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

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



Obed-Edom: The man who sheltered the Ark of the Covenant for several months for King David after the Ark slew one of David’s servants (1 Sam. 6). The Bible reports Obed-Edom was greatly blessed by the presence of the Ark on his property. According to the Sages, his daughters-in-law bore him grandchildren on a monthly basis during that time (Num. R. 4:21; Ber. 63b).

Obizoth: A demoness that strangles children (Testament of Solomon).


Odeh la’El: (58852). “I thank God.” This 16th-century mystical liturgical poem (piyut) is a love song to the soul. The poem assumes that sleep is the physical manifestation of a metaphysical drama, in which the soul makes its nightly journey into the heavens, where it offers an account of itself to God:

Pay attention to the soul: [it is] Opal, amethyst, and gold,

A light as bright as is the sun, Far brighter than the morning!

I thank the God who searches the heart When morning stars rejoice in unison.

She is hewn from the Throne of Glory, to sojourn in this barren earth

To deliver us from the flame [of Gehenna] And illumine [for us] before morning.

The human soul, drawn from the Treasury of Souls, is a thing of divinity, and therefore the instrument of human salvation. When the worshiper awakens in the morning, having survived trials nocturnal and spiritual, he praises God. light as a symbol of divinity freeing one from the terrors of the dark is a commonplace in mystical rhetoric. The soul being “brighter than the morning” echoes descriptions of Adam Kadmon :

Pray, awake! For every night Your soul ascends to on high

And there accounts for her actions [that day] To the Creator of night and of morning.

If He finds her adorned in prayer shawl and tefillin,

Like a bride adorned for her wedding always, each and every morning.

He will return her to him [the body], You will [continue to] be her faithful guardian.

The divine soul, which is feminine, re-couples each night with the Creator, the masculine aspect of divinity. In the erotic theology of this poem, the good deeds and ritual acts of the person while waking enhance her beauty in God’s eyes, ensuring the soul’s welcome reception on high. Thus pleased, God reunites the soul with the Body coming day:

No one need die in his sin, [as] it was evening, and it will be morning.

Don’t let her become impoverished, [your] highest soul, so innocent and chaste.

He who cannot keep her safe, how can he merit the light of morning?

May we merit this year to see Adonai in delight

And say [at God’s coming], our griefs replaced by cheer,

“you shall hear My [God’s] voice in the morning.”

Echoing the language of Genesis in the creation of the days, the person who strives to do right and good by the soul, God’s beloved, is born anew each day. So too, on a comic level the worshipper asks to see another kind of dawn, the advent of the messianic era.


“Ascent of the Soul” with permission from Abigail Bagraim

Odd Numbers: SEE NUMBERS.

Ofan, Ofanim: (58868). “Wheeled [One].” A class of chariot/throne angels mentioned in Ezekiel 1, and perhaps Daniel 7:9, where they are called Galgalim. It is the revolving Ofanim that create thunder and lightning (Chag. 12b-14b; PdRE 4). They are of the second rank of angels (M.T., Yesodei ha-Torah 2.7). According to Midrash Konen, the Ofan Sandalfon, whose dimensions reach from Earth to the very Throne of Glory, is the angelic link between God and Israel (2:25). The circularity of the Ofan symbolizes the reciprocating bond and flow of spiritual energy between the upper and lower worlds.

Og of Bashan: (58870). The biblical king of Bashan was a giant who tried to prevent the Israelites from crossing his territory (Deut. 3). One of the antediluvian giants, he survived the Flood by clinging to the outside of Noah ’s Ark (Pseudo-Jonathan, Gen. 14:13; Zev. 113b; PdRE 23). He was so huge that one of his teeth was the size of a throne (Masekhet Sofrim). Because he plotted against Abraham, God cursed him to be slain by one of Abraham’s descendants (Gen. R. 41-42, 53). In Masekhet Sofrim, he is actually identified as Eliezer, Abraham’s servant (Hosafah 1:2; Yalkut 765).

During the time of the Exodus, he cast the evil eye on the Children of Israel, to no effect (Deut. R. 1:22). Eventually, he went out to battle Israel directly, attempting to hurl a rock at them as big as their entire encampment (Ber. 54b). God caused a miraculous team of ants to eat a hole through the middle of the rock, which then fell like a yoke around his neck. God then grew Moses to the height of ten cubits, tall enough to smite the giant in the ankle and kill him (Pseudo-Jonathan Num. 21:35; B.B. 54a-b).

Ohel: (58866). “Tent.” Pre-Israelite Canaanites believed that the gods assembled in the sacred tent of El, the supreme god. Thus the idea that the God of Israel would command Moses to build a tent-sanctuary, the tabernacle, also called the ohel moed, “tent of meeting,” must not have seemed too odd to the Children of Israel. Psalm 15 describes God’s celestial tent sitting atop a sacred mountain.

In a more modern practice, pious Jews will construct a canopy, or even a building, over the grave of a beloved rebbe, sometimes with a ner tamid, or perpetual light, turning it into a sanctuary. This, too, is called an ohel, and pilgrims will gather there to pray for the intercession of the Righteous dead person and to leave a petitionary note, called a pitka or kvittel.

In the World to Come, the righteous enjoy the comfort of dwelling in seven canopies (B.B. 75a; SGE). SEE ADAT EL; ANCESTORS; TENT OF MEETING.

Oil: (58872/Shemen). Oil is a source of power, both combustible and spiritual. It is a symbol of divine emanation (Zohar I:88a). As the fuel used to light the menorah and religious lamps, oil is a symbol of the divine spirit. In ancient Israel, oil—mostly olive oil—was a multipurpose product, used for many mundane, religious, and magic purposes. Oil was used in the sacrificial cult. It was poured on Nazirites and those afflicted with leprosy that were ready to reenter the Israelite community. It was also used to anoint sacred shrines (Gen. 29) and those elevated to high office, principally the king and High priest (1 Sam. 16; Lev. 8). The most famous miracle associated with oil is the miracle of Chanukah, when a one-day supply of oil burned for the full eight-day rededication ceremony for the Temple, though there is also a legend of oil miraculously flowing down from heaven for Jacob (PdRE 35).

Oil is used in hydromancy (or lecanomancy); there is a guardian spirit in oil that may be consulted for purposes of divination. One spills some oil, most likely in a bowl or cup of water, and studies the resulting pattern. The Sages do not consider this a reliable form of augury (Sanh. 101a). Nevertheless, Chayyim Vital repeatedly consulted witches skilled in this form of divination (Sefer ha-Hezyonot 120, 125). In magical handbooks like Sefer ha-Razim, it is used as an ingredient in magical potions. SEE FOOD.; MESSIAH.

Oil, Festival of the New: A holiday, unknown to the normative Jewish calendar, mentioned in the Temple Scroll:

[You shall] count from that day seven weeks, seven times (seven days), forty-nine days; there shall be seven full Sabbaths; until the morrow of the seventh Sabbath you shall count fifty days. You shall then offer new oil …” (Temple Scroll-11QT; 11Q19, 20; 4Q365a)

It may have its basis in the biblical list of priestly privileges, however (Num. 18:12-13; Neh. 10:34-40). It is not known whether the holiday was actually ever observed outside the circle of the Dead Sea Scrolls community. SEE OIL.

Olam: (58901). “World.” Derived from the verb alam (“to conceal”). SEE WORLD.

Olam ha-Ba: (58899). SEE WORLD TO COME.

Olam ha-Tohu: (58897). “The World of Chaos.” A term that appears frequently in Chasidic thought, but in such different contexts, it is difficult to fix its precise meaning. In some places, it seems to be a temporal dimension, the universe prior to the creation of the primordial vessels of light, perhaps related to the Lurianic concept of the “World of Nekudim.” In the writings of Nachman of Bratzlav (Likkutai Moharan), it is the nether region between this World and the World to Come, where ghostly souls wander, seeking a resting place. In CHaBaD metaphysics, on the other hand, it is the higher realm from which human-sustaining life “food” (i.e., plants, animal meat) emanates (Likkutai Torah). SEE BREAKING OF THE VESSELS DYBBUK; FOOD; FOUR WORLDS OF EMANATION; GHOST.

Olive: (58906/Ziyit). The olive tree is a symbol of peace and, because olive trees can live upward of a thousand years, longevity. Zechariah learns that the olive tree symbolizes the never-ending bounty of divine beneficence (Chapter 4). Olive oil is used to anoint kings and priests (Ps. 133:2) and will be used to anoint the Messiah at the End of Days. The Rabbis believed that eating olives enhances one’s ability to memorize Torah.

Zohar associates oil with Chochmah, and treats references to oil as allegories for the emanation of the “lamps” of the sefirot (I:240a; II:87b; III:34a).

Most overtly magical practices involve the leaves of the olive tree. Chai ben Sherira Gaon describes the belief that throwing olive leaves inscribed with divine names at bandits will paralyze them. One Hechalot formula requires the adept to eat olive leaves in preparation for summoning the Sar ha-Torah. SEE FOOD; HERBS AND VEGETABLES; OIL.

Olives, Mount of: (58903/Har Zaitim). A mountain ridge directly east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley. It was over the Mount of Olives that the Shekhinah began its journey into exile after the destruction of the Temple, and it is over that same mountain ridge that the Presence of God will return at the End of Days. At the advent of the Messiah, Elijah (or Gabriel) will sound the shofar from its summit, at which moment the mountain will split asunder and give up the dead buried in it (Ezek. 11:23; Zech. 14; Lam. R. petichta 25; AdRN 34).

Omen: (58921/Siman, also Ot). Stories involving signs and portents of things to come are recorded in the Bible, Talmud, and throughout subsequent Jewish tradition. Jews find serendipitous omens in names, accidents, overheard words, unusual births, the behavior of children and animals, weather , heavenly prodigies, and dreams (Sefer ha-Hezyonot and Shivhei ha-BeSHT provide numerous illustrations of how attentive Jews are to omens). Omens can be good or bad, and there are many methods for ameliorating bad omens. SEE DIVINATION; DREAM.

Omer: The forty-nine-day period between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is a period of spiritual vulnerability. It marks the period of the Israelites’ ascent from the impurity of Egypt to the purity and power of the revelation of Sinai. Therefore, Jews observe the “counting of the omer,” making the countdown to Shavuot, the holy day which celebrates the giving of the Torah, a time of spiritual preparation and precaution. Because of the dangers associated with this period, traditional Jews eschew Weddings, playing music, holding parties, or other joyous occasions. Some pietists will use a chart decorated with protective verses, like psalm 67, which has seven verses of seven words each, to keep track of the count. The mystic and purported author of the Zohar, Simon bar Yochai, died a miraculous death on Lag B’Omer (the thirty-third day of the Omer) (Idra Zuta).

Oneiromancy: The art of divining through dreams. Joseph and Daniel were famed for their talent at this form of augury. Tractate Berachot 55a-57a devotes considerable discussion to it. Women were considered both receptive to ominous dreams and skilled oneiromancers (Sefer ha-Hezyonot I:17, 18; III:7, 8, 12). SEE DIVINATION; DREAM.

Oniel: “God Is My Power.” A punishing angel of Gehenna (Mid. Konen).

Onoskelis: A succubus mentioned in the Testament of Solomon.

Ophites: Alternately known as the Naasenites, they were a Gnostic movement linked to Judaism in late antiquity. SEE GNOSTICS AND GNOSTICISM, ANCIENT.

Or, Orot: (58919). The Hebrew word for “light” has an almost infinite number of esoteric connotations. The most complex taxonomy of light may well be the teachings of Isaac Luria. His system, for example, differentiates three types of primeval light.

Or Achudim (“Unified Light”)—this is the highest emanation of light flowing from head of Adam Kadmon . From this light, the highest stages of the sefirot formed.

Or nekudim (“Speckled Light”)—this streams from the navel of the Primordial Man and forms the intermediate structures of the sefirot.

Or Berudim (“Dappled/Showering Light”)­—this flows from the phallus of Adam Kadmon and gives form and life to the lower worlds.1


1. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 133.

Oral Torah or Law: The term 58934 /Torah she-b’al Pei (“Oral Law”) is used to refer to either (1) the rabbinic hermeneutics of how to interpret the Written Torah, or (2) to the whole body of rabbinic traditions and lore. According to rabbinic tradition, Moses received both the written and the oral Torah at Mount Sinai(Avot 1; PdRE 46). It is the oral Torah that is the source of the bulk of Jewish fantastic and esoteric teachings.

Orchard of Holy Apples: SEE APPLE ORCHARD, THE HOLY.

Ordeal: God puts certain biblical figures to the test by asking them to do something difficult, as in the case of Abraham having to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22). Joshua employs some sort of trial by lot (or Urim and Thummim) to determine who violated God’s proscription against pillage being taken from Jericho (Josh. 6-7). Ordeals were also used in the face off of Moses vs. Korach (Num. 16), or the dueling staves between Aaronites vs. the other tribes (Num. 17:16-26). Still, none of these are actually formal judicial proceedings. These were one-time crisis tests.

So despite these examples, the human use of trial by ordeal or divine test is not a regular part of Jewish jurisprudence, excepting one special situation: the Sotah. In this trial for a wife suspected of infidelity, she is required to drink a potion made up of Earth taken from the Temple grounds combined with a written curse—possibly written in the earth itself—that has been dissolved in living water . If she is in fact guilty of adultery, she will die and so “return to the dust.” If innocent, the power of the potion will make her pregnant and the resulting child will be “like Abraham.” This link to Abraham is apparently because of his righteousness, and because he once trod on the ground of the Temple site, infusing that earth with his holiness (Num. 5; M. Sot. 2:2; Sot. 17a).


Priest administering potion by E. M. Lilien

The ordeal of the Sotah subsequently becomes the model for many magical potions and formulae, which often require the adept to write a divine name or incantation on an edible object or dissolve the words in water and drink them.

Origen: This Church Father noted that Jews are especially adept at the use of magic, and gave particular credence to the idea that certain Hebrew terms, particularly the names of the Patriarchs and angels, have magical power (Contra Celsum).

Original Sin: The doctrine that the disobedience of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden tainted all future generations of humans, making every person innately depraved and unable to effect, by their own action, behavior acceptable to God. For Christianity, of course, the Fall of Man or the Fall from Grace, is a massively important doctrine.

Judaism, by contrast, does not have a doctrine of original sin. Jewish tradition does not tease out additional punishments to the ones listed in Genesis 3. Moreover, Jewish tradition has never required the kind of metaphysical heavy lifting from the Eden story that Christianity has. The weight of the Hebrew Bible directs the attention of Jewish exegetes away from the Eden narrative. While it’s position in the first four chapters gives it great prominence, it is striking that Adam, Eve, Eden, and the expulsion have virtually no mention, much less role, in subsequent biblical texts. The figures “Adam” and “Eve,” HaAdam and Chavah, are not mentioned again throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible. The figures of the first couple never appear in the rhetoric of the prophets, the poetry of the psalms, or the narrative accounts of Israel. Only Eden gets passing mention, mostly in Ezekiel, as the location of the ideal mythic past. Rather, the function of the Eden story seems to serve as a foreshadowing of the pivotal story of the TaNaKH, the Egyptian exile; its harsh work and difficult labors (in both sense of the word) in Egypt. Mythologically, Eden is a sign, emblematic of both regret and hope. Jews take from Eden not the notion of human “sinfulness,” but that all human life and human history is a series of exiles and homecomings.

Orlah: SEE AREL.

Ormuzd: (58961). A demon, the child of Lilith. (B.B. 73b).

Ornasis: A vampiric demon mentioned in the Testament of Solomon.

Ornias: An incubus mentioned in the Testament of Solomon.

Orpah: The Moabite sister-in-law of Ruth (Ruth 1). In the Midrash, she is the promiscuous (Ruth R. 2:20) mother of the giants Goliath and Ishbi-benob (Ruth Zuta 1). She actively fought on behalf of her son against David in a rousing battle (Sanh. 95a). It is unclear whether she herself was a giantess (Midrash Ruth 2.9). SEE GIANTS.

Oshaya, Rabbi: Talmudic Rabbi and theurgist (ca. 3rd century). He used his knowledge of Sefer Yetzirah to make a golem calf to eat on the Sabbath (Sanh. 67b).

Osiris-Michael: An angelic name found in the magical text, the Prayer of Jacob. The linking of the Pagan god Osiris with the high angel Michael is indicative of a kind of “inclusive monotheism” circulating in the Greco-Roman world. The gods of polytheistic pantheons are thus acknowledged as real but “demoted” to angelic status, making them subordinate to the one God of Israel.

Ot, Sefer ha-: “Book of the Letter.” Abraham Abulafia’s prophetic-apocalyptic revelation that provides much of the biographical information available on his life. It is one of the few mystical tracts that survived to this day that describes his mystical-prophetic experiences. SEE ABRAHAM.

Otiyyot ben Sirach: SEE ALEF-BET OF BEN SIRA.

Otiyyot de Rabbi Akiva: SEE ALEF-BET OF RABBI AKIVA.

Otiyyot ha-Mashiach: (58959). “Signs of the Messiah.” Portentous events that herald the coming of the Messiah. While several Jews filled with messianic fervor have, over the centuries, written about the conditions that will signal the end of times, Jewish tradition in general evinces an ambivalent attitude toward all attempts to anticipate the advent of the eschatological Messiah, especially given that all predictions of the past 2000 years have proven wrong. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a document known as “Signs of the Messiah” (4Q521). The rationalist Maimonides articulates the most widely accepted summary of the circumstances that will surround the Messiah:

In future time, the King Mashiach will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will rebuild the Mikdash [The Temple] and gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel. Then, in his days, all the statutes will be reinstituted as in earlier times. We will offer sacrifices and observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years according to all their particulars outlined in the Torah … One should not entertain the notion that the King Messiah must do miracles and wonders, bring about new things within the world [that had never existed before], resurrect the dead, or perform other like feats. This is not true … If a king will arise from the House of David who delves deeply into the study of the Torah and, like his ancestor David, observes its commandments as dictated by the Written Law and the Oral Law; if he will convince all of Israel to go [with Torah] and repair the breaches; and if he will fight the wars of God, we may, with assurance, consider him Messiah … If he succeeds in the above, builds the Mikdash on its site, and gathers in the dispersed remnant of Israel, he is definitely the Mashiach …

He will then perfect the entire world, to serve God together, as it is written [Zeph. 3:9], “I will make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of God and serve Him with one purpose.” (M.T., Hilchot Melachim 11)

Many messianic contenders and movements since his day have attempted to hitch themselves to the Maimonidean wagon, but to no avail.

Ov: (58995). A familiar, most likely a spirit of the dead (Lev. 20:27; Deut. 18:11) or a necromancer (Baal ov). SEE BAAL OV; YEDDIONI.

Ozhiya: (58993).Angel-summoning texts identify Ozhiya as Sar ha-Panim (“the Prince of the Countenance”) indicating this may be an alternative name for Metatron.