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

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



Ma’aseh: (58025). “Deed/Ritual.” There are many meanings that can be assigned to the word ma’aseh, including a “fabulous tale” and a theurgic “act of power” (ShR; Tan. 19a; Gen. R. 5:5). SEE MAGIC; MASHIVA; RITUAL; THEURGY.

Ma’aseh Book: (Meisa Buch). A medieval compendium of Jewish legends. Most of the stories are derived from Talmudic/rabbinic sources, but with fabulous elaborations. It also includes supernatural stories of medieval worthies.

Ma’aseh Merkavah: (580411). “Workings of the Chariot.” The modern name given a Hechalot text, discovered by scholar Gershom Scholem, devoted to achieving ascent into heaven and the summoning of angels, particularly the Sar ha-Torah. It is a kind of anthology, with Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph and Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha ha-Kohen serving as the central teachers.1

1. For a modern translation, see Janowitz, The Poetics of Ascent.

Ma’aseh Nissim: “Tales of Nissim.” A 16th-century collection of folk and fantastic tales set in the city of Worms written by Jeptha Yozpa ben Naphtali.

Ma’aseh Yerushalmi: “Tale of the Jerusalemite.” An influential 13th-century romance and fantastic tale of a man who marries a demoness, goes to live in the underworld, and then dies at her hands when he rejects his infernal bride.

Ma’asei-Bereshit: (58045). “The Working of Creation.” Starting in antiquity, Jewish disciples of the esoteric have engaged in metaphysical speculation about the powers and events surrounding the creation of the universe (Chag. 12a-14b). This branch of Jewish occult knowledge is called Ma’asei-Bereshit (MB). The Mishnah explicitly cautions against pursuing questions of what preceded Creation (Chag. 2:1, 11b), though the restrictions they impose on learning MB are slightly less stringent than those surrounding inquiring into the other branch of Jewish esotericism, the Ma’asei-Merkavah. The issues surrounding these prohibitions are explored in more detail in the Gemara to the Mishnah, Chagigah 12a-14b. Despite this, the Talmudic Rabbis prove to be so vague about the exact nature of this field of inquiry, the term ma’asei-bereshit has been applied to wildly different intellectual disciplines. The rationalist philosopher Maimonides claimed the term MB really refers to the study of Aristotelian physics, but Kabbalists universally regard it to be a branch of esoteric metaphysics.

Despite the Talmudic prohibition, or perhaps because of it, such speculation flourished. The tract Sefer Yetzirahis clearly the major work of MB and its influence is so significant that over eighty commentaries on it—philosophical, mystical, and magical—presently exist. Presumably, more were written that have not survived down to the modern era. The ideas of Sefer Yetzirah figure in almost all later Jewish mystical cosmogony. There are a few other works that can be subsumed under this term, like Seder Rabbah d’Bereshit (also known as Baraita de Ma’aseh Bereshit) and the cosmogonic ideas of the Lurianic Creation myth. Both qualify as a kind of Ma’asei-Bereshit, though they are rarely referred to as such. SEE BREAKING OF THE VESSELS; CREATION; HEBREW AND HEBREW ALPHABET; TZIMTZUM.

Ma’asei-Merkavah: (58039). “Working of the [Divine] Chariot.” A stream of Jewish mystical tradition extending from Classical Antiquity into the Middle Ages, though its influence goes far beyond that. Using Ezekiel's vision of the divine chariot and Isaiah's enthronement vision as their primary inspiration (Ezek. 1, 10; Isa. 6), the Merkavah mystics combined Torah study, purification rituals, and meditative practices to obtain visions of the heavenly principalities, the angels, and God. People in the Merkavah circles also engaged in the summoning of angels who would serve the adept in his (Merkavah mystics appear to have all been men) quest for revelation, protection, and personal benefit.1 The Hechalotliterature provides the major documentary record of this mystical school, though remarks recorded in the Talmud and by later medieval authorities slightly supplement our knowledge of their beliefs and activities.

The ideology of the Merkavah mystics likely has roots in the priestly spirituality of the Temple, with its preoccupation with angels, ritual purity, and visionary experience (the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah, as well as the angel-intoxicated Zechariah, were all priests), but represents a major shift in that ideology, changing focus from the (no longer existent) earthly Temple to its celestial counterpart. Most significant, perhaps, is the “democratization” of things that were once priestly prerogative: now any worthy individual, regardless of pedigree, could ascend to divine precincts, approach the Holy of Holies, and interact with angels.

That being said, the study and practice of Ma’asei- Merkavah was considered hazardous in the extreme, a threat to the practitioner on both mental and physical levels (Chag. 12b-15a).2 It was also still not considered appropriate for the masses; the hierocracy of the priests was replaced with a meritocracy of spiritual excellence. The average Jew was discouraged from “descending” into the Merkavah, because it could lead to confusion and apostasy. For example, there is a pronounced tendency in some Hechalot texts for God and high angels to become confused and conflated. Other texts are marked with a kind of Gnosticism, sometimes bordering on polytheism. As a result, the Talmud cautions that a teacher should never expound the Ma’asei-Merkavah for more than one student at a time, and then only to students who are already established Sages, in order that they will be able to distinguish the “wheat” of the Merkavah experience from the “chaff.” Even established scholars, as in the case of Elisha ben Abuyah, could become unmoored from Jewish monotheism by the visions and teachings of the Merkavah (Chag. 12b-16b). The most oft-mentioned figures in connection to this mystical tradition are Ishmael ben Elisha, Akiba ben Joseph, Joshua ben Levi, and Nechunyiah ben ha-Kanah.

The impact of the Merkavah tradition on Jewish esotericism is enormous, and almost all subsequent schools of Jewish mysticism have studied its texts, with its influence being most pronounced among the German Pietist, the tosafists, the Circle of the Special cherub, and the Iyyun Circle. The rhetoric of Ma’aseh Merkavah extends even further. Pietistic hymns based on merkavah imagery, such as the Yemenite Im Nin’alu, were still being composed in the 17th and 18th centuries.

1. J. Dan, The Early Jewish Mysticism, 7-24.

2. J. Davila, “The Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism,” Society of Biblical Literature 1994 Seminar Papers (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1994), 4-6.

Machane or Machaneh: (58049). “Encampment.” The angelic hosts of heaven are divided into “encampments,” depending upon their function and/or their principalities. The term echoes the story of the Exodus, in which the twelve tribes of Israel marched and camped in tribal formations called machaneh for the duration of their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. Each heavenly machaneh is ruled by a princely angel. Mystics also refer to the Kavod and the Gevurah, the full scope of God’s power in all its manifestations, as the “encampment” of God (Orach Chaim 18:1-3; Pes. 104a-b; J. Pes. 71). SEE ASCENT, HEAVENLY.

Machnisei Rachamim: “Conveyors of Compassion.” This is a prayer petitioning the angels to intervene with God:

Conveyers of compassions, obtain our mercy before the Master of compassion,

Makers of prayer, make our prayer heard before the Hearer of prayer.

Makers of wailing, make our wail heard, before the Hearer of wailing.

Conveyers of tears, convey our tears before the King who yields to tears.

Strive to raise up supplication, raise up supplication and plea,

Before the King, high and exalted. The King, high and exalted.

This prayer is only recited at Selichot, a penitential service recited prior to the coming of Rosh Hashanah.

This prayer is anomalous in that the rule that Jews should pray only to God, and not to intermediaries, extends back to Talmudic times: “If troubles come upon a person, do not entreat the angel Michael or the angel Gabriel. Rather, entreat Me alone and I will help you immediately” (J. Ber. 9:1). Maimonides makes this normative, “It is only fitting to pray to God and it is not fitting to pray to any other.”

The Maharal of Prague was sufficiently troubled by the appearance of this prayer that he amended the wording (Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha’Avodah no.12), an innovation that did not catch on. In modern times, no less an ultra-Orthodox authority than the Hatam Sofer wrote that at Selichot he personally skips over this prayer (Orach Chaim no. 166), a shocking confession from the leader of a community that insists ALL of the tradition is sanctified and obligatory. The prayer has been entirely edited out of Selichot liturgy in the modernist Reform movement.

And yet at least one Midrash exists that endorses the idea of angels as intermediaries of our prayers (S of S R. 2:7). And many Jews worldwide recite the words barchuni l’shalom … (“bless me with peace”), when they sing the popular Shabbat hymn, Shalom Aleichem. This prayer is found only in the Ashkenazi (northern European) tradition, suggesting it was written when Jews were surrounded by a Christian culture that emphasized the use of divine intermediaries (saints) and even had services in honor of specific angels (Michaelmas).

Machon: (58077). “Site/locale.” One of the seven heavens, it is the level that warehouses all celestial precipitations: rain, snow, hail, dew, as well as the winds, storms, and vapors (Chag. 12b-13a).

Machpelah, the Cave of: SEE CAVES.


Magen David: (580731). “Shield of David.” A type of hexagram, this now-ubiquitous symbol of Judaism actually has its origins in occult circles. It was originally known as the “Seal of Solomon” and first appeared in Jewish esoteric literature. The hexagram was understood by many to be the symbol engraved on the magical ring of Solomon, linking it to Solomon’s reputed power over demonic forces. It first appeared as a magical seal on amulets, mezuzahs, and other talismans. At some point the hexagram merged with another occult tradition about a “shield of David” that apparently came out of Arab magical traditions.1 The hexagram is also a common device in alchemical texts, but what, if any, connection this has with Judaism is impossible to determine. In the 16th century, followers of Isaac Luria introduced the innovation of a sixth item onto the Passover Seder plate to correspond with six concepts associated with the Zer Anpin, creating a pattern of six points.

The MD emerges as an ordinary symbol in Jewish books and on synagogues, probably because as the “Shield of David,” it had messianic overtones. In all likelihood, its presumed protective properties enhanced its general appeal.

Not surprisingly, even after its universal adoption as a sign for Judaism, it continues as an anti-demonic symbol. Often magical and mystical representations of the MD incorporate words and names of power. One example found on an amulet has psalm 121 written out in the pattern of the hexagram. Other amulets feature divine names in each of the seven fields created by the lines forming the star.2

The most common form of hexagram talisman has one of the seventy-two names of God, most often the name Taftafiyah, in the center.

1. G. Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism (New York: Shocken Books, 1971), 257-81.

2. Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 2, 914.

Maggid: (580711). “Teller/Revealer.” While the term is frequently used to refer to an itinerant Jewish preacher, in Jewish esoteric traditions a maggid is an angelic teacher; a spirit guide. The maggid is related to the historically earlier phenomenon of the Sar ha-Torah and to other angels of revelation and dreams (particularly Gabriel), but there does seem to be a meaningful distinction: A maggid is often the genius, the hypostasis, or personification of some high attribute or nonpersonal supernal reality like the Torah, Shekhinah, Wisdom or the Mishnah. Occasionally the maggid is described as a kind of angelic apparition, but in most accounts it appears in the form of pneumatic possession. Though there is considerable variation in maggid accounts, conventionally a maggid manifests itself within the person, triggering automatic writing and xenoglossia (Maggid Mesharim; Hesed l’Avraham). Take, for example, this description of what happened to Moses Luzzato:

There is a young man … he is a holy man, my master and teacher … Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzato. For these two and half years a maggid has been revealed to him, a holy and tremendous angel who reveals wondrous mysteries to him … This is what happens. The angel speaks out of his mouth, but we, his disciples, hear nothing. The angel begins to reveal to him great mysteries.1

In contrast to this “silent speech,” Joseph Caro’s maggid was quite vocal:

No sooner had we studied two tractates of the Mishnah then our Creator smote us so that we heard a voice speaking out of the mouth of the saint, may his light shine. It was a loud voice with letters clearly enunciated. All the companions heard the voice but were unable to understand what was said. It was an exceedingly pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong.2

It should be noted that in other accounts, Caro’s maggid was understandable to bystanders.

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

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

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

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

2. Ibid., 124.

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

4. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 69-71; Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, 178-180.

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

Maggid Mesharim: Mystical memoir of Joseph Caro that gives detailed accounts of his spiritual possession by the maggid of the Mishnah:

No sooner had we studied two tractates of the Mishnah then our Creator smote us so that we heard a voice speaking out of the mouth of the saint [Karo], may his light shine. It was a loud voice with letters clearly enunciated. All the companions heard the voice but were unable to understand what was said. It was an exceedingly pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong. We all fell upon our faces and none of us had any spirit left in him because of our great dread and awe.1

The book records the many teachings and revelations given by this maggid over multiple possessions. This is the most famous incident of beneficent spirit possession in the mystical tradition.2

1. Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, 24.

2. L. Fine, Safed Spirituality: Rules of Mystical Piety, the Beginning of Wisdom (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 54-55.

Magic: (58091/Kesem; 58089/Kishuf ). “Magic” is one of those terms for a phenomenon that is hard to define, yet easy to recognize. For the purposes of this encyclopedia, “magic” is the overarching term for a ritual for power involving incantations, symbolic behavior, materials, and/or formulae meant to influence events and/or entities.1

There are several ways to further subdivide “magic” as it has been manifested in Jewish history and society. There is an informal but real distinction between religious theurgy and magic; this is fundamentally an issue of distinguishing between the godly deeds of power that arise from the sphere of Torah and Judaism and the deeds of power performed by adepts using what amounts to a “technology.” Furthermore, a distinction may be made in the sources between what we today term sorcery and shamanism, which is to say, between learned, scholarly magic and folk magic. Such distinctions are made on the basis of the presumed formal education required for these respective arts. Finally, there is the issue of witchcraft—magic that is regarded to be malevolent in purpose and/or derives its power from infernal sources.

With regards to magic and theurgy, a starting point could be that “magic” is a ritual of power that is self-serving and intended for personal outcomes such as gaining influence over others, cursing enemies, or achieving wealth.2heurgy, by contrast, has a ostensive “religious” purpose, such as gaining a better understanding of Torah, healing the sick, receiving an apocalyptic revelation, or mending some corruption in God’s relations to the universe.

This distinction, however, is difficult to sustain in reviewing the many, many varieties of rituals of power found throughout Jewish history. Many Hebrew texts that are obviously “religious” in their orientation, like Sefer Chasidism, nevertheless contain examples of self-serving adjurations. By the same token, obviously “magical” handbooks, such as The Sword Of Moses, also include spells and rites that clearly have “higher” religious motives, such as summoning an angel to teach the adept Torah. The distinction between “religious” theurgy and self-serving” magic seems all the more indeterminate because these texts treat all kinds of spells as equally valid and worthwhile. What is more, a ritual of power can be simultaneously religious and self-serving. Taking the example of gaining mastery of Torah through an angelic instructor; it has to be acknowledged in Jewish culture that a demonstrated mastery of religious texts is both spiritually meritorious in its own right and a means of enhancing one’s personal and social status. Given this ambiguity, it makes more sense to propose a modification of the taxonomy of prayer and magic first put forth by Sir George Fraser in The Golden Bough (1922), which distinguishes both magic and theurgy from prayer based on the logic of how one addresses the numinous powers. A prayer is a supplication and appeal; it asks a deity for a boon or favor. Magic and/or theurgy, by contrast, is imperative; it commands and adjures. But even this distinction breaks down at a certain point: is the phrase “God bless this boy” a supplication or an order? Yet is generally the case that rituals of power are more purely mechanistic; they assumes that, if the ritual is done properly, there is no volition or favor involved on the part of the numinous entity or power being addressed—the desired outcome will simply occur. Accepting this distinction between prayer and magic based on who is in control, it is more logical to characterize theurgy and magic as really two aspects of this same phenomenon. Perhaps the only meaningful distinctions between the two is that theurgy is based in an idea of influencing divine (or demonic) forces, whereas magic proper is not tied to any deity or spiritual personality except that of the adept. The theurgist commands divine powers. The logical corollary to the exercise of theurgic power, however, is that the theurgic practitioner must be spiritually and morally fit in the eyes of the deity to arrogate such powers. By contrast, the magician activates what appear to be impersonal forces purely by means of the proper performance of the ritual itself.3 This distinction between theurgy and magic is first proposed in the Talmud itself by Rabbi Hiyya (Sanh. 67b).

Jewish authorities have had differing attitudes toward the efficacy of “magic” in this sense: some have viewed it as simple illusionist trickery, while others have regarded it as a real paranormal phenomenon (Sanh. 67b). The Sage Judah the Prince, for example, was a great spokesman for the former opinion, ascribing the power of magic to the power of the human imagination, “Only a person who believes in the interpretation of signs is pursued by magic.” Many other Rabbis, however, accepted the reality of magical power, believing it was introduced to mortals by the angels (I Enoch 7; Zohar I:58a).

Even when magic is regarded as a reality, however, Jews have universally treated magic as inferior to the miraculous power of God and the theurgic power of God’s agents. This is neatly illustrated by the confrontation between Moses and the Egyptian wizards (Ex. 6-8; Sanh. 67b), for the author of Exodus accepted at face value that the Egyptians possessed paranormal powers, yet by the third plague the wizards of Egypt have to admit they have nothing to counter the feats of the God of Israel. The implication is that, while magic is real, the wondrous powers that God gives to the righteous are always superior to that of mere magic (Sanh. 68b), which brings up the other aspect of magic: Jews have informally distinguished between sorcery, shamanism, and witchcraft and reacted differently to each.

Still, Jews are hardly consistent about these distinctions. Some writers, for example, characterized the wondrous deeds of the Egyptian adepts in Exodus 7, as sorcery; as an art practiced by the learned elite of any traditional society. Other Jewish texts clearly regarded these magicians to be employing witchcraft—demonic magic.4

Moreover, while many of the wonders ascribed to Jewish heroes could be characterized as theurgic or miraculous, some of these feats appear overtly magical, in that they involved no direct appeal to God’s power. Nevertheless, it is almost universally assumed by Jewish texts and readers that any supernatural power demonstrated by a Jewish Sage must derive, implicitly, from the power of Torah. This, in turn, is rooted in the assumption of righteousness: the Sages can bend the will of God only because they have submitted their will to the divine.5

As a result of these assumptions, one of the primary Talmudic rationales for labeling a supernatural ritual as kesem, and therefore forbidden, rather than as a fele, or divine manifestation, was simply the appearance of it being foreign, alien to Torah, or non-Jewish in origin—Darkhei Amori, ways of the Amorites. Likewise, if a “Jewish” supernatural ritual clearly aped the magic of gentiles, it was more likely to be suspect (Shab. 66a). Still, the Rabbis permitted colleagues to learn magic on a theoretical level in order to understand what they were up against (Sanh. 17a). The attitude of those who actually practiced such foreign magic could be harsh; one Sage declared, “He who acquires a single item of knowledge from a sorcerer forfeits his life.” Yet unlike in contemporary Roman law, rabbinic law does not include a tort for damages done by sorcery, a fact that suggests the Sages who shaped Jewish law retained serious doubts about whether magic was a real force capable of doing real damage.

Magic—in all forms—continued to have an ambivalent and confusing status in medieval Judaism. In addition to the Talmudic criteria, the medievals eventually developed a working distinction between licit and illicit rituals of power. For the medieval rabbis, “word magic” was permitted while magic involving persuasive objects—rituals involving the use of devices or materials to represent the desired result or the person to be influenced, like a voodoo doll—was forbidden. This was a discrimination they shared with the Pagan philosopher-theurgist Plotinus. Eliezer of Metz (ca. 12th century) made this distinction explicitly in his discussion of Jewish law on magic. In practice, the boundaries between what was considered foreign and what was Jewish, what was verbal and what was performative, tended to blur. Thus a Hebrew work like Sefer ha-Razim is virtually indistinguishable from Pagan magical texts in the use of materia magica. What is more, amulets are largely exempted from what otherwise seems to be a blanket ban against using devices of ritual power. By the Renaissance, a number of religious authorities tolerated, and a few even endorsed, the practice of a kind of scholarly sorcery that overlapped with the then fashionable gentile pursuit of hermetic/astrological magic and alchemy. Johannan Alemanno and Abraham Yagel, for example, considered mastery of the astro-magical disciplines to be the summa of a quality humanist education.6 No less an authority than Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague wrote that sorcery that invokes divine names is, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from prayer (B’er ha-Golah 2). By contrast, Manasseh ben Israel condemned virtually all magic as demonic—but still exempted medicinal spells (Nishmat Chayyim 3:25, 253). In Eastern Europe, scholarly Jewish magic came to be overshadowed and co-opted by more shamanistic-charismatic forms. The Baal Shem, a practitioner that emerged in the Middle Ages, was the paradigmatic figure of this kind of folk-magical adept. In some ways, these baalei shem are a throwback to charismatic Talmudic wonderworkers like Chanina ben Dosa and Choni ha-Ma’agel. Thus it was assumed that many of the talents manifested by the Baal Shem Tov (healing, fertility, paranormal knowledge, teleportation, mystical ascent, amulet making, and exorcism) were part of the power of being righteous, regardless of the adept’s level of education or Torah learning. SEE KABBALAH; LAW AND THE PARANORMAL.; SUMMONING.

1. For a summary of academic theories of magic, see W. van Binsbergen and F. Wiggerman, “Magic in History: A Theoretical Perspective and Its Application to Ancient Mesopotamia,” http://www.shikanda.net/ancient_models/gen3/magic.htm.

2. J. Davila, “Ancient Magic (The Prayer of Jacob),” Lecture online at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/rt/otp/abstracts/magis/, 1.

3. Idel, Hasidism, 83.

4. J. Neusner, “Miracle and Magic in Formative Judaism: The System and the Difference,” in Religion, Science, and Magic: In Concert and in Conflict, J. Neusner, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989) 61-72.

5. B. M. Bosker, “Wonder Working and the Rabbinic Tradition: The Case of Hanina ben Dosa,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 16, no. 1 (1985): 42-92.

6. Idel, “Jewish Magic from the Renaissance Period to Early Hasidism,” in Religion, Science, and Magic, Neusner, 82-94.

Magic Square: Famous as an element of mystical mathematics from Greco-Roman times, Jewish magic squares most often involve permutations and notarikons of divine names. They are commonplace features on Hebrew seals, amulets, and incantation bowls. Their magical function seems to be to “enclose,” bind, and trap the malevolent force which the amulet is targeted against. In the case of angel-summoning devices, the function of the square is analogous, containing and restraining the numinous power of the angel so the adept can remain in control. The most famous collection of Hebrew magic squares appears in the Book of Abramelin, which is credited to Abraham of Worms. There are many dubious claims associated with this book, and though a Hebrew version exists, its origins are most likely German and Hermetic. The alchemical work Esh M’shaef also includes several fine examples.


Hebrew magic square


Mahaway: An antediluvian giant who consults with Enoch to have his mantic dreams interpreted. He appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscript Book of Giants.

Maidens: (58102/Almaot). Female angels of the night who attend the Shekhinah (Zohar I:21a; ZCh 183).

Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon): Jewish philosopher, legalist, and physician (Egyptian, ca. 12th-13th century). The greatest scholastic figure of the Middle Ages, the rationalist Maimonides would be appalled to learn that since his death he has been linked to many fantastic and supernatural events. A whole cycle of wonder tales are now associated with him, including his ominous birth, miraculous healings, and his success in fabricating homunculi. He was controversial in his own time and in the century following his passing, opposition to his ideas, especially his sweeping reinterpretion of Judaism as a rational philosophy, may well have propelled the rise of Kabbalah . Even so, his prestige has subsequently risen to such heights that all streams of Judaism, including various mystical schools have tried to claim him as one of their own.

Maklitu: (58116). Angel and/or divine being mentioned in some Hechalot texts. Maklitu is likely an entity borrowed from Greek magical texts.

Makom, ha-: (581141). “The Place/The Primordial One.” A rabbinic/mystical name for God, apparently derived from a linguistic oddity in the Bible: Va’yif’ga ba- makom, “[Jacob] met the place,” with “the place” being interpreted as a euphemism for God (Gen 28:11). While Judaism does not teach pantheism, that God and the Universe are coequal, it does teach panentheism, that God is the “place” of the world; the world does not contain God, but God contains the world (Gen. R. 40:6, 68:9). SEE GODHEAD; NATURE.

Malach: (58133). “Messenger.” An angel.

Malach Adonai: (58135). Usually translated as “angel of YHVH,” a more connotative but accurate translation should be “Artifice of YHVH” or even “Manifestation of YHVH,” for the phrases Malach YHVH and Malach El are terms used in the Bible to designate a moment when the God of Israel becomes visible to humans.1

Generally, but mistakenly, interpreted to mean a divine entity distinct from God (i.e., an “angel” as we normally imagine them, however that may be), in every place where “Malach Adonai” appears in the Bible, its usage indicates that God is now visible. The classic case is the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22:1-22). God first comes to Abraham as a disembodied voice (22:1-2), and even as the “Malach YHVH” appears to him (22:11), the conversation suddenly returns to God speaking to Abraham directly (22:16), indicating that God is even more “present” in the second manifestation than in the first. Tellingly, after this encounter with the Malach, Abraham re-names the locale where it happened “YHVH appears.”

The fact that this idiom refers not to an angel but to God momentarily becoming visible explains why in so many passages where the “Malach YHVH” or “Malach El,” or “Sar Tzevaot” appears, within a verse or two of the manifestation, God is described as present (Gen. 16:9, 22:11, 22:16; Ex. 3:2, 23:20-21, 31:11-13; Judg. 2:1, 5:13- 6:5; Zech. 2-4).

This avatar of God, whose “Name is in him” (Ex. 23:21), becomes the source of the Hechalot tradition about divine entities, seeming “super” angels, all of whom have the Tetragrammaton included in their names (most famously Akatriel-YaH, who appears in visionary report of Rabbi Ishmael in Talmud Berachot 7a) and all of whom merit the puzzling secondary epitaph, “God of Israel.” The solution to this confusion is that such entities are not actually angels in the sense that they are distinct sentient beings subservient to God. Instead they are a visible, personified emanation of the divine (Shev. 35b and the comments of RaSHI and Nachmanides on that passage). SEE CHERUB, THE UNIQUE.; FACE OF GOD; GLORY OF GOD; METATRON; VISION.

1. Kugel, The God of Old, 5-36.

Malach Shareit: (58130). “Ministering Angel.” SEE GUARDIAN ANGELS ; MINISTERING ANGELS.

Malachei Chavala: (58128). “Destructive Angels.” A Kabbalistic term that is sometimes used for demons , and other times refers to the manifestations of God’s strict justice. SEE GEHENNA.; PUNISHING ANGELS.

Malkat: (58151). “Queen.” One of the four demon queens, the mother of one of the other queens, Igrat. The name is grammatically odd in Hebrew, but she is based on the biblical term, “Queen of Heaven,” a Pagan deity condemned by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 7:18; 44:17).

Malbush, Sefer ha-: “Book of the Garment.” A magico-mystical handbook of the early medieval period, Sefer ha-Malbush describes magical uses of levishat ha-Shem, “wearing the Name.” This is apparently meant literally, referring to the making of a magical cloak from deerskin.1 Not only does it describe how to make, activate, and use the cloak, it also teaches the use of tzerufim, utilizing the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the names of God in various combinations. ShM teaches that through these, the adept concentrates on divine matters. This technique promises both religious revelations on par with Prophecy and the power to influence events and entities. 2 SEE MAGIC; SORCERY.

1. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 77.

2. Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, 101-05.

Malchut: (58153). “Kingdom/Dominion.” Also known as Shekhinah and/or the Holy Spirit, it is the tenth and lowest sefirah, the aspect of God that interacts most intimately with the material world. As a result, Kabbalah has more to say about this one divine quality than virtually all the other sefirot combined. Many symbols signify Malchut, including Knesset Yisrael (the mystical Body of the Jewish people), the moon, the sun, and the Apple orchard. It is personified by David. As the “speculum that does not shine,” its associated color is black.

Man, Male: (58163/Ish, also Adam; Gever; Zachar). There are three archetypes of masculinity in Judaism: Adam Kadmon , the primordial man; Adam Rishon, the ordinary man; and the Messiah, the perfected man of the World to Come (Philo, De Opificio Mundi 134-42; B.B. 58a; Tanh. Tzaria 2).1

In traditional Jewish thought, men are considered the human norm. Women, by contrast, present the Sages with many of the exceptional and problematic issues involving Jewish observance and thinking. As feminist critics of traditional Judaism have observed, women represent “the other”—they are exceptional, which is not to say men were considered more virtuous than women. There is a theme of women having a greater innate capacity for piety than men that is woven throughout Jewish tradition, as exemplified by the legend that women refused to participate in the golden calf incident (Tosafot to R.H. 23a). Nonetheless, the “otherness” of women marked them as problematic on several levels.

Men could occupy any position or role of religious authority in Israelite and later Jewish society. The priesthood of Israelite religion was exclusively a masculine office. The same was true of the Levitical functions. This was not the case, however, when it came to charismatic leadership roles, such as that of prophet or judge, where women could also rise to places of authority. The role of rabbi has been a solely male one until the 1970s, when the first women were ordained by a Jewish seminary.

Despite his normative status in Jewish literature, a man is considered an incomplete human without a woman. Men are also more vulnerable to spiritual assault than women. Men are considered particularly vulnerable prior to circumcision (Ex. 4) and during a Wedding.2 Circumcision in particular is a powerful transformative ritual, for it creates a more proper balance between the masculine and feminine sides of men (Gen. R. 46:4).3

1. Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 125-126.

2. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 121.

3. H. Eilberg-Schwartz, God’s Phallus, and Other Problems for Men and Monotheism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 170-173. Also see Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines.

Manasseh ben Israel: Jewish communal leader and Kabbalist (Spanish/Dutch, ca. 17th century). He taught a popular version of mystical ideas concerning reincarnation and the soul. He is the author of Nishmat Chayyim (“The Soul of Life”), a comprehensive summary of then-current beliefs about the soul and a source for many dybbuk possession narratives.

Mandrake: (58183/Duda’im, also Yavrucha). A root that grows in an anthropoid shape. In the Bible, the mandrake root is treated as an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer (Gen. 30). The Talmudic name, yavrucha, which means “pursuer/shunner,” suggests mandrake has anti-demonic properties also. There appear to be other, more unsavory uses; in a notably cryptic passage, even for the Talmud. J. Eruvin 10:26 forbids reading Bible verses over a mandrake, yet does not state the purpose of the ritual, assuming the reader will understand.

Manna: (58181). “Whatchamacallit,” possibly derived from mah, “what.” Manna is the heavenly bread that sustained the Israelites for the forty years they wandered in the desert. According to rabbinic traditions, manna was created on the twilight of the sixth day of Creation and is stored in heavenly vaults (Avot 5:9; PdRE 3; Tanh. be-Shallach 22). It fell with the dew each morning, a double portion coming on Fridays to provide for the Sabbath, when none would appear. The wind blew each day prior to its arrival, so it wouldn’t get dirty. The Righteous among the Israelites received it ready-to-eat with front-door delivery; everyone else had to go out to gather it and prepare it for consumption. It had the taste of bread, honey, mother’s milk, or oil, depending on who was eating it. When it melted in the noonday sun, animals would come and drink the rivulets it formed. These animals became the most delicious and highly prized game: harts, gazelles, and deer (Yoma 75a; MdRI BeShallach). In Yoma 75b, Rabbi Akiba dubs it lechem adirim, “Bread of the Powerful Ones [angels].”

Manna stopped the moment Israel entered the Promised Land. A sample nonetheless was displayed before the Holy of Holies in the First Temple. It will fall again in the Messianic Era. According to the Zohar, the manna narratives are figurative descriptions of the divine emanations that “feed” and sustain the lower worlds (I:157a-b; II:183a). In other passages, it is the divine source of male virility (III:155b; II:213b).

Manual of Discipline: A text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It gives an elaborate account of the angelic wars between the angels of darkness and the angels of light , wars that mirror those being fought between the sons of light and the sons of darkness on Earth.

Maon: (58177). The fifth of the seven heavens (Chag. 12b).

Maria Hebraea: Alchemist (Egyptian, ca. 1st century CE). She is credited with the discovery of the properties of hydrochloric acid and the invention of the Kerotakis or Bain Maria water-bath oven, as well as other standard alchemist’s devices. She is also the first to give a formula for making the philosopher’s stone. She taught that all the diverse elements are derivative of a single hylic substance. Sometime later, alchemical tradition conflates her identity with that of the biblical Miriam.1

1. Patai, The Jewish Alchemists, 60-94; K. K. Doberer, The Goldmakers: Ten Thousand Years of Alchemy (London: Nicholson & Watson, 1948), 21-22.

Marriage: (58179). A good marriage is a small restoration of the Eden-like perfection we knew at the beginning of time (M.K. 18b; Sot. 2a; Zohar I:91b). A good match is also a miracle, as difficult as parting the Sea of Reeds, and successful matchmaking has kept God occupied since Creation (Gen. R. 68:4; Zohar I:137a). Later Kabbalah links successful and unsuccessful marriages to issues of reincarnation and “soul mates” (literally) finding each other (Zohar I:73b; Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim).

Even God is described as entering into marriage, either with the people Israel (Deut. 3:12) or, in the aspect of Tiferet/Holy Blessed One, with the Shekhinah (Zohar II:114a). SEE ANDROGYNY; SEX; WEDDING.

Masechet Hechalot: A short but relatively intact text of Hechalot literature, it describes the heavenly palace and, in particular, God’s Throne of Glory.

Masekhet Chibbut ha-Kever: This book documents the soul's journey into the afterlife. SEE BODY; DEATH; ETERNAL LIFE.

Masekhet Gehinnom: “Tractate [on the] Underworld.” A medieval text describing Gehenna, it instructs the reader about the earthly sins that cause the soul to be sent there and gives vivid descriptions of the afterlife consequences. Joshua ben Levi is the tour guide in these texts. There are a number of variant manuscripts and the information contained in them differs from one text to the next.

Masekhet Hechalot: “Tractate [on Divine] Palaces.” Part of the merkavah mystical traditions, it is a text for the adept who wishes to ascend to heaven. SEE HECHALOT.

Mashchit: (58204). “Destroyer.” It is the name of the entity that slays the firstborn Egyptians at the Exodus (Ex. 12:13-23). Also an alternate name for the Angel of Death. In Tomar Devorah, Mashchit is a demonic entity brought into existence as a result of human sin. SEE DEMONS; PLAGUES; PUNISHING ANGELS.

Mashiva: (58208). “Binding.” An adjuration spell for summoning and commanding angels. The language of adjuring angels in Jewish texts often mimics legal language. SEE CIRCLES; GET; HECHALOT; MAGIC SQUARE; SUMMONING.

Mastemah: “Enmity.” A demonic prince, perhaps an alternative name for Satan, Mastemah is mentioned as the leading demonic entity opposing Moses in the Book of Jubilees. SEE APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE.; DEMONS.


Mataniel: (58238). A punishing angel of Gehenna (Mid. Konen).

Matariel: (58240). The angel of rain and precipitation (I Enoch).

Matriarchs: (58202). The “mothers of Israel” (even the concubines and “informal” consorts, like Tamar) were prophets (Gen. R. 67:9, 72:6, 85:9), and their names have protective powers. SEE ANCESTORS; MOTHER; PATRIARCHS AND MATRIARCHS; RACHEL; REBECCA; SARAH.


Four Jewish women by E. M. Lilien

Matrona, Matronit: (58236). Another title for the Shekhinah (ZCh). She is the aspect of the divine Presence that mourns for Jerusalem and seeks constantly to reunite with the masculine aspect of divinity, the Holy One.

Matzah: (58233). Unleavened bread. SEE BREAD.

Mavet: (58231). “Death.” SEE ANGEL OF DEATH.

Mayim Dukhrin/Mayim Nukvin: (58229). “Male Waters/Female Waters.” Idiomatic terms for the divine energies that flow between the higher and lower Partzufim, harmonizing them and thereby fructifying and sustaining life in the universe. According to the teachings of Isaac Luria, it is the proper performance of the Sh’ma prayer (and in some cases, the Amidah) of Jewish liturgy that theurgically unites these waters (Eitz Hayyim 39:7; Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot 20c). In other versions, it seems that the human performance of the commandments, en toto, stimulates the female waters and makes them receptive to the masculine energy. SEE PHALLUS; SEMEN; WATER.

Mazal: (58248). “Planet/Constellation.” In Jewish esotericism, it is commonly associated with astrology. And while the word has never lost its literal meaning of “planet,” it now has a much more familiar connotative meaning of “luck” or “fortune.” From this word is derived the expression of well-wishing, Mazal Tov, “Good Star/Good Fortune!” (Sot. 12b; Shab. 156a; B.K. 2b; M.K. 28a). Sefer Chasidim personifies mazal and describes it as a type of guardian angel (1162). SEE ASTROLOGY; FATE.; GAD; PLANETS; ZODIAC.

Mazzamauriello: “Tellurian demons.” An Italian-Jewish term for a kesil, an imp or mischievous spirit.

Mazzik: (58252) “Damager/Afflicter.” A type of imp or demons, perhaps a disembodied soul. In the Talmud, the terms shedim and mazzikim are used interchangeably for demons, but in some sources there is a differentiation of mazzikim into its own class of evil spirit. Compared to shed, mazzik is relatively uncommon in the Talmud, only appearing a few times, mostly in tractates Berachot and Pesachim:

For three reasons people should not go into a ruin, because of suspicion [of sexual misconduct there], because of the danger of collapse, and because of demons.

Because of demons—And why not suffice [to discourage people] with the considerations of suspicion or collapse? You might have the case of a new ruin, and two people who are honorable. If there are two people, then what consideration of demons is at hand [mazzikim are thought to strike the solitary traveler]? In a place which demons inhabit, there is danger [even to two]. (Ber. 3b)

According to the Midrash, mazzikim ruled the world until the building of the Temple curbed their power (Num. R. 12:13).

In Jewish sources, most evil spirits are less a matter of earth-trembling, infernal weapon-wielding, soul-ripping hell hounds, then they are impish creatures who inflict ill fortune and ill health. Like leprechauns, djinns, and elves, Mazzikim take advantage of human carelessness, as in this humorous example of what can happen by ignoring the rule that doing anything in pairs is bad luck:

And if a man forgot himself [and drank exactly two drinks] and happened to go out, what is his remedy? Let him take his right-hand thumb in his left hand and his left-hand thumb in his right hand and say thus: You [two thumbs] and I, surely that is three! [i.e., an odd number] But if the demon hears him and replies, You and I, surely that is four!? [i.e., three plus the demon are four] let him reply to him, You [the demon that is now four] and I are surely five [he finds something to add to the grouping]! And if he hears one saying, You and I are six, let him reply to him, You and I are seven. This once happened until [someone reached] a hundred and one, at which point the demon exploded. (Pes. 110a)

The term mazzikim becomes more widely used in the Middle Ages, being RaSHI’s preferred term for imps.

Mechashef: (58256). “Witch/Warlock.” This appears in a list of prohibited occult professions (Deut. 18:10). The exact meaning in its original context is unclear, but has generally been defined since the Talmud as one who engages in witchcraft, which is regarded by some sages to be a kind of magic that rejects even the principle of theurgy, that paranormal power emanates from a supreme being), though others dispute this:

Why are they called “warlock”? [the word is read as an acronym for the phrase that follows] Because they “deny the power of the [divine] Pleroma.” [But they are foolish, because] there is none else besides Him. R. Chanina said: Even by witchcraft. A woman once attempted to take earth from under R. Chanina’s feet [to use it for witchcraft] He said to her, “If you succeed in your attempts, go and practice it, for it is written, however, ‘There is none else beside him’ [i.e., it won’t work].” But that is not so, for did not R. Johanan say: “Why are they called mekhashshefim? ” [R. Johanan derives an alternative phrase] Because “they lessen the power of the Pleroma” [they do assume divine power, but use it to evil ends, bringing disrepute on God]. (Sanh. 67a)

Meditation: ( 58265/Hitbonenut, also Hitbodedut; Histakelut; Yichudim). Contemplation, meditation, and trance-inducing practices are a feature of Judaism from biblical times. These practices, which vary greatly from one mystical text to another, include breath control, mantra-like chanting, reciting divine names, silence, self-isolation, yoga-like stress positions, creative visualization, and/or concentrating on a symbol, color, or object.

Meditation techniques can also be incorporated into prayer practices in order to produce kavanah, and so invigorate and activate the potential divine power of the traditional liturgy.1

The goals of Jewish meditation vary, depending on the particular school. Some promote it as a means to experiencing divine visions or accessing supernal knowledge. Others emphasize, in association with kavanah, the theurgic power of meditation to “arouse” a divine response, affect an object, or influence a person or event.

Meditation methods can be found in the writings of Abraham Abulafia, Azriel of Gerona, Moses Cordovero, and Chayyim Vital. Many Chasidic masters also emphasize meditation, both as an adjunct to prayer and as a separate discipline.

1. See Kaplan, Mediation and Kabbalah.

Medium: ( 58263/Doresh ha-Meit, also Yeddioni). A medium is someone who invites voluntary possession by a spirit. In biblical times, this was assumed to be an evil spirit (Ov) or ghost (Lev. 20:27; Deut. 18:14). By the Middle Ages, however, mediumism usually involved the accepting the soul of a Righteous ancestor or saint (Ibbur Tov), in order to commune with them.

Genesis posits that human life itself is only possible so long as the “spirit” of life occupies the Body (Gen. 2:7, 5:3). Certain high attributes have their own genius; Elders in the Israelite camp were seized by the spirit of Prophecy (Ex. 24) and Joshua by the spirit of wisdom (Deut. 34).

Biblical necromancers could summon the dead to answer questions, but it is unclear from the biblical accounts whether this actually entailed physical possession (1 Sam. 29). The Gospels provide several examples of Jews being possessed by the Holy Spirit. Philo of Alexandria describes the experience of prophecy as a kind of mediumship (Who is Heir 258-266).

There are disapproving allusions in the Talmud to those who fast in order to attract “unclean spirits” and attempt a séance with the dead (Sanh. 65b; Shab. 152b-153a). merkavah mystics would summon an angel of revelation called Sar ha-Torah, possibly to possess their bodies and speak through them, in order that they could accelerate their mastery of Torah study. The first references to summoning demons and enslaving them for beneficent purposes appear in magical texts at this time, such as the Testament of Solomon.

Many mystics record accounts of voluntary spirit possession. Notables who testify to such experiences include Abraham Abulafia, Moses Cordovero, Joseph Caro, Isaac Luria, and Chayyim Vital. As the preceding list suggests, benevolent possession was particularly a major interest among the Kabbalist brotherhood of Safed. Possessing spirits could include the ibbur (the virtuous dead), an angelic being, or a maggid (a personified aspect of Torah). Solomon Alkabetz claims to have been possessed by the Shekhinah, the immanent divine Presence that the mystics regarded to be in “exile” on Earth alongside Israel.1

Achieving a beneficent possession usually involves a multistep process. The Safed mystics give us the most detailed accounts of how to have a mediumistic experience. First, the potential medium must be morally upright and fully conversant with the Written and oral Torah. Repeated purification, involving physical mortification through fast, or occasionally even more extreme measures, is also a prerequisite. He (the medium is usually a he) must also work toward mindfulness, purifying even his thoughts. Many will recite texts from Jewish tradition in a mantra-like way. The mystic intensifies his practices as he approaches transition to mediumship. Most practitioners will arrange for some conditions of isolation from the distractions of the world. Luria’s incubation practice of Yichudim. involved being at the grave of a righteous man, literally laying over the tomb in order to “animate” the spirit, and in effect “reversing” the Death by using one’s own body to house the dead soul. This was apparently inspired by the example of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings.

Reports of mediumistic possession include xenoglossia (automatic speech), automatic writing, and radical changes in behavior and speech patterns. Firsthand accounts describe what we today might label a dissociative experience. SEE DIVINATION; YEDDIONI.

1. Bilu, “Dybbuk and Maggid,” 341-66.

Megillat Ahimaaz: SEE YUHASIN, SEFER.

Megillat Setarim: “Book of Secrets.” The mystical-magical memoir of Isaac Safrin of Komarino.

Meir ha-Baal Nes: Saintly medieval rabbi and wonderworker (Israel, ca. 15th-16th century). He vowed not to lie down until the advent of the Messiah. As a result, he is buried upright in a tomb outside Tiberias. To this day, thousands of pilgrims go there every year, and reportedly many miracles have been wrought for them.

Meir of Rothenberg: Rabbi and communal leader (German, ca. 13th century). Meir ben Baruch was a saintly and beloved rabbi. When he was imprisoned by gentile authorities in order to extract a ransom for the Jewish community, Rabbi Meir ordered the ransom not be paid, and he died in prison after many years. A number of miraculous stories are told about his imprisonment. In one such legend, he received a heavenly Torah written in Moses's own hand to comfort him during his incarceration. After his death, his Body was left in its cell for fourteen years, until a pious disciple bribed his way to retrieving the body. When the cell was finally opened, the body was found perfectly preserved.

Meirat Einayim: A mystical-magical tract written by Isaac ben Samuel of Acre.

Mekubbal: (58282). A person trained in the practical Kabbalah : amulet making, protective incantations, and folk healing. The term first appears in the early modern era. Such figures still function in the traditional communities of modern Israel and America. At times it is used to refer to any Kabbalist. SEE AMULET; BAAL SHEM; HEALING.

Melaveh Malchah: (58280). “Escorting the Queen.” The ritual meal of Melaveh Malchah (“Escorting the Queen”) involves prayers , dancing, and songs performed at the close of the Sabbath, often as an extension of the “third meal” and Havdalah (hence it is sometimes called “fourth meal”).

It is intended to extend the Shabbat rest and experience. Based on a customary practice mentioned in passing in the Talmud (Shab. 119b; S. A. Orach Chayyim 300), it is greatly expanded by Hasidism into an extended, at time raucous, party. The ritual marks not only the departure of the Shekhinah (“the Queen”) from those who have known her special intimacy throughout the Sabbath, but also the taking leave of the “added souls” that join us during the Sabbath. The Shekhinah is thereby strengthened for the ordinary days that will follow. It also benefits the living and the dead. Participation by the living may enjoy various blessings, including relief to illness or barreness (Itaamei ha- Minhagim, pt. 1, 51).1

Loosely connected to the theme of extra-ensoulment during Shabbat, according to one tradition, the souls of departed sinners in Gehenna are spared punishment for the duration of the Sabbath. Performing Melaveh Malchah is understood to extend that reprieve and help ease their term in the punishing afterlife.2 SEE SABBATH-QUEEN

1. A. Wertheim, “Traditions and Customs in Hasidism,” in Essential Papers in Hasidism, G. Hundart (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1991), 372.

2. Ginsburg, The Sabbath in Classic Kabbalah, 277, and Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, 309.

Melchizedek: (582961). The mysterious Priest/King of Salem, who welcomed Abraham in the name of El Elyon, “God Most High” (Gen. 14), and receives cryptic mention in psalm 110. Such a pivotal but elliptical character naturally triggers much interpretative analysis. In the Midrash, he is identified with Shem:

R. Zechariah said on R. Ishmael’s authority: The Holy One, blessed be He, intended to bring forth the priesthood from Shem, as it is written, “And he [Melchizedek=Shem] was the priest of the most high God.” But because he gave precedence in his blessing to Abraham over God, He brought it forth from Abraham; as it is written, And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth, and blessed be the most high God.” Said Abraham to him, “Is the blessing of a servant to be given precedence over that of his master?” Straightway it [the priesthood] was given to Abraham, as it is written, Adonai said unto my lord, “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool”; which is followed by, “Adonai hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek,” meaning, “because of the words of Melchizedek.” Hence it is written, “and he was a priest of the most High God,” [implying that] he was a priest, but not his descendants. (Ned. 32b. Also Gen. R. 46:7; PdRE 27)

In another source, he is one of four eschatological figures linked to the “four smiths” mentioned in Zechariah 2. He was born circumcised (Gen. R. 43:6). His academy was one of the few places the Holy Spirit found refuge during the period between the expulsion from Eden and the birth of Abraham (Mak. 23b) and his blessing was uniquely powerful in its time (Gen. R. 43:8).

In I Enoch (Slavonic) and in a Dead Sea Scrolls fragment devoted to him, Melchizedek is a nephew of Noah who was translated to heaven to serve as a priest on high until the advent of the Messianic Era. In another DSS text, he appears as the “Angel of Light” (Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice).

Zohar subjects Malchizedek to a particularly complex interpretation. As is often the case, it construes the biblical person to be an allegory for the divine Pleroma. As such, his name (“kingdom of righteousness”) reveals him to be the Shekhinah, while his title (“perfect king”) represents the realization of union with the higher sefirot, especially Binah, which then blesses Chesed (i.e., Abraham in the biblical narrative) (Zohar I:86b-87a).

In Christian lore, he is a prefiguration of Jesus.

Mem: (583021). Thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It has the numeric value of forty and the vocalic value of “m.” As the first letter in words like Moshe (Moses), Miryam (Miriam), Mashiach (Messiah), and Malchut (Kingdom), it signifies majesty and power. It is one of the five letters that also has a sofit, or end-form, a totally enclosed shape symbolizing the mysterious, concealed nature of such power.1

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 143-50.

Memory: Memory, especially the capacity to retain knowledge of Torah, is highly valued in Jewish tradition (Deut. 4:9; Chag. 9b) and forgetfulness is feared (Hor. 13b). Not surprisingly, then, there arose efforts to gain and retain knowledge of Torah through paranormal means. The tzitzit, or ritual fringes (Num. 15:19), are thought to enhance remembering the commandments through the magical potency of a knot “binding” the knowledge to the wearer (Gen. R. 88.2). Most famously, the Sar ha-Torah, the angelic Prince of the Torah, could be summoned to assist an adept in mastering and holding on the religious teachings. Other sources refer to a personified entity of memory named Zachar. Based on the gematria of his name, he is credited with 227 powers (Kli Yakar).

Memory, Book of: (Sefer ha-Zicharon). The celestial book in which the deeds of every person are recorded, it may or may not be the same as the Sefer ha-Chayyim , the Book of Life (Ez. 4:15; Targum Esther 6:1; Zohar I:8a; Zohar II:70a).

Memra: (58308). “Speech/Logos/Word.” Already in the Hebrew Scriptures there are passages where God’s word takes on a life of its own: “The Eternal sent a word into Jacob, and it rested upon Israel” (Isa. 9:7); “He sent His word, and healed them” (Ps. 107:20); and “His word runs very swiftly” (Ps. 147:15).

Inspired by the divine word-acts of Genesis 1, the Egyptian-Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria described God’s “word” as a kind of intermediate being between God and Creation. The Logos, not God, is the proximate agent of Creation (Op. 22). It is God’s “idea of ideas” (Op. 25); it is the manifest part of an otherwise hidden God (Dia. 147). Philo also describes the Logos as “God’s image” and “man of God” (Dia. 41, 148). It only the Logos we relate to when we experience communion with God. Perhaps it is not surprising that Philo lived roughly a half century before the start of the Jesus movement. Many have commented on how Philo’s idea of Logos was adapted by early Christians to describe their founder. Perhaps because he wrote in Greek, Philo’s influence on actual Jewish thinking was less direct and less dramatic.

Yet it is not completely absent. In Aramaic targumim (paraphrastic translations of the Hebrew Bible), the translators often take incidents in the Hebrew Bible that involve a direct encounter between God and people and insert the term memra (that’s a rough Aramaic cognate for logos). Thus it becomes the “Word of God” that interfaces with creation. So, where Moses says, “I stood between the Eternal and you” in the Hebrew text (Deut. 5:5), the Targum has, “… between the Memra of the Eternal and you.” The exact function of this term is a matter of controversy. Some say it is meant to soften in translation the more bluntly anthropomorphic, less philosophical language the Hebrew Bible uses in describing God. Others posit that it is meant to signify an intermediate stage of divine emanation, a form of the divine Glory that allows the perfect, unchanging God to interact with an imperfect and changing Creation. Or, as the term itself implies, it may signify the creative and theurgic power present in divine speech (MdRI BeShallach 10).1 SEE INCANTATIONS, SPELLS, AND ADJURATIONS; NAMES OF GOD; SPECULUM.

1. F. C. Burkett, “Memra, Shekhinah, Metatron,” Journal of Theological Studies 24 (1923): 158-59. Also see Roth, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. VI, 464-65.

Memuneh: (58310). “Deputy.” Originally this referred to the deputy High Priest. It came to refer to the genius or angel that energizes every discrete phenomenon in the universe. Thus every star, planet, month, day, human, nation, land, and even abstractions like “justice” and “love,” have their own memuneh. Barely mentioned in rabbinic literature, it becomes more prominent in the Middle Ages. SEE ANGEL AND ANGELOLOGY; MINSTERING ANGELS.

Menachem: The given name of the Messiah ben David (Sanh. 98b; Lam. R. 1:51; Sefer Zerubbabel).

Menachesh: (58313). “Augurer/Charmer/Diviner.” Mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:18, the name is derived from the Hebrew root for “snake.” A menachesh is someone who reads signs and omens. Scripture specifically applies this term to Joseph’s hydromancy, or “cup reading,” mentioned in Genesis 44:5. The Talmud regards the menachesh to be a professional diviner and interpreter of omens, someone who studies the behavior of animals, such as birds, snakes, and weasels, for mantic information (Sanh. 65b-66a). Maimonides also embraces this definition (M.T., Avodah Zara 11:4).

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Ufarsin: (58325). The modern idiom “the writing on the wall” comes from this phrase, which according to the book of Daniel paranormally appeared in the palace of King Belshazzar, written by a supernal hand (Dan. 5:25). The Bible itself does not give a fully satisfactory explanation of the phrase; it is usually rendered “He has measured, measured, weighed, and divided.” The puzzle is deepened by the fact that the book of Daniel, when it repeats the phrase, changes how it is read (5:26). Subsequently, it has become the subject of esoteric speculation. The Talmud proposes that it is some kind of atbash, a substitution code, or that it should be read in reverse order, but the results are themselves not particularly coherent (Sanh. 22a).

Menorah: (58331). “Lamp.” The menorah is a golden oil-lamp candelabra used in the Temple in Jerusalem. Built according to a pattern revealed by God to Moses, its appearance is that of a stylized bush with six curved branches coming off of its central stem (Ex. 25). It thus resembles a kind of cosmic tree, and the appearance is probably meant to remind the viewer of the burning bush (Ex. 3).



It is by far the most ancient symbol of Judaism. The menorah of which we speak is not to be confused with the nine-branch chanukiyah, a menorah used exclusively to celebrate the miracle of Chanukah.

According to legend, the menorah of the First Temple was hidden from the Babylonians and restored to the Second Temple (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 4:321). At the destruction of the Second Temple, it was swallowed up by the Earth and its whereabouts will be revealed only in the time of the Messiah.

The spiritual significance of the menorah is multifold. Some see the six branches as representing the six-winged fiery serafim angels (Isa. 6). Its seven lamps symbolize the seven days of Creation. It can also be seen as an inverted tree, with its roots in heaven. The Kabbalah teaches that the menorah is a stylized representation of the sefirot, with the seven branches signifying the lower seven sefirot that interact with the world of action.

The menorah is a popular image to include on an amulet. Paper amulets may have an image of a menorah made from microscript, usually using verses of Psalm 67. According to one amulet manual, David inscribed Psalm 67 in the form of a menorah on his battle shield. Amulets made in this pattern are very common among Jews of the East. SEE FIRE; LIGHT; PSALMS; SYNAGOGUE.

Menstruation: From the earliest times in Israelite history, women’s monthly cycle of menstruation was viewed with awe and considered an extraordinary phenomenon. Because they have the power to render everything they touch tamei (impure/uncanny), menstruating women are isolated to varying degrees in traditional communities, usually by simply avoiding physical contact, but sometimes by sleeping apart from their husbands, limiting their handling of communal objects, etc. Menstruating women were a particular concern for the priesthood, as contact with them temporarily rendered a priest unfit to perform his duties. Many Kabbalists likewise believed that contact with menstrual blood had the potential to interfere with their mystical practices.

It is common, to the cusp of the modern era, to find menstruation designated one of the punishments visited upon Eve for her disobedience (Sefer ha-Mitzvot ha-Nashim 3b-4a). There is one document, Baraita de-Masekhet Niddah, which ascribes all kinds of negative effects to menstruation. As a result, some medieval Jewish authorities went beyond mere issues of ritual purity/impurity, believing menstruants to be powerful carriers of a variety of ills, including boils, leprosy, and other malevolent effects. Menstruation apparently enhanced the effects of witchcraft, making it more lethal.

On the flip side, Genesis Rabbah interprets Sarah’s reaction in Genesis 18:12 as enthusiasm, not for her husband’s carnal attention or even for the prospective birth of a son, but at the return of her menstrual cycle—she literally calls it a “delight” (48:17, also see PdRE 36; B.M. 87a).

Meonen: (58336). “Soothsayer.” One who can make apparitions appear. The word may be derived from the Hebrew anan, “cloud,” suggesting someone who reads omens in the sky or interprets smoke patterns, a common form of divination in Mesopotamia. The Talmudic Sages differ on the meaning of this term, some saying a meonen is a user of witchcraft, while others claim it refers to an astrologer. The Talmud also accuses the meonen of using illusions and sleight of hand to deceive observers (Sif. D. 171; Sanh. 65b).


Merkavah, Ma’asei-: “Workings of the [Divine] Chariot.” SEE MA’ASEI-MERKAVAH.

Merkavah Rabbah: A manuscript text of the Hechalot literature, probably belonging to the cluster of Sar ha-Torah traditions for summoning angels of revelation.

Meshiv, Sefer ha-: “Book of the Responding Entity” or “Book of Answering.” A medieval manual for summoning both angelic and demonic spiritual entities. As is the case with many other magical books, Moses appears as a central figure.

The only legitimate purpose for summoning supernatural forces, according to the book, is to destroy the power of evil in the world. Written in Spain between the 14th and 15th centuries, it exists only in manuscript form.1 SEEANGEL AND ANGELOLOGY; CIRCLE; DEMONS; REINA, JOSEPH DELLA; SUMMONING.

1. M. Idel, “Magic and Kabbalah in the ‘Book of the Responding Entity’,” in The Solomon Goldman Lectures VI, M. Gruber, ed. (Chicago: Spertus College of Judaica Press, 1993).

Meshulahel: A demoness (Pardes Rimmonim).

Messiah: (58357/Mashiach). God’s eschatological anointed king; the central figure of Jewish eschatological beliefs.

In ancient Israel, the kings and the High Priests, and even sometimes prophets, were anointed with oil when they ascended to their office. A person so anointed was called a mashiach.

In 2 Samuel 7, God promises David that his seed will hold the throne of Israel for all eternity:

Adonai declares to you that Adonai Himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.

Out of this royal theology emerges the belief that an ideal king, a descendant of David, will arise and restore the fortunes of Israel at the end of time, defeating its enemies, bringing back its exiles. The prophets taught that the influence of this end-times Messiah would be international—war and oppression will cease, there will be a universal healing, and all the peoples and nations will acknowledge the authority of the one God.


The messianic reign of peace by E. M. Lilien

But unlike Christian theology, Judaism does not regard the Messiah to be an incarnation of God; the Messiah is entirely human. Still, there are many supernatural elements, both subtle and overt, to Jewish Messianism.

Because the doctrine of the Messiah is based on ambiguous biblical texts, there are multiple, at times conflicting, traditions about him.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is a tradition of two messiahs, a priestly and a royal one, “the messiahs of Aaron and of Israel.” There are parallels to this in apocalyptic literature and even some faint echoes in rabbinic literature. Reflecting the priestly bias found in other books of the DSS, the Priestly or Aaronide Messiah is treated as superior to the Royal Messiah, a theme that does not carry over into rabbinic traditions. There are also a number of other messianic figures mentioned in the Qumran texts. One entire DSS text, the Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521), is devoted to messianic teachings.

There is also a minor tradition about a second Messiah, descending from the line of Joseph. This messianic figure is usually designated the Messiah ben Ephraim (after Joseph’s eldest son). This figure is presented as the commander of the messianic army (S o S R. 30:4). In most versions of the “two messiahs” tradition, the Messiah ben Ephraim dies in battle, only to be avenged and resurrected by the Messiah ben David (Suk. 52b; Sefer Hechalot; Sefer Zerubbabel). One text even argues there will be no less than seven messiahs. At least one Talmudic Sage expressed doubts about the whole concept of an eschatological Messiah (Sanh. 98b).

While the concepts of a priestly Messiah and a Messiah ben Ephraim do not completely vanish from rabbinic traditions, the overwhelming interest of rabbinic literature is upon the Davidic Messiah, or “King Messiah.” In his commentary on the messianic tradition, Maimonides completely elides the Messiah ben Joseph.

Though the “name” of the Messiah has been known since before Creation (PR 31:10, 33: 6), he is still a product of human procreation, so in every generation there are potential messiahs among us, awaiting the right conditions to be revealed:

He [Joshua ben Levi] once asked Elijah: “When will the Messiah come?” Elijah replied: “Go and ask him himself.” “And by what sign may I recognize him?” “He is sitting among the poor, who are afflicted with disease; all of them untie and retie [the bandages of their wounds] all at once, whereas he unties and re-bandages each wound separately, thinking, perhaps I shall be wanted [to appear as the Messiah] and I must not be delayed.” Joshua thereupon went to the Messiah and greeted him: “Peace unto you, master and teacher!” He replied, “’Peace unto you, son of Levi.” “When will you come, master?” “Today.” He returned to Elijah … and said: “He spoke falsely to me. For he said he would come ‘today’ and he has not come.” Elijah responded: “This is what he meant [he was quoting Scriptures]! ‘Today—if you would but hearken to His voice.’ ” (Ps. 95:7; Sanh. 98a paraphrased; also see Lam. R. 1:51)

Remarkably, the Messiah is the descendant of several “unusual” relationships; through his great-grandmother Ruth, he is a product of the incestuous union of Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19:30-37) and through his great-grandfather Boaz, he is the offspring of Tamar’s act of prostitution (Gen. 38:1-30). In the Zohar, the Messiah is simultaneously a physical descendant of David and David reincarnated (I:82b).

The King Messiah will appear on the ninth of Av, the day that Israel mourns the destruction of the Temple. According to Talmud Yevamot 62a, the Messiah cannot come until every soul that is destined to be born is born, a legend that foreshadows Franz Kafka’s statement that the Messiah will not come until he is no longer needed. Varied (and somewhat contradictory) criteria for the coming of the Messiah are given by various Sages in Sanhedrin 98a-b.

Different names derived from Scripture were offered as the proper name of the Messiah, such as Menachem (Comforter) and Immanuel (God is with us), but most Jews simply speak of the Mashiach ben David (Messiah, son of David) or Mashiach ha-Melech (King Messiah).

There are two very different scenarios concerning the advent of the Messiah: a conflict-driven vision of the end (the “David” typology) and a peaceful, yet radically transformative, unfolding (the “Solomon” typology). The first idea, that there will be a cataclysmic war accompanying the advent of the Messiah, first emerges in the biblical book of Zechariah and the apocalyptic literature of Greco-Roman times. Early rabbinic literature does not emphasize this aspect of the messianic traditions. But by the Middle Ages, perhaps influenced by Christian eschatology, the theme of a war at the end of time once again becomes a prominent feature of Jewish Messianism. The biblical tradition of the apocalyptic Gog and Magog reemerges, while for the first time Armilus, a mysterious Antichrist-like figure, appears as a character in messianic accounts. Maimonides incorporates both typologies in his messianic writings (MT, Hilchot Melachim 11; Commentary to the Mishnah, Laws of Repentance 11.2).

There are a number of mystical testimonies, beginning with Joshua ben Levi and continuing on to the Baal Shem Tov, of personal encounters with the Messiah during mystical ascent.

All Jewish holidays, prayers , and rituals have a messianic dimension to them. Today there are two major veins of thought about the Messiah. Traditionalists still hold to the notion of the Messiah as a single person. Many liberals, drawing upon mystical traditions, teach that the whole Body of the Jewish people is the Messiah and it is our collective efforts that will bring the world to its final reconciliation.

Certain periods of Jewish history (the Second Temple period; the Napoleonic Wars; after the 1967 Six Day War) have been more susceptible to messianic excitements and expectations. There are many figures in Jewish history that have had messianic ambitions and pretensions. The most famous include Jesus of Nazareth, Simon bar Kochba, David Reubeni, Abraham Abulafia, Isaac Luria, Chayyim Vital , Shabbatai Tzvi, Nachman of Bratzlav, Moses Luzzato, Joel Titelbaum (the first Satmar Rebbe), and Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe). Chasids seem particularly inclined to see their own rebbes as either messianic contenders or messianic precursors. Yet all have failed to fulfill the messianic prophecies.

Messiah ben Joseph: (alt. Messiah ben Ephraim). The military leader of the messianic armies. The idea that there would be two messiahs at the End of Days apparently develops out the Dead Sea Scrolls tradition that there would be multiple messiahs (4Q175). The idea is first explicitly articulated in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and appears in the Talmud (Suk. 52a-b; J. Suk. 5.2), the Targum, and in Sefer Zerubbabel, where the Messiah ben Joseph is slain in battle and the Messiah ben David completes the redemptive struggle. The figure is discarded in later Midrashim (PdRK 5.9; PR 15), which only name a single messiah. Maimonides also ignores the tradition, and his influence on later Jewish messianism largely ends the career of the Messiah ben Joseph in subsequent messianic speculation. SEE MESSIAH.

Messiah, Summoning the: Several tales exist in Jewish literature of great mystics and sages trying to “force the hand” of God into sending the Messiah. The Talmud (B.M. 85b) teaches that the prayers of the righteous have the power to trigger the coming of the Messiah. In another Talmudic passage, the Sage Joshua ben Levi interviewed the Messiah to find out when he would come (he didn’t get a satisfactory answer), but it is not until the Middle Ages that there are tales of actual attempts to calculate the coming or theurgically summon the Messiah. Abarbanel, Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, and Malbim all offered approximate dates for the advent of the Messiah.

Later Jewish literature features a number of stories about efforts to force the Messiah’s coming. Perhaps the two most famous tales of Messiah summoning are the attempts of the 15th-century mystic/magician Joseph Della Reina and the 19th-century Chasidic master, Jacob Isaac, the Seer of Lublin. The consequences for both men were disastrous, with Della Reina carried off by demons and Jacob Isaac defenestrated.

Messianic Apocalypse: A fragmentary document (4Q521) found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, it provides insight into some of the early Jewish beliefs and traditions concerning the Messiah. In it, the Messiah will heal the wounded, restore sight to the blind, and revive the dead—ideas that would later be echoed in the Christian Gospels.

Metal: Because of their mysterious underworldly qualities, metals have been linked to the occult from time immemorial. According to the Bible, Tubal-Cain is the discoverer of metal-smithing (Gen. 4).

All metals, but especially silver and iron, play a role in Jewish magical praxis. Silver is the preferred medium for the making of amulets, though gold, copper, and lead also can be used in specific cases (ShR). Sefer Raziel also requires that plates of silver and gold be used for protective spells. Often it requires the casting away or the destruction of the inscribed plate to trigger its power. Iron, too, has special anti-demonic properties. Copper amulets, inscribed with the name of a missing person and buried at four compass points, will bring word of their whereabouts. Copper plates worn under the heels drive away wild beasts.

Metatron: (58383). A Sar (Princely, Chieftain Angel) who features prominently in Jewish esoteric literature. The name “Metatron” itself is a puzzle, being either a Greek derived word meaning meta-thronos, “beyond [behind] the throne” or meta-tetra, “beyond the four [Angels of the Countenance],” or the Latin metator, “guide.” Less plausible is the argument that it is a corrupted form of the Persian God Mithras. Intriguingly, gematria reveals that one spelling of his name has the same numeric value as the divine title Shaddai.

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

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

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

He is also unique in that he alone among the angels sits upon a throne, as does God. So exalted is his status that in some sources he is referred to as the “Lesser YHVH” (Yev. 16b; Sanh. 38b). Because of this, Elisha ben Abuyah mistakes Metatron for a god and concludes there are “two powers in heaven”:

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

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

Metatron has a very prominent role in Hechalot literature, where he appears as a guide to human adepts visiting heaven, (except in Hechalot Rabbati, where that role is filled by Anafiel). At times Metatron is associated with the supernal Mishkan, and is described as the High priest in the heavenly Temple, a role ascribed to Michael in other texts:

When the Holy Blessed One told Israel to set up the Mishkan [the portal sanctuary] He indicated to the ministering angels that they also should make a Mishkan, and when the one below was erected the other was erected on high. The latter was the tabernacle of the Naar (Youth) whose name was Metatron, and there he offers up the souls of the righteous to atone for Israel in the days of their exile. The reason then why it is written et ha-Mishkan, [The direct object marker et is read as “with”, implying that there is something else unstated that was built with the desert sanctuary] is because another Mishkan was erected simultaneously with it. In the same way it says, The place, Adonai, which You have made for You to dwell in, the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established [the parallelism of “place” and “sanctuary” is interpreted to mean two sanctuaries]. (Ex. 25:17; Num. R. 12:12).

The Zohar attempts to reconcile all these conflicting traditions:

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

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

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

In the Zohar, Metatron receives his most complex treatment. It is difficult to fully understand the Zohar’s multivalent and allusive teachings regarding Metatron, which may reflect the many hands that contributed to it. He is a manifestation of Shekhinah (I:179b), the first “offspring” of the supernal union of God’s feminine and masculine aspects (I: 143a, 162a-b). As such he is the personification of the lower sefirot, an idea obliquely alluded to in this description of Metatron as the “staff” of Moses [i.e., the instrument he uses to deliver the people]:

Similarly of Moses it is written, “And the staff of God was in his hand” [the staff that delivered the Israelites and smote the Egyptians]. This rod is Metatron, from one side of whom comes life and from the other death.” [life and salvation flows from the “right” side of the sefirot, death and severity from the “left” side]. (Zohar 1:27a)

Later kabbalistic traditions seemingly lose interest in Metatron, and he rarely features in metaphysical speculation after the high Middle Ages. SEE SUMMONING.

Metempsychosis: Transmigration of souls. SEE REINCARNATION.

Metoposcopy: (583961/Chochmat ha-Partzuf ). “Face Augury.” A number of ancient, medieval, and modern texts have reported on this technique for deriving occult information from studying other people’s foreheads (DSS 4Q186; Hakkarat Panim l’Rabbi Yishmael; Zohar II:71a-78a; Sefer Ruach ha-Kodesh, 15-22). This talent is especially credited to Isaac Luria. According to Chayyim Vital , Luria literally saw letters emanating from the soul on the faces of other people. SEE DEAD SEA SCROLLS; DIVINATION; FACE.

Mezuzah: (583981). “Doorpost.” In order to fulfill the commandment that Israel put “the commandments I give you this day … upon your doorposts (mezuzot) and upon your gates” (Deut. 6), the practice arose of placing a container filled with Scriptural passages on the doorframe of a Jewish home.

Doorways have always been understood to be liminal zones between the protected space of the home and the vulnerable outside, where malevolent spirits move freely. The practice of placing a text of power in a tube at the doorway closely parallels the Greco-Roman practice of amulets making (ShR).

Rabbinic literature makes reference to a mezuzah being used as an amulet, though many prominent Sages objected to treating it as such (Gen. R. 35:3; A.Z. 11a). By the Middle Ages, a number of Kabbalistic and talismanic additions started to appear on mezuzot—an atbash code version of the first sentence of the Sh’ma, Kozu be-Machsaz Kozu, is usually written on the reverse side of the biblical text. Angelic names, hexagrams, magic squares, fish, and other protective symbols are also incorporated into some mezuzot. The Chasids are emphatic in their belief that mezuzot have a critical role in keeping spirits and bad fortune out of a house (Shivhei ha-BeSHT 186).

A relatively recent phenomenon is the actual wearing of mezuzot on the Body, often without a text, as a protective charm. This practice evidently arose in the modern era when Jewish mothers started sending their sons to serve in gentile armies. Now mezuzah-like charms are also made to be put into cars, boats, and airplanes.

Michael: (58403). “[One] Who Is Godlike.” A princely angel, the guardian angels of the people Israel. Michael first appears to Daniel (chapter 10) as the defender of Jews, a role that he remains closely identified with in rabbinic literature. This is why he also functions as the High priest in the ideal heavenly Temple, for he is constantly making offerings before God on Israel’s behalf. He is also frequently invoked on protective amulets. Sometimes he is identified with the element of fire, at other times with the element of air.1

He is one of the four angels (along with Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael) who attend upon God’s throne. He is one of the generals commanding the host of heaven. He is one of the angels God sends to discipline the fallen angel (I Enoch 10), and he will play a prominent role in the eschatological battle at the end of time (DDS, Sefer Melchizedek). He is made of snow, air, and/or light (Deut. R. 5:12; DSS War Scroll). He is accompanied everywhere by the Shekhinah (Ex. R. 2:5). He holds the keys to heaven and escorts the righteous souls to God’s presence (III Baruch). Sefer Zerubbabel identifies him with Metatron. He is also the “Angel of the right [side]” of the sefirot (Zohar I:98a).

As an angel of revelation, Michael has had many earthly manifestations and he is linked to many of the encounters between biblical figures and the divine, even if he is not mentioned by name in the biblical text: witnessing the marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2), the visitation of Abraham (Gen. 18), the rescue of Abraham from Nimrod’s fiery furnace (Gen. R. 44:13), and accompanying Abraham’s servant Eliezer (Gen. R. 59:10). Michael intervenes to prevent Laban from killing Jacob (PdRE 36). He is the fiery manifestation in the burning bush (Ex. 2:5), descends with God on Mount Sinai (Gen. R. 2:34), and accompanies Moses's Body for his burial (Deut. R. 11:10). He appears to Isaiah (Ber. 4b). He was the angel that smote the armies of Sennachrib (Ex. R. 18.5). He assisted Esther in her struggle with Haman (Est. R. 7:12).

Michael also serves God outside the context of Israel. He established the place where Rome would be built (S of S R. 1:6). Michael is frequently paired with Gabriel in rabbinic texts.

There is a fragmentary text among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the “Michael” text, in which Michael addresses the angelic host, which is the only Jewish record of Michael speaking in the first person.

1. M. Verman, M. The Books of Contemplation: Medieval Jewish Mystical Sources. (New York: SUNY Press, 1992), 206.

Microcosm: (58411). The belief that the key structures of the universe are replicated and epitomized in critical entities, such as the tabernacle (Ex. R. 35:6; Num. R. 12:13) and/or the human form (Zohar I: 186b; Sefer Rimmonim 268). In the case of the human, the idea is most often expressed in the belief that Adam Kadmon , the primordial human, once filled and was coequal with the universe (Gen. R. 3:7, 19:8-9). The mirror side of this belief is that the universe is, in a very real sense, anthropomorphic. The idea that the human being, in particular, encapsulates the universe is very appealing to the mystic because it implies that one may draw closer to God by going deeper into oneself. SEE BODY; GODHEAD; IMAGE, DIVINE

Microscript: Tiny lines of scriptural verses made into images, faces, and symbols. Microscript is a common feature of paper amulets. The psalms (especially Pss. 67, 91, and 121) are the texts most used in microscript amulets. Protective images most often constructed out of micro-script include menorahs, eyes, faces, hand, and the Magen David.

Midnight: (58416). In Judaism, midnight is a propitious time for prayer, study, and ritual. This is based on Psalm 119:62, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee.” At midnight, the ascending power of evil is turned back. God attends to the righteous dead at this time (Zohar I:92a-b). For these reasons, midnight is an auspicious time to begin Torah study (Chag. 12b; Ber. 3b). In Chasidic spiritual practice, there is the custom of Tikkun Chatzot, the Midnight Mending for the destruction of the Temple, with the hope it will speed its restoration. This is mainly observed in the winter, when nights are longest (Likkutai Moharan I). SEE BERUCHIM, ABRAHAM; DARKNESS; NIGHT

Midrash: (58414). Rabbinic commentaries on the Bible, characterized by their concentrated interest in the close reading of phrases, words, even letters, often at the expense of the contextual meaning. At the same time, Midrash is daring, eclectic, and highly imaginative in its interpretations. As a result, it becomes a repository for many fabulous and supernatural traditions.

There are many documents of the Midrash. Among the most fruitful texts for those interested in Jewish fantastic traditions are Genesis Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, Midrash Tehillim, Midrash Konen, Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, and Yalkut Shimoni. Some Kabbalistic works, particularly the Bahir and the Zohar, are partly written in the style of a mystical Midrash.

Midrash Eleh Ezkarah: “Midrash ‘These things I Remember.’ ” A martyrology of the ten martyrs. It contains accounts of their great piety and extraordinary powers.

Midrash ha-Gadol: An anthology of later Midrashic material. It incorporates many later rabbinic legends.

Midrash ha-Nelam: “Esoteric Midrash.” The first part of the Zohar, it is a mystical commentary on Genesis and Exodus.

Midrash Konen: A Midrash on Creation. It popularizes many esoteric non-biblical teachings concerning Jewish cosmogony.

Midrash Mishlei: “Midrash on Proverbs.” This quasi-Midrash includes some longer narrative passages, such as the stories of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and the death of Rabbi Akiba.

Midrash Rabbah: The great collection of classical Midrashim on the five books of Moses. There is a “Rabbah” for each book of the Pentateuch. Each has fantastic elements in it, though Genesis Rabbah, with the many stories of the mythic origins of the world, is the richest.

Midrash Samuel: A medieval collection of Midrashim and legends about the Sages.

Midrash Tanchuma: A collection of medieval Midrashim on the five books of Moses. It has many longer narrative elements. There are two major versions, the other being known as “Midrash Tanchuma (Buber)” for the modern scholar who discovered and published it.

Midrash Tehillim: “Midrash on Psalms.” An early medieval Midrash collection focused on psalms, it includes many supernatural traditions about David and other biblical heroes. It is sometimes printed with Midrash Samuel.

Miflaot Elohim: A text devoted to medical astrology and magic attributed to either Naftali Katz or Yoel ben Uri Halperin.

Mikvah or Mikvaot: (hwqm). “[Ritual] Pool.” SEE IMMERSION ; PURITY OR PURIFICATION; WATER

Milchamot Adonai, Sefer: A lost book mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Num. 21:14-15).

Milham Bird: A mythical creature that is a hybrid of a bird, a crocodile, and a lion. It refused to join Adam and Eve in eating from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For that obedience, it is immortal and dwells in the city of Luz (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews 1:28-9). SEE PHOENIX; ZIZ.

Ministering Angels: (58448/Malachei ha-Shareit). Personal guardian angels. Divided into those who minister to God on high and those who serve humanity below, the latter can help, support, and protect individuals, though their effectiveness varies according to circumstance. They cannot prevent their mortal wards from committing willful sins, however, and such behavior actually diminishes their powers (PdRE 15; SCh 1162). The ministering angels that attend upon Jews over the Sabbath are welcomed with the song Shalom Aleichem (Siddur).

Minyan: (58453). “Quorum.” Ten Jews is the minimum number needed to constitute a “community.” A minyan is needed to convene a public worship service, or to serve as a representative body (Ber. 47b, 6a-b, 21b). The number ten is derived from the ten spies who determined the Land of Israel was too dangerous to invade and the ten righteous men God needed to find in Sodom in order to spare the city (Num. 14:27; Gen. 18:32). The Shekhinah joins ten men gathered in prayer (Ps. 14:28; MdRI Ba-Chodesh 11). Kabbalah finds significance in the fact that the number mirrors the number of sefirot:

The Shekhinah arrives early at the sanctuary … Blessed is the man who is among the first [ten] to arrive at the synagogue. For by them consummation is completed and they are the first to be sanctified by the Shekhinah before any others, as has been explained. Ten should arrive at the synagogue at the same time rather than separately so as not to delay the completion of the limbs [of Adam Kadmon] just as man was created by God all at once and all his limbs were perfected together. (Zohar III:126a; also see II:164b)

There are situations when a minyan is also required to deal with a paranormal phenomenon, such as the exorcism of a possessed person (Zera ha-Kodesh).

Miracle: (58465/Nes, also Fela; Mofet; Ot). A paranormal sign of wonder. Strictly speaking, miracles are events that cannot be explained by normal causality, but are instead credited to divine intervention into the normal course of the world. There are many such signs and wonders recorded throughout Jewish literature.

The Bible makes a point of identifying God as the source of all miraculous feats, even when the miracle occurs through the agency of a human being. Moses is explicitly rebuked for having failed to acknowledge God while performing the miracle of water at Meribah (Num. 20). Other paranormal actions taken without divine sanction, such as the snake charming of the Egyptian wizards (Ex. 7), are mere magic.

The Talmud is less stringent in ascribing miracles directly to God; it assumes that when a Sage or godly Jew performs a wonder that power comes from God, even if it is not expressly said so. By the same token, for all their blasé attitudes toward the frequent supernatural events that happened around them, the Sages pointedly observe, “One must not rely on miracles” (Kid. 39b; Shab. 32a; Pes. 50b), certainly not as a source of revelation (B.M. 59b). Some voices in the Midrash are uncomfortable with the concept of the interruption of normal causality, arguing instead that all the miracles reported in the Scripture were actually natural events pre-programmed into Creation to coincide with critical moments in the history of Israel (AdRN 5:6; PdRE 19).

While Jewish rational philosophers have also attempted to “naturalize” the miraculous, many Jewish pietists and mystics accept the reality of miracles with little evident angst or reservations. The Chasids, particularly, credit their rebbes with performing many miracles (ShB 21-23; Or ha-Emet 55b; Midrash Pinchas 16:5a).

Miriam: Prophetess and sister of Moses and Aaron. The Sages claim she had multiple names and titles, including Helah, Azubah, Efrat, and Naarah (Ex. R. 1:21). She was the third member of the prophetic triumphirate that led the Children of Israel through the exorcism (Mic. 6:4). Unlike her brothers Aaron and Moses, nothing miraculous is explicitly credited to Miriam in the biblical text. She is the unfortunate recipient of a miracles, however; an affliction that turns her “white as snow,” imposed as a divine punishment for attacking her brother’s authority (Num. 12).

The fabulous traditions of Miriam post-biblically are piquant but minimal. The Sages claim she had multiple names and titles, including Helah, Azubah, Efrat, Naarah, and Puah (Ex. R. 1:21). Through her name Puah (“One who coos”) we learn she was one of the midwives who spared the lives of the Israelite newborn males. She prophesizes the coming of her brother as the deliverer of the Israelites (Meg. 14a; MdRI 10; Ex. R. 21:13). Through her, God manifests the miracle of the well of Miriam (Tan. 9a), a supernatural water source that appeared whenever the Israelites encamped during the forty-year sojourn in the desert. The death of Miriam at the end of the book of Numbers causes the well to disappear (RaSHI’s comment on Numbers 20:2). The Sages credit this deprivation with causing the confrontation between Moses and the people at Meribah.

In one tradition, she is identified as the mother (or grandmother) of Bezalel, the mystical artisan:

Bezalel’s wisdom was through Miriam’s merit … Miriam received royalty and … wisdom [prophecy]. She produced Bezalel, and [eventually] from her issued David. (Ex. R. 1:17, 48:4)

Her death served as an atonement for the entire generation of the Exodus (PdRK 26:11), she died by the kiss of God (B.B. 17a; Zohar II:151b), and her Body remains perfectly preserved to this day. In the afterlife she oversees one of the six palaces in paradise where the righteous souls of women reside (SGE; Zohar III:167a-b).

Mirror: (58471/Rei; 584741/Marah). Mirrors have occupied an interesting place in human thought. A marah means both a mirror and a vision. A mirror is both a kind of window and a buffer between worlds. More than just a means of seeing the self, they are often an archetype for a portal between mortal and immortal realms, or ironically, a means to see “beyond” the self (“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” is followed by the power to see unseen and distant things).

Given that the tabernacle and Temple were the places of divine vision and encounter, places to “see the face of the Eternal” (Deut. 16:16; Ps. 11), it is surprising that more early interpreters of the Torah didn’t make symbolic hay out of Exodus 38:8, an explicit reference to mirrors associated with the sanctuary of God:

He made the laver of copper and its stands of copper, from the mirrors of the women who worked at the opening of the Tent of Meeting.

The laver of copper/bronze used in the Mishkan came from these mirrors, making them “integral” to the cosmic scheme embodied in the Sanctuary and its objects. In a small number of Rabbinic interpretations, these mirrors were not symbols of divine vision, but emblems of female sexuality and the Sages explored its appropriateness both in the sanctuary as the locus of God’s holiness and in the larger divine plan. In Numbers Rabbah, Moses selects them specifically because the Israelite women did not use them for “immorality” (i.e., used them to make themselves look more sexually appealing) (Num. R. 9:14). RaSHI playfully tweaks this rather puritan Midrash by making Moses’s prudishness a foil for a more positive view of sexuality:

From the mirrors [marot]—The Israelite women had in their possession mirrors that they would look in when they put on their jewelry. Even these mirrors they did not withhold from the donations to the Tabernacle, and Moses was disgusted with them because the mirrors were made for the evil inclination. God said to [Moses], “Accept the mirrors, for they are more precious to Me than anything else, since with the mirrors the women brought many hosts of children into being.” [For] when their husbands were oppressed with slave labor [in Egypt], the women would bring them food and drink, and feed them. They would bring the mirrors with them and each one of the women would look at herself in the mirror with her husband and arouse him, saying “I am more beautiful than you.” From this they would make their husbands desire to have sex, and the women became pregnant there, as it says: “Under the apple tree I roused you” (S of S 8:5). And this is why [it calls them] “marot Tzevaot” which means “mirrors of multitudes.” (RaSHI comment to Ex. 38:8; Tanchuma Pekudei 9 has a similar account.)

Kabbalah , by contrast, focuses on the word play of the word marah, which means both “mirror” and “vision.” Thus Marot ha-Tzevaot can be read as “visions/mirrors of the Hosts [of heaven],” reminiscent of another esoteric teaching, the “nine shining speculum,” or levels of prophetic vision (Num. 11:6-8; Yev. 49b). Thus these “mirrors” associated with the place of Shekhinah (the lowest of the sefirot, which is the “speculum that does not shine”) are apertures for gazing upon degrees of divine light, as Joseph Gikkatilla (13th century) wrote:

Know that Moses our teacher was greater than all the other prophets, and Moses never used the phrase “YHVH TZVAOT” for his level cleaved to YHVH [alone] and he did not have to look into “mirrors of TZoVOT” (the hosts or legions of women). Thus it is written that Moses our teacher, PBUH, looked into the luminous mirror (Num. 12:8). The other prophets see through an opaque, unfinished mirror “I make myself know to him in a vision [Marea] (Hos. 12:11)” [which] is the essence of Marot Tzevaot … this is also the essence of the mirrors of Tzevaot that were arrayed around the doorway of the Tent of Meeting.1

In later sources, the tenth sefirah, Malchut /Shekhinah, is even dubbed the Marot ha-Tzevaot. By the late 13th century there is a book devoted entirely to the Kabbalistic symbolism of these “mirrors.” 2 Elsewhere Gikkatilla links the mirrors of Exodus 38:8 to the lower sefirot of Hod (female) and Netzach (male), which are most closely tied to Prophecy.

A mirror can be used as a divination device by having a child sit in front of it and looking for figures or objects that convey ominous import. As a buffer, it can be used in divine encounters (RaSHI’s commentary, Suk. 45b). Chayyim Vital , for example, repeatedly used a mirror to scry angels and demons , apparently in order to avoid looking them directly in the face (Sefer ha-Hezyonot 23, 24). Mirrors can also be used as aids to meditation. Because the mirror is an object of vanity, its use can attract the evil eye. Scrying mirrors occasionally appear in Chasidic miracles tales. SEE DIVINATION; SPECULUM; WATER

1. J. Gikkatilla. Gates of Light: Sha’are Orah. Translated by A. Weinstein (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994), 119.

2. D. Matt, “David ben Yehudah Hehasid and his Book of Mirrors,” Hebrew Union College Annual (1980).

Mishkan: (58492). “Dwelling place.” This tabernacle was a portable sanctuary built by the Israelites at God’s direction. Medieval writers often referred to the Body of the righteous as a “mishkan.” SEE MICROCOSM; RIGHTEOUS, THE

Mitzvah: (584901). “Commandment.” SEE COMMANDMENT.

Mochin: (584881). “Mind/Mentality/Consciousness.” In medieval Kabbalah , the term Mochin (or Mohin) refers to the stages of mental development that co-exists in both the higher and mortal mind. In the writings based on the teachings of Zohar and, later, Isaac Luria, mochin refers to the inner intelligence of the divine structures known as Partzufim(“Countenances”). There are five of these divine countenances, and their interactions give shape to the cosmos. Sometimes presented as synonymous with the sefirot, the mochin emerge from the interactions (zivvugim, “couplings”) of the Partzufim in a manner that is analogous to procreation and birth.1 They grow and evolve through three stages: ibbur (pregnancy), yenika or mochin de-katnut (narrow or constricted consciousness), and mochin de-gadlut (expanded or broadened consciousness).2 The lower structures of the Godhead are fed and nurtured by the mochin that flows to them from the higher one. This idea gives a very explicit and vivid form to the notion, implicit since the Bible, that God is a dynamic, evolutionary, learning being. God’s mind, as it were, expands with and through creation.

These states of divine consciousness are channeled from the higher realms into the mortal realms through religious praxis. Performing the commandments, even the seemingly inexplicable ritual commandments (perhaps especially these) in the most intentional and focused manner possible (with kavanah) makes the transfer of this higher consciousness possible. In Lurianic thought, prayer is the primary mechanism for the movement of mochin. Filling the world with this God-consciousness is central to the task of Tikkun, of rectifying the world in the divine image. This is why Jewish prayer is cyclical and statutory—it is like a spiritual pump that must regularly facilitate the movement of this divine force between worlds (Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot).

This concept gets applied in other ways more specific to the human experience, especially in the Hasidic tradition. Pinchus ben Avraham Abba uses the concepts of katnut and gadlut to distinguish between the religious consciousness that results from Torah/Talmud study vs. that which results from the study of Zohar.3 Schnur Zalman of Liadi also describes a human phenomenology of mochin. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev teaches that the person who receives the divine emanation of mochin de-gadlut loses all fear of worldly events and is no longer subject to the influences of the Sitra Achra, the evil “other side” of creation (Kedushat Levi, parsha Yitro).

This application of the concepts of “restricted” and “expanded” consciousness to the human perspective in turn opens the way for the thoroughly modern use of these idioms by contemporary Jewish writers as a kind of Jewish “New Age” speak for personal spiritual development.4 SEE KATNUT.

1. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 236.

2. Giller, Reading the Zohar, 152-153.

3. A. Heschel, The Circle of the Baal Shem Tov: Studies in Hasidism (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 6.

4. D. Pinson, Meditation and Judaism (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 2004), 187.

Modeh Ani: (58497). The Modeh Ani (“I give thanks …”) prayer is a short praise recited immediately upon awakening each morning, ideally while still in bed. The idea of a waking prayer is first referred to in the Talmud (Ber. 60b; J. Ber. 80:4), but this form arises out of 16th-century mysticism:

I give thanks to You, living and eternal King,

great is Your faith.

The phrase, “Great is Your faith” is biblical, an abridged version of “they are new every morning, great is Your faith” (Lam. 3:22-23), but what really drives this prayer is the lurianic interpretation of the verse as referring to the soul’s nighttime journey out of the body into the higher realms (the Seven Heavens of early Jewish cosmology; the sefirot of medieval mysticism) that also inspires the prayers Elohai Neshamah and Oden LaEl. Luria and those who follow him, notably Nachman of Bratzlav (Likkutei Moharan B. 84), are struck by the literal meaning, which suggests that it is God who has faith. What does God have faith in? That human souls (the “they” in the Lamentations verse) will continue to grow and evolve toward higher levels over the course of its time inhabiting a body. The soul, they argue, departs the body each night and goes to the divine realm called “Faith,” where it undergoes renewal, readied for the trials it will face and growth it will (hopefully) undertake during the waking hours in the Asiyah, the World of Action.

So important is it to recite this prayer immediately upon returning to consciousness that it is composed without the inclusion of any divine names, so that the person does not have to wash or make other spiritual preparations before reciting it.

Molokho, Solomon: Kabbalist and failed Messiah (Portuguese, ca. 16th century). Born into a family of Crypto-Jews, Molokho returned to his ancestral faith and immersed himself in mystical studies, including cultivating a maggid, a spirit guide. He had numerous excellent adventures with David Reubeni, and eventually proclaimed himself Messiah. He was arrested by the church for his trouble and was eventually burned at the stake for abandoning Christianity.

Molten Sea: ( 58504/yam mutzak). The large water reservoir that stood outside the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:23), is one of the most poorly understood features of several iconic structures surrounding the Temple. The description of its exact form is subject to scholarly debate, though it is clearly a curved basin resting on twelve oxen, three facing to each cardinal compass point.

It was seemingly inspired by the laver used by the priest ministering in the desert Mishkan to purify their hands and feet (2 Chr. 4:6). I say “seemingly” because the dimensions of the yam mutzak were such that, unless there was a mechanism not mentioned in the Biblical accounts, it was too big to be used as a basin for ritual washing. It is reasonable to argue that it was more symbolic than functional. The medieval Midrash states it symbolized “the world,” but this seems like an unsatisfactory interpretation, and a rather awkward one at that. Kabbalah extracted elaborate meaning from its many features, almost all of them understood to allude to the sefirot. In both cases, the explanations seem like retrojections, the imposition of later ideas and concerns on an earlier phenomenon.

The basin has an ancient Near Eastern parallel, the Apsu pool, a square tank of holy water that was found in the courtyard of Mesopotamian temples. Apsu is the tellurian “sweetwater sea” (the aquifer) that preceded and supports the Earth. Mythologically, the Apsu is the home of Enki/Ea and the wellspring of creation. In one version of Mesopotamian mythology, Apsu is personified as the companion of Tiamat, the salt water sea dragon, and is destroyed by Ea. Besides being a purification device, the Apsu tank probably conveyed to the entering worshipper that this sanctuary was the residence of divinity. It may be there were rituals specifically associated with the tank.

So perhaps the Molten Sea was meant to symbolize the mythic cosmos in a similar way. To get at the specific Israelite meaning, one must begin with the name. Usually translated as “molten sea” or “cast sea,” based on the adjective tzuk, “melted,” this translation is reinforced elsewhere in Scriptures when it is referred to as the “bronze sea.” Straight forward, but detached from any clear intellectual context. Is it a “sea” to say the world is like the sea? That’s a lot of bronze for an odd analogy. Yet the word mutzak could also be derived from the Hebrew noun tzok, meaning “constraint” or “distress.” From this we could plausibly call it the “constrained sea” or “bound sea.”

This latter translation makes a certain sense, because one of the great mythic acts of the God of Israel is the taming of chaos, as embodied by water. God sets the boundaries of the water, allowing the land to appear (Gen. 1:9; Pss. 74:13, 104:7-8; Job 38:8-11). The bound waters are emblematic of cosmos triumphing over chaos. Thus the Yam Mutzak visually encapsulates for the Israelite worshipper the drama of divine creation just as he approaches the Temple, the Edenic structure with its cherubs, trees, flowers, and the seat of Divine Presence. The Molten Sea, then, was likely part of a mythic narrative told in architecture.

As for the oxen, bulls were popular and widely used symbols of divine power. The Israelite northerners thought the bull to be a suitable symbol for the God of Israel despite, or perhaps because of, the whole golden calf incident (1 Kings 12:28-31). It is a story told, with much contempt from a Southern perspective. Yet for the modern reader it’s a subtle distinction —are two calves in the sanctuary more abhorrent than twelve oxen just outside? Why are cherubs cool, but bulls out of bounds, as it were? It seems at some point, both groups used cows as a totem for the God of Israel. And at some point, this icon became problematic. And the twelve represent the twelve tribes of Israel, in which case the oxen symbolize Israel’s role in sustaining the cosmos through sacrifices and fidelity to God. Alternately, the twelve oxen could present the twelve houses of the zodiac, the celestial order that surrounds the world.

Moon: (58508/Levanah, also Yareach). The moon, as object and symbol, is central to Judaism. Our sacred calendar is based on its monthly cycle, as the Hebrew Bible reveals with its frequent references to keeping time via “new moons and Shabbats.” From biblical times, it has been believed that the moon has influence over humanity (Ps. 121). The ancient terms used in describing its cycle, ibbur and moled, “conceived” and “born,” suggest that the Israelites believed it to be a living entity. The Talmud believes that the moon has a consciousness, or animating genius. The principle angel that governs the moon is Gabriel, though some texts identify another angel, such as Yarchiel, as its controlling genius.

According to the Midrash, the moon began as a celestial luminary equal to the sun, but God reduced it to a lesser light because of its arrogance. God did, however, compensate it for the loss by giving the moon a greater role in human affairs. Thus the moon is crucial in determining the Jewish calendar. According to the aggadah, its original glory will be restored in the Messianic Era (Chul. 60b).

According to the Sages, the moon is a symbol of Israel, for though both wax and wane, they also both endure eternally. Like the moon, the Jewish people often find themselves outshone by more powerful nations and empires (which the Midrash compares to the sun) who have dominated us. Yet like the moon, Jews always return; and visible or not, we are always strong spiritually (Gen. R. 6:2; SCh 1154). It is a reminder of God’s authority. The crescent moon is the same shape as the Hebrew letter kaf, which is also the first letter of the word kisei, “throne” (B.M. 2:406). Because of these associations, Jewish esoteric tradition imagines the moon to be a visible sign of God’s throne (and therefore, God’s sovereignty) set in the sky. It is also a symbol of women. According to the Talmud, Jewish women are granted an extra monthly day without labor, the new moon, because of their loyalty to God during the golden calf incident (Tanh. Ki Tissa 19; PdRE 45; Tosafot; R.H. 23a).

In the teachings of Jewish mysticism, the natural order in “World of Action” (Asiyah), is a reverberation of the divine structures. That includes the most powerful forces in human life: love and sex. The moon in its beauty signifies the Shekhinah, the feminine dimension of God (S of S R. 4:5; Suk. 29a; Zohar I:236b).

Rabbi Abaye says in the Talmud that to look upon the moon during the blessing of the new moon, it is as if that person has received the face of the Shekhinah (Sanh. 42a). Its waxing and waning signifies the cycle of the hieros gamos, the cosmic union of the male and female principles On High that lovingly nurtures creation below.

Moonlight repels demons (Ber. 43b). Lunar eclipses are considered a bad omen and a sign of God’s anger over moral lapses. There is a theurgic ritual preserved in the Talmud, intended to ensure good fortune, called the Blessing for the New Moon.

Medieval Jewish works of astrology list a variety of human spheres that the moon affects with its waxing and waning. The ideal time for sexual intercourse is the new moon, because it would have a positive influence on a child conceived at that time. The best time to construct an amulets is determined by the phases of the moon; the same is true for performing certain medical procedures. SEE ASTROLOGY; ZODIAC.

Moon, New: SEE NEW MOON.

Mordecai: The uncle of Esther, the Jewish queen of Persia (Esth. 2). According to the Sages, Mordecai was a prophet. According to legend, when he took in his infant niece, Esther, God caused his breasts to issue milk, and he nursed the child himself. He lived four hundred years and spoke every language in the world (Sefer Yuhasin).

Moriah, Mount: “Mountain of Vision.” The mountain mentioned in Genesis 22:1-22 where Abraham and Isaac were tried by God. SEE ZION, MOUNT.

Moses: Redeemer, lawgiver, and greatest of all the prophets. His sister Miriam prophesied the birth of Moses to her father Amram. The diviners of Pharaoh also detected the threat of the newborn liberator, which is what triggered the killing of the Israelite infants (Sot. 11b-12a). Not only was Moses exceptionally beautiful, he could walk at birth (Sefer ha-Yashar). In one tradition, Moses was born completely circumcised. In a variant tradition, when his circumcision was performed the room was filled with divine light. When Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, found the basket holding the baby, she was cured of leprosy the moment she touched it (Ex. R. 1:27).

Angelsguarded the child during his time in Pharaoh’s court (Ex. R. 1:28), at times protecting him from his own precocious wisdom. When Pharaoh learned that young Moses killed one of his taskmasters, he ordered him beheaded. God, however, turned his neck to marble. The angel Michael then immediately teleported him to safety in Midian.

A medieval tradition found in Sefer ha-Yashar relates that Moses fled first to Cush, where he became a general in the army and married the daughter of the king. He himself became king of Cush after the death of his father-in-law. His own wife later deposed him in a coup d’état and he was forced to flee to Midian.


Young Moses by E. M. Lilien

Once he was welcomed into the home of Jethro, he discovered a marvelousrod implanted in Jethro’s courtyard. When Moses was able to pull the rod from its place, Jethro knew he was the man destined to liberate Israel and immediately gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.

While Moses was returning to Egypt, Satan attacked Moses in the form of a serpent. The attack was possible because Moses was spiritually vulnerable, having neglected to circumcise his eldest son. The serpent swallowed Moses up to his penis. His wife Zipporah recognized the significance of this, so she immediately circumcised the boy, causing Satan to withdraw (Ned. 31b-32a).

Once back in Egypt, the angel Gabriel teleported Moses past the guards and brought him before Pharaoh (Yalkut Shemot 175).

When Moses ascended Sinai, he was garbed in a cloak made of rainbow, providing him with a prism through which to view all of heaven (Zohar II:99a). Another tradition described him garbed in the Holy Spirit (Yoma 4a). In Gedulat Moshe, he was briefly transubstantiated into fire. In yet another version, he rode to the top of Sinai in a cloud (BhM 1:58).

From the top of Sinai, Moses was drawn up into heaven. He dwelt there forty days, fed by the glory of the Shekhinah. Though the angels were hostile to his presence, God granted Moses authority over them, a tradition that forms the basis for the occult belief that Jews can summon angels (Shab. 88b; Sanh. 109a; Gen. R. 118:6; PR 20; ChdM). In one version of this legend, Moses actually has to slay Kemuel, a guardian angels at the gates of heaven in order to obtain the Torah. With the giving of the Torah, Moses was healed of his speech impediment.

In perhaps the most extraordinary legend concerning Moses, the Midrash interprets one of his titles, Ish Elohim, to mean “husband of God” (a perfectly valid, if exceptional, interpretation of the phrase, which is normally translated as “man of God”). As a kind of “consort” to God, Moses ceases to have intimate relations with his mortal wife, and instead unites with the Shekhinah (Tanh. Tzav 13; Sifre Numbers, 99; Shab. 87a). This gives Moses the power to dictate God’s actions, even annul divine decrees (PdRK, Mishpatim, V’zot ha-Brachah; Mid. Teh. 90:5; Zohar I:148a).

When Moses descended from Sinai, his face glowed with divine glory (Ex. 34). One particularly charming legend asserts that this was the result of using the fiery supernal ink provided by God. As he wrote, Moses would, in the custom of scribes, occasionally wipe off his pen in his hair. The residue produced the glow (Ex. R. 47:6).

Since the Angels of Death cannot claim a soul that is engaged in Torah study, on the day Moses was ordained to die he wrote out thirteen complete Torahs. Frustrated, the Angel had to ask God to claim Moses’s soul, which God did when the last scroll was completed. Of those thirteen Torahs, Moses intended one for each tribe. The final one was taken back up to heaven with him. That most perfect thirteenth Torah is brought down from heaven and given to a worthy person for use in his lifetime, and then reclaimed by heaven.

In another version of his death, Moses defeated Samael/the Angel of Death by wielding his miraculous rod against the angel. Finally, God Himself had to intervene and take Moses via the “kiss of God.” Three angels—Michael, Gabriel, and Zagzagel—escorted Moses to his death by laying him upon a kingly couch (Deut. R. 11:10).

In the theosophical system of the sefirot, Moses represents the reconciliation of the divine antipodes of Hod (“majesty”) and Netzach (“victory”).

There are additionally a number of texts outside the biblical canon that are ascribed to the authorship of Moses or are purported to be an additional revelation given to Moses, such as: Jubilees, Divrei Moshe (DSS), Temple Scroll (DSS), Pseudo-Moses (DSS), Apocryphon of Moses, and Gedulat Moshe.

There arose in antiquity an interpretation of Moses as a scholar/magician in the classical mold of Pythagoras, Pancrates of Memphis, and Empedocles. The fact that Moses came from Egypt was suggestive, just as it was for Jesus. All the peoples of antiquity saw Egypt as the locus of occult and esoteric knowledge. Even the New Testament books of Acts refers to Moses as wholly steeped in the “words and deeds” of Egyptian wisdom (7:22). “Deeds” would mean magical feats to many Greek listeners. The Roman historian Pliny describes Moses as the founder of a “sect of magic” (i.e., Judaism). This idea of Moses the theurgist appears in individual incantations (PGM 5:109) of Late Antiquity and gets enshrined in both Hebrew (Charba de Moshe/“Sword Of Moses) and Pagan (The Eighth Book of Moses) magical manuals. A dominant motif concerning Moses in these books is his power to command angels. Moses is also credited with the knowledge of alchemy by both Christians and alchemists. SEE RIGHTEOUS, THE

Moses of Alexandria: An Egyptian alchemist of late antiquity, nothing of his work has been preserved except his excellent reputation. Later generations of alchemists sometimes conflate him with the biblical Moses. SEE ALCHEMY.

Moses (Shem Tov) de Leon: Spanish Kabbalist and alchemist (Spanish, ca. 13th century). He was likely the principle author of the seminal work of Kabbalah , the Zohar. De Leon wrote pseudepigraphically, attributing authorship of the Zohar collection to Simon bar Yochai, the 2nd century Talmudic Sage and mystic. He may have produced much of the work via automatic writing. He also composed several mystical tracts in his own name.

De Leon was less famous as an alchemist, but his interest in the Hermetic Arts finds expression in his mystical writings.

Moses, Eighth Book of: A magical handbook, probably the product of Greek-Egyptian Pagans and/or Christians of late antiquity. Though clearly influenced by Jewish beliefs and practices, the book has far more in common with Pagan Greco-Egyptian magical texts than with rabbinic mystical traditions, and is a singular example of religious syncretism in the Greco-Roman world. The text at times conflates the God of Israel with Helios, the Sun God. It also identifies “Aion” (another name for Helios?) as the high god who controls all the other divine entities. Its various adjurations invoke Zeus, Michael, Artemis, Gabriel, and Persephone.

Moses, Five Books of: (hrwt). The Pentateuch­­—the first five books of the Bible and the foundational document of Judaism. SEE TORAH.

Moses, Sword of: SEE SWORD OF MOSES.

Mother: (58542/Ima). In order for an incantation for healing to be effective, it must include the name of the ailing person’s mother (Shab. 66b). In Kabbalah , Ima is also a synonym for Binah. SEE MATRIARCHS; PARTZUFIM.

Mountain: (58532/Har). The place where heaven and Earth meet, a mountain is an archetype of the human-divine encounter. There are two cosmic mountains in Jewish tradition: Mount Sinai (or Horeb) and Zion. Respectively, these represent the revelation of pilgrimage, or spiritual quest, and the revelation of habitation, or sacred space. In both locales, God’s numinous presence pierces the veil between divine and mortal realms and becomes, for a while, radically manifest. Sefer Zerubbabel identifies the five sacred mountains of Israel: Tabor, Carmel, Sinai, Zion/Moriah, and Hermon. The eschatological temple will span all five of these peaks.

In biblical tradition, major events of revelation, life, and Death, all occur upon mountains. Abraham and Isaac are tested by God (Gen. 22); Mosesand the Children of Israel receive their theophanies on Mount Sinai (Ex. 3, 20). Both Moses and Aaron die upon mountains. In the case of Aaron, God placed one mountain on top of another as a token of the miracles God had performed during his lifetime (Tanh., Chukat 14). God commissions the Temple to be built atop Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Elijah fights a miraculous battle with the priest of Baal on Mount Carmel and later experiences a major theophany while in a cave on Mount Horeb. Some thousands of years later, the Baal Shem Tov will fight a magical duel on a mountain (ShB 125).

Mythical mountains are also topographic features on the celestial planes. Enoch on his heavenly journeys saw mountains of fire that burn day and night. He also saw seven mountains of supernal beauty surrounded by fragrant trees that will be a reward for the righteous, for they will bestow eternal life on Judgment Day (I Enoch 24-25).

There are also the Mountains of Darkness, located in Gehenna, to which the fallen angel Uzza and Azazel are chained for all eternity (Aggadat Bereshit).

The concept of the cosmic mountain continues to resonate well into the Middle Ages. Sefer Raziel describes a mountain of white fire that separates the Garden of Eden from the world. A hidden mountain upon which an invaluable white herb grows is a recurrent theme in alchemy.

Mount of Olives: SEE OLIVES, MOUNT OF.

Mount Sinai: SEE SINAI, MOUNT.

Mount Zion: SEE ZION, MOUNT.

Mouth: Noxious spirits, such as dybbuks and possessing demons, often gain entry into a person’s Body via the mouth. Vampire can be rendered harmless by stuffing Earth in their mouths.

Moznayim: (58557). “Scales/Libra.” The zodiac sign for the month of Tishrei. This sign signifies creation, repentance, balance, and judgment. The world was created and the High Holy Days occur in this month.1

1. Erlanger, Signs of the Times, 121-44.

MTzPTz MTzPTz: (58559). An Atbash code version of the Tetragrammaton (Zohar I:20a). It is doubled in imitation of the repetition of the Tetragrammaton that occurs in Exodus 34, when God’s attributes of mercy are revealed. It is used in incantations to activate that attribute.

Music: Music and Judaism are inseparable. God only created the world for the sake of music (BhM 3:12-13). Music is indispensable to the worship of God (Ar. 11a). The heavens overflow with celestial music and the Earth sings constant hymns (BhM 3:12), but it is the songs of the Jewish people that move the angels to sing also (Chul. 91b). The presence of the Holy Spirit inspires a person to sing, and those who sing passionate hymns to God have their iniquities forgiven (Tos. Sot. 6:1; Yalkut be-Shallach 254). David was the greatest of all composers, singing songs to God even in the womb (Ber. 10a).

Music has been a weapon against demons since biblical times, when David’s music drove off Saul's evil spirit (1 Sam. 16). Music was also one of the mechanisms used to induce Prophecy (1 Sam. 10; 2 Kings 3; Likkutai Aytzot). Elisha in particular had the “hand of God rest upon him” when musicians played. Some prophets burst into song in response to the prophetic spirit (Ex. 31:1).

Hearing music during a visitation to heaven is a common experience for Hechalot mystics. Sometimes the adept will bring melodies back to earth. The angels are also sources of musical melodies. Sometimes a Baal ha-Chalom will reveal a heavenly tune in a dream (Sefer Or Zarua 2:276; RaSHI’s comment on Yev. 24b; SCh 324, 382). The Zohar testifies that “There are heavenly gates that can only be opened by music.”

The Chasidic movement is famous for its a capella music. Their niggunim (wordless melodies) are a preferred meditative device for pursuing devekut, union with God.

It is David singing again in the World to Come that will rouse the dead from their graves, but it is Moses who will lead the redeemed in song for eternity (Ex. R. 23:11).

Mustafa, Benjamin: Legalist, scientist, and alchemist (Spanish, ca. 17th century). He is the author of the Latin-language (but bilingually titled) alchemical book Mezahab Epistola, “The Epistle ‘from Gold.’ ”

Myrrh: (58568). An aromatic balm popular in the Middle East. Abraham is identified symbolically with myrrh in Song of Songs Rabbah. For this reason, it is also equated with the sefirotic quality of Chesed , divine love (Zohar III:3b). SEE PHARMACOPOEIA.

Myrtle: (58573). A plant common to the Land of Israel. As part of the four species (the lulav bouquet—Lev. 23:40), the myrtle represents the phallic, masculine force at work in the universe. For this reason, myrtle branches were sometimes given to the bridegroom as he entered the nuptial chamber after a Wedding (Tos. Sot. 15:8; Ket. 17a). Myrtles are both the symbol and scent of Eden (BhM II:52; Sefer ha-Hezyonot 17). The Hechalot text Merkavah Rabbah requires one to suck on myrtle leaves as an element of a theurgic ritual. Kabbalists link myrtle to the sefirah of Tiferet and use sprigs in their Sabbath (especially Kiddush and Havdalah) rites to draw down its harmonizing power as the week is initiated (Shab. 33a; ZCh S of S 64d; Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot, vol. 2, 73-76).

Because of the Edenic connection, they are also associated with the afterlife (Zohar II:208b-209a). At the ritual circumcision of a boy in the early middle ages, Jews in Babylon performed the circumcision over a bowl of water, sometimes mingled with myrtle and spices (Otzer ha-Geonim, vol. 2), then the foreskin was deposited there. Bodies were sometimes buried with myrtle branches, and to this day branches are displayed as a welcome to the ushpizin, the spirits of the ancestor who visit on Sukkot (Hemdat Yamim part 1, 416).

Mystery: (58583/Sod, also Raza; Nistar; Kabbalah; Midday). SEE KABBALAH; PARDES; SECRET.

Mysticism: The term “mysticism” is one commonly applied, but imperfectly defined. This discussion will limit itself to “Western” religious notions of what constitutes the mystical, with, of course, special concentration on Judaism.

Scholars have struggled to give a precise definition to what constitutes mysticism within the Western religious traditions. Most regard it to be the impulse, ideology, and discipline to experience the unmediated presence of God or, more radically, union with divinity or a more broadly defined “Absolute.” Evelyn Underhill calls it, “… the expression of the innate tendency of the human spirit towards complete harmony with the transcendental order; whatever be the theological formula under which that order is understood.” Others see mysticism as a project of human transformation, the radical revision of human nature in relationship to the divine. Another school finds the theme of “love” to be the central theme of all mysticism; often this is so intense that the language of mysticism is the language of eroticism.

Moshe Idel describes Jewish mysticism, in particular, in this way “the quintessence of mysticism is the sense of union with God. The intensification of religious life that characterizes most forms of mysticism culminates at times in paranormal experiences, whose literary expressions appear in descriptions of unitive relations with supermundane beings and sometimes ultimately with God.” 1

Jews today tend to lump all such issues under the term Kabbalah, and largely use the words “mysticism” and “Kabbalah” interchangeably. This is hopelessly imprecise, as much of what constitutes Kabbalah, such as its preoccupation with theosophy and expounding on the metaphysics of the Godhead, does not fall within any of these parameters, and much in Judaism that does not formally belong to the kabbalistic tradition still meets these criteria. Moreover, the diverse historical, literary, and ideological movements including under the rubric of Jewish mysticism—biblical Prophecy, Hechalot literature, Kabbalah, Lurianic cosmology, Hasidism—while having some familial resemblance, are so amorphous when seen in their totality, all of them defy the accepted definitions in one way or another.

Some modern revisionist scholars go so far as to argue that “mysticism” is an alien category of thought that has been imposed on Jewish culture and religion (are even the terms “culture” and “religion” meaningful distinctions when it comes to Jews? Discuss.) in the last two centuries by the academy and does not in any way properly reflect these traditions has they have been thought of and lived by their practitioners. Too, often, also, these traditions, most of which do fall into the very broad category of “esotericism,” being self-understood as elite or occult, have been forced into a procrustean bed of being a universal, cross-cultural phenomenon, at the cost of eliding, or even effacing, their contextual cultural and historical particularism.2

This encyclopedia does, in fact, hold to the value of the term “mystical” in talking about Jewish civilization, despite its slippery nature, but includes as one of three rubrics, along with “Myth,” and “Magic.” SEE KABBALAH; MAGIC; MYTH.

1. Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, 35.

2. B. Huss, “The Mystification of the Kabbalah and the Modern Construction of Jewish Mysticism” BGU Review (Summer 2008).

Myth: (58587). What is a Jewish myth? For quite a number of people, that is a nonsensical question. Many have argued that there is no such thing as Jewish myths; being monotheistic, Judaism is a myth-less system of belief. You see this thinking, for example, in the title of Frank Moore Cross’s book on ancient Israelite beliefs, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Saga. As far as Cross (and many others) are concerned, only polytheists have myths. Cross had to hunt around for another word to describe the “master stories” of the Hebrew Bible, and he chose “saga.” Elliot Ginsburg writes, “Judaic scholars through the 1970s tended to define myth narrowly and negatively, linking it with so-called ‘pagan’ religions. They therefore tended to see Judaism as a demythologizing tradition, broken only by the ‘mythic resurgence’ of Kabbalah .”

Truth is, however, that Judaism has always had its own complex, compelling mythos, starting with the Bible and extending up to today. Most Jewish myths, such as are found in the Midrash, are “spiritual” myths that incorporate divine things and supernatural times and events, but Jews also have secular myths; some of the best modern examples revolve around the founding of the state of Israel. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Jewish or not, what precisely is a “myth?” Set aside for the moment the common use of myth today to mean simply “something that isn’t true,” and instead consider these more sophisticated definitions of “myth.”

In the 19th century, John Ruskin offered one of the earliest attempts to give a positive definition of what a myth is: “A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first; and the fact that it has such a meaning is generally marked by some of its circumstances being extraordinary, or, in the common use of the word, unnatural.” The French linguist-philosopher Ernst Cassirer sees myths as early patterns of thought. Cassirer believed that man perceives the world in symbolic forms, and that myth is one such symbolic language for giving order to the world.

Among Jewish scholars, a number of different definitions of myth have been proposed. Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher and Bible translator, was an early advocate for recognizing the role that myth plays in Judaism. Buber emphasizes the centrality of myth, but uses the term so broadly in his writing that he seems to be working without a fixed definition. Mostly, Buber applies the concept to primordial sagas, stories of initial encounters between man and the divine.

Ignac Goldhizer, like Cassirer, has argued that myths express patterns inherent to the working of the human mind. The historian Yosef Yerushalmi has a very broad idea of a myth—it is a narrative about the past that provides collective and sacred memory for a group (think, for example, of how many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving as a shared national holiday—yet how few of us actually have any familial, ethnic, or historic connection to the Pilgrims). Ithamar Gruenwald, a scholar of Israelite and early Jewish culture, links the idea of myth to ritual, arguing that a myth is a story connected to a ritual. He offers the story of the Exodus from Egyptian slavery as a signal example—Jews revisit the Exodus through various rituals on a daily ( prayer ), weekly (Kiddush) and annual (Passover Seder) basis. Jeffrey Rubenstein, also speaking directly to the subject of Judaism, argues a myth “tells of the paradigmatic acts of the gods (God) or the ancestors.”

Howard Schwartz, perhaps the most prominent Jewish folklorist today, writes that “‘Myths’ refer to a people stories about origins, deities, ancestors, and heroes … within a culture, myth also serve as the divine charter … Myth itself is the collective projection of a people.”

This encyclopedia prefers to keep the definition simple and only elaborate by example. Elliot Ginsburg usefully writes: “Most recent scholars understand myths more broadly, as a fundamental human impulse (found in virtually all cultures) to structure life around orienting stories.” The author also is in fundamental agreement with what Daniel Breslauer says when he describes them as “any narrative which conveys messages about eternal patterns of life and history.”

Therefore the operative definition of myth against the common usage of it mentioned above for the EJMMM is this: Myth is not “something that never happened”; a good myth is about something that happens all the time. Like Ginsburg, this encyclopedia assumes myths are fundamental to human thinking (and therefore both important and useful). They tell us great human and cosmic Truths couched in the form of stories. One of the supreme examples of this that was mentioned earlier is the story of the Exodus. On one level, the Exodus is a story about a specific event that happened to a specific people (us, the Jews) in a specific place (Egypt), though it happened long, long ago in a civilization far, far away (another quality of most myths). But the story is really about the eternal human experience of exile and homecoming, of being trapped and being liberated by the power of spirit. That’s why people love the Exodus story so much—not just Jews, but Christians, and Muslims, people in America, Africa, and Asia, have all embraced the Exodus, often using it as a paradigm for their own struggles, personal and collective. In a different context Gershom Scholem writes that the Exodus mythically becomes “an event which takes places in ourselves” and “acquire[s] the dignity of immediate religious experience.”

There are, of course, problems associated with myths. Like all impulses human, myths must be viewed carefully, even critically. Jews especially have been the victims of bizarre and hateful myths, as have minorities and aboriginal peoples all over the world. Mythic language also has to be used with care. Take for example the rhetoric of the Vietnam War. Many times we have heard it said that veterans were “spit on” upon returning from Vietnam. It has become a pervasive part of our mythic understanding of that war, the ’60s, and what it means to be a civil society. Jerry Lembecke, a professor of sociology and a Vietnam combat veteran, has written a book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam that explores the reports of protesters “spitting upon” Vietnam vets. He finds that the stories have little basis in fact. The fact is that few (if any) veterans were ever physically spit upon by their countrymen, but that many felt as if they had been. Yet because of the way this myth is told, I am sure that are people who imagine there were once ranks of hippies hanging around army depots waiting to spit on discharged soldiers. The overly-literal application of this myth is not helpful to us today. But if we use our myths with care, applying them in order to help ourselves make sense of our world (but not to explain away or devalue others), our myths speak Truth (with a big “T”) in the way few other things can: they bless us with meaning, consolation, even healing.