theology 51, no. 1 (1998): 34-48.

4. Elior, The Three Temples, 259.

Apocrypha: A collection of religious writings from early Judaism that have some canonical status in the Church, but none in Judaism. The collection includes both apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic writings.


Apple Orchard, the Holy: An idiomatic phrase appearing in the Zohar drawn from the imagery of the Song of Songs. It refers to the state of union of human beings with the Shekhinah, the ultimate attainment of communion with the divine.

Aravot: (57722). The highest of the seven heavens, it is the location of the Throne of Glory and the host of heaven. It is the storehouse for righteousness, justice and mercy, as well as the treasures of life, peace and blessing. It also contains the Treasury of Souls yet to be born (Chag. 12b-13a; EY ad. loc.).

Archangel: Greek, “chief messenger/principal messenger.” Archangels are a class of princely Angels with authority over heavenly realms, earthly nations, or other angels. The term “archangel” does not actually exist in Jewish literature until almost modern times. Instead, it is a default translation for several Hebrew angelic terms such as Irinim (Watcher), Sar (Prince/Archon), or Sharet (Ministering angel). Angels with names, such as Metatron, Michael, or Gabriel, are often styled as “archangels.” SEE ANGEL AND ANGELOLOGY.

Arel: (57693). “Uncircumcised.” In the Bible, the foreskin is used as a symbol of the imperfect, the profane, and the foreign. But it also makes a great Wedding gift (1 Sam. 18; 2 Sam. 3). The sages debate if Adam was created circumcised (AdRN 5:2; Ex. R. 46:3). Rabbinic tradition notes that the term orlah can refer to several parts of the Body, each signifying a part of the body that may be vulnerable to spiritual shortcoming: an uncircumcised penis, ears, lips, or heart (PdRE 29). In Maaseh ha-Shem, foreskin embodies all the barriers between God and humanity. In Jewish mysticism, it comes to signify the demonic (Zohar I:13a, 18a, 91b). SEE CIRCUMCISION; PHALLUS.

Arelim or Aralim: An angelic rank listed in the Zohar. SEE ERELIM.

Arfiel: (57696). In Hechalot texts, this is the angel who guards the heavenly palace Rakia.

Ari, ha- or Arizal: SEE LURIA, ISAAC.

Arikh Anpin: (57717). “Long [suffering] Visage.” This is a title for the pinnacle divine entity in the Zohar and in Lurianic Kabbalah (Zohar I:135a). It draws on the Jerusalem Talmud, where it is taught,

God is long [suffering] with the righteous and the wicked (Tan. 2:1, 65b). SEE PARTZUFIM.

Ark of the Covenant: (57719/Aron ha-Eidut). A portable chest that served as the repository for the Ten Commandments and the thirteenth Torah scroll written by Moses (the other twelve went to each of the tribes). More importantly, the Ark served as a locus of God’s presence among the Children of Israel. At God’s commission, the biblical wonder-craftsman Bezalel built the Ark while the Israelites sojourned in the desert.

The Ark was a box plated in gold inside and out, mounted with two carrying poles and adorned with two Cherubim. The wings of these cherubim came together to form the “mercy seat” of God and from there God spoke with Moses (Ex. 25). As the “Strength and the Glory of God,” the Ark was carried into battle by the Israelites (Josh. 6:6-15; Judg. 20:27; 1 Sam. 4:3-5), where it served as a sign that YHVH-Tzevaot (The Lord of Armies) was present.

The Ark was imbued with numinous holiness so profound that mortals risked Death simply by touching it (2 Sam. 6:6-8). When the Philistines briefly captured it, its power was such that they were afflicted with boils (or hemorrhoids, the Hebrew being uncertain) and vermin, and their idols humiliated. It is last mentioned during the reign of Josiah and is not accounted for after the Babylonian exile.

According to the Talmud, the Ark could flatten the hills where it was carried (Ber. 54a-b) and destroyed all snakes and scorpions along its path. It was also extra dimensional and did not actually occupy physical space at all (B.B.99a). Its very presence also caused great fertility (Yoma 30b). The cherubim on it would rotate as an omen; when Israel earned God’s favor, they would embrace, like lovers (B.B. 99a; Lam. R. Hakdamah; PdRK 19).

Some traditions claim it was taken into captivity in Babylon along with the people, while another tradition claims it was buried on Mount Nebo. Still another teaches it was secreted on the Temple grounds, filled with manna, anointing oil, the rod of Aaron, and the treasures of the Philistines, where it awaits rediscovery in the time of the Messiah (PR 26:6; PdRK 13:114b).

Ark, Holy: (57748/Aron ha-Kodesh, also Teivah; Heichal). A niche or cabinet in a synagogue for the storage of the Torah scrolls. Mounted on the east wall (toward Jerusalem), it functions as the visual focal point of the sanctuary. Protective and miraculous powers begin being attributed to the ark by the late Talmudic period, coinciding with the rising status of the synagogue as the holy place, par excellence, in rabbinic Judaism. People would on occasion sleep before the ark in order to receive a revelatory dreams or in the hope of experiencing a miraculous healing. Amulets were sometimes placed inside the ark for a period to enhance their power. SEE Incubation.

Arka: (57741). “Earth.” One of the seven underworld realms mentioned in the Zohar. The descendants of Cain, monstrous humanoids, dwell there (Sitre Torah; Zohar I: 253b-254a).

Arkiel: A fallen angel who taught humanity geomancy (I Enoch).

Armageddon: (57739/Megiddo). Christian tradition identifies this ancient city in Israel as the place of the final conflict between God and the forces of Satan. The city does not have the same dramatic role in Jewish eschatology. SEEARMILUS BEN BELIAL; GOG AND MAGOG; MESSIAH.

Armaros: Fallen angel who taught mankind Magic (I Enoch).

Armilus ben Belial: The eschatological nemesis of the Messiah. The tradition of Armilus is medieval in origin, first surfacing textually during the 8th century. While there are several variations, the core story is that Armilus is a king who will attack Jerusalem in the last days, killing the Messiah, son of Joseph. In turn the Messiah, son of David, will counterattack and slay Armilus, either with the breath of his mouth (an allusion to Isaiah 9) or by fire raining from Heaven. Sefer Zerubbabel reports he will be the offspring of sexual congress between a beautiful Roman statue (the Virgin Mary?) and Satan. Armilus thus is a monstrosity with green skin, gold hair, and two heads who thinks himself God. Armilus narratives can be read as a counter-narrative (or parody) of Christian eschatological beliefs (Sefer Zerubbabel; BhM 1:56, 2:51, 3:141).

Armisael: A guardian angels with power over the womb and childbirth. He can be summoned by reciting Psalm 20 while invoking his name.

Artapanus: Egyptian-Jewish writer (ca. 2nd century BCE). He wrote that Abraham taught astrology to the priests of Heliopolis and that the mysterious figure of Hermes Trismegistus, founder of the alchemical arts, was actually Moses.

Aryeh: (57761). “Lion/Leo.” Astrological sign for the Hebrew month of Av. This signifies tragedy, power, destruction and redemption. The First and Second Temples were both destroyed in the month. Other disasters have befallen the Jewish people under this sign.1

1. Erlanger, Signs of the Times, 87-108.

Arzaret: (57763). The mythical land beyond the Sabatayon River where the ten lost tribes dwell until the time of the messianic restoration.

Asaf ha-Rofe, Sefer: “The Book of Asaf the Physician.” This medieval magico-medical manual claims to be based on traditions received from “Shem the son of Noah,” linking it to the mysterious lost book of Noah. Some of the material clearly draws upon the ancient Book of Jubilees, especially chapter 10.

Ascent, Heavenly: The mystical experience of projecting oneself into higher realms while still alive. Judaism has long taught this practice. Moshe Idel identifies three types of ascents described in Jewish texts: somanoda (bodily ascent), psychanodia (Soul ascent), and nousanodia (ascent of the intellect).1

Bodily ascent can itself take two diverse forms—the “taking up” of the physical Body, as in the case of Elijah, or of the “spiritual body,” called the guf ha-dak in Hebrew. On the other hand, the idea of projecting the intellect is a particularly medieval one, based on the Aristotelian notion that the Intellect is an attribute linking the person to the higher spheres.

Both apocalyptic literature and the New Testament (Paul, obliquely describing himself—2 Cor. 12:3) make it clear that such ascensions were known of and accepted in Early Judaism. Different versions of these ascents can be found at virtually all periods of Jewish history.

Rabbinic literature, for example, offers many stories about biblical and Talmudic heroes entering Heaven. In this elaborate story, Moses must ascend beyond Mount Sinai, into the Seven Heavens, to receive the Torah:

Rabbi Joshua b. Levi said, “When Moses ascended on high, the ministering angels spoke before the Blessed Holy One, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! What business has one born of woman among us?’ ‘He has come to receive the Torah,’ answered God to them. They said to Him, ‘That secret treasure, which You have concealed for nine hundred and seventy-four generations before the world was created. You desire to give it to flesh and blood! What is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You visit him? O Lord our God, How excellent is Your Name in all the earth! Who has set Your glory [the Torah] upon the Heavens!’ (Ps. 8:1-2) Moses [then] spoke before God, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! The Torah which You give me, what is written in it—I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt.’ Said Moses to the angels, ‘Did you go down to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why then should the Torah be yours? … Again, what is written in it? Honor your father and your mother. Have you fathers and mothers?’ … Immediately the angels conceded to the Holy One … [and] Immediately each angel saw Moses as beloved. …” (Shab. 88b)

Apocalyptic traditions likewise tend to limit ascents to the mythic past; only biblical worthies merited such experiences, figures such as Enoch and Abraham. There is little or no indication in apocalyptic writings, however, that the experience is accessible to the contemporary reader. By contrast, the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest for the first time that mingling with angelic realms is possible, at least for the priestly elite.2

Later Hechalot literature radically “democratizes” (for lack of a better word) the possibility of mystical ascent—any intellectually and spiritually worthy person can now do it, though it is exceedingly dangerous—and offers descriptions of some of the rituals and preparations necessary for such ascents.3

The German Pietists and early Kabbalists, inheritors and conservators of the Hechalot materials, preserved and continued these practices.4 Sefer Chasidim also reports a near-death ascent (270). Famous post-biblical practitioners of ascent include Rabbis Akiba and Ishmael, Isaac Luria, the Baal Shem Tov, and Abraham Joshua Heschel of Opatov.

Terminology for the experience of entering divine realms changes over Jewish history, being known variously as Nichnas Pardes (“Entering Paradise”), Yored ha-Merkavah (“Descent to the Chariot”), Yichud (“Unification”) and Devekut (“Cleaving”). Techniques for ascent in Jewish sources include ritual purification, immersion, fasting, study of sacred and mystical texts, sleep deprivation, reciting word mantras (especially divine names), self-isolation, and even self-mortification.

The purposes of heavenly ascension can include various forms of unio mystica, sometimes in an ineffable experience, other times by a visionary enthronement before God or angelification, receiving answers to questions, gaining inspiration (for composing liturgical songs), or obtaining an apocalyptic vision of the future (Chag. 14b- 15a; Mid. Teh. 19:4; Gen. R. 2:4). SEE Ma’asei Merkavah; Meditation; Throne Of Glory; MEDIUM; TRANCE.

1. M. Idel, Ascensions on High in Judaism Mysticism: Pillars, Lines, Ladders (Budapest: Central Europoean University Press, 2005), 27-28.

2. L. Schiffman and J. VanderKam, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 26; Elior, The Three Temples, 180-83.

3. Schafer, The Hidden and Manifest God, 146-47.

4. J. Dan and R. Kiener, The Early Kabbalah (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1986), 2-4.

Asenat: The Egyptian wife of Joseph. Rabbinic legend identifies her as the daughter of Dinah who survived being abandoned by her grandfather Jacob through the agency of an amulets inscribed with God’s name. An Angel carries her to Egypt where she is adopted by Potiphar and later marries her uncle Joseph (PdRE 38).

Asherah: (57778). Either (a) a totem-pole-like Pagan symbol or (b) the local Canaanite version of Astarte, the consort goddess of Baal.1 Most references found in the Bible are meant in the former sense, though two extra-biblical inscriptions found in modern Israel prove that at least someone thought of Asherah as a consort goddess for YHVH (Khirbet el Qom and Kuntillet Arjud inscriptions).2 Because of the very ambiguous way the Bible treats the term, the exact relationship between the pole and the goddess is subject to considerable contemporary scholarly debate. Likewise there is no consensus as to whether the numerous “pillar figurines” that have been dug up at Isralite archaeological sites are meant to be representations of Asherah.


A pillar figurine possibly depicting Asherah

Some students of the occult believe that Asherah “went underground” in increasingly monotheistic Israelite religion, eventually morphing into the quasi-divine feminine figures of wisdom and/or Shekhinah. Evidence to sustain this thesis can be found in the Zohar, where Asherah makes a startling reappearance in post-biblical Jewish mysticism as another name for the sefirah of Malchut (I: 245b), bringing the pre-Israelite idea of a divine consort back almost full circle.

1. Metzger and Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 62.

2. K. Smelik, Writings from Ancient Israel: A Handbook of Historical and Religious Documents, (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 152-60.

Ashes: (57782). Ashes are closely linked to Death and nonbeing in Jewish thought. The ashes that are the byproducts of certain rituals and sacrifices have power over death. Thus, in the priestly purity system of ancient Israel, the ashes of a red heifer sprinkled upon a person have the power to take away the impurity that comes from contact with a corpse. Certain kinds of ashes (of cat placenta, for example), appear as ingredients in magical formulae and healing remedies (Key of Solomon; Sefer ha-Likkutim 86a).

Asimon: (57787). “Formless.” Either a demon or punishing Angel mentioned in the Zohar. He torments those who transgress on the Sabbath. He is multihued and has eight wings (I: 14b; II: 249b).

Asirta: (57789). An evil spirit who serves Lilith (Zohar II).

Asiyah: (57791). “[World of ] Action.” The “lowest” of the four worlds of emanation, the four-fold structure of Creation derived from Isaiah 43:7, Asiyah is the material plane, the place of the world as we experience on a day-to-day basis, though it also contains select spiritual forces as well.1 The Ofan angels, for example, govern this world. It corresponds to the physical dimension of human experience, as well as the divine capacity for speech2 (Masechet Azilut; Bahir, 197). Most of the kelipot came to rest in this dimension after the breaking of the vessels. The other three spiritual worlds are Atzilut, Beriyah, and Yetzirah.SEE EMANATION; SEFIROT.

1. G. Scholem, Kabbalah (New York: Meridian Books, 1974), 118-19.

2. H. Schwartz, Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 16. Also see Steinsaltz, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, 4-6.

Aslai: “Spirit Possession.” A demonic possession illness reported among the Jews of Moroccan cultural background.1

1. M. Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism: Cases and Contexts from the Middle Ages to the Present (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003), 352-53, 356-58.

Asmodeus: (57784/Ashemdei). An evil spirit. The name Asmodeus may be derived from the Zoroastrian Aesmadiv, the “spirit of anger” who serves Ahriman, the Persian god of evil. Asmodeus is first mentioned in the apocryphal book Tobit, where he slays seven grooms of a young girl before being bested by the hero. He also appears in the Testament of Solomon.

In Pesach 110a he is dubbed the “king of om God had made simultaneously with him. When they argued, she flew off to become the queen of demons.” The locus classicus for Asmodeus is the wonderful Talmudic tale of how he usurps the Throne of Solomon (Git. 68a-b) after the king initially binds him to service by means of a magical ring. Surprisingly, the demon is treated rather sympathetically and humorously.

He both morally instructs Solomon and provides him with the Shamir worm. His foreknowledge of human destiny is credited to his daily Torah studies in Heaven. The tale may reflect an effort by the Sages to reconcile their belief in the demonic with monotheism, portraying evil spirits as yet another tool of God’s inscrutable will. The passage also highlights the belief that magical practitioners can summon and “bind” demons and use their powers for their own purposes, a staple belief of medieval sorcery.

In Kabbalistic works such as Treatise of the Left Emanation, Asmodeus is portrayed as a deputy or even the offspring of Samael. He is also assigned a consort demoness, Lilith “the lesser.”

Like rabbinic literature, medieval Jewish tales link Asmodeus with august Jewish figures, such as Simon bar Yochai, the Talmudic mystic. In one such story, Asmodeus is portrayed as doing what he does in order to serve the Sage and God. The Bar Yochai story and other references to Asmodeus in Kabbalistic texts, where his name is invoked to beneficent purposes, reflect the ongoing effort among Jews to reconcile the existence of demons with pure monotheism. SEE DEMONS; EVIL; SITRA ACHRA.

Ass: (57806). Several fantastic traditions about donkeys and asses appear in Jewish history. Balaam’s talking donkey is one (Num. 24). There is a tale in the Talmud of a man who is turned into an ass and then sold to a Sage. The Sage takes the ass to water, where the purifying influence undoes the charm.

Even more bizarre has been the accusation, first popularized by ancient Greek and Roman anti-Semites, that Jews worship an ass. According to the Roman writer Democritus, Jews venerate a golden bust of an ass, and regularly sacrifice a gentile victim to it.1 This constitutes the first ever appearance of the blood libel myth. The calumny may have its roots in a certain Gnostic sect who evidently did use a donkey as an important symbol. This Gnostic group used elements of biblical tradition in its teachings, thus providing the connection.

Sefer ha-Razim mentions the magical use of donkey blood and flesh. A Hebrew magic formula found in the Cairo Geniza uses an ass’s shoulder bone for a hate spell. SEE ANIMALS.

1. P. Schafer, Judeophobia: Attitudes Toward the Jews in the Ancient World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 55-62.

Assembly, Divine: SEE ADAT EL; HOST OF HEAVEN.

Assembly of Israel: SEE K’NESSET ISRAEL.

Astrology: (57817/Chochmat ha-Mazzalot, also Chavirah). Belief that the heavens influence human affairs and may be consulted for purposes of divining the future has been popularly accepted in virtually all cultures in which Jews have lived. While condemnation of its practice, on a variety of grounds, is a common theme throughout Jewish religious literature, it is also true that belief in the influence of the heavens has been prevalent among Jews and has been practiced by very prominent Jewish historical figures.1

The first chapter of Genesis (1:14) provides the locus classicus for the practice of reading the sky for omens and signs:

And Elohim said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for otot (signs), and for seasons, and for day, and years.

Astrology was already a very ancient art among Semites. Ugaritic texts from Syria dating from the second millennium BCE include a list of omen interpretations of the moon.2 Though there are Toraitic prohibitions against worshipping celestial objects (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 4:19-20), evidence for the actual practice of astrology appears relatively late (the 7th through 6th centuries BCE) in the biblical record. This may reflect the rising influence of Assyrian culture, which had well-developed and sophisticated astrological sciences. Astral cults, along with their priests, were reportedly introduced into the Temple in Jerusalem during this time. This cult included the worship of the Tzeva ha-Shamayim, the host of heaven; Baal, the storm god; Shemesh, the sun; Yareach, the moon; and Mazzalot, the constellations, or as some scholars translate it, the zodiac (2 Kings 23:4-5).

When King Josiah initiated a reform of the Temple, symbols of celestial worship found there, like a chariot representing the journey of the sun god, were purged. It is during and after this period that we find specific prophetic condemnation of astrological augury (Jer. 10:2; Isa. 47:13-14). The experience of exile among the Babylonians, who were avid astrologers (called Chaldeans in Daniel), only served to expand Jewish exposure to this form of divination (Dan. 2). The fact that Daniel was made the supervisor of all astrologers, sorcerers, and wizards (Dan. 2:48) may have helped legitimize the practice to later generations of Jews.

Astrology continued and expanded during Classical Antiquity, though its practice remains a point of controversy among Jews. Josephus reports that Jews looked to the heavens for favorable signs in their war against Rome (War 4:5). The testimony of the Sibylline Oracles, on the other hand, lauds the Jews for eschewing astrology entirely, while I Enoch regards it as one of the sins of primordial humanity (8:3). The Book of Jubilees has Abraham discredit the astrologers of his time (12:16-18). And yet, a tale that runs counter to that attitude is a passage in Tosefta that claims one of God’s blessings to the Patriarch was the knowledge of astrology (Kid. 5:17). Both of these attitudes are replicated in rabbinic stories about Abraham (Gen. R. 44:10; Shab. 156a).

Several of the rabbinic attitudes toward astrology can be found in Talmud tractate Shabbat, particularly in one passage, 156a-b. Belief in the influence of the stars was mostly accepted among the Sages of Talmudic times (Shab. 53b; B.M. 30b), which should not be so surprising, given the Babylonian milieu in which so many rabbis lived. There are also multiple accounts of astrological predictions that are given credence, though, in best Talmudic tradition, contrary evidence and skeptical remarks are preserved alongside them (Sanh. 65a-b. Also Sif. D. 171; Sif. Kedoshim 6). Intriguingly, a few Sages steered a middle course between the two opinions, claiming God granted Israel special immunity from celestial influence, though they conceded the stars had power over the rest of mankind (Gen. R. 37:1, 44:12, 79:2). This idea was later developed more fully in the Zohar as part of a theology of Jewish uniqueness (III: 216b). At least one Sage, Mar Samuel, actively practiced astrology. King Solomon is identified as a master of the science (Eccl. R. 7:23:1).

Many well-educated Jews studied and practiced astrology well into the modern era, it being an accepted part of medieval medicine and sciences.3 No philosophic education would have been considered complete without some knowledge of how the stars affect the sublunary realms. Examples of horoscopes written by Jews have been found in the Cairo Geniza. A wide array of famous scholars, ranging from mystics to rationalists, wrote treatises on the topic, including Sa’adia ben Joseph, Abraham ibn Ezra, Nachmanides, Levi ben Gershon, Judah Loew (the Maharal of Prague), and the Vilna Gaon. Rationalist philosophers Maimonides, Crescas, and Albo were among the few skeptics, attacking its validity and condemning it as forbidden by Scripture. On this point they were largely ignored.

Starting with Sefer Yetzirah and its commentaries and continuing through the Zohar and beyond, astrology plays a significant role in many Kabbalistic systems. It was a central concern of a wide array of lesser works and commentaries.

The applied magical use of astrological forces is an interest of many Jewish astrological texts, such as Sefer Raziel, Sefer ha-Chayyim, and Sefer ha-Razim. The increasing influence of Hermetic theories of astrologically based magic in the Renaissance become evident in the writings of several contemporary Jewish writers, especially Johannan Alemanno and Abraham Yagel, who sought to fuse Jewish angelic theories of planetary influence with gentile “natural” alchemical/astrological magic.4

A number of Jews identified as astrologers have had at least parts of their work survive down to today, including Masha’allah (Sefer She ‘lot) and Abu Da’ud (Sefer Nevuot). A few, such as Abraham Zacuto (Sefer Yuhasin) and Jacob ben Emanuel (Prognosticum), achieved a fame that extended beyond the Jewish world.

Since the rise of scientific astronomy, the more negative assessments of astrology have become normative, and even most traditional Jews shy away from it. Still, a number of Jewish customs have their basis in astrology, such as selecting propitious days for initiating a project and wishing one another “mazal tov” (literally, “A good star”).5

1. L. J. Ness, Astrology and Judaism in Late Antiquity (Dissertation, Miami University, 1990), http://www.smoe.org/arcana/diss.html, 1-14.

2. Hallo and Younger, eds. The Context of Scripture (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2000), 290.

3. H. J. Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians, and Doctors (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997), 15.

4. D. B. Ruderman, Kabbalah, Magic and Science: The Cultural Universe of a Sixteenth-Century Jewish Physician (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 89-101; Idel, “Jewish Magic from the Renaissance Period to Early Hasidism” in J. Neusner, ed., Religion, Science, and Magic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 82-117.

5. Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 3, 788-95.

Asuta: (57833). “Healing.” The word most used to describe a miraculous or theurgic healing. It appears frequently on amulets and incantation bowls. SEE MAGIC; SEGULAH OR SEGULOT.

Atbash: A letter-substitution code, perhaps the oldest system of encryption on record. It involves a “mirror” code of the alphabet. The first letter has the value of the last letter, the second letter the value of the second to last, and so on. The name çbta/ATBaSH itself is an acronym constructed from the methodology of the code: Alef = Tav, Bet = SHin. Making their first appearance in the Bible, atbash codes are a ubiquitous feature on amulets, especially in the form of encoded divine names.1 SEE ENCRYPTION; HAFUCH; HEBREW AND HEBREW ALPHABET; TEMURAH; TZERUF/Tzerufim.

1. Metzger and Coogan, Oxford Companion to the Bible, 64-65.

Atik Yomin: (57857). “Ancient of Days.” SEE ANCIENT HOLY ONE.

Atzilut: (57860).“Emanation.” The highest of the four worlds created by the divine emanations, a realm of pure spirit and intellect. The world of Atzilut is closest to the Infinite Light of Ein Sof, even though it is not united and identified with it. Atzilut is the first plane or world of immanence, of structure separable from or “outside” God.


Avodah B’gashmiyut: (57862). “Worship by [mundane] Action/Actualized Worship.” Judaism has always emphasized “deeds over creeds” and taught that service to God is best realized through bringing a higher consciousness (kavanot) to the ordinary tasks (eating, drinking, labor, sex, bodily functions) of living.1 SEE COMMANDMENT; TIKKUN.

1. Y. Buxbaum, Jewish Spiritual Practices (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1990), 43.

Awan: The sister of Cain and, later, his wife (Jubilees 4:1).

Ayin: (57875). Sixteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, vocalically it is only a glottal stop. Numerically it has the value of seventy. The word for the letter, ayin, means both “eye” and “fountain.” Ayin signifies vision, insight, consciousness, and the world. The number seventy reminds one of the seventy nations, the seventy languages, and seventy names for God (Baal ha-Turim; Num. 11:16). In the traditional text of the Torah, the ayin that appears in the word sh’ma (Deut. 6:4) is enlarged, signifying that all Israel must be an aid, “witness,” to God’s oneness.1

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 171-79.

Ayin ha-Ra: (57868). “evil eye.” A malevolent form of witchcraft.


Azariah: (57866). “Aid of Yah.” A conventional biblical name, it is also the name the angel Raphael uses when he travels in disguise on Earth (book of Tobit).

Azariah, Menachem: Kabbalist (Italian, ca. 16th century). His teachings, that the Torah is actually a narrative of the divine dynamis rather than about mortal deeds, connect the seven biblical prophetesses—Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Channah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther—to the seven lower sefirot.

Azazel: (57864). Azazel is a term of considerable controversy, referring either to (a) an evil power, or (b) a location. Even the meaning of the name is a topic of considerable controversy. If we assume the spelling has undergone some kind of corruption, it most likely means “Wrath of God.”

Azazel features prominently in the Yom Kippur ritual described in the Torah known to modern readers as the “Scapegoat” ritual. In this ceremony, the High priest transfers the sins of the people on to a goat, and then releases it into the wilderness, “to Azazel.” It is not clear, however, if the word refers to an entity or a place, perhaps an infernal realm, to which the scapegoat is dispatched (Lev. 16:8-10). Some scholars believe that the term refers to a barren, rocky zone in the desert. Others theorize that Azazel was a goat-demon, or satyr, a remnant of pre-monotheistic Israelite beliefs (Lev. 17:7).

Both interpretations of the word continue to have currency post-biblically. The expression “L’Azazel” becomes a colloquialism for “go to hell!” On the other hand, given the general Near Eastern belief that the desert/wilderness was the dwelling place of om God had made simultaneously with him. When they argued, she flew off to become the queen of demons, it is not surprising to see Azazel appear as a fallen angel or a demon in various post-biblical texts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls (Damascus Document II) and in the Apocalypse of Abraham and I Enoch. The most famous tradition identifies him as one of the angels that fell from Heaven because he became enamored with mortal women (Gen. 6:2). In I Enoch, he is the angel who taught mankind the impure arts of war, lapidary, and cosmetics. In the end, he is exiled to the desolate wilderness (I Enoch 9, 10, 13).

Aside from etymological discussions of the meaning of the word, Azazel appears as a demon in Talmud (Yoma 67b; RaSHI commentary) and medieval Midrashic sources, such as Yalkut Shimoni. In one text, Azazel is regarded to be the serpent that tricked Adam and Eve into sin. Some claim Azazel is an alternate name for other demonic personalities, such as Samael. In one Midrash, the goat offering to Azazel on Yom Kippur is a bribe that God requires Israel to give Satan/Samael every year in order that he will deliver a good report about Israel’s conduct when called to the celestial court (Me’am Loez, Achrei Mot-Kedoshim). SEE FALLEN ANGELS.

Azriel of Gerona: Mystic (Provencal, ca. 13th century). Azriel was a student of Isaac the Blind and the teacher of Nachmanides. Along with his contemporary Ezra ben Solomon, his teachings regarding the ten sefirot provided the foundations of speculative Kabbalah.

Azulai, Chayyim: Rabbi and Kabbalist (Turkish, ca. 18th century). Azulai was one of the leading rabbis of his generation and he held important positions among the Jews of the Ottoman Empire. He was also a famed amulet maker and those samples that survive have been prized for their efficacy.

Azzah, Azael: A fallen angel in I Enoch, he opposes the transubstantiation of Enoch into Metatron in III Enoch. SEE UZZA.