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



Laban: Jacob's father-in-law (Gen. 30) was not only the cunning, manipulative person as portrayed in the Bible, he was a master of witchcraft (Targum Yerushalmi, RaSHI on Gen. 30:27; Zohar I:133b, 164b). In one tradition, he is identified as the grandfather of Balaam (Tanh. Balak 12).

Labyrinth: (60510). Conceptualizing the path to enlightenment as a maze that the spiritual pilgrim must travel is a theme that appears in several religious traditions, including Judaism.The Jewish use of labyrinths is almost entirely limited to storytelling, written narratives, and diagrams. In one of the earliest examples, a commentator compares the biblical book Song of Songs to a labyrinth:

It [the Song of Songs] is like a great palace with many entrances and all who enter it would lose the way to the entrance. A wise man [Solomon] came and took a rope [allegorical/parabolic interpretations] and tied it to the entrance, and all would enter and exit by following the rope. (S of S R. 1:8)

1. G. Dennis, “Finding the Center, Entering the Land: The Labyrinths of Jewish Imagination,” Parabola: Tradition, Myth, and the Search for Meaning, vol. 34 (2009): 31–42.

Maimonides, for example, tells the parable of the multichambered King’s palace to illustrate the journey to wisdom (Moreh Nevukhim 3.51). Several of the parabolic tales of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav feature a quest that involves negotiating mazelike forests and castles. The Baal Shem Tov describes the “palace of the King” (the world) as a place of many locked doors and many keys, in which the soul must somehow make its way (Or Yesharim). Indeed, the labyrinth is a common motif in Hasidic literature:

A man lost his way in a great forest. Each time he thought he was getting somewhere, he found himself even more lost. After a while another lost his way and chanced upon the first. Without knowing what had happened to him, he asked the way out of the woods. “I don’t know,” said the first, “I only know the way that leads deeper into the thicket, so let us go a route neither have gone and try to find the way together.” (Chayyim of Tzanz)

The most enduring labyrinth visual motif is that of the “Jericho” Labyrinth. Inspired by the seven-circuit journey required to conquer the city (Josh. 24:11), the belief that the city was fortified by seven mazelike walls first appears in Sefer ha-Rokeach. This belief was acted out ritually on the holiday of Hashanah Rabbah by making seven hakafot (“circuits”) in the synagogue. The first visual representations appear in the Xanten Codex and in the Fadhi Bible Codex (14th century). Inclusion in biblical manuscripts recurs until the advent of the printing press, when it seems to shift largely to “tour books” celebrating the Holy Land. For example, a small 18th-century book for Holy Land pilgrims, Zicharon Birushalayim (“Memory of Jerusalem”), includes a woodcut illustration of Jericho in which the city sits amidst a seven-walled labyrinth.1


Jericho Labyrinth from a medieval Bible Image by permission of the Klau Library

The sefirot can be understood in terms of a labyrinth. This is made clear by one of the few existing graphic illustrations of a Jewish labyrinth, which consists of a Kabbalistic “perspective diagram,” a drawing of the ten first letters of the names of the sefirot nested inside each other, so that the lines of each letter represent the walls and the gaps in the empty spaces of each letter represent the openings (Pardes Rimmonim).

1. A. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress (New York: Rizzoli, 1991), 87.

Lailah: (60525)). “Night.” Not to be confused with Lilith, this is the Angel of conception (and sex):

For R. Chanina b. Papa made the following exposition: The name of the angel who is in charge of conception is “Night,” and he takes up a drop and places it in the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He, saying, “Sovereign of the universe, what shall be the fate of this drop? Shall it produce a strong man or a weak man, a wise man or a fool, a rich man or a poor man?” (Nid. 16b)

Lailah escorts new souls to their bodies and erases from their memories all the Torah they knew in the Guf ha-Briyot (Sanh. 6b; Tanh. Pekudei 3; Zohar I:91b; ZCh 68.3). It may be that Lailah is regarded as the good doppelganger and antipode to Lilith, though this is not confirmed explicitly in any text.

Lailah is also portrayed as a warrior angel:

[discussing asking for divine help in battle, the Sages quote] “If I [King Sennacherib] go [to battle] and am successful, I will sacrifice my two sons to thee,” he vowed. But his sons heard this, so they killed him … So he fought against them, he and his servants, by night [lailah] and smote them (2 Kings 19:37) … R. Isaac the smith, said: He [the angel] set into motion the activities of the night [i.e., the stars] on his behalf, as it is written, They [fought for Deborah, Barak, and Israel] fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. (Judg. 5:20; Sanh. 96a)

Though it is never stated explicitly in the sources, the name is feminine in gender, suggesting Lailah is a female angel. The interpretation of the words lail and lailah in Zohar II:38b comes the closest to confirming this assumption.

Lamed: ( 60523). Twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It has the numeric value of thirty and the linguistic value of “l.” The word lamed itself derives from the root verb for learning. It also signifies majesty and emotion (lev is the Hebrew word for “heart”). Since lamed is also used as the sign for the preposition “to/toward,” it conveys purpose and direction.1

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 138–43.

Lamed-Vavniks: (60520). “The Thirty-Six [Righteous].” Also referred to as tzadikim nistarim (“hidden righteous”). These are the minimum number of righteous people in each generation that are necessary to sustain the world. The legend evidently evolved from two sources: the implicit assumption that there must a minimum number of righteous people in a locale for it to merit enduring (Gen. 18:16–33), and a cognate tradition of interpreting the “thirty shekels of silver” mentioned in Zechariah 11:12 as an allegory for godly people; God ensures there will always be thirty righteous people in every generation. (Gen. R. 49:3; Zohar I:105b).

In the earliest version, found in Gen. R. 49:3, there are forty-five, “fifteen in Babylon, thirty in the Land of Israel.” There is no firm explanation for how the tradition settled on the number 36:

There are not less than 36 tzadikim/righteous persons in the world who receive the Shekhinah. (Sanh. 97b)

Tikkunei Zohar 21 uses gematria on their biblical phrase “their heart was divided” (Hos. 10:2) to double this number—thirty-six in the land of Israel, thirty-six in the galut (“exile”).

Perhaps it is because in gematria, eighteen is the numeric value of the word for chai (“life”), so thirty-six (double chai) signifies “abundant life.” The term Lamed-Vavniks is Yiddish, constructed from the Hebrew letters lamed and vav (these two letters have the combined numeric value of thirty-six) and adding the Russian/Yiddish genitive -nik. According to the “thirty-six” legend, most of the thirty-six are nistar, unknown, anonymously doing their good work unnoticed by the world. The reward for their anonymous labors is to be privileged to directly experience the Shekhinah. One of them in each generation is suitable to be the Messiah (Suk. 45b; Gen. R. 35:2; Mid. Teh. 5:5). SEERIGHTEOUS, THE

Lamp: (60538). In the Bible, lamps are a symbol of enlightenment, wisdom, and the Torah.

Both the Bible and rabbinic literature assume oil lamps to be the primary means of portable or personal light.

The Chanukah menorah serves as a reminder of a miraculous event entailing a lamp, the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees, when enough oil for only one day’s burning miraculous burned eight days.

Lamps can be used for the divination of death omens. A lamp is lit in a house sufficient for the duration of the Ten Days of Awe. If it extinguishes during that time, it is a sign that someone in that house will die within the year (Hor. 12a). In Sefer he-Razim, a lamp is used as part of a ritual to summon angelic beings.

The use of wicks embedded in wax tapers is relatively recent among Jews. But as the times and places where Candles were used for Jewish rituals (Sabbath, festivals, and commemorating the dead) proliferated, so also did the mention of candles in supernatural contexts. They are used in incantations (Sefer Raziel), divination, exorcisms (Shoshan Yesod ha-Olam), and magical defense. The Zohar (ca. 13th century) mentions a candle-gazing meditation technique. European Jews in the early modern era practiced a custom of measuring out a cemetery with thread, then using that thread to make candlewicks for the home. It was believed that the merit of the sainted dead buried there could be transferred to the household using the taper.

1. Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians, and Doctors, 147, 255n.

Language: (60542/lashon, 60544/safah). “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). In contrast to contemporary thought concerning language, which holds that words are pale and inadequate symbols for the rich realities they try (but fail) to signify, Judaism has traditionally taught just the opposite—words are reality, the highest and most divine form to be found in the universe. Often a text will speak of God “hewing” or “carving” the letters, as if they are physical artifacts. Words are constructive—language makes things happen. This is exemplified by the story of Creation found in Genesis, in which God creates the universe solely through speech-acts.1

Words, if correctly used, will manifest the latent divine power. Humans, having the same godly power of speech, can tap into this creative potential that exists in language. Because of this, Jewish esoteric teachings place special value on language as a vehicle of occult knowledge and power.SEE HEBREW AND HEBREW ALPHABET; INCANTATIONS, SPELLS, AND ADJURATIONS; MAGIC; NAMES OF GOD; YETZIRAH, SEFER.

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 16–30.

2. Janowitz, Icons of Power, 45–61.

Law and the Paranormal: (60535/Halakhah). Jewish law has had, at different times and places in Jewish history, either an adversarial and ambivalent relationship with both magic and mysticism. The Bible itself seemingly forbids many magical, mantic, and spiritualist practices (see Ex. 22:18; and especially Deut. 18), while at the same time authorizes its own variety of divinatory techniques, such as oneiromancy, incubation, and sortilege via Urim and Thummim. Gideon Bohak usefully points out that most of the biblical prohibitions against necromancers, wizards, diviners, and magicians actually prohibit the practitioner, rather than the practice. While this has often been understood to be a blanket rule, for many readers, this has provided sufficient slippage—so long as the one enacting the kesem is not a professional kosem (magician), there is no explicit prohibition. This allows for thinking, such as can be found in SWORD OF MOSES., in which the author explicit condemns witchcraft before offering a laundry list of adjurations and spells.

The Talmud reconfirms many of these prohibitions in a way that also condemns the ritual act itself (Tos. Shab. 7, 8:4–12; Sanh. 67a–68b). Still, despite some controversy (M. Sanh. 10), Jewish legalists opened the door to the perpetuation of a variety of paranormal practices with their liberal attitude toward virtually any method for healing illness, as well as their willingness to recognize spiritual visitations, omens, and veridical dreams (Shab. 67a–b; Ber. 55b–57a).

In time, even as Jewish law continued to emphatically condemn the practice of witchcraft, it came to tolerate both sorcery and mediumism in various forms, so long as the person employing it is regarded as otherwise righteous: medical theurgy, astrology, and the summoning of and consulting with spirit guides, such as an Angel or a maggid. In the case of one medieval legalist, the enslavement of demons for beneficent purposes is also permitted.

Repeated attempts are made in Halakhah to draw fine distinctions between licit and illicit paranormal practices and beliefs (the so-called ways of the Amorites) (Shab. 61a– b, 67a–b; Rashba, Teshuvah 408, 409, 413), but in the descriptions of the various practices preserved in Jewish texts, it is evident that the boundaries between the permitted and forbidden can become quite blurry. Many Hebrew magical manuals of late antiquity and the Middle Ages effectively ignore all rabbinic limits and prohibitions, or honor them only in the most tendentious fashion, as seen in the disclaimers against witchcraft in the archly magical text, Sword of Moses.1

Jewish law also attempts to place severe restrictions on how one engages in mystical pursuits, as well as limiting who may do so (Chag. 12a–b). Over time many of these strictures come to be disregarded. Still, in contrast to the magicians, Kabbalists have almost universally worked within the parameters of Jewish normative practice, and Jewish mysticism has sought to uphold and validate the value of Jewish tradition. This was especially the case in the medieval controversies over rationalist philosophy and how it threatened to undermine normative Jewish practice; mystics almost universally rallied to the defense of the traditionalists. Often Jewish mystics have taught and practiced at the boundaries of Jewish law, but rare is the example of a mystic who crossed over into full-blown rejection of all rules and norms of behavior—Shabbatai Tzvi and Jacob Frank being the two notable exceptions.

Jewish legal scholars certainly took seriously the reality of paranormal events. Meir of Lublin, in one of his legal opinions, entertained the question of whether a woman seduced by an incubus that appeared to her in a human form (but not the form of her husband) was guilty of adultery (he concluded she was not) (Manhir Einei Chacham, #116). The place where Jewish law asserts itself most emphatically is on the issue of new revelations or interpretations of the law itself. It rejects decisions that are derived from visions, angels, or heavenly voices (B.M. 59b). As striking is the legal standing of Sefer Zohar. Since it is widely regarded to be a product of a Talmudic sage, it should, in theory, serve as a source for legal interpretation on par with the Midrash, yet in practice this has not been the case. One may follow a practice or prescription found in the Zohar only if it does not fly in the face of established legal practice:

The Knesset Ha-Gedulah wrote in his rules of authorities that anything on which Kabbalists and the Zohar disagree with the Talmud and codes, follow the Talmud and codes. However, if the Kabbalists are strict we should also be strict. But if it is not mentioned in the Talmud and codes we cannot force people to follow it even though it is mentioned in kabbalah. We should follow the words of kabbalah regarding a rule that is not contradicted by the Talmud and codes. And when authorities disagree, the words of kabbalah should decide. (Mishnah Berurah 25:42) 2

Jewish legalists also almost universally refuse to recognize as valid any opinions or edicts that are credited to paranormal sources. Thus, for example, though a kabbalistic ceremony evolved in the 17th century for the ritual “purification” of a corpse prior to burial (Taharah), this act of purification did not in any way alter existing the Halakhah that a dead Body transmits tumah, or ritual impurity, to the living who touched it. Whatever the symbolic transformation of this performance, the corpse remained as impure after “purification” as it had been prior to the performance of the ritual.3

The major exception to this was a period of controversy among the medieval Rhineland Jews when Jacob of Marvege claimed to receive solutions to legal questions through angelic and dream revelations. Joseph Caro also may have drawn upon a paranormal authority to help him in writing his great legal opus, Beit Yosef, though the role of his personal maggid in this part of his writings is ambiguous.

Some later legal digests, such as the Aruch ha-Shulchan (ca. 19th century), actually go so far as to claim that certain practices derived from the Zohar and the teaching of Isaac Luria can take precedent over norms established by non-esoteric legal sources.4 SEE KABBALAH; MAGIC; SHE’ LOT CHALOM; SHE’ LOT U-TESHUVOT MIN HA-SHAMAYIM; SORCERY

1. M. Fishbane, “Aspects of Jewish Magic in the Ancient Rabbinic Period,” The Solomon Goldman Lectures II, N. Stampfer, ed. (Chicago: Spertus College of Judaica Press, 1987), 25–34. Also see Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 11, 708.

2. G. Student, “Halakhah, Kabbalah, and History.” Torah Musings, 2012,

3. Dennis, “Purity and Transformation,” 26:1, 51–63.

4. M. Rosen, “The Interaction of Kabbalah and Halachah in the Aruch ha-Shulchan,” The Maqom Journal, Also see Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians, and Doctors.

Lecanomancy: The art of divining by pouring oil on water and studying the patterns the oil forms on the surface. This is the practice alluded to by Joseph when he accuses his brothers of stealing his divining cup (Gen. 44:5, 15). This author could find no mention of it in the Talmud or early rabbinic literature, but the practice resurfaces in other Jewish texts, such as Sefer ha-Razim and Geniza fragment T-S K 1.80, around the Mediterranean in late antiquity. Chayyim Vital describes consulting a witch who was an expert in “oil gazing” (Sefer ha-Hezyonot 5). A variation in this practice became a folk-custom during the ritual of Havdalah, during which practitioners attempted to get of glimpse of a future mate, angels, or Elijah.1 SEE DIVINATION; OIL

1. H. Zafrani, Two Thousand Years of Moroccan Jewish Life (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 2005), 235–236.

Lecha Dodi: (60553). “Come, my beloved …” A mystical liturgical poem composed by Solomon Alkabetz that is recited at the beginning of the Sabbath evening. Alkabetz was a contemporary of Moses Cordovero. An ecstatic mystic, he would pursue direct communion with dead sages and saints.

The poem personifies the Sabbath as a bride and queen, and is concerned foremost with the task of reuniting (yichud) the fragmented aspects of the Godhead, bringing the Shekhinah/Malchut out if its exile and ensuring its union with the masculine aspect, variously known as Yesod, Tiferet, or ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu. Shabbat is the most propitious time to affect this union, so this composition is recited at the cusp of sunset Friday at the beginning of Shabbat. Throughout the poem, there are feminine figures—the Sabbath bride, the widowed Jerusalem, even the Jewish people—that are stand-ins for the Shekhinah. As is the case with many mystical Prayers, Lecha Dodi is also an acrostic poem. In this case, the first Hebrew letter of each stanza combine to spell the author’s name—a first in a long Jewish tradition of anonymous liturgical compositions:

Come, my love, to meet the bride, let us welcome the Sabbath.

“Observe” and “Remember” in a single utterance, the Unique God made known to us.

God is one and His name is one, for renown, splendor, and praise.

Come, let us go to meet the Sabbath, for She is the source of blessing [Shab. 119a].

From the beginning, of old, it was ordained—[She is the] last in creation, [but] first in [God’s] thought.

Sanctuary of the king, the royal city—arise! Come forth from the ruins.

Long enough have you [feminine] dwelt in the valley of sorrow—but He will show you mercy.

Shake off your dust, arise! Put on your garments of splendor, my people.

Through the son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite [the messiah], draw close to my soul and redeem her.

Awaken! Awaken! Your light has come! Arise and shine! [Isa. 51:16, 60:1]

Awake, awake, utter a song—the glory of the Lord is revealed on you.

Do not be ashamed or confused. Why are you downcast? Why do you moan?

In you my poor people will be sheltered—and the city will be rebuilt on its ancient site.

Those who despoiled you will become a spoil, and all who would devour you will be far away.

Your God will rejoice over you like a groom rejoices over his bride.

Spread out to the right and the left, and revere the Lord,

Through the coming of the son of Peretz we will be glad and exult.

Come in peace, crown of Her husband, with song, with joy, and with exultation.

Among the faithful ones of the chosen people, come, O bride, come, O bride.

The image of the Sabbath as a bride is characteristic of the erotic theology that undergirds much mystical thought. It has a biblical basis (Hos. 2:4; Isa. 54:5–8; S of S). In this case, the people Israel are the groom (see Gen. R. 11.8), but this nuptial metaphor is applied promiscuously (God and Israel, Israel and Shabbat, Shekhinah and Tiferet, etc.). There is also a gematria woven into some lines. For example, in the first line of the poem, the total number of letters is twenty-six, the numeric value of God’s four-letter name, which encapsulates the masculine and feminine forces. The second line refers to the two versions of the Ten Commandments found in the Torah are interpreted to mean God spoke to Israel in such a way as we heard both versions simultaneous. It also plays upon the sexual associations of speech (think of the English word “intercourse”) and knowledge (the Hebrew word da’at means both “know” and “copulate”). Left and right in the eighth stanza refers to the sefirot. In the messianic times (the “son of Perez” refers to the Messiah) both the “left and right sides” of God will be harmonized and the universe perfected.

Sexual and kabbalistic double entendres feature prominently in the poem. Thus in the ninth stanza, just as a crown receives and encircles the head, so the feminine receives the masculine in exultation and pleasure. The crown also designates the Shekhinah and the husband [baalat] refers to Yesod, the sefirotic equivalent of the phallusSEE SABBATH QUEEN.

Lechishah: (60555). “Whispering/Murmuring,” “incantation.” A healing incantation. In the Talmud, Rabbi Akiba expressly condemns the use of spells whispered over a wound, but the prohibition didn’t take hold, even among the Sages (M. Sanh. 10; Shab. 67a–b). When the practice is questioned again in the Middle Ages, one authority prohibits only lechishah that involve invoking demons, but permits other forms of word spells that, for example, use verses from the Bible:

It is prohibited to use incantations to control animals and for medicinal purposes except to avoid danger … it is permissible to use amulets for protection against injury or sickness … It is permissible to consult the spirits of the dead … dealings with demons should be avoided, as a matter of course … It is prohibited to practice magic or to learn from a magician. (SA Yoreh Deah 179)


Left: (60562). The left side of the sefirot structure is the side of power and strict justice. It is also the female side, and represents the principles of separation and distinction. It signifies the fearsome awe of God. The unrestrained dominion of the left side gives rise to evil. The Sitra Achra, or “Other side” of the divine emanations, is the source of the demonic.

Thus, as in Christian tradition, the left can signify weakness, impurity, or evil. The Zohar emphasizes that certain ritual acts, like washing the hands, should begin with the right hand. Chasidic pious customs expand this to include always starting any bodily act, such as lacing one’s shoes or taking one’s first step, from the right side to avoid making oneself vulnerable to the impure powers of the left side. SEE FINGER; PURITY OR PURIFICATION; TREATISE ON THE LEFT EMANATION.

Leiliel: Angel of the night (I Enoch). SEE LAILAH.

Leprosy: (60570). Today leprosy is identified as Hansen’s Disease, a disease that causes the collapse of soft connective tissue and grotesque physical deformity. In the Bible, by contrast, tzara’at (“leprosy”) probably encompassed a whole range of disfiguring skin diseases along with Hansen’s. Any such leprosy was a sign from God, whether meant as a manifestation of power, like Moses turning his hand leprous at will (Ex. 4), or as a sign of divine displeasure, as in the cases of Miriam and King Uzziah (Num. 12; II Chron. 26). God miraculously cured the Aramean general Naaman of leprosy when Elisha instructs him to bathe in the Jordan (2 Kings 5).

According to MidrashPharaoh was afflicted with leprosy. He attempted to cure it by bathing in the blood of Israelite children (Ex. R. 1:23, 1:34). In one of the most unusual of Jewish myths about the Messiah, Leviticus Rabbah describes the Messiah as a leper who sits outside the gates of Rome, waiting for his time to come. While he waits, he only changes one bandage at a time, so that there will be no delay when the moment of his advent arrives.

The Talmud teaches that mixing meat and milk makes one susceptible to leprosy. Children born from having intercourse during menstruation will possibly be afflicted with leprosy (Lev. R. 15:5). An adept using the Book of the Great Name must not gaze upon a leper for forty days as an act of purification.

Letter of Rehoboam: A text of astrological medicine and angelology, probably written by a Hellenized Jew. Solomon is the purported author, and it is framed as a letter the great king wrote to his son, Rehoboam, explaining the benefits of gaining power through the use of “plants, Prayers, stones, but above all else … the seven planetary gods.” In style, it fits very much with pagan works written in Greco-Roman times. The letter, divided into seven sections, explains the order of the planets, stars, and hours, and their relationship to the Angelsand demons. It also lists Prayersincantations, and offerings one can use to influence illness, to heal, and to shape other earthly events. In this regard, it resembles Sefer ha-Razim. While the document is superficially monotheistic, it speaks of “planetary gods” (angels?) and also has the unusual feature that most of the prayers and spells are addressed directly to the angelic beings and stars.1 SEE ASTROLOGY; MAGIC; SORCERY; WITCHCRAFT.

1. Ness, Astrology and Judaism in Late Antiquity, chapter 4.

Levi: One of the twelve sons of Jacob. Eventually the tribe descended from him became the sacerdotal clan for all Israel; all priests and temple functionaries had to be Levites. Levi himself was especially chosen for this status—Michael brought Levi alive to the Throne of Glory and God blessed him and ordained the priestly role for his offspring (PdRE 37).

Though he is a minor and ambivalent figure in the Scriptures, Levi is given much more elaborate and loving treatment in apocalyptic literature, such as I Enoch, Jubilees, the Testament of Levi, and in the writings of the sectarian priests of Qumran, who regarded Levi to be their progenitor and the archetypal priest.

Levi, Testament of: A fragmentary apocalypse found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, probably composed in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, devoted to the centrality and elevation of Levi above his brothers. The work aims to affirm the central role of the priesthood in Early Judaism by projecting priestly authority back to the Patriarchs.

Leviathan: (60580/Livyatan). A cosmic sea monster, evidently based on Isaiah 27:1, “God created the great sea serpents,” combined with the Canaanite myth of Lotan, a watery chaos dragon-monster. In Job, God reminds the long-suffering, angry Job of his humble place in the cosmos with an extended meditation on the mighty creature, itself a subordinate creation of God:

Can you draw out Leviathan by a fishhook? … His strong scales are his pride, shut up as with a tight seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated. His sneezes flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils smoke goes forth as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame goes forth from his mouth. In his neck lodges strength, and dismay leaps before him. The folds of his flesh are joined together, firm on him and immovable. His heart is as hard as a stone, even as hard as a lower millstone. When he raises himself up, the mighty fear; because of the crashing they are bewildered. The sword that reaches him cannot avail, nor the spear, the dart or the javelin … Nothing on earth is like him, one made without fear. He looks on everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride. (Job 40: 25–26, 41:15–32)

The Israelite Leviathan (or Rahavthere seems to be two names for this creature) may be a semi-tamed version of the terrible chaos monster mentioned in surrounding Pagan mythologies—Lotan, Prince Sea, or Tiamat. This dragon personifies chaos, disorder, and entropy. In most Pagan accounts, the gods must slay this primordial monster in order for cosmos, orderly existence, to become possible.


Sea monster by E. M. Lilien

The Bible reworks this myth in monotheistic terms. God contains chaos within this creature, subduing it. Chaos is not destroyed, but delimited. When God stops His part in the creative process, He declares the universe to be tov meod, “very good”—but not perfect. The world, according to this biblical myth, is orderly on many levels, but residual bits of chaos linger, most visibly in the realm of the moral. As Jon Levenson notes in his book on biblical myth, Creation and the Persistence of Evil, God’s Mishpat, literally “justice” but with the connotation of “divine plan,” is not yet fully realized. Humanity, God’s cocreators, has a role in establishing mishpat at the societal level. Thus, in time, the cumulative result is that God will finally wipe away this last remnant of chaos in Creation:

In that day the Lord will punish, with his great, cruel, mighty sword Leviathan the Elusive Serpent—Leviathan the Twisting Serpent; He will slay the dragon of the sea. (Isa. 27:1)

The Talmud amplifies and elaborates upon what is already found in the Bible. The Sages seize upon a seemingly incidental aspect of a biblical tradition to elevate and forefront it in remarkable ways. Since Isaiah uses two titles for Leviathan—”elusive serpent” and “twisting serpent” the Talmud takes this to mean there are actually two monsters. The bisexuality of the creatures reflects the worldview of the Sages, who see the universe as both sentient and permeated with male and female forces. In keeping with the notion that unifying males and female forces has cosmic consequences, once coupled these chaos monsters would undo creation and return it to primordial darkness. Therefore God ensures the survival of creation by keeping these forces apart.

In Baba Batra, biblical citations are used to construct its narrative of the final end of Death, chaos, entropy and evil personified by Leviathan, in the World to Come:

Rav Judah said in the name of Rav: All that the Blessed Holy One created [in all] his world is male and female. Likewise, Leviathan the slant serpent and Leviathan the torturous serpent he created male and female; and had they mated with one another they would have destroyed the whole world. What [then] did the Blessed Holy One do? He castrated the male and killed the female preserving it in salt for the righteous in the World to Come; for it is written: “And he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” And also Behemoth on a thousand hills was created male and female, and had they mated with one another they would have destroyed the whole world. What did the Blessed Holy One, do? He castrated the male and cooled the female and preserved it for the righteous for the World to Come; for it is written: “See now his strength is in his loins”—this refers to the male; “and his force is in the stays of his body,”—this refers to the female. There also, [in the case of Leviathan], he should have castrated the male and cooled the female [why then did he kill the female]? … [Because a] female [fish] preserved in salt is tastier … Then here also [in the case of Behemoth] he should have preserved the female in salt?—Salted fish is palatable, salted flesh is not. (74b)

This is one of several mythic accounts of how God will eventually subdue moral and human chaos in the End of Days. At the time of the resurrectionMichael and Gabriel will fight against Leviathan and overcome it. In other legends, Leviathan will fight a mortal battle with Behemoth. In the end, God will catch Leviathan and serve him as the entrée at the messianic banquet (Lev. R. 13:3; Gen. R. 7:4; Zohar I:46b; Zohar II:34b–35a).

When the final rectification comes, humanity will participate in perfecting the work of creation by literally “consuming” the chaos, both utterly dominating but also assimilating it into ourselves in a “nutritious” (rather than harmful) manner. This idea is derived from an enigmatic verse, Psalm 74:14, “… it was You who crushed the head of Leviathan, who made him food for the people of the desert.” Baba Batra continues:

Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan: The Blessed Holy One will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan; for it is said: “Companions will make a banquet of it …” Companions must mean scholars, for it is said: “You that dwell in the gardens, the companions hearken for your voice; cause me to hear it …” Rabbah in the name of R. Johanan further stated: The Blessed Holy One will in time to come make a tabernacle for the righteous from the skin of Leviathan; for it is said: “Can you fill tabernacles with his skin?” If a man is worthy, a tabernacle is made for him [in the World to Come]; if he is not worthy [of this] a [mere] covering is made for him, for it is said: And his head with a fish covering. If a man is [sufficiently] worthy a covering is made for him; if he is not worthy [even of this], a necklace is made for him, for it is said: “And necklaces about your neck.” If he is worthy [of it] a necklace is made for him; if he is not worthy [even of this] an amulet is made for him; as it is said: “And you will bind him for your maidens.” [The meaning of the Hebrew word for an amulet is “binder.”] The rest [of the Leviathan hide] will be spread by the Blessed Holy One upon the walls of Jerusalem, and its splendor will shine from one end of the world to the other; as it is said: “And nations shall walk at your light, and kings at the brightness of your rising.” (74b)

Sefer Raziel sees Leviathan as the animating spirit of the waters, the “genius” of the abyss that dwells at the center of the sea. Leviathan is a beautiful, if volatile, creature. He is what causes rolling seas. It takes the entire Jordan to quench the thirst of the monster.

God hung the world from Leviathan’s tail. Leviathan may have fathered some heavenly creatures of his own. Such as Hamnuna Sava. SEE ANIMALS.; DRAGON; SERPENT.

Levirate Marriage: In the Bible, it is mandated that if a man dies childless, his brother must marry his widow and cohabit with her long enough to bear a son, who would then be designated the son and heir of the dead man. This served to ensure that no man’s name and lineage would be lost in Israel.

This admittedly odd custom has puzzled generations of Jews in post-biblical times, and eventually the Sages enacted rules to end the practical application of this commandment (Ket.). Mystics, however, found occult meaning in the law concerning reincarnation; they believe the levirate marriage allows the soul of the dead man another incarnation (Sefer ha-Gilgulim).

Levush: (60594). “Garment.” A vessel for a supernal entity or a container for the soul; a membrane that mediates between the spiritual soul and the physical Body (Kelach Pitchei Chochmah). It is detectable at the wrist pulse and can be used in making a spiritual diagnosis (Sha’ar ha-Yichudim 16a). Angels are garbed in levushim, a material form, when entering into the lower worlds. Tanya argues that study of Torah provides the soul with the necessary “cover” to be able to interact with the Shekhinah (7a). Elsewhere it speaks of three human levushim: thought, speech, and action (1:1–13). SEE GUF HA-DAK.

Life of Adam and Eve, the: An apocryphal text that gives an account of the fall of Satan.

Light: (60600). Light is an archetypal symbol of divinity, enlightenment, and the good across cultures. It is the attribute of both divinity and human experience of gnosis that comes from divinity. Light is the first of God’s creations and, as the Ma’asei-Bereshit recognizes, it is also the first occult phenomena. It is so because the Talmudic Sages note that God created light on the first day, but had not yet created the sunmoon, and stars (the sources of visible, terrestrial light), which were created on the fourth. From this they conclude that there is a primordial, supernal light, which God has hidden away. From other passages in the Bible (specifically Job 38:15 and Psalm 97:11),they come to believe that access to this first light is a special reward for the Righteous (Chag. 12a; Gen. R. 3:6, 41:3; Ex. R. 35:1). Those who have experienced such illumination may even be regarded as a human source of it, as exemplified by Shimon bar Yochai, who is called the “holy lamp.”

These insights help define the logic of Jewish occultism (there is a concealed higher reality that is different from the “reality” we experience day-to-day). It also initiates the Jewish quest to know this higher light and thereby become “enlightened.” For supernal light allows “one to see from one end of the universe to the other,” achieving total gnosis (Chag. 12a–13b).

Certain artifacts of this light are present with us that we can use in this quest. The most obvious, the one God intends us to use, is Torah (Prov. 6:23; Bahir 149). Torah began its supernal existence as “black fire written upon white fire” (Tanh. Bereshit 1).

The Temple, properly configured and maintained with the right rituals, also emanates that divine light into the world. Angelsexist in a medium of this divine light and are therefore a resource for the mystic seeking to experience it.

Ezra of Gerona taught that doing the commandments creates more supernal light and draws the one who performs the mitzvah into the Shekhinah (Commentary on Song of Songs)Sefer Yetzirah, the first mystical text to mention the sefirot, also immediately associates light with them (1.8). Lurianic theosophy teaches that sparks of this light are encased and trapped in the “husks” of ordinary reality and it is the human task to release those sparks through performing the commandmentsSEE CANDLE; FIRE; KELIPOT; LAMP; NITZOTZ; TZOHAR.

Likkutim, Sefer ha-: One of Chayyim Vital ’s works on the teachings of Isaac Luria, expounding Lurianic cosmogony on the breaking of the vessels, the fallen sparks, and how to achieve cosmic repair. SEE NITZOTZ; TIKKUN.

Lilin: (60609. An alternative term for “lilot,” aerial night spirits (Eruv. 18b). Lilin are bald but have hair covering the rest of their faces and bodies (Emek ha-Melech 140b). SEE LILITH.

Lilith: (60613/Lilit). “Night [Demon].” Now regarded in Jewish lore to be the most prominent of the four queens of demons, the nature of Lilith has undergone many reinterpretations throughout Jewish history. The origins of Lilith are probably found in the Mesopotamian lilu, or “aerial spirit.” Some features of Lilith in Jewish tradition also resemble those of Lamashtu, a Babylonian demoness who causes infant death. There is one mention of lilot (pl.) in the Bible (Isa. 34:14), but references to Lilith demons only become common in post-biblical Jewish sources. Furthermore, the characterization of Lilith as a named demonic personality really only begins late in antiquity. The Dead Sea Scrolls (Song of the Sage 4Q510–11), speak of lilot as a class of demonic beings:

And I the Sage declare the grandeur of His radiance in order to frighten and terri[fy] all the spirits and ravaging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, liliths, owls and [jackals] and those who strike unexpectedly … 1

This assumption of multiple lilot is replicated in amulets and magical formulae well into the medieval period. Even the gender of the creature is not fixed. incantation bowls, for example, explicitly protect against “lilot, whether male or female …”

In time, what eventually emerges from these biblical and medicinal-magical traditions is three overlapping interpretations of Lilith: the etiological Lilith, a spirit that accounts for certain common but puzzling human physical processes—Death in childbirth, sudden infant death, and male nocturnal emissions; the midrashic Lilith, a creature born out of the medieval interpretation of problematic biblical passages; and the cosmic Lilith, an entity described in esoteric texts that personifies the existence of evil in the divine order.

Jewish tradition gradually fixes on Lilith as a female demon. In Talmud and Midrash, she is described as a demon with a woman’s face, long hair, and wings (Nid. 24b; Eruv. 100b). She is a succubus , seducing men in their sleep and then collecting their nocturnal emissions in order to breed demonic offspring (Shab. 151b; Gen. R. 18:14). Later commentaries on the Talmud explain Lilith does this because her consort, Samael, has been castrated by God. She has many demonic children, the most famous being Ormuzd (B.B. 73b). In amulet incantations contemporary to the Talmud, she is addressed as a demon that preys on women in childbirth and as the spirit of infanticide, the killer of children, a theme that become more prominent in medieval sources (Zohar I:148a–b; Zohar II:267b).

The use of “Lilith” as the proper name of a specific demonic personality first gets solidified in the Midrash. The most famous legend of Lilith is the one first appearing in the medieval satirical text Alef-Bet of Ben Sira. In that document, Lilith is identified as the first woman God created along with Adam. The case for there having been two women in the Garden of Eden is based on the two disparate accounts of the creation of woman that appear in Genesis (Gen. 1:27 versus Gen. 2:18–23):

He created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith began to fight. She said, “I will not lie below,” and he said, “I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while am to be in the superior one.” Lilith responded, “We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.” But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator: “Sovereign of the universe!” he said, “The woman you gave me has run away.” At once, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent these three angels to bring her back.

Said the Holy One to Adam, “If she agrees to come back, fine. If not she must permit one hundred of her children to die every day.” The angels left God and pursued Lilith, whom they overtook in the midst of the sea, in the mighty waters wherein the Egyptians were destined to drown. They told her God’s word, but she did not wish to return. The angels said, “We shall drown you in the sea.”

“Leave me!” she said. “I was created only to cause sickness to infants. If the infant is male, I have dominion over him for eight days after his birth, and if female, for twenty days.”

When the angels heard Lilith’s words, they insisted she go back. But she swore to them by the name of the living and eternal God: “Whenever I see you or your names or your forms in an amulet, I will have no power over that infant.” She also agreed to have one hundred of her children die every day. Accordingly, every day one hundred demons perish, and for the same reason, we write the angels’ names on the amulets of young children. When Lilith sees their names, she remembers her oath, and the child recovers.2

This account, incidentally, is a Jewish variation of a story about a demon curbed by three pursuers that also appears in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, and Slavonic legends. This midrashic version of Lilith’s origins proves to have only a minor influence of traditional Jewish thinking, eventually getting integrated into amulets as part of the etiological tradition in Sefer Raziel, but only really achieving wide-spread circulation in the modern era, with the printed re-publication of ABBS.

Lilith appears in a third and very different incarnation in the highly influential Treatise of the Left Emanation, written in the 13th century by the Kabbalist Isaac Cohen, where she is portrayed as the evil antipode to Eve, and the female personification of cosmic evil, the consort and mother of princely demons:

[I]t is made clear that Samael and Lilith were born as one, similar to the form of Adam and Eve who were also born as one, reflecting what is above. This is the account of Lilith which was received by the Sages in the Secret Knowledge of the Palaces. The Matron Lilith is the mate of Samael. Both of them were born at the same hour in the image of Adam and Eve, intertwined in each other … You already know that evil Samael and wicked Lilith are like a sexual pair who, by means of an intermediary, receive an evil and wicked emanation from one and emanate to the other … The heavenly serpent is a blind prince, the image of an intermediary between Samael and Lilith. Its name is Tanin’iver. The masters of tradition said that just as this serpent slithers without eyes, so the supernal serpent has the image of a spiritual form without color—these are “the eyes.” The traditionalists call it an eyeless creature, therefore its name is Tanin’iver. He is the bond, the accompaniment, and the union between Samael and Lilith. If he were created whole in the fullness of his emanation he would have destroyed the world in an instant.3

Lilith has a mount she rides, Tanin’iver, “blind dragon.” She can command hundreds of legions of demons. Intriguingly, the Treatise of the Left Emanation starts to come full circle, once again referring to multiple Liliths, as did the ancients. This tradition of there being two (or more) Liliths also appears in Pardes Rimmonim, and becomes a commonplace part of kabbalistic cosmology in 17th- and 18th-century works.

This interpretation of Lilith, as the female face of cosmic evil, also occupies a significant place in the Zohar, where she is the evil counterpart of the Shekhinah (II: 118a–b; III: 97a). There is also a tradition in the Zohar that Lilith was the Queen of Sheba who came to test Solomon.

In other, later mystic texts, she is one of the four queens, or the four mothers, of demons. She is the most prominent of the four, being queen of the forces of Sitra Achra, the impure, or left side of divine emanations, which run loose in the world. In the early modern Kabbalistic text, Emek ha-Melechthe three interpretations of Lilith put forth in earlier literatures are reconciled:

And all this ruination came about because Adam the first man coupled with Eve while she was in her menstrual impurity—this is the filth and the impure seed of the Serpent who mounted Eve before Adam mounted her … Behold, here it is before you: because of the sins of Adam the first man all the things mentioned came into being. For Evil Lilith, when she saw the greatness of his corruption, became strong in her husks, and came to Adam against his will, and became hot from him and bore him many demons and spirits and lilin (23b–d) … Samael is called the Slant Serpent, and Lilith is called the Tortuous Serpent (Isa 27:1). She seduces men to go in tortuous ways … And know that Lilith too will be killed. For the groomsman [Blind Dragon] who was between her and her husband [Samael] will swallow a lethal potion at a future time, from the hands of the Prince of Power. For then, when he rises up, Gabriel and Michael will join forces to subdue and bring low the government of evil which will be in heaven and earth. (84d) 4

Defenses against Lilith include providing amulets inscribed with the angelic names Sanoi, Sansanoi, and Samnaglof (or Sandalfon) (Sefer Raziel, Illustration) to women in childbirth and to newborns, not sleeping alone in a house, and tapping an infant on the nose if he appears to be responding to something the parent cannot see. psalms, particularly Psalms 16, 91, 121, and 126, are effective in driving off Lilith (Shimmush Tehillim, 121, 126). There is also a ritual that can be performed during and after intercourse to drive her away (Zohar III:19). German Jews of the 18th century had a more elaborate ritual, involving the new mother sleeping with a sword, dagger, or sword-shaped charm under her pillow and arising each night for the first thirty-one nights to slash the air around the bed (assuming the child slept in the bed with her) to fend off the threat.5


Lilith as portrayed on a metal amulet

In modern times, inspired by the singular Ben Sira portrayal of her as a woman who stands up to male domination, Lilith has become a rallying point among feminists in critiquing the overwhelmingly male-oriented perspective of traditional Judaism, and she has been adopted as a symbol of feminist resistance to male spiritual hegemony.6

It should be pointed out, however, that modern claims that Lilith was an early Hebrew goddess later censored out of the tradition by the authors of the Scriptures has no basis whatsoever in the historical record. This claim appears to depend entirely on appealing to the Ben Sira narrative, but that story is sui generis, and there is no precedent for any belief in Lilith as either “Wife of Adam” or “Wife of YHVH” prior to the 10th century CE.7

1. Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, 371, 373.

2. D. Stern and M. Mirsky, Rabbinic Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990)182–183.

3. Dan, Early Kabbalah, 175, 179.

4. Patai, Gates to the Old City, 458.

5. Sperber, The Jewish Life Cycle, 26–27.

6. Aviva Cantor Zuckoff, “The Lilith Question” Lilith Magazine Online,

7. G. Dennis and A. Dennis, “Vampires and Witches and Commandos, Oy Vey: Comic Book Appropriations of Lilith” Shofar, 32:3 (2014).

Lion: (60621/Aryeh). Lions are a symbol of the tribe of Judah and therefore appear frequently in Jewish iconography. In the MidrashSolomon has a whole pride of lions that surround his throne and serve him. Aryeh is one of the houses of the Jewish zodiac, the equivalent of Leo. Lion’s blood is a useful materia magica in potions for controlling powerful people (Sefer ha-Razim).

Lippold: Mint master of Brandenburg (German, ca. 16th century). This court Jew was prosecuted for witchcraft and confessed under torture to consorting with the devil, shape changing, and injuring his enemies through magical attack. He later recanted, but again admitted the charges under renewed torture. Finally offered the chance to live as a Christian, in the end he insisted on dying a faithful Jew.


Lost Books: In various places in Jewish literature, existing books will cite other books we no longer possess, books that have been lost to history. The Bible, for example, mentions Sefer ha-Brit, Sefer ha-Yashar, Sefer Milchamot Adonai, Sefer Shmuel ha-Roeh, and Sefer Refuot as books that would be familiar to ancient readers. Solomon reportedly composed thirteen books, but today we have only the three Scriptural books that tradition credits to him (Song of Songs, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes).

Alongside these, other books, books of secret knowledge, were identified. The tradition that there is a primordial book of power known to the worthies of the past appears multiple times in two overlapping Jewish traditions, the “Book of Adam” and the “Book of Noah.”

The biblical basis is Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam …,” assumed to refer to a book distinct from Genesis, which contains a genealogy of all the human generations that will ever exist.

It starts with the teaching that God showed Adam all the generations:

[T]hat is what Resh Lakish meant when he said: What is the meaning of the verse, “This is the book of the generations of Adam?” It is to intimate that the Holy Blessed One, showed him [Adam] every generation and its thinkers, every generation and its sages. When he came to the generation of Rabbi Akiba, he [Adam] rejoiced at his learning but was grieved at his death, and said: How weighty are Your companions to me, O God. (Sanh. 38b)

Elsewhere in the Talmud, it is made explicit that the generations actually exist in book form:

And in that day the deaf hear the words of a book (Isa. 24:18) [this refers to] the book of the generations of Adam. (Gen. R. 24:1)

The belief that the book not only contains the names of all the generations but also has some healing powers probably got its start in this passage, where a physician consults it, though as the perceptive reader will see, Samuel does so only to determine his destiny, not his course of treatment:

Samuel Yarhinaah was Rabbi’s physician. Now, Rabbi contracted an eye disease and Samuel offered to soak it with a lotion, but he said, “I cannot bear it.” “Then I will apply an ointment to it,” he said. “This too I cannot bear,” he objected [even to this]. So he placed a poultice of medicines under his pillow, and he was healed. Rabbi was most anxious to ordain him, but there was no opportunity. “Don’t you be grieved,” he said; “I have seen the Book of Adam, in which is written, ‘Samuel Yarhinaah shall be called “wise,” but not “Rabbi”,’ but Rabbi’s healing shall come through him.” (B.M. 85b–86a)

References to a “Book of Noah” first appear in the Apocryphal books I Enoch (6–11, 39:1–2a, 54:7–55:2, 60, 65:1–69:25, and 106–107 are ascribed to the “Book of Noah”) and the Book of Jubilees 10:13 and 21:10. Fragments of a self-styled Book of Noah have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QNoah or 1Q19 and 4Q534).

Later medieval magico-medical books such as Sefer Asaf ha-Rofe claim the Book of Noah as their source material. The Zohar in particular lists a small library of such books, citing wisdom from Sefer AdamSefer Rav Hamnuna SavaSefer Rav Yeiva Sava, and Sefer Yeisa Sava.

Lost Rituals: Over the course of 3,500 years, certain rituals and holidays have passed out of Jewish practice, and occasional, out of Jewish memory, though observances rarely go away forever. Examples of rituals which have fallen out of use or the original observance has been forgotten include:

The New Moon: This occasion is marked in synagogues with a prayer to this day. The original biblical celebration, however, which enjoyed a status equal to that of the Sabbath (Hos. 2:11; 2 Kings 4:23; Isa. 1:13, 66:23; I Chron. 23:31; Neh. 10:33), is now unknown.

The Festival of Wood Offering: A holiday mentioned in the Temple Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls, was apparently observed on a solar calendar and evidently performed several times a year. The biblical basis for it once having existed, though (Neh. 10:34–40). The largely defunct annual Rabbinic observance of Tu B’Av may be a cognate or competing version of the Qumran custom.

Simchat Beit Hashoeva, “Water Libation,” connected to the Water Drawing Ceremony: The theurgic purpose of the ritual was to draw the underground waters of the abyss toward the surface of the Earth, to trigger the fructifying mingling of tellurian and heavenly waters to trigger growth in the coming season. Today some communities hang on to the celebration aspect of the ritual with concerts, dancing, or events, but the actual ceremony is known only in outline.

Festival of the First Oil: Another holiday no longer part of the Jewish calendar but mentioned in the Temple Scroll. It may have its basis in the biblical list of priestly privileges (Num. 18:12–13; Neh. 10:34–40). It is not known whether the holiday was actually ever observed outside the circle of the Dead Sea Scrolls community.

Lot, Wife of: Curiously, the wife of Lot, who was turned to salt in Genesis 19, is invoked in love formulae in the Greek magical papyri corpus (PGM XXXVI 295–311).

Lots: (60648/Goralot, also Purim). The drawing of lots to uncover occult information or receive divine direction occurs several times in the BibleAaron casts lots over the two goats brought for the Yom Kippur offering to determine which will be the scapegoat (Lev. 16). Lots are used to divvy up the Land of Israel between the tribes (Num. 26; Josh. 15–19). While the passage is vague, Joshua apparently used either lots or the Urim and Thummim to determine who sinned against God by taking pillage from Jericho (Josh. 7). Saul is identified as God’s appointed king by means of lots (1 Sam. 10). Seamen on the ship that was carrying Jonah used lots to identify him as the source of God’s wrath toward them (Jon. 1:6). In the story of Purim, Haman uses lots to determine the most propitious day to attack and annihilate the Jews (Esth. 3).

Rabbinic literature assumes many more biblical decisions, though not explicitly stated in the text, were achieved by drawing lots (Sanh. 43b; J. Sanh. 19c; Gen. R. 84). The Talmud reports lots were used extensively by the priests and Levites in the Temple in their decision-making, though these were not usually esoteric matters. Nonetheless, the underpinning assumption in many cases is that these decisions were being given over to divine will (Yoma 37a, 39a–41a, 62a–63b, 65b; Zeb. 113b; Men. 59b; Ker. 28a). Issues of inheritance were resolved by such draws (B.B. 106b). The use of lots for divinatory purposes faded away in post-biblical Judaism only in the modern era, and there are innumerable reports of different Jewish ethnic groups using lots (or dice) in a variety of decision-making settings.1 SEE DIVINATION; ORDEAL; SORTES/SORTILEGE.

1. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition.

Love: (60651/Ahavah, also Chesed; Yedidut; Chaviv). To be loved is a universal human need. The first reference to an aphrodisiac may appear in the Torah itself. In Genesis 30:14, we read of the love-deprived Leah gathering some things called 60653. As it turned out, they worked for her, though not in the expected fashion. Now we translate this term as “mandrake,” a root with long sexual associations, but the word itself is evidently derived from the verb 60655, “to love.” So it could easily mean, “love root” or even “love potion.” Unfortunately, the only other use of the word, in Song of Songs 7:14, doesn’t really resolve the ambiguity.

For Jewish magicians post-biblically, love really can come in a bottle. A variety of love potions and love-inducing amulets are documented in medieval Jewish literature.1 One example involves a magic squares with angelic names written on a shell (it is unclear whether an egg shell, turtle shell, or sea shell is meant) with ink made of spices, using a bronze or copper instrument. Several love incantations involve casting a spell inscribed on metal or clay into a fire, using the flames as a magic analogy for burning passion: “just as this potshard burns, so may burn the heart of …” SEE BRIDE OF GOD; CARO, GENIZA; EROTIC THEOLOGY; RAZIM, SEFER HA-; SEX; SWORD OF MOSES.

1. Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, 150, 177, 199. Also see Janowitz, Icons of Power, 113.

Lulav: (60661). Part of the bouquet of plants that are ritually waved during SukkotSEE FOUR SPECIES.

Luria, Isaac: Mystic (Egyptian, 1534–1572). He was also known as ha-Ari (The [Holy] Lion) and ha-Ashkenazi (The German—his family moved to the Middle East from Europe). Luria was one of the most influential men in the history of Jewish mysticism; his teachings shaped the thinking of generations of Kabbalists, triggered at least one messianic movement, and serve as intellectual foundation for much of Chasidism.

Luria’s family came from Europe and first settled in Egypt. As an adult, Luria migrated to Safed in Israel, the epicenter of Jewish mystical studies in the 15th and 16th centuries, in order to study with Moses Cordovero.

He taught a highly original mystical theosophy, one that diverges dramatically from the Zohar-based Kabbalah taught by his predecessors, especially Cordovero. His Gnostic retelling of the Creation myth served as the center point of his metaphysics. His innovative teachings include the doctrines of tzimtzum (divine self-contraction), Shevirat ha-Kelim (the breaking of the vessels), nitzotzot (divine sparks), kelipot (husks of evil), Tikkun (cosmic restoration), and gilgul (reincarnation).1

He taught an equally original form of ecstatic Kabbalah, centered on therapeutic “readings” of the spiritual condition of a soul and then offering spiritual direction. He also worked with dead souls. He would sleep on graves in order to commune with the dead spirits of Jewish saints buried there. His method of Yichudim, including a form of incubation, linked necromantic divination with his efforts to mend the cosmic imbalances in the universe. He furthered this effort by performing tikkun on impure spirits, exorcizing them and thereby returning them to the proper path toward the afterlife.2

Huge numbers of stories and legends about his personality and his occult powers have been recorded. Some believed he was a reincarnation of Simon bar Yochai. He could make himself invisible to the spiritually immature. On the other hand, those with the right spiritual capacity saw that a pillar of fire, extending up to heaven, was constantly hovering over his head. Luria had the power of a sixth sense—he could immediately determine the spiritual state of a person by studying the lines on their forehead. He also had power over angels and made them do his bidding. He healed the sick and granted extended life.

Given all these powers, it is ironic that Luria himself died young. He left behind many disciples, chief of whom was Chayyim Vital. Luria himself wrote very little about his mystical ideas, but his disciples produced numerous (sometimes contradictory) works devoted to his life and his teachings. Much of this material is also embellished with legendary material, and despite a wealth of details, many aspects of his life still remain a mystery.

Major works written by his students that provide insights into his esoteric teachings include Shivhei ha-Ari, Etz ha-ChayyimSha’ar ha-Gilgulim, and Sefer Limmudei Atzilut.

The influence of Luria on Jewish mysticism is hard to overestimate. Only Akiba and Moses de Leon may be his equal in the history of Jewish mysticism. His mystical interpretations have colored the way all earlier Kabbalistic texts are read. His ideas have been incorporated into both traditional and modernist Jewish philosophies and into authoritative Prayer books. He is the spiritual godfather of Chasidism. SEE IBBUR; INCUBATION; METOPOSCOPY.

1. M. Miller, “Rabbi Yitzchak Luria: Basic Kabbala Teachings,”

2. Fine, “The Contemplative Practice of Yihudim in Lurianic Kabbalah,” 64–98.

Luz: (60667). There are two distinct meanings to this term:

The first meaning is for the city of Luz. The ancient name for Beit El, was a city “painted blue” (signifying it is a gateway to heaven). In Jewish mythic tradition, Luz is the city of immortality. The Angel of Death cannot reach anyone who gained entry there, so long as they remain within the city walls (Gen. 28:19, 35:6, 48:3; Josh. 16:2, 18:13; Judg. 1:23; Sot. 46b; Gen. R. 69:8).

The second meaning was based on Psalm 34:21, the Rabbis teach that there is one indestructible bone in the Body called the “luz,” around which God will resurrect every person (Eccl. R. 12:5; Lev. R. 18:1; Ber. 28a). It is the “nineteenth” vertebrae, making the spine to correspond to the nineteen blessings of the daily PrayerSEE ANGEL OF DEATH; RESURRECTION.

Luzzato, Moses Chayyim: Ethicalist and Kabbalist (Italian, ca. 18th century). He was regularly visited by a maggid, which he summoned by Torah to him and his circle.

He may have believed he was the reincarnation of Moses’s, which explains why he declared that his marriage, to a woman named Zipporah (corresponding to the name of the wife of the biblical Moses), signaled a mending of a cosmic disruption between the masculine and feminine sides of the Godhead. His claims to mystical revelations and his belief that he had a role to play in an unfolding messianic drama were controversial, and numerous rabbis suspected him of being a secret follower of Shabbatai Tzvi. He moved several times to escape this controversy, but it always followed him. He died in Israel at a young age.

Aside from his famed work of ethics, Mesillat Yesharim—mystics in Judaism seem particularly attuned to issues of daily morality—he is the author of several mystical works, most of them written under the guidance of his maggid: Kelach Pitchei Chochmah, Tikkunin Chadashim, and Zohar Tinyana.1

1. Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, 223–30. Also see Jacobs, The Jewish Mystics, 167–68.