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

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



Sabbath: (59581/Shabbat). The Jewish day of rest. The seventh day of the week, Shabbat (derived from the Hebrew verb “to rest”) is declared by God to be holy, a day commemorating the six days of Creation (Gen. 1).

The human observance of this holiday is repeatedly mandated by the Torah. It has long been understood in Jewish tradition that the right to Sabbath rest reveals a divine aspect of humanity; we, like God, are to rest one day in seven and must extend that same privilege to the creatures dependent upon us (Ex. 20). Attentive observance of the Sabbath is even regarded to be equal to the observance of all the other commandments of the Torah (Ex. R. 25:12).

The idea of the Sabbath was one of the six things that preceded Creation, even though it was the last thing to actually be created (Shab. 10b; MdRI BeShallach). The universe itself is constructed around the Sabbath, for there will be six ages that precede the seventh, messianic age. The Sabbath is therefore described as a “foretaste” of messianic times (Ned. 3:9; Ex. R. 25:12; Zohar II:88a-89a; Sha’arei Gan Eden 12c). Since customarily a day begins at sunset, the Sabbath is observed from sunset Friday to sunset on Saturday.

Besides tropes of creation and rest, there is a recurrent theme of pairing that finds many echoes in Sabbath traditions, echoing the pattern of paired creations that occurred during the six days of active creation (Betz. 15b-16a; Bahir 57). Aside from lighting a minimum of two lights, serving two challot breads and other rites involving doubles, there is a Talmudic tradition that two guardian angels accompany each person on the Sabbath, a good one and a destructive one. If the person honors the Sabbath properly, the good angel declares “May it be so next Sabbath” and the destructive angel must respond “Amen.” If the person desecrates the Sabbath, the destructive angel gets to say, “May it be so next Sabbath,” and the good angel is compelled to say “Amen” (Shab. 119b). A song to greet these angels, Shalom Aleichem, eventually became a fixed part of Sabbath liturgy. In a similar vein, it is taught that a Jew is given a second, additional soul for the duration of the Sabbath (Betz. 15b-16a; Tan. 27b).

In Lurianic mystical tradition, the number twelve becomes significant, and in many Chasidic communities, twelve loaves will be provided for a Kiddush meal.

The Sabbath is often personified as the consort of the people Israel, the Sabbath Queen (B.K. 32b). The Sabbath is also envisioned as God’s daughter, just as Israel is characterized as God’s “firstborn son” (Gen. R. 11:8; PR 23:6).

Many aspects of the Sabbath are considered healing, protective and spiritually rejuvenating. The fact that the Bible speaks of the seventh day as nofesh, “refreshing,” but literally “re-souling,” helps emphasize the special power of the Sabbath. Havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath, in particular, is associated with rituals of divination, protection, and power.

The Sabbath looms so large in Jewish imagination that it even has a role in the World to Come (Mid. Teh. 73:4; Zohar II:252a-b). Even the souls being punished in Gehenna enjoy Sabbath rest. Only those who were Sabbath desecrators in life do not get to participate in the Sabbath respite of Gehenna (Zohar II:251a).

Sabbath Queen, the: (59583). Starting in Talmud, the day of rest becomes personified as Shabbat ha-Malkah, the Sabbath Queen, Israel’s consort, comfort, and companion (Shab. 119a; B.K. 32b). In Midrash, we read:

Rabbi Simon bar Yochai said: “The Sabbath said before God: ‘Master of the worlds! Each day has its mate, but I have none! Why?’ The Blessed Holy One answered her: ‘The Community of Israel is your mate.’ And when Israel stood before Mount Sinai, the Blessed Holy One said to them: ‘Remember what I told the Sabbath: The Community of Israel is your mate. Therefore, remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.’ ” (Gen. R. 11:8, PR 23:6)

This feminine figure comes to occupy a prominent position in Judaic mythology.


Sabbath Queen by E. M. Lilien

Kabbalists find even more profound implications in these Sabbath metaphors and practices. For them, this image of the Sabbath as a regal bride alludes to a divine process of cosmic/erotic significance. So when Jews joyously welcome the Sabbath with feasting and celebration, and subsequently have marital intercourse on Friday night, they are actually fulfilling a critical role in facilitating the hieros gamos, the conjoining of the masculine and feminine aspects of God, which in turn unleashes a down flow of vital energy and blessings into the lower worlds.1 This is because the Sabbath is also identified with the Shekhinah, the female aspect of the Godhead and the consort of the masculine Yesod/Holy Blessed One (Zohar II:88b-89a, 131b, 135a-b).

Many mystical customs observed during the day are meant to facilitate this cosmic union. Mystically minded Jews sing songs directly to her on Friday afternoon before the Queen “descends” to grace the world for twenty-four hours (Siddur). The home, like a bridal chamber, must be made worthy for her temporary presence. Zohar declares:

One must prepare a comfortable seat with cushions and decorative covers, from all that is found in the house, like one who prepares a canopy for a bride. For the Sabbath is a queen and a bride. This is why the masters of the Mishnah used to go out on the eve of Sabbath to receive her on the road, and used to say: “Come, O bride, come, O bride!” And one must sing and rejoice at the table in her honor … one must receive the Lady with many lighted candles, many enjoyments, beautiful clothes, and a house embellished with many fine appointments. (Zohar III:272b; also see Shab. 119a-b; B.K. 32b)

On Friday night, Jewish mystics will also sing songs with allusions to the “apple orchard,” the mystical realm where the masculine side of God and his consort Shekhinah unite. Clearly, the human coupling that happens following the Sabbath evening celebrations is the apex of this cosmic drama, and there are a number of mystical prayers and practices that can accompany coitus (Hechalot Rabbati 852; Zohar II:88b, 131b, 135a-b). SEE SABBATH; SEX.

1. Ginsburg, The Sabbath in Classical Kabbalah, 106-16.

Sacrifice: (59592/Avodah, also Korban). Not actually called “sacrifice” (a Latin-derived term), but avodah “service” or korbanot “draw-close/offerings,” the offering of material gifts to God was fundamentally an elaborate, ritualized feast. Most of the korban was, in fact, not burnt up on the altar (with one exception, the olah), but consumed in God’s presence following the ritual by the people who donated the sacrifice and by the priests who performed it. Following the logic of Exodus 24:

And to Moses He said: “Come up unto Adonai, you, Aaron, Nadav, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship at a distance; and Moses alone shall come near unto Adonai; but they shall not come near; neither shall the people go up with him …”And Moses wrote all the words of Adonai, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the mount, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel … And he sent the young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt-offerings, and sacrificed well-being offerings of oxen to Adonai … Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadav, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clarity. And against the princes of the children of Israel he did not strike out [for looking upon God], but they beheld God, and then eat and drank.

These korbanot, true to their name, were seen as a means to “draw close” to divinity.

The Bible describes a variety of sacrificial offers made by the Israelites on different occasions: Olah (Burnt, or Total, the only offering that is totally consumed on the altar), Shlamim (Well-being), Chet (Sin), Minchah (Meal), Chagigah (Festival), and Asham (Guilt). Human sacrifice, while honored among the other Semitic peoples of the ancient Near East, is expressly forbidden for Israelites.

Scholars argue over the degree to which the Israelite sacrificial cult served a magical function in biblical religion. Clearly, the Israelites did not believe that their offerings sustained the God of Israel, as their neighbors believed they were doing with their gods. Some of the most notable magical elements found in neighboring cults, such as reciting incantations over sacrifices, are almost completely absent from Israelite practice.1

Many Israelites, however, believed that making material sacrifices in the form of meal, oil, salt, water, and especially animals, was the key to pleasing YHVH. So while there was no evidence of a theology of “dependent deity,” or that there was a notion of divine-human mutual dependence, there were clearly some theurgic assumptions underlying the Israelite ideology of sacrifice. Moreover, there are in the Bible remnant indications of earlier, more clearly magical beliefs. These are preserved in Hebrew idioms and early stories about the sacrifices. Thus the Torah speaks of sacrifices as “making a pleasing odor” to God’s nostrils (Gen. 8). And we have an example of a “sacred meal” being shared with the deity, alluded to in the story of Moses and the elders ascending Mount Sinai (Ex. 24).

It is also evident that ancient Israelites did not have one shared understanding of what the sacrifices represented. The writers of the Bible have very specific notions about the limited role of sacrifices in the life of God (they are an external signs of human internal desire to draw close to God, but mean little or nothing to God qua God). Still, the fact that there are prophetic complaints that their contemporaries misunderstand the meaning of their offerings reveals that many Israelites continued to see the sacrifices in more frankly magical terms than the biblical authors.

After the sacrifice cult ceased following the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis spiritualized the concept of physical offerings to God by declaring prayer to be the “sacrifice of the heart.” Magical traditions, by contrast, continued to use modified forms of material sacrifice. SEE ALTAR; ANIMALS.; BLOOD; FIRE; INCENSE; MAGIC; SUBSTITUTION.; TEMPLE.

1. Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel, 110-15.

Sadness: Judaism, especially Chasidism, teaches that melancholy, bitterness, anger, and depression separate one from God and interfere with spiritual communion.

Safed: (59599). One of the four holy cities of Judaism, this Galilean hilltop city in Israel has long been associated with mystical movements and activities. Simon bar Yochai is buried nearby in Meron, as are other ancient and medieval Jewish luminaries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Safed became the home of several mystical brotherhoods. Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria, Joseph Caro, and Chayyim Vital were among its more famous denizens. They too, in turn, were buried in the area, and in time their graves have become the focus of pilgrimage and veneration.1

There is a certain air of “Kabbalah Disneyland” to contemporary Safed, but authentic schools and practitioners are still sprinkled amidst the art galleries, week-long seminars, and other commercial ventures that capitalize on its mystical associations.

1. Fine, Safed Spirituality, 1-37; Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism, 124-58.

Sahriel: A fallen angel who teaches mankind lunar astronomy (I Enoch).

Salt: (596091). Salt is essential to life and a symbol of vitality, fitness, and the sea. The most famous fantastic salt tale is that of Lot’s wife being transformed after gazing at the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 20; Gen. R. 50:4, 51:5). Salt was used in the sacrifices of the Temple (Lev. 2:13). Bread and salt provide spiritual protection against the evil eye. Thus newborns may be rubbed with salt as a defense against demons . For the same reason, newlyweds will be sprinkled with salt.1 Conversely, the Shulchan Aruch warns that handling salt with one’s thumb could bring bad luck.

1. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 122-23, 160, 173.

Samael: (596071). This prince of demons and/or destructive angel has had many incarnations in Jewish literature. The derivation of the name of this mightiest of demons is hard to determine. Some say it comes from shamam, “desolation,” but that seems wrong as the first letter of Samael’s name is a sin, not a shin. Others offer that it means “left hand of God,” which is highly suggestive of later Jewish thought on the nature of the demonic, but the relationship between the name and the word s’mol is more an assonance then linguistically justified. Some secondary sources translate it as “Gall of God,” evidently associating it with Samael’s purported role as the Angels of Death.

In several texts, “Samael” seems to be the name of the Angel of Death. At least once in the Zohar, he is declared the “shadow of death,” a kind of consort to Death (I:160b). In other texts, he is regarded as synonymous with Satan, but almost as often he is treated as a separate entity (BhM 1:58-61; Ex. R. 21:7). Elsewhere, Samael is called “chief of all the satans” (Deut. R. 11:10; III Enoch). In Midrash Konen, Samael is the prince of the third gate to Gehenna, the gate that opens on Jerusalem (2:30). One text designates him the guardian angels of Rome, the nemesis of Israel. He sits in the celestial palaces with Satan and Dumiel and plots the overthrow of Israel (R.H. 8a-b). When he rejoiced over God’s decree that the ten martyrs should die at Roman hands, God punished him by afflicting Rome with all the diseases of Egypt.


Destructive angel by E. M. Lilien

Samael has made many earthly appearances. In Pirke de-Rabbi Eleazar 13, he is described as the greatest angel in heaven, who out of jealousy over the creation of humanity, decided to tempt Eve. Appearing in the form of the serpent, he actually copulated with her (Targum Jonathan, Gen. 4:1; Zohar I:37a). He is one candidate that the tradition has identified to be the angel who wrestled with Jacob (Zohar I:148a-b). Satan-like, he accused Israel of idol worship while they dwelt in Egyptian slavery (Ex. R. 21:7). He attempted to claim the soul of Moses, who fended him off with his miraculous rod. In the Treatise on the Left Emanation, Samael is the animus of Adam; the evil doppelganger of the first man that came into being with the first human transgression:

The first prince and accuser, the commander of Jealousy and Enmity … he is called “evil” not because of his nature but because he desires to unite and intimately mingle with an emanation not of his nature … it is made clear that Samael and Lilith were born as one, similar to the form of Adam and Eve who were also born as one, reflecting what is above. This is the account of Lilith which was received by the Sages in the Secret Knowledge of the Palaces. The Matron Lilith is the mate of Samael. Both of them were born at the same hour in the image of Adam and Eve, intertwined in each other.1

As this passage suggests, Jewish mysticism has a dialectic notion of “evil”; all things emanate from God, so Samael is one of God’s “severe agents,” yet he grows beyond the attenuated form God intended because he feeds upon the evil we humans do.

The Zohar has the most extensive, if sometimes confusing, description of Samael. The Zohar builds upon the image of Samael found in the Treatise on the Left Emanation: he is the demon king and consort of Lilith; together they are the evil counterparts of Adam and Eve. He is the tempting angel from whom the evil inclination emanates. When he copulates with Lilith, the male and female principles of the “left side emanation” are united and achieve their full potential and demon souls are spawned, so he is in effect the evil left-side counterpart of Tiferet in the sefirotic system.

In later Lurianic thought, Samael is the organizing force of the kelipot, the garments of evil that enshroud the divine sparks contained in all things. SEE DEMONS

1. Dan and Kiener, The Early Kabbalah, 172.

Sambatyon, the River: (59641). A mythic river in the east, beyond which the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel were taken by God to protect them from their Assyrian captors.

The Sambatyon is no ordinary river. Various legends describe it as wide as a sea or flowing with all kinds of fantastic hazards: rolling boulders and flowing fire and/or a Cloud of Glory. The river ceases to flow on the Sabbath in honor of the divine command to rest that day. There are tales of individual adventurers who have reached the lost tribes by crossing at that time, but the Sabbath-observant Israelites will not cross back. The ten lost tribes will dwell there on the far side of the river until the coming of the Messiah and the ingathering of all Jewish exiles (War 7:5; Sanh. 65b; Gen. R. 11:5, 73:6).

Samech: (59637). The fifteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It has the vocalic value of “s” and the numeric value of sixty. It is an enclosed loop in shape, signifying the feminine, enclosure, secrecy, protection, and support.1

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 159-70.

Samech Mem: (59635). A euphemism for Samael, used to avoid saying his name and thereby attracting his attention.

Samkhiel: (59631). “God Is My Support.” A destructive angel in charge of the Beinonim, the “morally divided” souls sent to Gehenna. He oversees their purification from sin through fiery torments, and then their eventual return to God (III Enoch; BhM 5:186).

Samriel: (59629). “Bristle of God.” According to the Zohar, he is a fearsome angel who serves as guardian of the gates of Gehenna(I:62b).

Samson: This biblical hero, a shofet (judge/chieftain) of ancient Israel, he is remembered for his remarkable strength. As a redeemer of Israel, his birth was heralded to his mother and father by an angel (Judg. 13). He was dedicated to God from birth, and lived his entire life as a Nazirite. God blessed him with extraordinary physical strength, which he demonstrated in a series of amazing feats.

Nevertheless he was easily distracted from his dedication to God’s purpose. This made him vulnerable to the schemes of his enemies, the Philistines. Eventually he was shorn of his long hair, which the Philistines believed was the source of his power, after which he was blinded and enslaved. Both his faith in God and his hair grew during his servitude, and he eventually was able to ambush the Philistines while in their Temple, bringing the building down upon everyone inside, including himself (Judg. 13-17).

Given the already fantastic nature of the biblical account, there is surprisingly little additional rabbinic material about him and his adventures. There are, however, a number of Kabbalistic traditions regarding Samson. For one, the Hasidic Master Tzadok ha-Kohen of Lublin put forward the argument that Samson’s multiple marriages to non-Jewish women were part of a messianic scheme to uplift the kelipot (the “fallen sparks”) among the gentiles in order to prepare the way for the Messiah (Yisrael Kedoshim). This is further developed in an obscure Kabbalistic treatise by a Rabbi Isaac Messer, U’mi-Midbar Matanah. In it, R. Messer draws together several esoteric sources. Samson’s very name, shimshon, “sun,” who mates with D’lilah, “night,” signifies his spiritual mission, which was to reconcile cosmic opposites, in this case Jews and non-Jews.1 Samson was meant for this mission because, in fact, he was the reincarnation of Jeptha, the son of Noah, and ancestor of many gentile nations (Galya Raza 42c). Thus, Samson’s great strength was a personification of the power of the nations, derived from his (partly) non-Jewish soul. Yet this mission in ancient times failed. But Samson will be reincarnated one more time, as Serayah, the Danite, the Messiah’s general at the end of times (Zohar III:194b).

1. B. Naor, Kabbalah and the Holocaust (Jerusalem: Orot, 2001).

Samuel: Biblical prophet, seer, and judge. Dedicated to be a lifelong Nazirite by his mother, Samuel first heard the voice of God as a child. He heard God calling him as he slept in the tabernacle compound, suggesting he had an incubation revelation. From that time on, he regularly communed with God. Most memorably, God commissioned him to anoint kings over Israel—first Saul, and later, David. After his death, his ghost was summoned from the grave for a séance with his former protégé, King Saul (1 and 2 Samuel). SEE PROPHECY AND PROPHETS.

Samuel ben Isaac: Talmudic Sage and angelologist (ca. 3rd century). It is Samuel who taught that ministering angels are temporary creations that emerge every day from the Nahal DeNur, the heavenly River of Light, to sing God’s praises and then vanish (Chag. 14a). He also taught that angels oversee all aspects of both life and Death (Gen. R. 9:10). According to the Talmud, when Samuel passed away, heaven acknowledged his death with a miraculous sign: uprooting all the cedar treess in Israel (M.K. 25b; J. A.Z. 3:1).

Samuel ben Kalonymus he-Chasid: Mystic and theurgist (German, ca. 13th century). A member of the circle of German Pietist , Samuel was able to use the divine names to achieve all kinds of wonders: healing illness, illuminating a darkened room, and summoning and controlling animals. There is one story of Rabbi Samuel fighting a magical duel with a gentile sorcerer (Ma’aseh Buch).

Sandalfon: (59650). Sandalfon is a flaming princely angel (Sar) and an Ofan, or wheel-shaped angel that stretches from heaven to Earth, a distance of “500 years” (BhM 1:58-61). He is the wheel with eyes described by Ezekiel(Ezek. 1:15) that helps propel the divine chariot. Some regard his turning to be the source of heavenly thunder.

Like Metatron, the name of this numinous servant of God is derived from Greek, rather than Hebrew, but there is no totally satisfactory explanation for the name. According to the Talmud, Sandalfon stands behind the Throne of Glory and continuously crowns God with a crown woven (the image is that of Caesar’s laurel crown) from the prayers of Israel (Chag. 13a-b). Some sources claim Sandalfon is the angelic name of Elijah, the prophet who ascended bodily into heaven. In this association he functions as psychopomp—the gatekeeper who conveys souls to their afterlife abode. Other sources identify him as the angelic ruler of Asiyah, the material world of action (PR 20:4; Mid. Teh. 19:7). He is also sometimes invoked on amulets as a protector against evil forces.

In all his iterations (a wheel, conveyor of prayers or souls, the connection between heaven and Earth, the spirit of the material plane), he personifies the movement and transfer of forces between higher and lower realms. He is the cyclic, dynamic mandala of divine engagement with creation.

Sanegor: (59676). “Advocate.” An angel or one of the ancestral dead (such as Abraham) who argues against Satan when the Adversary criticizes Israel in the heavenly court (Me’am Lo’ez). SEE ANCESTORS; RIGHTEOUS, THE

Sanoi, Sansanoi, and Semangelof: (59674). Three guardian angels frequently invoked on amulets. They are the nemesis of Lilith and have the authority to turn her away (AbbS). The three are featured in one of the most commonly reproduced amulets in circulation, which appears in most editions of Sefer Raziel.

Santriel: ( 59672). A punishing angel who has authority over the souls of Sabbath desecrators (Zohar II:25a).

Sapphire: (59669). Sapphire, one of the most precious minerals on Earth. Yet in Judaism, sapphire is more metaphor than mineral. First and foremost, it is the color of heaven, a signifier of divinity. Reference to celestial sapphire appears repeatedly in the TaNaKH:

Above the expanse over their heads was the semblance of a throne, in appearance like sapphire (Ezek. 1:26—reiterated later in 10:1).

Moses and Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, and the seventy elders arose. They saw Adonai of Israel and beneath His feet, like a brickwork of sapphire … And to the chieftains of the Children of Israel, He [God] did not strike His hand. They viewed Adonai, they ate and drank.” (Ex. 24:9-11)

The word used in both places, sapir (“sapphire”), is a Sanskrit loan word. Strikingly, there is a Semitic root that closely resembles it: samech-payh-yud-resh. This word is the Semitic root for “message” or “missive,” and is the basis for all terms related to “book” (Sefer), “story” (sipur), “recount” (safar), “number” (mispar) and “[primordial] number” (sefirah).

While the commonality of these two word forms is a linguistic coincidence, the possibility that they represent supernal color, book, number, and speech, things that all converge toward a unified spiritual reality, becomes compelling to Jewish mystics. Thus, for example, the medieval esoteric Bible commentator Bachya declares the blue signifies wisdom (comment on Ex. 28:18).

The classic starting point for this discussion of the supernal association between these terms is found in the terse, enigmatic treatise on word mysticism, the Sefer Yetzirah (“Book of Formation”). There the terms Sefer-safar-sipur (book-number-telling) are the “three books” by which God creates the universe (Mishnah 1:1). And while the spelling sapir never actually appears in this cluster, a few of Sefer Yetzirah’s commentators, such as Raavad (Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquieres [1125-1198]) conclude that Sefer Yetzirah is indeed alluding to the blue stone of divine visions (comment on SY 1:1).

Sefer ha-Bahir also addresses this, but takes a different tack. In trying to understand Sefer Yetzirah's novel term sefirot (“numbers”), a word not seen before, the Bahir appeals back to the TaNaKH, claiming the term is derived from Psalm 19:2, which “recounts”—m’sapprim —the “Glory of God.” In making this exegetical move, Bahir equates sefirot with Kavod, the biblical term of divine glory or emanation (section 125, Margolis Edition). Like Sefer Yetzirah, the Bahir makes no explicit link in between the words m’sapprim and sapir, though in another passage it declares:

What is the material [literally eretz] that from it everything is engraved? And from it is engraved the heavens? It is the Throne of the Blessed Holy One. It is the precious stone and the sea of wisdom … Rabbi Meir said, Why is blue chosen from among all types colors [for the tzitzit]? Blue resembles the sea, the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the Throne of Glory. Thus it is written … under His feet was like a pavement of sapphire … (Ex. 24:10), and, As the likeness of a sapphire stone was the semblance of a throne. (Ezek. 1:26)

This homily places all these concepts—heaven, sapphire stone, throne, wisdom—within a shared semantic field.

Later readers elaborate on that link in the Bahir 1 by reading the Hebrew of 19:2, ha-shamayim m’sapprim kavod el, as “The heavens shine sapphirine [of] the glory [of] God,” rather than the more conventional translation of “The heavens recount the Glory [of] God.” Zohar 1:8a elaborates on the same verse, declaring sapphire signifies the union of masculine and feminine principles of divinity and it is the “radiance” (zahir) that fills the universe:

M’sapprim signifies that they [the divine groom and bride] radiate a brilliance (zoharah) like that of a sapphire, sparkling and scintillating from one end of the world to the other.

Thus the sapphire comes to exemplify heavenly structures (brickwork, the Throne of Glory, the Glory of God, the sefirot), divine knowledge (numbers, books, telling), and supernal energy (the zoharah). This theme of sapphire as a visible signifier of divine entities extends to other sacred narratives, such as the Midrashic tradition that the tablets of the heavenly words, the Ten Commandments, were tablets of sapphire cut from the Throne of Glory (Midrash Lekakh Tov, Ex. 31.18). It also appears in the Hebrew magical tradition that the angelic book given by Raziel to Noah (and later identified with the text of Sefer ha-Razim) was in the form of an engraved sapphire stone (ShR intro.).

A cognate tradition claims that the rod of Moses was an engraved rod of sapphire (Ex. R. 8:3). Zohar links this idea with the “book” tradition by declaring Moses’s staff is an allegory for the sefirot.

1. Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 81.

Sar or Sarim: (59702). “Chieftain/Prince, Archon.” Sometimes used to refer to a class of angels, such as the Sarei ha-Panim, “the Angels of the Countenance,” at other times it is a synonym for angels in general. Thus in Midrash Konen, it is written, “There is not a single [blade of] grass or tree that does not have its Sar who … makes it grow.”

Sar ha-Chalom: ( 59690). “Prince of Dream.” An angel of revelation specializing in dream visions. SEE DREAM; INCUBATION; MAGGID.

Sar ha-Cos and Sar ha-Bohen: (59688/“Prince of the Cup” and 59686/“Prince of the Thumb”). angels of divination that, when summoned, make images appear in reflections on water and on fingernails. Later in the Middle Ages, Jewish tradition starts speaking of “Demons of the Cup and of the Thumb.” Evidently, this change is the result of a simple spelling mistake in transmission (Sar, “Prince/Angel,” ends in a resh, which closely resembles a dalet. Shin-Dalet spells Sheid—an imp or demon . It is an object lesson in the importance of good penmanship).1 SEE FINGER; HAVDALAH; HYDROMANCY; WATER

1. Dan, “Samael, Lilith, and the Concept of Evil in Early Kabbalah,” AJS Review 5 (1980): 17-40.

Sar ha-Panim: (59684). “Prince of the [Divine] Presence.” This angel of revelation is often identified with Yofiel, or Metatron. He is also associated with the Sar ha-Torah, and the many names and titles may in fact be synonymous. Some texts treat Sar ha-Panim as a class of angels.1 There are several related texts known to modern scholars, such as Hechalot Rabbati, manuscripts such as Ma’aseh Merkavah, and a Cairo Geniza fragment, that describe the summoning rituals for this angel in detail.2 SEE MAGGID.

1. Lesses, Ritual Practices to Gain Power, 221.

2. P. Schafer, Synopse Zur Hekhalot Lituratur (Tuebingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1981), 563, 566.


Sar ha-Torah: (59700). “Prince of the Torah.” An angel of revelation associated with the memorization and recall of Torah and Jewish teachings. From Late Antiquity, there are Jewish mystical traditions of an angel who could be summoned to help the student of Torah master the text and grant oracular and apocalyptic visions.1 Sometimes the Sar is identified as Metatron or Yefafiah. One Hechalot text describes the angel as enshrouded “in flames of fire, his face the appearance of lightning.” SEE GALITZUR; MAGGID.; MEDIUM; SUMMONING.

1. Dan, The Early Jewish Mysticism, 139-68.

Sar Tzevaot: (59720). “Prince of Hosts.” The warrior angel that appeared to Joshua outside of Jericho, instructing the Israelite leader on the ritual of circles and shofar blasts that eventually toppled the city walls (Josh. 5:13-6:5). In some rabbinic traditions, the Sar Tzevaot is identified as Michael. In one tradition, he is said to be Metatron. SEE MALACH ADONAI.

Sarah: (59718). “Princess.” Matriarchs and wife of Abraham. The Rabbis regarded her to have been a greater prophet than her husband (Ex. R. 1:1; Meg. 14a, Seder Olam Rabbah 21). A Cloud of Glory hovered over her tent (Gen. R. 60:16). She was the most beautiful woman of her age (and at her age); she was as radiant as the sun (Tanh. Lech Lecha 5; Gen. R. 40:5). Miraculously, she gave birth to Isaac in her nineties. When Isaac was born, the milk in Sarah’s breasts was so bountiful she was able to nurse all the infants, numbering in the hundreds, at Isaac’s birth feast. (B.M.; PR 43:4). Sarah died in anguish after Satan revealed that Abraham had gone to sacrifice Isaac without telling her that her son would be spared (Tanh. Vayera 23). Esther was her direct descendant (Gen. R. 58:3).

Sariel: (59716). “Chieftain of God.” This angel is mentioned only in passing in I Enoch, but in Kabbalah , he is the prince of the demons of the air and he serves Lilith.

Sartan: (59727). “Crab/Cancer.” The zodiac sign for the month of Tammuz. It is a sign of weakness and vulnerability. Indicative of this is the fact that Tammuz has no festivals or holidays. Rather, it is a month of ill fortune, with a number of Jewish tragedies (the golden calf incident, the besieging of Jerusalem by the Babylonians) occurring within this sign.1

1. Erlanger, Signs of the Times, 73-83.

Sarug, Israel: Along with Chayyim Vital , the most important disciple of Isaac Luria. His interpretations of the master’s teachers disagree with Vital on key points. His major work is D’rush ha-Malbush.

Satan, ha-Satan: (59722). “The Adversary/Accuser.” The angel of temptation and sin. From his first appearance in the book of Job (chapter 1) as one of the B’nai Elohim, the “Sons of God,” he has been the most provocative and intriguing angel in Jewish mythology. Satan has been understood and represented in many diverse ways in Jewish literature.

Unlike in Christian mythology, however, where Satan is often regarded as a kind of “anti-God,” leading the forces of rebellious angels/demons against God’s rule, in Jewish tradition Satan remains subservient to God (B.B. 16a). In Jewish myth, he functions as God’s “prosecuting attorney,” indicting sinners before God and demanding their punishment.


Satan before God by E. M. Lilien

As the angel of temptation, he is also conducting perpetual “sting operations” against mortals, setting them up in situations meant to lead them into transgression:

Rabbi Meir used to scoff at sinners for giving in to their desires. One day, Satan appeared to him in the guise of a beautiful woman on the other side of the river. There was no ferry, so Rabbi Meir grasped the suspension rope and proceeded across. When he reached halfway, Satan left him saying: Had they not declared in Heaven, “Beware of Rabbi Meir and his Torah” your life would not have been worth two pennies. (Kid. 81a)

But at no point in normative Jewish literature is there any indication that Satan can act contrary to the will of God (B.B. 16a; Zohar I:10b).

That being said, the identity and nature of Satan is quite variable at different times and in different texts. In some sources, Satan is identified as Samael, or as the Angel of Death(B.B. 16a), but at other times they are regarded as separate entities (Sefer Hechalot). “Satan” is sometimes understood to be a proper name, but at other times it is simply an epitaph: ha-Satan, “the adversary.” Several Sages even speak in the plural of satanim, as if “adversaries” were a class of destructive angels, rather than a named personality. This reflects a confusion arising from the Bible itself, which at times treats him as a distinctive personality (Job 1), but at other points uses the word Satan as if referring to an anonymous entity or impersonal force (Zech. 3; Num. 24).

In Talmud and Midrash, Satan appears in many guises, intent on luring the upright from the straight and narrow. There are famous episodes of Satan tormenting Noah , Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and other ancient worthies. He introduces Noah to wine, creating endless mischief to this day (Tanh. Noah 13). He is portrayed as particularly preoccupied with the sins of Israel. He is responsible for provoking the golden calf incident (Shab. 89a). He can also place humans in mortal danger, as he did when he lured David into a confrontation with Ishbi-benob, the brother of Goliath (Sanh. 45a). That being said, at least one Sage could see Satan in a sympathetic light:

Rabbi Levy stated: Satan and Peninah [another unsympathetic figure found in 1 Sam. 1] both acted with the intention to please Heaven. When Satan saw that God was showing favor towards Job, he said: Heaven forbid! Shall Abraham’s love of God be forgotten? [i.e., he provoked God against Job to ensure God’s continuing love for Abraham] … Rabbi Acha b. Yaakov lectured thus in Papunia. Satan came to him and kissed his feet. (B.B. 16a)

According to Sefer Hechalot, Satan sits in consultation with Samael and Dumiel, compiling a ledger of Israel’s sins. God in his gracious love, however, sends fiery serafim every day to receive those records, with the result that they are burned to a crisp (8a-b).

Satan makes frequent appearances in medieval writings. At times he seems to approach the status of being an autonomous force of evil, but such readings are ambiguous at best. Much more common are the portrayals meant to make logical sense of Satan’s role in a monotheistic worldview:

Come and see, when this evil side descends and roams the world and observes the actions of human beings, all of whom pervert their ways in the world, he ascends and accuses them. If the Blessed Holy One did not feel compassion for the works of His hand, they would not survive in the world. (Zohar I:190b)


Satyr: SEE GOAT..

Saul: The first king of Israel. At first favored by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel, he was filled with a prophetic spirit. When he disobeyed God, however, an evil spirit settled upon him and only the music of David, the man ordained to replace him, could give him temporary relief. Cut off from God, in desperation he engaged a necromancer to arrange a séance with the dead, only to be confronted by the dead spirit of the prophet Samuel and to be informed of his own doom (1 Sam. 9-2 Sam. 4).

Not many fantastic tales of Saul appear in subsequent rabbinic literature, which mostly devotes itself to better understanding the nature of Saul’s fall from grace. SEE NECROMANCER NECROMANCY; POSSESSION, SPRITIUAL.


The tormented King Saul by E. M. Lilien


Scarlet Cord: In the Temple, a scarlet strap hung by the sanctuary. At the conclusion of each Yom Kippur, it would miraculously turn white, signaling that God had forgiven Israel its sins (Yoma 39a).

Schneerson, Menachem Mendel: Chasidic master and failed Messiah (American, 1902-1994). The charismatic seventh rebbe of the Lubavitch movement, Menachem Mendel was born in eastern Europe, studied engineering in France, but became a Chasidic leader after relocating to America. He was credited with many miraculous healings. Some of his Chasids even claim he revealed auguries to the Israeli army that helped turn the tide in the 1973 war. In the 1990s, his Chasids started to publicize their belief that he was the Messiah, a claim he himself never made but never refuted. In 1994, he died.1 By all indications, he is still dead. SEE CHABAD; CHASIDISM.

1. See Berger, The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference.

Scrolls: SEE SEFER.

Sea: (59748/Yam). According to Hebrew myth, the land mass of the world is entirely surrounded by sea. There are upper and lower waters with a primordial ocean of the abyss below them both (Mid. Konen 2:32-33). Prior to Creation, waters of chaos covered the universe (Gen. 1:1; Gen. R. 13:6; PR 48:2).

The ocean contains primordial monsters, like Leviathan >and Rahav. Rabba bar Chana tells tales of the many fantastic denizens the sea contains, as well as many the many treasures that will eventually serve as rewards for the Righteous (B.B. 74a-b). SEE ABYSS; WATER.

Sea Goat: A mythical horned fish, three hundred parasangs in length (B.B. 74a). SEE ANIMALS.

Sea of Glass/Marble: Human visitors to heaven describe a mysterious supernal watery substance spread out before the Throne of Glory (Chag. 14b, Hechalot Rabbati, Hechalot Zutarti) that is made out of “marble” but is perceived as water, a lethal mistake:

At the gate of the sixth palace, it seems as though hundreds of thousands and millions of waves of water storm against [the ascending soul], and yet there is not a drop of water, only the ethereal glitter of the marble plates with which the palace is tessellated. But if [the soul] stands before the angels and asks, “What is the meaning of these waters?” they stone it and say, “Wretch, can you not see with your own eyes? Art you perhaps a descendant of those who kissed the Golden Calf and are you unworthy to see the King in His beauty?” 1

This substance is a threat to those who would draw closer to God, so it is important not to gaze upon it, lest it destroy the mind of the viewer (III Enoch). The matter appears to be a kind of test: can the adept look and think beyond the appearance of a thing to perceive the true spiritual nature of it? SEE ASCENT, HEAVENLY.; HECHALOT; YORED MERKAVAH.

1. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 59.

Sea, Prince of the: (59762/Sar Yam). SEE PRINCE OF THE SEA.

Seal of Solomon: In the ancient Testament of Solomon, the seal was identified as a pentagram. In medieval alchemical texts, this was the name given to the hexagram. Later it was the hexagram that became known as the Magen David, the “shield of David.” This term also refers to Solomon's magic ring. SEE SEAL, MAGICAL.

Seal, Magical: (59760/Chatom; Taba’at). In different Hebrew texts, seals refer to different phenomena. In some, they indicate an object, usually an amulets or ring, inscribed with the names of angels or God (III Enoch; Ma’aseh Merkavah). In others, it seems to be a temporary tattoo like inscription written on parts of the Body, probably contained in a magic circle or magic square (M. Mak. 3:6; Tos. Mak. 4:15; Yoma 8:3).1 In either case, the seal is used as a kind of “key” or, more aptly, an “access code” for a mystical ascent or a summoning ritual.


Israelite seal with winged sun

Just like the tattoo variety, the metallic, parchment, or paper seals are apparently placed on the body, either as rings or pendants, for protection and for gaining authority over angels. One text indicates that the adept simply holds the seals in his hands during the ritual,

Rabbi Ishmael said: When you come and stand at the gate of the first palace, take two seals, one in each hand: The seal of Tootrusea—YHVH Lord of Israel, and the Seal of Surya the Angel of the Presence … 2

Sefer Raziel details various seals that have magical power, including the “seal of heaven and Earth.” One such seal is diagrammed in the book, though the illustration doesn’t specify precisely what this particular seal is to be used for.

The most famous magical seal in Jewish occult tradition is the Seal of Solomon, a brass and iron ring inscribed with a pentagram (Testament of Solomon) and the Tetragrammaton (Git. 68a), given to Solomon by Michael, that gave the king the power to communicate with animals and to summon and control demons . Rabbinic tradition also interprets circumcision as a kind of protective seal (Tos. Ber. 6:24; Shab. 137b). SEE ASCENT, HEAVENLY.; MA’ASEI-MERKAVAH.

1. Bar-Ilan, “Magic Seals on the Body Among Jews of the First Centuries CE” Tarbiz 57 (1988).

2. Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism.

Seasons: (59764/Tekufaot). Each season has its own principal angel. According to Jewish astrology , the period marking the transition from one season to another is a liminal time when the new angel may not yet be in place, the stars lack governance, and malevolent forces are in ascendance. Amulets can counter these effects. SEE CALENDAR; ZODIAC.

Seclusion: (59776/Hitbodedut). Usually this refers to physical isolation from others. According to Chasidic teachings, it is part of a contemplative method to achieve devekut. SEE MEDITATION.

Second Day of Creation: The only one of the six days of Creation that God does not affirm as “good,” it is considered a bad luck day. One tradition teaches Gehenna was created on that day, which is why God refused to bless it (Gen. R. 4:6, 11:9).

Secret: (59791/Sod, also Seiter; Middah; Aramaic: Raza). “The secret things belong to the Eternal our God: but those things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Torah forever” (Deut. 29:29). With regard to occult knowledge, a “secret” has meant different things to different Jewish communities.

In the Hechalot texts, Middah (the great “Mystery”) is the knowledge of how to use divine names for theurgic purposes.1 The German Pietist taught about Sod ha-Tefillah and Sod ha-Torah—the concealed truths within prayers and Scriptures. All verses of the TaNaKH can be read on two level, niglah (“revealed/obvious”) and nistar (“concealed”), meaning (Ginnat Egoz, Introduction). According to Sefer Raziel, there are three categories of secret knowledge: secrets of Creation, secrets of the chariot, and the secrets of the commandments. The medieval philosophers speak of how all Jewish teachings can be compared to “golden apples [concealed] in silver filigree” (Prov. 25), that while all Torah is precious, there are more valuable teachings hidden within that most people can only glimpse beneath the surface.

About the only thing that all agree on is that Judaism has (at least) two dimensions of spiritual teachings that coexist together, the exoteric (the commonly revealed) and the esoteric (the concealed), all of it resting upon a paradox: a body of concealed revelations which are all published in books.2

1. Schafer, The Hidden and Manifest God, 110-17.

2. Kugel, How to Read the Bible, 13-16.


Seder Eliyahu or Tanna de Eliyahu: A potpourri of fables, stories, and teachings, loosely strung together by periodic appearances of Elijah.

Seder Gan Eden: “The Order of Paradise.” A medieval text describing the realm of the afterlife. SEE EDEN, GARDEN OF

Seder Olam: “The Order of the World.” A medieval chronology of the world, including many miraculous and fantastic elements from Jewish tradition.

Seder Rabbah de Bereshit (also known as Baraita de Ma’aseh Bereshit): A text devoted to the secrets of Creation. SEE CREATION; MA’ASEI-BERESHIT; YETZIRAH, SEFER.

Sefer: (59789). “Scroll/Book.” The Hebrew word Sefer technically refers to a “scroll,” a document made up of many pages sewn end-to-end and then rolled up. After the invention of the codex, in which pages are all bound together along one edge, the term comes to mean “book” in the most generic sense.

Jews continue to use the older technology of the scroll for ritual purposes: Scriptures, especially the Torah, continue to be preserved in hand-written scrolls to this day. Such scrolls are used mostly for liturgical reading.

Because of their unusual nature and the sanctity surrounding them, sifrim (pl.) can be used from time-to-time for theurgic purposes as well. It is customary, for example, to recite petitionary prayers for the sick while a Torah scroll is open and being read, based on the belief that God will look more favorably on a supplication offered while one is engaged in a meritorious activity. Sefer Torahs have also been used in exorcism and in rituals to ease a difficult childbirth.1 In the latter case, the Torah scroll is unbound in the presence of the travailing woman, in the expectation that there will be a sympathetic “unbinding” of her womb.

1. Klein, A Time to Be Born, 114, 148.

Sefer XXXX: All books in this encyclopedia will be listed under their unique titles. Thus “Sefer Yuhasin” will be found under Yuhasin, Sefer.

Sefirot: (59804). “Numbers/Spheres.” The sefirot are the ten archetypal attributes or structures of the Godhead manifest in the universe (SY 1:4-6). They are the “ten crowns” of God (Zohar III:70a), the emanations that link and mediate between the perfect diety and imperfect reality. The doctrine of the ten sefirot is the single most distinctive aspect of Jewish mystical speculation and forms the very heart of all Kabbalistic theosophy.1


Classical diagram of the sefirot

The idea of ten archetypal forces shaping creation is first alluded to in the Midrash:

R. Zutra bar Tobiah said in the name of Rav: “The world was created by means of ten capacities and powers: by wisdom, by understanding, by reason, by strength, by rebuke, by might, by righteousness, by judgment, by love, and by compassion.” (Gen. R. 1)

The term sefirot first appears in Sefer Yetzirah . A more detailed account can be constructed from multiple references in Sefer ha-Bahir (135; 137; 190). Later sources, seeking to ground the idea more firmly in scripture, identify 1 Chronicles, chapter 29, as the prooftext for the names of the lower seven sefirot. As Kabbalah developed, additional meanings have been revealed and increasingly complex designations added to each sefirah, with each later development incorporating the earlier ones.

To understand the sefirot, it is first important to understand that a distinction is made in Kabbalah between the Ein Sof, the infinite and unknowable God, and the world, which is manifold, boundried, and comprehensible. The sefirot are the knowable qualities of God that join these two conditions. These ten knowable attributes of God serve as a bridge between the ineffable diety and the finite, definable universe (Pardes Rimmonim 32:2). This bridging process can be “mapped,” and conventionally they are graphically arranged as a structure of interconnected networks, a kind of “flow chart,” as we would say today. The ten sefirot—Keter, Chochmah, Binah, Gevurah, Chesed, Tiferet, Hod, Netzach, Yesod, and Malchut —are connected by twenty-two “pathways” that go both down and across the pattern. The sefirot are configured graphically so that they form “left,” “right,” and “center” groupings, corresponding to the “feminine,” “masculine,” and “harmonizing” principles within God. They also can be seen as three hierarchical triads terminating in Ein Sof at the “upper” end and the material universe at the “lower”end.

There are a few examples of the sefirot being illustrated in configurations different from the familiar “Tree of Life ” pattern. These include concentric circles and labyrinths formed from nesting the first letters of each sefirah, one inside the next.

The sefirot are paradoxical, being the or (the divine light) but simultaneously the speculum, the filters which attenuate the divine light (T.Z. 17a). This attenuation of the supernal is what allows the mundane to exist. The sefirot are often equated with spatial (e.g., “palaces”), temporal (e.g., “days”), humanoid (e.g, “arm”), and personalistic (e.g., “Jacob”) phenomena, though in fact they transcend all time, space, and material entities (T.Z., hakdamah 17.1) This two-dimensional stylized map of the divine attributes is, of course, simply a kind of graphic/spatial metaphor for an extra-dimensional reality. The sefirot en toto is a complex and rich image; it is simultaneously a map, a flow chart, a mandala, and a labyrinth.

Proper understanding of the sefirot and their relationship to each other not only allows the adept to understand the divine order, but also to influence divine actions through theurgic acts (Pardes Rimmonim 10:1; Cheshek Shlomo 145). The wise adept can, for example, apply the workings of the sefirot to any situation and, by introducing the appropriate complimentary sefirah quality into that situation, positively influence the outcome.2 Kabbalists often applied the model of the sefirot to biblical narratives and practices to better understand the underlying divine dynamics present in the text.3

Not only have the sefirot undergone multiple varied interpretations, the schema of sefirot also exists alongside several other models of divine emanation, most notably the concept of the four worlds of emanation and the Lurianic models of Partzufim (“[Divine] Countenances”). Later Kabbalists synthesize and harmonize these models.

1. B. Holtz, ed., Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts (New York: Summit, 1985), 318-27.

2. Idel, Hasidism, 66. Also see I. Twersky and B. Septimus, Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), 369.

3. Green, Guide to the Zohar, 28-59; Scholem, On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, 39-46.

Segulah or Segulot: (59819). “[Concealed] Treasure.” A medical remedy; a charm, folk remedy, or potion, often made of herbal/homeopathic ingredients. The Hebrew word itself has the connotation of something with a hidden or occult benefit. The practice of using segulot is most closely linked to the healingfigure of the Baal Shem and with Chasidism.

A complex example of a Chasidic segulah would be one intended to overcome infertility. It might involve multiple elements: a combination of incantation prayer (usually from the psalms), intercessory prayer, propitious times for copulation, dietary changes (fish and garlic are held to enhance both semen and ardor), “psychological” advice to improve harmony between the couple, and a suitable amulets.1 Examples of a segulah amulet could include an object handled by a rebbe, a written note (containing the segulah instructions), an etrog left over from Sukkot, or oil used for Chanukah celebrations.

1. Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians, and Doctors, 136, 147.

Segulot, Sefer: “Treasure/Charm Book.” A general term for any manual of practical Kabbalah emphasizing methods of magical healing, divination, and/or amulets making. The term is usually applied to works composed from the 17th century onward.1

1. I. Elkes, The BeSHT: Magician, Mystic, and Leader (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2004), 5, 25-33.

Se’ir: (59827). A satyr or goat demon mentioned in the Torah (Lev. 17:7; Isa. 13:21) that lurks in the wilderness and in ruins.

Semen: (59829/Zera, also mayim; onah). With few exceptions, the Bible and rabbinic literature gives little attention to the mechanical particulars of procreation. An emphasis on various forms of “erotic theology,” however, is a prominent feature of mystical systems, both Eastern (Tantric Hinduism; Taoism) and Western (Bernard of Clairvaux; John of the Cross). This can be seen in Judaism by how its mystics regard the processes of human union and procreation as corresponding to the divine processes that unfold within the Godhead.1 Thus, when they speak of the upper and lower “waters” that must unite in order to energize and sustain the universe, the mystics are euphemistically describing the constant spiritual “insemination” that occurs between the masculine and feminine aspects of God, the yichud Kedusha Baruch Hu u’Shekhinto (“union between the Holy Blessed One and His Shekhinah”) (Bahir 51, 86; Zohar I:17b-18a; Sefer ha-Hezyonot, 212-17).2

Jewish mystical practice allows the mystic to participate in this process in various ways. Some Kabbalists teach that through engaging in licit intercourse here on Earth, we theurgically stimulate the analogous divine process on high. Others see themselves as a receptacle impregnated by divine light (or the Active Intellect), giving birth to new spiritual insight.3

In the medieval mystical-sexual manual, Igeret ha-Kodesh, the sexual union of a man and woman is “in the likeness of heaven and earth.” Human semen is envisioned as the vehicle through which divine energy is transferred into new life, creating a permanent umbilicus between the individual and the higher realms through which the divine light continuously flows. SEE MARRIAGE; NOCTURNAL EMISSION; PHALLUS; SEX; ZIVVUGA KADISHA.

1. Idel, “Sexual Metaphors and Praxis in Kabbalah,” 207, 210.

2. Schwartz, Tree of Souls, 104-5.

3. Idel, The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia, 190-203.

Serach bat Asher: This daughter (or stepdaughter) of the biblical Patriarch Asher lived through the entire four hundred years of enslavement in Egypt, from the time of Joseph until the generation of the Exodus, and beyond; a beloved figure in rabbinic storytelling, she appears and reappears across Jewish sacred history, a sort of personification of Jewish memory (Gen. 46:17; Num. 26:46; Ex. R. 5:13; Num. R. 20:19).

A master of the harp, she revealed to Jacob that his son Joseph was still alive through song to soften the shock (Mid. Avot; Sefer Yashar). She was a prophetess who foretold the major events of the Exodus, from the coming of Moses to the location of Joseph’s bones:

It is related that Serach, daughter of Asher, was a survivor of that generation. Moses went to her and asked, “Dost thou know where Joseph is buried?” She answered him, “The Egyptians made a metal coffin for him which they fixed in the river Nile so that its waters should be blessed.” Moses went and stood on the bank of the Nile and exclaimed, “Joseph, Joseph! The time has arrived which the Blessed Holy One, swore: I will deliver you, and the oath which thou didst impose upon the Israelite has reached [the time of fulfillment].” Immediately Joseph’s coffin floated [on the surface]. (Sot. 13a. Also see PdRK II:12; Num. R. 5:13; PR 17:5; PdRE 48; MdRI BeShallach 1)

She is mentioned again as the “wise woman” who protects the town of Avel in the time of King David (2 Sam. 20; Eccl. R. 7:11; Mid. Sam. 32; Gen. R. 94:9).

She is one of the select few, along with Elijah and Enoch, who was translated to heaven without dying, because Jacob blessed her with eternal life for informing him that Joseph was alive (Targum Yonatan, Vayigash; Me’am Loez, Yalkut 2:267). There she governs one of the heavenly palaces (Zohar III:167b). Like Elijah, she continues to make earthly visitations (PdRK 11:12). A tradition among Persian Jews holds that Serach lived until the 12th century CE, but finally did die. Her tomb there is a pilgrimage destination.

Seraf or Serafim: (59837/Saraf; Serafim). “Fiery Ones.” A class of angels first described in the apocalypse experienced by Isaiah in the Temple (Isa. 6). There are four seraphim, corresponding to the four winds. The appearance of the Seraf is truly awesome. It has six wings, sixteen faces, and is the height of all seven heavens combined.

Serafim are born anew each day, rising from the river of Light that flows from under the Throne of Glory (Sefer Hechalot). According to I Enoch, they are serpent-like. The Talmud counts Michael among the Serafim:


Seraf on the Jerusalem YMCA, by permission of the Israel National Archive and Government Press Office

R. Eleazar b. Abina said furthermore: Greater is [the power] ascribed to Michael than that ascribed to Gabriel. For of Michael it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim, whereas of Gabriel it is written: The man Gabriel whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly in a flight … [one “flap” vs. two “flaps”]. How do you know that this [word] “one” means Michael?—R. Johanan says: By a word association; “one.” Here it is written: Then flew unto me one of the Seraphim; and in another place it is written: But, behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. (Ber. 4b)

The Zohar contains a section on angels, probably a Hechalot text inserted into the teachings on creation, which briefly discusses serafim.

Serpent: (59847/Nachash). The serpent, or snake, is a symbol of cunning, evil, and healing. There are a number of mythic serpents in Jewish tradition: the creature that tempts Eve and the cosmic monsters, Leviathan, Rahav, and Tanin’iver. Often destructive angels, like Samael and Satan, will appear on Earth in the guise of a serpent or dragon (Zohar; Emek ha-Melech 84b-84c).

The most famous such incident is the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In one aggadah, Samael takes the form of the serpent and as such he physically seduced Eve, impregnating her with demonic seed. This accounts for Cain and the generations of increasingly degenerate people leading up to the Flood. In the Zohar, the serpent is a mythic representation of false gnosis, of misapprehension of the Godhead (I:83a). Interestingly, Zohar also gives one of the few positive images of a serpent found in Jewish tradition by teaching that there are two cosmic serpents, the “serpent of the death of the world” and “the serpent of life” that accompanies each person (Zohar I:52a; T.Z. 43a). Seeing a serpent in a dream is a good omen.

Earthly, yet still numinous, serpents appear in the Bible: Moses uses snakes in his preliminary bout with the sorcerers of Egypt. By way of explaining the mysterious incident of the spiritual attack on Moses as he traveled to Egypt (Ex. 4:20-26), a rabbinic tradition explains that Satan in the shape of a serpent attacked Moses in order to prevent him from fulfilling his mission. The serpent swallowed him from his head to his penis, but could not swallow “the sign of the covenant.” Seeing this, his wife Zipporah immediately circumcised their son and cast the blood and foreskin on the serpent. Like a vampire splattered by holy water, Satan immediately spit Moses out and retreated (Ned. 32a; BhM 1:43).

Equally cryptic is the incident in the book of Numbers where the people find themselves being bitten by fiery snakes. To combat this, God commands Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent. Whoever gazes on it is healed. This image, known as Nehushtan, was part of the Temple furnishings until King Hezekiah destroyed it. In an oft-repeated rabbinic wonder-story about Chanina ben Dosa, we learn that the Righteous who study Torah are both oblivious to and invulnerable to the deadliest of snakes.

Poisonous snakes, the aggadah assures us, can be used by heaven as punishing emissaries. In one story, Rabbi Eleazar stops and turns away a snake that was on its way to bite a Jew who had since repented (ZCh 107a-108a). The snake went off and slew a gentile thief instead.

In the Middle Ages, the starry belt of the Milky Way became known as Teli, the heavenly Dragon, because of its serpentine appearance.

Seudah Sh’lishit: (59843). “Third Meal.” A meal eaten at the conclusion of the Sabbath. The obligation to eat three meals over the course of Shabbat is derived from the TaNaKH and elaborated upon in later Jewish law (Shab. 117b; SA Orah Chayyim 291). eating three meals, it is taught, shields the practitioner from the travails of the Messiah’s coming, the messianic wars, and punishment in Gehenna (Shab. 118a).

Customarily a light meal of bread , salad, and fish are eaten and psalms and piyut are sung (Ps. 23, for example, and the mystical poem Yedid Nefesh). The classical Kabbalah (Zohar III:88a) develops mystical rationale for this custom and turned this previously personal obligation into a public event where esoteric teachings are to be revealed:

Those who penetrate the secrets of the divine are permitted at this meal to reveal the secrets of the Torah to those who are God-fearing and those who delve into His name, without fear … (Hemdat Yamim, I)1

Hasidism expands this further:

This meal corresponds to Jacob [the most perfect of the three patriarchs] … his meal contains the essence of the spiritual purpose [to mend the cosmos]. (Mishmeret Shalom 29:2)

It is therefore an opportune time for devekut (cleaving to God). The tradition also views Seudah Sh’lishit as the time to say farewell to the “extra-soul” of Shabbat (Keter Shem Tov 2:21). It is a foretaste of Death (the “dying” of Shabbat), so it is a time of profound proximity to God. Extending the length of the meal helps those soulsalready suffering in Gehenna and gains future forgiveness in the World to Come for the living participant (Shab. 118a). Keenly observed in Chasidism, the meal entails Torah discourses, food, and ecstatic song and dancing. SEE HAVDALAH; MELAVEH MALCHAH.

1. Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, 439.


Seven Heavens: SEE HEAVEN.

Seven Levels of Earth: In a somewhat confusing tradition, the world is made up of seven levels, six of them underworlds. They are, in ascending order:

Erez: Land of the abyss, chaos, sea, and water

Adamah: The glory of God within the earth (Isa. 6:6)

Arka: The plane of Gehenna

Yabashah: The source of springs and aquifers

Tevel: Inhabited by 365 species [monsters]

Heled: Our earthly plane.

(S of S R. 6:4; BhM II:32-33; T.Z. 76b; LOTJ I:15)

Seven Primordial Things: According to Talmud Pesachim 54a, seven things were created prior to the world: the Torah, Repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. SEECREATION; SIX PRIMORDIAL THINGS

Seven Qualities: Seven reified qualities stand in attendance around God’s Throne of Glory: faithfulness, righteousness, justice, love, compassion, truth, and peace (El Adon prayer; Vilna Gaon commentary on AdRN 37). SEE SEFIROT.

Seven Species: There are seven species of food mentioned in the Bible (Deut. 8:8) specifically symbolizing the fruitfulness of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, olives, grapes, pomegranates, dates, and figs. A meonen can use them in creating illusions. Today, traditional Jews will display these fruits or their products in the sukkah and then, having soaked up the holy energy of the holiday, will use them in the following months to bring blessing and good luck (Zohar I:157b).

Seventy Faces of Torah: Every verse of Torah has seventy legitimate interpretations (Num. R. 13:16).

Seventy Names of God: The Midrash claims there are seventy names for God in the Bible (Num. R. 14:12). The complete list appears in Midrash ha-Gadol Genesis 46:8. SEE NAMES OF GOD.

Seventy Nations: SEE NATIONS..

Seventy Princes: Each nation has its own princely angel to be its advocate on high (Deut. 32:8-9; Jubilees 15:31-32; Gen. R. 56; Ex. R. 21; Lev. R. 29). SEE NATIONS.

Seventy-Two: A magical number of power found in Sefer Raziel. The seventy-two-word name of God is one of particular power. SEE NAMES OF GOD; NUMBERs.

Sex: (59878/Min; 59876/Shimush, also Be’ah; Be’elah; Zuug). Judaism endorses the central role of sex in human life. The first commandment God gives to humanity is “be fruitful and multiply.” The Talmud views properly disciplined sex (within marriage, with due consideration to modesty) in a positive light. It is, in fact, a sacred obligation, even if done for pleasure rather than procreation (Shev. 18b; Yev. 63b).

Because of the centrality of sexuality to the human experience, esoteric practices and fantastic beliefs about sex often do appear in Jewish tradition, and can be divided into three areas: extreme practices in human sexuality, sexuality as a theurgic practice, and mystic-sexual mythology.

With regards to the first category, Jewish sectarian groups are often distinguished from more normative Judaism by their more restrictive or negative view of sex. Thus, both the Damascus Document and the Temple Scroll, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, include prohibitions against having sex anywhere in Jerusalem, for such unclean behavior undermines the holiness of the Temple. The Qumran sect may also have required celibacy among its higher circles of initiates. Likewise, the early Jesus-sect espoused a more negative view of marriage and human sexuality in general (1 Cor. 7:9; Matt. 19:10-12) than did rabbinic Judaism, which advocated that one should sanctify oneself through everything that is permitted.

With regards to theurgic practice, in merkavah mysticism issues of purity in performing certain mystical-magical rites require that the adept refrain from sex for a period prior to performing such a ritual. Early Kabbalah , by contrast, actually promoted sex as its own spiritual discipline. Thus, according to Igeret ha-Kodesh, a mystical-magical sex manual purportedly written by Nachmanides, sexual intercourse between a husband and wife can be used as a vehicle for mystical ascent. What is more, with the proper kavanah, divine light can be drawn down into the semen released in coitus, imbuing it with the power to produce righteous and beautiful children. The Zohar makes sacred sexuality a central theme of its teaching, but as part of that also views sexual transgression as a cosmic affront (Zohar I:55a, 57a; II:89a-89b, 231b; III:76b).

The Safed mystics, especially Isaac Luria, expounded a more disengaged, somewhat joyless attitude toward sex, a point of view that undermined the more positive attitudes of earlier sages. Chasidism somewhat reversed that trend, though Safed-tainted puritanical attitudes still find expression in some Orthodox sects.1

Most startling and shocking to contemporary Jews, steeped as we are in modernity and rationalist Jewish philosophy, is Kabbalah’s mystic-sexual mythology; much of Kabbalah revels in ideas of the “sexual life” of God. Regarding human sexuality to be part and parcel of the “image of God,” the Zohar divides the sefirot into male and female forces, and regards ensuring successful hieros gamos, the proper universe-sustaining union of these divine forces, as a major human task. This internal process within the Godhead is often described in the most explicit terms, with semen, vaginal lubrication, and other sexual phenomena serving as vivid metaphors for the spiritual dynamics on high.2

By linking conjugal desire and passion to the divine realms, Kabbalah also interprets the mystical experience of devekut as a kind of mystico-sexual event. The Righteous individual seeks unification with God, “arousing” a response from the Blessed Holy One in the form of an “emission” of divine effluence with its beneficent vitality that the meritorious mortal (the “female” receptacle) can then use (Degel Machaneh Ephraim 168). SEE PHALLUS;SEFIROT; SHEKHINAH; SONG OF SONGS; ZIVVUGA KADISHA. ZOHAR.

1. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 199-200.

2. Idel, “Sexual Metaphors and Praxis in the Kabbalah.”

Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim: “Gates of Reincarnation.” Treatise by Chayyim Vital on reincarnation and the metaphysics of the various components of the soul. Not to be confused with another book on the same topic by the same author, Sefer ha-Gilgulim.

Sha’ar ha-Kavanah la-Mekubalim ha-Rishonim: “The Gate of Intention for the Early Kabbalists.” Modern name for an early medieval text on mystical prayer rediscovered by Gershom Scholem.

Sha’ar ha-Razim: “Gate of Mysteries.” Mystical treatise on the sefirot by Todros Abulafia.

Sha’arei Binah: “Gates of Understanding.” A 13th-century book by Eleazar ben Judah of Worms on gematria and the numerical codes of the Bible.

Sha’arei-Mavet: (599221). “Gates of Death.” One of the seven compartments of Gehenna, Maktiel is its principal angel.

Sha’arei Orah: “Gates of Light.” The Kabbalistic-theosophical masterwork of Joseph Gikkatilla.

Sha’arei Ruach ha-Kodesh: “Gates of the Holy Spirit.” A mystical tract by Chayyim Vital .

Sha’arei Tzalmavet: (599241). “Gates of the Shadow of Death.” A compartment of Gehenna. Pariel is its principal angel (MG).

Sha’arei Tzedek: “Gates of Righteousness.” Medieval mystical autobiography of an anonymous Kabbalist, made famous by Gershom Scholem. It describes in detail the author’s use and assessment of different techniques for achieving mystical union.


Shabbatai Tzvi: Turkish mystic and failed Messiah (ca. 17th century). Inspired by the teachings of Lurianic Kabbalah and encouraged by his disciple and publicist, Nathan of Gaza, Tzvi claimed to be the Messiah. Word of his claims reached the far ends of Europe, and a messianic panic ensued in many Jewish communities. After enjoying a brief period of phenomenal success, Tzvi’s messianic career was cut short by the Ottoman Sultan, who offered him the choice of martyrdom or conversion to Islam. Tzvi chose conversion. Despite this, believers persisted in their faith, causing aftershocks in the Jewish world for decades to follow. A small sect of Shabbateanism, the Donmeh, survives to this day.

Shabbateanism: A messianic heresy of the 17th century. SEE SHABBATAI TZVI.

Shabriri: (599201). “Blindness.” A demon that causes blindness and/or ocular diseases (Pes. 112a).

Shechakim: (59916). One of the seven heavens, this is the level at which manna is milled to feed the righteous (Chag. 12b-13a).

Shaddai, El: (59914). “[God of] Mountains/Breasts.” A name of God that appears mostly in the book of Genesis, probably a derivation of an Ugaritic divine name. In three places, the name is explicitly linked to fertility: “May El Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and numerous …” (Gen. 28:3). “I am El Shaddai: be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 35:11). “By El Shaddai who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadiyim] and of the womb [racham]” (Gen. 49:25). In Zoharic Kabbalah , it is another name for Shekhinah. SEE NAMES OF GOD.

Shadow: (59912/Tzel). Jewish mystics regard the shadow as a kind of aura that can be used for the purposes of divination. According to the Talmud, anyone whose shadow lacks a head on Rosh Hashanah is destined to die within the year. Samson Bacchi claimed his teacher Isaac Luria could discern a person’s moral condition, even history of past lives, from his or her shadow.1 SEE GUF HA-DAK; TZELEM.

1. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 94.

Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego: The three companions of Daniel (Dan. 1:6), they were thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar because they refused to deny the God of Israel (Dan. 3). God sent an angel to shield them from the fire. According to the Midrash (S of S R. 7:8), other miracles occurred coinciding with this incident. The furnace erupted out of the ground and blew to pieces. As a result of the explosion, the fiasco burned up princes from four idolatrous nations, half-cooked Nebuchadnezzar, and blew down his idolatrous image. At the same moment, Ezekiel resurrected the six hundred thousand dead Israelites lying in the valley of bones (Ezek. 37).

Shalgiel: The angel of snow (I Enoch).

Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah: “The Chain of Tradition.” A mystical tract by R. Gedaliah ibn Yahiya (ca. 16th century). It includes accounts of spiritual possession and ghosts.

Shamanism: The practice of controlling spiritual forces through ecstatic rituals and magical objects for the purposes of healing and protection. Throughout its history, Judaism has manifested some shamanistic elements. Shamanistic-charismatic practices are evident, for example, in the case of the Ma’asei-Merkavah mystics and in some of the magical and amulet-making practices of Greco-Roman Jewry.1 Occasionally such practices rise to the level of being almost universally accepted, as is the case of folk healers and rainmakers recorded in the Talmud. This is also true of the rise of the Baal Shems and the very shamanlike role of the Chasidic rebbe.

1. J. Davila, “The Hechalot Literature and Shamanism” Society of Biblical Literature 1994 Seminar Papers (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1994), 767-89; also see G. Winkler, Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism (Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Press, 2003).

Shamayim: “Heaven.” SEE SEVEN HEAVENS.

Shamir [Worm]: (59950). This miraculous creature, most often interpreted as a kind of worm or salamander, formed on the sixth day of Creation, eats stone. Solomon stole the Shamir from the mythical Hoopoe bird that guarded it, in order to use it to cut blocks for the Temple (Git. 68a-68b), while fulfilling God’s command that no implement of iron be used to construct the altar of God (Ex. 22):

Our Rabbis taught: With the Shamir Solomon built the Temple, as it is said: And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready at the quarry. The words are to be understood as they are written … If that be so, why is there a text to State, There was neither hammer, nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in the building? [It means] that they prepared them outside and brought them within. Rabbi said: The statement of R. Judah is probable in connection with the stones of the Sanctuary, and the statement of R. Nehemiah in connection with [Solomon’s] house. For what purpose, then, according to R. Nehemiah, was the Shamir necessary?—It was required as taught in the following … he [the mason] writes with ink upon them [the stones waiting for their final fitting inside the sanctuary], shows the Shamir [the written strokes] on the outside, and these split of their own accord, like a fig which splits open in summer and nothing at all is lost, or like a valley which splits asunder in the rainy season and nothing at all is lost.

Our Rabbis taught: The Shamir is a creature about the size of a barley-corn, and was created during the six days of Creation. No hard substance can withstand it. How is it kept? They wrap it in tufts of wool and place it in a leaden tube full of barley-bran. (Sot. 48b)

It carved the Urim and Thummim of the High priest's breastplate. SEE ANIMALS..

Shamshiel: A fallen angel who teaches mankind the secrets of the zodiac (I Enoch).

Shavuot: (599481). “Weeks.” An early summer holiday that comes forty-nine days after Passover, at the conclusion of the omer, which simultaneously celebrates the barley harvest and God’s giving the Torah on Mount Sinai.

The role of the holiday has been controversial at times. It was very important to the author of Jubilees (1, 6, 14, 17, 22, 32, 44, 50). For the sectarian priests who composed the Dead Sea Scrolls, Shavuot was the critical holiday (Damascus Document; Temple Scroll; Scroll of Priestly Courses). By comparison, the Rabbis treat it with more muted interest—it is not even mentioned by name in the Mishnah, and consequently it is the only festival that does not have a tractate devoted to it in the Talmud. Moreover, it is overshadowed by the attention given to the other holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Sukkot.

Because of a rabbinic legend that the Israelites were caught sleeping when God first appeared to give the Ten Commandments, the Kabbalists instituted a penitential all-night study session on Shavuot, Tikkun Leil Shavuot (“Repair of the Night of Shavuot”) so that God will see we are both awake for any moment when Torah is given and diligent in our devotion to its study (Zohar, Emor, 98a).

Shedim: (59961). SEE DEMONS.

She ’lot Chalom: (59958). “Inquiry of dreaming.” Also called shailah b’hakeitz, “an awakening inquiry,” it is an incubation technique for asking questions of God or angels involving a period of purification, usually lasting several days, and using or writing an incantation that includes several divine names, then followed by sleep . Either via a dream or upon awaking, the adept should receive a revelation. It is first described in the Hechalot literature and subsequently variations appear in Jewish communities around the world (ShB 7; Sefer he-Hezyonot).

She ‘lot u-Teshuvot min ha-Shamayim: “Questions and Answers from Heaven.” A book by Jacob of Marvege, in which he recorded the answers to questions of Jewish law that he received from angels by means of dream incubation.1SEE LAW AND THE PARANORMAL.

1. Idel, “On Sheelat Holam in Hasidei Ashkenaz: Sources and Influences,” Materia Giudaica 10 (2005): 99-109.


Shekel ha-Kodesh, Sefer: “The Book of the Holy Shekel.” A small mystical tract, only identified and published in the last century, written by Moses de Leon. It helps illuminate some of the teachings found in the Zohar.

Shekhinah: (599651). “Indwelling [Spirit].” That aspect of God that is close to and accessible to Creation. While it often simply means “the presence of God,” it is more often treated as a personified hypostasis of the divine. The Shekhinah has been identified with many other supernal entities that are “projections” of God into the lower worlds: the Holy Spirit, the Logos (Word of God), the glory of God, and the Torah. The German Pietist equate the Shekhinah with the Divine Anthropos described in Shi’ur Qomah. In classical Kabbalah , Shekhinah is equated with both the “angel of Adonai: and the tenth sefirah of Malchut (Zohar I:66a). Often it is associated with divine light , through phrases like “the radiance of Shekhinah.”

Often personified as a women, the Shekhinah appears to mortals in one of three guises: a bride in white, an elderly woman in mourning black, or as a dove . In one medieval text that mimics Shi’ur Qomah, her physical dimensions are given, with a single one of her handbreadths exceeding the length of the universe (Otiyyot de Rabbi Akiva).

The most consistent interpretation of the Shekhinah is that it is that aspect of God that eternally adheres to Knesset Yisrael, the Jewish people (Sot. 4:2). It is, in a sense, the “spirit of Israel.” Thus, even when Israel went into exile, the Shekhinah remained with them:

[W]herever Israel wandered in exile, the Shekhinah wandered with them.” (Meg. 29a. Also see MdRI Pisha 14)

The Shekhinah became central to the metaphysics of medieval Kabbalah. Much Kabbalistic thought is devoted to the idea that because the feminine Shekhinah is separated from the masculine Holy One, the One God is, in a sense, fragmented and that the true cosmic unity has to be restored by human action. The alienation of the Shekhinah/Malchut from the masculine side of the Godhead and its re-coupling with the Blessed Holy One/Tiferet is the preeminent obsession of the Zohar:

At the time when Israel is proclaiming the unity—the mystery contained in the Sh’ma—with a perfect intention, a light comes forth from the hidden supernal world, which divides into seventy lights, and those seventy lights into the seventy luminous branches of the Tree of Life. Then the Tree and all the other trees of the Garden of Eden emit sweet odors and praise their Lord, for at that time the Matrona [Shekhinah] prepares Herself to enter under the canopy, there to unite Herself with Her spouse [The Holy Blessed One] … to unite Himself with the Matrona. (Zohar II:133b) 1

This alienation makes Shekhinah vulnerable to the machinations of the Sitra Achra. Such teachings drive much of the theurgic practice of the medieval mystics, especially the Lurianic Kabbalists. Thus Chasids begin the performance of many mitzvot by reciting a kavanah that begins, “For the sake of the unification of the Holy Blessed One with His Shekhinah …”

By the early modern era, some mystics had brought the notion of Shekhinah full circle, so that it once again becomes a Logos-like “word of God” that speaks through the adept. Solomon Alkabetz, for example, told of the personified Shekhinah serving as his maggid, his spirit guide.

The Zohar repeatedly equates “seeing the Shekhinah” with encountering other enlightened individuals:

The great Rabbi Hiyya went to the masters of Mishnah to learn from them.

He went to R. Shimon ben Yochai and he saw a curtain was blocking the entrance to the house. R. Hiyya was astonished and said: I will hear something from his mouth from here. He heard R. Shimon saying, “Hurry my beloved, swift as a gazelle or a young stag, to the hill of spices …” (S of S 8:14). R. Hiyya heard this and said: Exalted ones are engaged in the house and I am sitting outside! He wept. R. Shimon heard [Hiyya] and said: The Shekhinah is surely outside! (Zohar II:14a)

One mystical handbook explicitly equates seeing the Shekhinah with seeing the Face of God, an experience that can have fatal consequences.

1. Idel, “On Sheelat Holam in Hasidei Ashkenaz: Sources and Influences,” 99-109.

Shell: Various kinds of shells, but especially eggshells and turtle shells, have magical uses. For example, inscribed with incantations invoking the four rivers that flowed from Eden, a shell could be tied to the belly of a women in difficult labor to ease the birth.

Shem: One of the sons of Noah , he is the only one not cursed for “exposing the nakedness” of his father. He is the progenitor of all Asians, including the Children of Israel. He learned a number of occult arts from his father, including the use of herbs to counter demon (Jubilees 10, 12, 21) and astrology . According to rabbinic tradition, he established the first House of Study for Torah (even though it had yet to be given at Mount Sinai).

Shem, ha-: (59980). “The Name.” An euphemism used by Jews to avoid saying any one of God’s powerful names. SEE EXPLICIT NAME OF GOD; NAMES OF GOD; TETRAGRAMMATON

Shem ha-Kotev: (59990). “The Writing Name.” SEE XENOGLOSSIA AND AUTOMATIC WRITING.

Shem ha-Meforash: (600001). “The Explicit Name.” SEE EXPLICIT NAME OF GOD; TETRAGRAMMATON

Shem, Sefer ha-: SEE NAME, THE BOOK OF THE.

Shem Tov Katan: “The Abbreviated Good Name.” (1709). A book of tikkunei tefillah (mending prayers) for the treatment of illnesses and afflictions, both natural and supernatural, written by the Baal Shem Binyamin Binush.

Shemchazi: An angel who became infatuated with the daughters of humanity, and the leader of those watchers who fell from heaven as a result. He was the angel who taught mankind the magical arts (I Enoch).

Shemirat ha-Derekh: (60019). “Protection of the Road.” A class of protective incantations for wayfarers, found in medieval Ashkenazi literature.

Shemot ha-Tzadikim: A text listing the names of all the righteous souls from Adam onward. Recitation of these names grants the reader theurgic powers. SEE NAMES OF IMPURITY.; RIGHTEOUS, THE.

Sheol: (600171). “Grave.” The most common biblical term for the place of the afterlife (Job 3:11-19), in later rabbinic cosmology, it is one of the seven compartments of Gehenna, a place of pits and fiery beasts, where the souls of the dead are purged for their return, purified, to God:

By two letters [yud and hay] were the two worlds created … as the hay is open beneath, this indicates that all the inhabitants of the world shall go down into Sheol. As the hay has an upward projection, after they go down they shall go up [to God]. (J. Chag. 16a) 1

1. J. Neusner et al., The Talmud of the Land of Israel, vol. 20 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 52.

Shephatiah, Rabbi: Wonder-working rabbi (Italian, ca. 11th century). According to Sefer Yuhasin, he could teleport himself (and his horse) using divine names of power—though one wonders why he needed a horse at all, given this particular talent.

Sherayim: “Leftovers.” Food, usually bread, which has been blessed and set aside by a righteous man is a spiritual treasure and much sought after. This custom in its full form is almost only seen among the Chasidim. The significance of Shirayim is derived from several sources. It is consciously understood to be a leftover, based on Deuteronomy 28:5, where the word mishartekha (“your kneading bowl”—“blessed be … your kneading bowl”) is interpreted to mean “your remainder.”

It is also modelled on the old custom of the peyah, the corner of a field left unharvested and intended for the needy (Lev. 19; Eruv. 53b; Orah Chayyim 170:3). The spiritual potential of consuming such remainders is illustrated in this Talmudic story:

After the meal of the day to celebrate the New Month, R. Yochanan would go to the synagogue in the morning and would collect the crumbs and eat them, saying, “May I spend my life in the next world together with those who ate here last evening.” (J. M.K. 2:3. Also see Sanh. 92a)

The only component missing in the pre-Chasidic tradition is the special role of the rebbe. This is elaborated from another Talmudic passage which talks of a family experiencing blessing through food distributed by the head of the household (Ber. 51b). Among the Chasidim, it is eaten in the belief that their tzadik’s touch is a “unification” of divine energies and he has released its holy potential (birur ha-nitzotzot). As mentioned in earlier entries, there is a belief that fit food actually contains the sparks of transmigrating souls. Consuming it allows them to move on and blesses the one who ate:

The point of eating and drinking is to locate the sparks, and to locate and restore the migratory souls that are reincarnated in everything that requires tikkun. (Taamei ha-Minhagim, pt. 2:3)

Why did God make man feel hunger and thirst? … For this reason it is said “Hungry and thirsty, their souls fainted in them” (Ps. 107:5) … so that he could raise the sparks of the divine, those souls who are “fainted” in the food (ShB 2:24) 1

Despite this, however, some will keep it as a relic or a segulah charm (inspired by Ex. 23:25). Whatever its fate, it is not unusual to see a scramble by the nearest Chasidim to gain a small bit of these remnants. SEE FOOD.; TISH.

1. Werthheim, “Traditions and Customs in Hasidism,” 386.

Sheva Zutarti: Hechalot text of prayers and angel-summoning adjurations.


Shimmush Tehillim: “Practical Psalms.” A 16th-century popular compendium of psalms that explains their theurgic uses.

Shimmushei Torah: A medieval theurgic text listing the supernatural feats and healings that can be achieved using verses from the Torah. Moses is presented as the source of these spells and formulae, having wrestled them from hostile angels (Otzer Midrashim).

Shimon: Hebrew proper name. Look for all entries under “Simon.”

Shin: (60044). The twenty-first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Depending on what diacritical marks are included, its vocalic value can be “sh” or “s.” (When it is signifying the “s” sound, the letter is called sin.) The word shin literally means “tooth.” It has the numeric value of three hundred. It can symbolize God (as the letter that begins “Shaddai”), the three Patriarchs and/or the middle three sefirot (because of the three prongs), but it can also symbolize falsehood 1 (Zohar I:2b, 25b).

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 207-13.

Shinui Shem: (60042). “Changing of a Name.” The custom of changing one’s name in the hope it will change one’s fortune or fate. SEE NAMES, HEBREW.

Shi’ur Qomah: “Measurement of the Body.” One of the most puzzling and disturbing texts in Jewish history, this brief document, ascribed to Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha ha-Kohen, describes the “height of the Body” of God, possibly inspired by the description of the masculine lover described in Song of Songs, chapter 5. God is outlined here in frankly anthropomorphic terms, with references to God’s feet, thighs, neck, etc. The measurement of each limb is extravagantly enormous (often millions of miles), but exact.

Whether these numbers are meant to be taken as factual or as an exercise in awe-inspiring exaggeration is a matter of debate. Often the proportions are nonsensical (the divine big toe is vastly larger than the divine beard, for example). Some passages in the text suggest the author is actually cautioning readers against literalism, because midway into Shi’ur Qomah he changes the rules and values of the measurements (are we talking about a human “span” or a divine “span,” which alone is equal to the size of the universe?) to the point where they cease to make sense. Likewise, several statements in the text itself suggest that any straight anthropomorphic interpretation of a term like “nose” is misleading, as “no creature can recognize it.”

Shi’ur Qomah also claims that each divine limb has its own name that is inscribed on it, suggesting they are in actuality angels, or as a parallel to the merkavah mystical practice of writing incantations on each limb of the adept attempting to ascend into heaven. The text concludes by presenting this as a secret gnosis and that reciting this text will both protect the initiate in this world and guarantee him or hera place in the World to Come.

It is interesting to note that despite the exhaustive and specific measurements provided, there is no evidence that any adept has ever attempted to graphically illustrate the divine form. Later mystical readers rejected the notion that this is an actual description of God’s body, instead interpreting this anthropomorphic figure to be a divine emanation, designating it as part of God’s glory or labeling it something angelic, such as the Unique Cherub.1

1. M. Cohen, Shi’ur Qomah: Texts and Recensions (Tuebingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1985).

Shivhei ha-BeSHT: “In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov.” A collection of stories, miraculous tales, and legends that constitute the first document and primary source of information on the life of Israel ben Eliezer. There are multiple versions of the book in existence.

Shivitti: A handmade or printed amulet, constructed around Psalm 16:8—Shivitti Adonai l’negdi tamid (“I have placed Adonai constantly before me”). Most versions of the Shivitti include the Tetragrammaton surrounded by protective verses and images, especially Psalm 67, and menorahs.

Sh’ma: (60055). The first word of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.” It is recited as many as four times a day by pious Jews (morning, afternoon, evening, and bedside), as well as at any moment one anticipates Death or martyrdom. It is called the “watchword of Israel’s faith.” Lurianic ideology teaches the proper recitation creates zivvuga, unification between the Partzufim of Nukva and Zeir Anpin (Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot I:249-251). Luria himself encouraged the worshipper to imagine himself being martyred each time the Sh’ma was recited.1 It sometimes appears on amulets. SEE SLEEP.

1. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, 235-236.

Sh’neur Zalman of Laydi: Chasidic master (Russian, ca. 19th century). Sh’neur was the founder of CHaBaD, the most influential of all Chasidic groups today. He is the author of the Tanya, an influential book of mystical metaphysics.

Shofar: A simple musical instrument made from the horns of any kosher animal (except a cow). Shofars were heard on the mountain of Sinai when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. Since then, shofars have been used for many communal and religious purposes. The shofar is sounded each Rosh Hashanah in order to confound Satan (R.H. 16a-b). It may be for this reason that shofars are often used as part of exorcism (M. R.H. 3:7) and are mentioned in some healing rituals (Chul. 105a). It may also be because of the combined power of its disturbing loudness and its symbolic role as a summons to God to attend to human needs (Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodesh).

A heavenly shofar sounds from beneath the Throne of Glory whenever Israel is forgiven (Hechalot Rabbati). A unique shofar made from the ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of Isaac awaits the Messiah. When he comes, he will sound that particular horn, which will be heard throughout the world, heralding the final redemption (Gen. R. 56; PdRK 23).

Shoftiel: (60086). “God Is My Judge.” A punishing angel of Gehenna.

Shoham Stones: The twelve stones mounted on the breastplate of the High priest (Sot. 36a). SEE BREASTPLATE; GEMSTONES.

Shor: (60076). “Bull/Taurus.” The zodiac sign for the month of Iyar. It signifies the feminine, fitness, maturity, nighttime, and goodness.1

1. Erlanger, Signs of the Times, 41-55.

Shoresh ha-Shemot: “The Root of the Names.” A Kabbalistic text written by Moses Zacuto, it provides a detailed outline for the proper construction of amulets.

Shoshan Yesod ha-Olam: “The Rose Foundation of the World.” A medieval magical book compiled by Yosef Trisomy, it is a compendium of earlier magical traditions and sources. It exists only in manuscript form.

Shulchan Aruch: “The Arranged Table.” The most influential digest of Jewish law, it was composed in the 16th century by the mystic/lawyer Joseph Caro. References to magical theurgic beliefs and practices are sprinkled throughout its entries, often focusing on how to protect against the evil eye or other forms of witchcraft. Its description of the protective customs surrounding funerals is a prime example of its interest in the paranormal. SEE LAW AND THE PARANORMAL.

Sibylline Oracles: A collection of writing from Greco-Roman antiquity with some Jewish content. The Sibyls were a series of oracular women who prophesied for their contemporaries. At least some of the messages (specifically oracles 4 and 5) were composed by Jews, probably from the Jewish community of Alexandria, Egypt.

Siddur: (60089). “Order [of Prayer]/Prayerbook.” Jews of different geographic/ethnic communities each have their own prayerbook, often referred to as a nusach (pattern, formula). These prayerbooks are identical worldwide in most of the fundamental prayers, but feature local variations in piyutim (post-Talmudic poetic prayers), order, and minhag (customary ways to worship). Thus, there is a Nusach Ashkenazi (Central European pattern) and a Nusach Sefardi (Spanish/Portuguese pattern). Jews who descend from these communities are expected to loyally hold to the nusach/minhag of their ancestor, though in practice Jews may switch because of marriage into a family of different roots, or because of relocating to a community where their minhag is not observed.

It was therefore a great scandal to many Jews of Eastern Europe when the newly forming Hasidic communities abandoned the Ashkenazi prayerbook in favor of the only prayerbook fully dedicated to the beliefs and metaphysics of Kabbalah , Nusach ha-Ari (The Lurianic Siddur), a prayerbook that fused Sefardi elements with mystical kavvanot (meditations/intentions). This siddur is attributed to Isaac Luria, also known as ha-Ari ha-Kodesh (the Holy Lion), a Kabbalist of mixed background himself, coming from an Ashkenazi family that had settled in Egypt. In fact, the Nusach ha-Ari was mostly the creation of his followers in the Middle East.

But this prayerbook crossed ethnic boundaries and soon found its way into the Ukraine, Poland, and Russia. The Maggid of Meseritch, for example, noted that according to the Midrash, each of the twelve tribes had their own gate in heaven through which their prayers entered, yet there was a thirteenth gate by which the prayers of anybody could be heard On High, and he argued the Nusach ha-Ari was that thirteenth gate.1 Many variations of the Nusach ha-Ari eventually appeared over time, including the prayerbooks Siddur Shar’abi, Kol Yaakov, Siddur Torah Or, and Siddur Tehillat Hashem. Not surprisingly, some of these were revisions to more closely follow the European minhag. Many were also streamlined. Early versions had elaborate meditations punctuating the prayers and even featured the texts configured in symbolic patterns or arranged so as to form recognizable objects, such as faces or humanoid figures.2 Later publications, dense as they might be with commentaries and kabbalistic insertions, became more conventional and less imaginative in their layouts.

1. L. Jacobs, Hasidic Prayer (Oxford, OH: Littman Library Of Jewish Civilization, 1972), 38.

2. Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, 173.

Sign: (60101/Siman, also ot; remez). Jewish tradition has as one of its premises that God has embedded signs, harbingers of meaning, in the world (Gen. 1:14; 9:13). The notion of divination, that useful information about a course of action, or the future, or God’s will can be learned from natural prodigies, or acts of chance that are impetrated to serve as signifiers (1 Sam. 14:10; 14:41-42), reflects this assumption. The magical “sigil,” or emblematic symbol for a name or entity is likely derived from the Hebrew segulah (“property/treasure/talisman”). SEE astrology ; divination; miracles

Silence: Since words are God’s first creation and it is from words that diversity (Olam ha-Dibur) unfolds, it follows that silence, which preceded the divine speech, is more primal, more akin to the higher reality of divine oneness.1

“For You, silence is praise, Adonai,” (Psalm 65:1) serves as the locus classicus of all Jewish silent devotional practice. The Midrash reinforces this with the statement:

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: “A word is worth a sela [a small coin], but silence is worth two [sela’im].” Simeon his son used to say: “All my life I grew up among the wise, and I found nothing better for a person than silence.” (Lev. R. 16:5)

Mystical texts also praise silence as an appropriate way to worship God. The great Maggid, the disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, even declared, “It is best to serve God by silence.” The Polish Worke Chasidim were famed for their discipline of silent meditation and its use as a teaching tool.2 SEE HEBREW.; INCANTATION; MEMRA.

1. Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar, vol. 2, 271-72.

2. E. Weisel, Somewhere, a Master (New York: Summit Books, 1982), 176-201.

Silver: SEE COLOR..

Simchat Beit Hashoeva: (60099). “Joy of Water Libation.” When the Temple stood, one of the rituals of the holiday of Sukkot would be the Water Libation or Water Drawing ritual. This theurgic ceremony entailed gathering a jug of water from the Pool of Siloam (an underground spring) and taking it up the hillside of Jerusalem to the Temple, where it would be poured over the altar in a mimetic act of rainfall. As the drawn water was poured out, this incantation was recited: “Let your waters flow, I hear the voice of two friends [the drawn water calling to its source], as it is said, ‘Abyss calls to abyss in the roar of the channels’ ” (Tan. 25b).

The purpose of the ritual was to draw the underground waters of the abyss toward the surface of the Earth, to trigger the fructifying mingling of tellurian (subterranean/circular/feminine) and heavenly (rain/linear/masculine) waters that would allow growth in the coming season (T. Tan. 1:4; Tan. 10b; PdRE 23).

While the ritual in its ancient form is no longer viable without an altar, today some communities continue the party aspect of the ritual and it is an occasion for a concert, dancing, or a community program.

Simon (Shimon) bar Kochba: A 2nd-century military leader and failed Messiah. He was credited with superhuman powers, including extraordinary strength, the ability to catch and return catapult missiles, and the power to breathe fire.

Simon (Shimon) bar Yochai: Mishnaic Sage and mystic (ca. 2nd century). In the Talmud, he is portrayed as an awesome spiritual virtuoso. Bar Yochai performed many wondrous feats. He exorcised a demon that had possessed Caesar’s daughter (Me. 17a-b). In order to escape Roman persecution, Simon and his son hid in a cave for twelve years, living off the fruit of a carob tree that grew there miraculously for their benefit. There they sat naked, buried themselves in sand, and studied Torah constantly. After twelve years they emerged, only to find that the supernal power they had cultivated in that time set everything mundane they gazed at on fire. A voice from heaven immediately ordered them to return to the cave, where they remained for another twelve months as punishment (paralleling the traditions concerning Gehenna) until they were finally reconciled to the imperfection of the material world, and only then did God release them. Still, Simon had to use his powers to heal everyone his son struck down. Bar Yochai himself retained the power to slay with his gaze, but had the capacity to control it (Shab. 33b- 34a).

Rabbi Simon is the purported author of the Zohar, but as that document first surfaced in the 13th century, a thousand years after his death, there is controversy concerning that. Much of the Zohar is a spiritual memoir of Bar Yochai’s life and ministry, a kind of mystical gospel. The bulk of the supernatural traditions about him are found there. He learned his Torah directly from an angel, who studied with him from behind a curtain of fire (Zohar II:14a-15a). By his word, he could fill a wadi with dinars. He performed many other miracles, both great and small. More compelling than that, he regularly conversed with angels, disguised spiritual entities, and other heavenly messengers. His death was a miracle unto itself, a gracious death of celestial illumination.

Simon ben Azzai: SEE BEN AZZAI.

Simon (Shimon) ben Halafta: Talmudic Sage and demonologist (ca. 3rd century). He learns from a conversation with the Angel of Death that Death has no authority over the Righteous (Eccl. R. 3:2).

Simon (Shimon) ben Isaac ha-Gadol: Pietist, poet, and mystic (German, ca. 11th century). Rabbi Simon taught such beliefs as the summoning of angels and their intercessory power and had communications with the angelic Baal ha-Chalom. He also expounded on the theurgic and practical power of the seventy-two letter name of God.

Simon ben Zoma: SEE BEN ZOMA, SIMON.

Sin: ( 60123/Chet). “Miss [a Target].” In conventional understanding, sin is any human action that violates God’s will for humanity as expressed by the 613 commandments appearing in the Torah. In the Bible, the word often carries a connotation of “inadvertent error,” of an unintentional transgression.

In Jewish mysticism, sin has greater cosmic import than mere human disobedience: sin ruins the harmony on high, interrupting the flow of divine energy between worlds, even causing fissures in God. The mission of the Jewish people, then, is to perfect our actions, repair (m’takein) the ruptures that are caused by sin, and so reestablish the harmony of the cosmos (Zohar I: 87b). SEE KELIPOT; SITRA ACHRA; TIKKUN.

Sin: (c). The letter shin of the Hebrew alphabet can symbolize the sound of either “sh” or “s,” depending on the diacritical mark that accompanies it. When it is signifying the “s” sound, the letter is called sin. SEE SHIN.

Sinai, Mount: (60134 alternately, Horeb). The great mountain of God (Har Elohim), where Moses brought the people Israel to enter into a covenant and receive the Torah. The events that unfolded there provide the archetypal story of theophany in Jewish tradition.


Mount Sinai by E. M. Lilien

The people witnessed God upon the top of the mountain in visions of cloud, smoke, lightning, and fire. They also heard shofars and the sound of God’s own voice. God descended to the mountaintop accompanied by twenty-two thousand companies of angels. When Moses stood upon its peak, God lifted it up so that Moses could behold heaven (Ex. R. 28; Sot. 5a; Tanh. Tzav 16; MdRI Yitro; PdRE 41). From there he ascended to heaven (Suk. 5a; Yoma 4a; MdRI Ba-Chodesh). When the people heard God speak the first letter of the first word of the Ten Commandments, the entire population fell over dead, and had to be resurrected (Shab. 88b; Ex. R. 29:4, 29:9; PdRE 20). Other Midrashim teach that the people each heard God’s voice differently, according to their particular capacity to hear (Tanh. Shemot 22; Bahir 45). Prior to the theophany, Jacob and Rachel met at its foot, and Moses encountered the burning bush on its slopes. In one rabbinic tradition, God didn’t technically split the Sea of Reeds; he simply moved Sinai to the location and the people walked over the sea on its crest. To this day, no one knows its exact location in the Sinai Peninsula.

Sisera: The Canaanite general defeated by the prophetess Deborah and the chieftain Barak (Judg. 4-5) was yet another giants of extraordinary power: his voice was so powerful it stunned animals and toppled city walls. When he bathed in a river, he could net enough fish with his beard to feed his entire army. He rode into battle on a chariot pulled by nine hundred horses (Yalkut Judg. 43).

Sitra Achra: (60132). “The Other Side.” The demonic realm, it is ruled by Samael and Lilith. Born out of the very process of Creation, this left side of the emanated Godhead is the manifestation of divine severity and wrath. Cosmic strife emerged between it and the right side, and from that strife emerged Gehenna and the demonic. Like a controlling rod in a nuclear pile, the “Pillar of the Middle” of the sefirot—Tiferet, Yesod, and Malchut —moderates the two sides and maintains peace (Zohar I:17a). Though the Sitra Achra would, under the ideal conditions, be an attenuated expression of the divine emanations, it feeds upon human sin and transgression. The broken nature of our current existence keeps the Sitra Achra a powerful presence in Creation. Only in messianic times will it be reintegrated into a holy dimension.1 SEE CREATION; EVIL; TREATISE ON THE LEFT EMANATION.; ZOHAR.

1. Fine, Essential Papers on Kabbalah, 155-60, 248-62; Green, Guide to the Zohar, 116-21.

Six Primordial Things: God conceived of six entities that preceded the creation of the world and around which the universe is structured: the Torah (the blueprint), the Throne of Glory (positive existence), the Patriarchs (the pillarsthat support the world), Israel (the purpose of the world), the Temple (the link between worlds), and the name of the Messiah (redemption and final rectification of the world) (Gen. R. 1:4). SEE SEVEN PRIMORDIAL THINGS

Sixteen-Sided Sword of the Almighty: Also called the Sword Of Moses., it is a mysterious divine power that can be adjured to protect a person from disease, grant happiness, or defeat even the Angels of Death. The existence of this power is derived from a gematriainterpretation of Exodus 15:3, where God first wielded it in the defense of Israel. It is mentioned several times in the literature of medieval Jewry and is particularly associated with the PassoverSeder ritual. This mysterious force may be the inspiration for the title of the magical handbook Sword of Moses.1 SEE MAGIC

1. Kanarfogel, Peering through the Lattices, 137n, 137-139.

Sleep: During sleep, the soul leaves the Body and ascends to and draws renewed life from the celestial realms (Gen. R. 14:9). According to the Zohar, the soul makes a perilous journey each night, having to confront demons and unclean spirits as it navigates the sefirot (I:10b, 83a). dreams are the byproducts of these soul ascents. Incubiand succubae may also seek to molest one through dreams in order to release nocturnal emissions to breed more demons.

Because the Sages describe sleep as one-sixtieth Death and because of the increased physical and spiritual vulnerability of the sleeper, there is a protective ritual one may perform before going to bed, the Kriat Sh’ma al ha-Mitah (Ber. 4b; Zohar I:11a; the Siddur). One can use sleep for the purpose of divination. SEE INCUBATION; ODEH LA’EL.


Snake Charming: According to the Talmudic Sages, the control of animals through magical means is forbidden by the Torah (Sanh. 65b).

Sneeze: The first person who is described as ill is Jacob (Gen. 48:1). Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer was the first to fully develop this thought:

From the day the heavens and earth were created, no man was ever ill … Rather, in any place he happened to be, whether on the way or in the market, when he sneezed his soul left through his nostrils. [So it was] until our ancestor Jacob came and prayed for mercy concerning this, saying, Blessed Holy One, do not take my soul from me until I have blessed my sons and my household; so He accepted him, as it was said, “And it came to pass after these things that one came to Joseph and said, ‘Look, your father is ill.’ ” (PdRE 52)

Thus a sneeze, once the very act of expiration itself, comes to be understood to be an act of divine compassion, an omen that Death is approaching.

This is an idea very much in keeping with the idea, rooted in the Bible (Gen. 1:26), that the spirit enters and leaves through the nose, and that all humans are pneumatically permeable, that various spirits of wisdom (Exod. 28:3, 31:3), Prophecy (Num. 11:17, 29), and woe (1 Sam. 16:23) pass easily in and out of the Body, and that our very souls even leave us on a temporary basis while we sleep (the Elohai Neshamah morning prayer).

Of course, an omen can be averted with the proper ritual or words of power. And so it is that Jews came to believe it was obligatory to respond to a sneeze with a word or phrase to counteract it:

Therefore a man is duty bound to say to his fellow who sneezes, Chayyim [Life!] changing death in the world into light [fulfilling the promise of Scripture] as is written, “His sneezes flash forth light.” (Job 41:10. See also PdRE)

Other phrases evolved to keep the soul within the body, such as l’chayyim tovim [Hebrew], marpe, assuta [Aramaic], zu gesund [German], and gesundheit [Yiddish].

The fact that this was more than just a wish, but actually a counter spell, is made clear in arguments in the Tosefta, where some Sages worry that the blessings response may in fact be a “Way of the Amorites” [the Talmudic idiom for witchcraft] (T. Shab. 7:5). Over time, this concern subsided and a blessing in response to a sneeze came to be considered mandatory.

Sod: (60160). “Secret.” One of the four methods of interpreting the Torah, usually assumed to be based on occult knowledge. SEE PARDES; SECRET.

Sod ha-Sodot: “The Secret of Secrets.” A theosophical summary by Rabbi Elchanan ben Yakar of the teachings of the Circle of the Unique Cherub.

Sodei Razaya: A collection of occult teachings on Jewish prayer traditions by Eleazar of Worms (ca. 13th century).

Sodom and Gomorrah: Beyond the sin ascribed to them in the Bible (Gen. 13, 19-20; Isa. 19; Ezek. 16), numerous bizarre cruelties were credited to the Sodomites in rabbinic literature, including having laws against hospitality and committing the Procrustean-like crime of stretching or chopping up guests to make them fit a bed. Lot’s own daughter was burned for showing kindness to strangers (Sanh. 109b; PdRE 25; Gen. R. 49:6).

Solar Calendar: While the normative Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar adjusted with leap months to keep aligned with the solar cycle, the sectarian priests of the Dead Sea Scrolls sect adhered to a purely solar calendar based on a 364-day year, divided into four, 13-week seasons. They believed this calendar was a gift of the angels and reflected the divine perfection of the cosmos, where it enjoyed a primordial pre-existence inscribed upon “heavenly tablets” (Jubilees 32; I Enoch 81, 93). Some sources claim it was first given to Enoch, others indicate it was first taught to Moses. SEE CALENDAR; ENOCH, BOOKS OF.; JUBILEES; SUN.

Solomon: Third king of ancient Israel and son of David. In the biblical accounts, he lives an extraordinary life, but one mostly without fantastic or supernatural elements. One exception is according to 1 Kings 3:4-15, which records how Solomon made a series of massive sacrifices at a shrine in Gibeon. There he had a dream, perhaps the result of an incubation ritual accompanying the sacrifices. In that dream, God offered him any gift. Solomon chose wisdom. In keeping with the promise of that dream, God gave him wisdom in abundance. The book 1 Kings 5:11 describes Solomon as “the wisest of all men.”

Solomon subsequently demonstrated this divine gift in his role as a judge. He also built a large military establishment and the First Temple to God in Jerusalem. His wisdom extended to the natural sciences and he was a master in all matters involving botany and zoology. His wisdom was such that his renown extended far beyond the borders of Israel (1 Kings 5:11).

Unfortunately, his wisdom failed him in his decision to marry a thousand foreign wives in order to cement political alliances. These women, with their foreign retinues, introduced unwelcome pagan practices back into Israelite society. Presumably, their magical and occult practices also became part of Solomon’s repertoire of knowledge.

As the archetypal wisdom figure, Solomon was credited with skill and mastery of esoteric lore. Post-biblical Jewish literature amplified and expanded on this aspect of Solomon’s life.

No doubt influenced by the legend of the wizard-king Pharaoh Nectanebus, who used his skills to seduce Olympia, the wife of Phillip of Macedonian and so, secretly, fathered the quasi-enchanted Alexander the Great, royal wizardry was also ascribed to Solomon, the son of David. It was a common motif for other kings of the ancient Near East, the Hebrew Scriptures styles Solomon as a patron of all forms of wisdom (1 Kings 5:11). The post-biblical work The Wisdom of Solomon elaborates on this theme:

May God grant that I [Solomon] speak with judgment and have thought worthy of what I have received, for he is the guide even of wisdom and the corrector of the wise … For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements; the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts, the powers of daemons and the reasoning of men, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots; learned both what is secret and what is manifest … (7:15-21)

By default, “knowledge of what exists” would have included the science of magic, a standard branch of learning in the ancient world. Later writers would particularly pick out the themes of Solomon’s mastery of zoology and demonology.

Not only did Solomon study animals, but he could actually talk with them, through the agency of a magical ring that he fabricated (Testament of Solomon; Tanh. B. hakadmah). The same ring gave him the power to summon and command demon (Eccl.2:8; Testament of Solomon).

In a remarkable and elaborate narrative that appears in the Talmud, Solomon enslaved Asmodeus (Belzebouel in other sources), king of demons, to help him construct the Temple by providing Solomon with the Shamir worm, which could cut the stones without the aid of iron tools. Eventually, a whole army of demons assisted in the project In time, Asmodeus tricked Solomon into giving him his magical ring and then teleported the king to the end of the Earth, from whence he had to return to Jerusalem by begging. In the meantime, Asmodeus’s shape changed and he took the king’s place, thus explaining how the wisest king in history seemingly strayed from God (Git. 68a-b). According to some legends, Solomon took three years to return to his throne. In others, he actually died in humble circumstances as punishment for his sins (Yalkut 1 Kings 182; Ex. R. 52:3).

The throne of Solomon was a wonder unto itself, a reflection of the Throne of Glory on high. He also possessed an enormous flying carpet capable of holding forty thousand people. He had eagles that served as his personal entourage. These eagles would lift up his throne and fly him to the ends of the earth, even into heaven and Gehenna (Ruth R. 1:17; Eccl. R. 2:25; Zohar II:112b-113a).

His bevy of foreign a marriages also had cosmic consequences. Since their presence corrupted the Temple, God commissioned Michael to raise up a nemesis against Israel from the slime of the sea. This eventually grew into the city of Rome (S of S R. 1:6).

These traditions were bequeathed to the medieval world. Thus in Nachmanides’s introduction to his commentary on the Torah he notes:

[Solomon] was better versed in divination and enchanting then they [the fabled “children of the East,” 1 Kings 5:10] and Solomon [also] was better versed in sorcery, which is the wisdom of Egypt.

In time, Solomon’s standing as the scholarly magician par excellence came to eclipse the similar tradition regarding Moses. So that aside from the three biblical books he purportedly authored (Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes), there arose a proliferation of magical and alchemical texts presented as being in the Solomonic magical tradition: Key of Solomon, Letter of Rehoboam, and Sefer ha-Razim, in addition to the aforementioned Testament of Solomon; a veritable library of esoteric powers credited to the Israelite king. A whole array of other books, devoted to alchemy, metallurgy, angelology, and metaphysics, are also pseud-epigraphically ascribed to him.

Jewish oneiromancers teach that if Solomon appears to someone in a dream, the dreamer can expect wisdom to come to him also (Ber. 57b).

Solomon, Throne of: SEE THRONE OF SOLOMON.

Son(s) of God: (60186/Ben Elohim; B’nai Elohim). A term variously used to refer to angels (Gen. 6; Deut. 32; Ps. 82; Job 1), kings of Israel (2 Sam. 7; Ps. 2), and the Children of Israel (Ex. 4; Deut. 32).

Son of Man: (60184/Ben Adam; Ben Enosh). This idiom for “human being” or “mortal” takes on the meaning of a prophet in Ezekiel, and then messianic overtones in the book of Daniel (7) and the Books of Enoch.

Sonadora: Witch and diviner (Turkish, ca. 16th century). This witch was repeatedly consulted by Chayyim Vital, who relied on her ability to use lecanomancy to divine the future (Sefer ha-Hezyonot 2).

Song of Songs, the: (60193/Shir ha-Shirim). Also called “The Song of Solomon” and “Canticles” in Christian tradition, it is a book of the Bible. This biblical book, along with Ezekiel 1, Genesis 1, and Isaiah 6, is the start-point for Jewish esoteric speculation derived from the Hebrew Bible.

The Sages of the 1st century debated whether this series of passionate love poems that never mention God should even be part of the biblical canon. The Song of Songs was accepted, however, on the strength of the argument that it is actually an allegory for the love between God and Israel. Since then, the text has been a fertile ground for mystical speculation. Rabbi Akiba and his contemporaries evidently had a whole body of mystical traditions concerning this text, starting with the claim that it was given, along with the Torah, at Mount Sinai (S of S R. 1). A number of interpreters understand it as the internal narrative of God’s thoughts and feelings during the Exodus. Because of this, most Midrashim on Song of Songs attempt to make its verses correspond to specific incidents in the book of Exodus, but this far from the only interpretation of the book:

✵ A Love Dialogue Between God and the Community Israel: This usually assumes that the images are all related in some way to events of the Exodus (Mid. S of S) or to the entire arc of Jewish history, from Abraham to the Messiah (Targum S of S).

✵ A Dialogue Between God and the Soul: This Neoplatonic perspective is the primary focus of Isaak ibn Sahula’s 13th-century commentary.

✵ A Dialogue Between the Torah and its Disciples: This reading is only to be found in the writings of Solomon Alkabetz (16th century).

✵ A Dialogue Between the Material and the Intellect: This scholastic-philosophic interpretation is exemplified in the commentary of Gersonides (14th century).

✵ A Dialogue Between the Feminine and Masculine Aspects of Divinity: This Kabbalistic reading evidently begins with Ezra of Gerona (13th century). The Zohar includes this interpretation in Zohar Hadash.

Distinct esoteric readings of select sections of Song of Songs are also legion: Shi’ur Qomah’s description of the supernal Body of God is inspired by the Song, as is the mystical liturgical poem Shir ha-Kavod, which came out of German Pietist circles. It is frequently cited in the Zohar and other mystical tracts. Chapter 5 is recited over a corpse while preparing it for burial to invoke God’s love and desire for the deceased (Taharah ritual). SEE ALLEGORY;GLORY, SONG OF.

Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: Also known as 4Q400- 7 and 11Q17, this Dead Sea Scrolls text is a kind of mystical liturgy that describes how the priests and angels worship together in the heavenly Temple at the Throne of Glory. It is built around the sectarian solar calendar of Jubilees, with the year being divided into four thirteen-week cycles, with a special liturgy for each week of that cycle. It also is one of the earliest Jewish texts to allude to the seven heavens.

Songs of the Sage: Also known as 4Q510-11, it is a fragmentary collection of protective incantations against demonic attack found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.




Sorcery: (60230/Kishuf, also Kesem; Nachshaya). A notoriously difficult term to define without giving the word a pejorative connotation, some modern scholars of the occult distinguish between “sorcery” and “witchcraft,” arguing that the former is characteristically treated as a “technology,” practicable by anyone educated in its methods. It is performed for either beneficent (healing, protection) or selfish (attaining wealth, love, or power) ends, but it is not inherently evil. Witchcraft, on the other hand, is the term applied to magical practitioners who derive their power from infernal forces and/or use that power for malevolent purposes. By these definitions, Jews have long tolerated the practice of certain kinds of sorcery, both scholarly and shamanistic, even as they have proscribed witchcraft.

The Bible forbids the practice of magic without being very specific in describing what the offending activity entails (Deut. 18). Later authorities seek to clarify exactly what kinds of behaviors are permitted and what are not. The Talmud condemns those practices that involve “performance” (i.e., manipulating objects or materia magica), but permits “word magic.” This seems to be one of the distinguishing features of Hechalot literature: in some ways it closely resembles the spells and adjurations found in pagan magical texts, yet it lacks the same elaborate use of substances, objects, or sacrifices found in the latter.

In a related vein, medieval Jewish authorities condemn magic (the mechanical performance of symbolic behavior with the belief that it will force something to occur, regardless of heavenly powers), but tolerate various forms of theurgy (invoking God, angels, and even demons, with rituals and words to achieve a desired end) when performed by figures otherwise recognized for their righteousness and piety. But however it is parsed out, “sorcery” in certain forms is understood to function somehow within the parameters (or at the boundaries) of Judaism.1 While Jewish authorities regard the practice of sorcery to be dangerous and doubtful, the Christian notion that all sorcerers have allied themselves with the devil is unheard of in Jewish tradition.

Most examples of Jewish sorcery can be classified as “learned” or “scholarly” magic. It is understood to be a byproduct of mastery of other Jewish disciplines (Jewish texts, mysticism, or even medicine) and made possible by the moral rectitude of the adept. As a result, influential rabbis could also have the reputation of being sorcerers or theurgists. Given that a thorough Jewish education is a prerequisite for acquiring such theurgic powers,2 Jewish adepts of sorcery were, historically, men. Still, though women were most often not in a position to gain the requisite education, they did practice kinds of folk medicine and magic that were also accepted by the community, because in theory, the use of supernal power was open to any Righteous person who could acquire the knowledge and skill, regardless of education.3

Man or woman, there are few cases before modern times of a Jew functioning as a “professional” sorcerer for the community, though the activities of Renaissance and early modern Jewish alchemists employed by gentile patrons do provide several examples of Jews working as professional adepts.

1. Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, 101-5.

2. J. Chajes and J. Copenhaver, “Magic and Astrology,” in Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, P. Grendler, ed., (New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1998), 21-23.

3. J. H. Chajes, “Women Leading Women (and Attentive Men): Early Modern Jewish Models of Pietistic Female Authority,” in Jewish Religious Leadership: Image and Reality, Jack Wertheimer, ed. (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 2004).

Sortes/Sortilege: Any divination by means of drawing lots, casting arrows (belomancy), or randomly selecting biblical passages and interpreting the results (Bibliomancy).

Sotah: The term used for the ritual trial of a woman accused of adultery (Num. 5). This ordeal entails having her jealous husband bring her before the priest in the tabernacle or Temple.

Soul: (60239). “The dust returns to the earth; the spirit returns to God who made it” (Eccl.12:7). Despite claims to the contrary among modern Jews (and some scholars), ancient Israelites from the very beginning had a notion that some aspect of the human individual continues to exist after Death. It is true, however, that how Israelites, and their Jewish descendants, understood the enduring nature of the human being has varied over time.

As on so many other issues of metaphysics, the Hebrew Scriptures are vague on the nature of the soul, and the Jewish understanding of this mystery has had to be pieced together from diverse parts of the Bible. Even the word used for the “soul,” the higher consciousness and enduring aspect of human identity, varies throughout Scripture.

The Sages assert that the soul is polypsychic and identify a hierarchy of three dimensions to the human soul from three terms used in the Bible: nefesh, ruach, and nishama. This triad soul is the basis for virtually all Jewish metaphysics (Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodesh 39). Only in the later varieties of Kabbalah does the model of the five-dimension soul promulgated.

The nefesh is the animus, the “animal vitality,” that animates all sentient creatures. In the Zohar, the nefesh remains bound to the Body and close to those who were once close to the deceased. Thus an appearance of the dead in cemeteries, dreams, and apparitions is a manifestation of the nefesh. The Vilna Gaon, by contrast, regards this to be the part of the soul that undergoes radical transformation in the process of reincarnation.

The Ruach is the “spirit,” the seat of the emotions and moral capacity, the discerning capacity that makes a human distinct from other animals. This is the part of the soul that must undergo Gehenna for the poor choices it made while living, but then also gets to enjoy Gan Eden in the afterlife. In some metaphysical models, it then migrates to the Tzror ha-Chayyim, the “Treasury of Souls,” from which it will be recycled into a new bodily existence until it has completed all the necessary work that soul must accomplish.

Finally, the neshamah, or “soul,” is the highest self, the intellect that allows a person to apprehend God. Since this aspect of the soul is not tainted by the sins committed in this world, it is the neshamah that has an eternal afterlife. It is the interaction of these three elements that give a person his or her distinct personality.

In later mystical traditions, two more dimensions of the soul are discerned, aspects of the soul that are fully developed in only a few people: the Chayyah and the Yechidah. The former is that which serves as the “sixth sense,” the ability to be attuned to divine forces, and the latter is the part of the soul that is the true “spark” of divinity and is capable of complete fusion with God. It is through this part of the soul that some people are able to perform miracles (Zohar II:94b; Keter Shem Tov, 4a; Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim 1-2; Tanya 1-2).

In Kabbalah , the soul is called the “fruit” of the “Tree of Life ,” the sefirot (Bahir 14; Zohar I:15b, 59a-60a, 115a-b). In the Zohar, the soul is the “child” of the union of Shekhinah and the Holy One, and the angels give the soul its good and evil inclination (Zohar III:119b-120a). Later mysticism suggests that all souls originate from the one soul of Adam Kadmon (Sefer Hezyonot; Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim 1:2).

Souls begin as part of larger Shoresh Gadol, “root souls,” in the guf ha-Briyot, the Treasury of Souls or in Adam Kadmon . Initially, souls have no gender (Gen. R. 8:1; Zohar I:85b). Every soul has an angel that teaches it the entire Torah. At the moment of ensoulment, the angel strikes the fetus on the upper lip, causing the soul to forget all it has learned (and making the indention under the nose), so the task of each soul is to remember the Torah it learned before birth (Nid. 16b) and perform every commandment perfectly (Sanh. 98a; Yev. 62a-63b; Tanh. Pekudei 3, 9; Tanh. Ki Tissa 12; Gen. R. 40:3; Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim). SEE ANCESTORS; TZROR HA-CHAYYIM.

South: (60247/Negev, also D’rom). One of the four cardinal compass points, it is the direction from which light , love, and compassion emanate (Zohar I:81b).

Speculum: (60245/Re’i; Greek: Espaklarya). This term is associated with the power of Prophecy, but it is not clear whether the term refers to a paranormal phenomenon, or to a physical scrying device, such as a mirror. Different prophets had different access to vision of divinity,

Rabbi Judah ben Ilai said, “All the prophets had a vision of God as He appeared through nine specula … but Moses saw God through one speculum.” (Lev. R. 1:14)

A similar sentiment appears in the Talmud,

All the prophets gazed through a speculum that does not shine, while Moses our teacher gazed through a speculum that shines.” (Yev. 49b)

There are a variety of Jewish mystical and Kabbalistic speculation devoted to understanding the nature of the prophetic speculum. Some believed the term refers to the Urim and Thummim (Zohar II:234b). Others believe that an actual mirrors is being described; it was simply a device to avoid looking directly at the divine glory, which—like the gaze of a Gorgon in Greek mythology—could kill. In the Zohar, each of the sefirot is a different kind of speculum that refracts the divine light , transmitting it to the lower worlds (I:141a), with Tiferet being the speculum that Moses used for the full clarity of his prophetic vision. The “speculum that does not shine [i.e., only receives] is the Shekhinah (I:183a). Paradoxically, it is the “lesser” speculum, the Shekhinah, that is the key to correctly perceiving the other, “shining” specula (sefirot):

“And the enlightened will shine like the splendor of the sky.” This refers to those who are engaged in [the study of] Torah and contemplate words of Torah with intention and meditation of the heart. The enlightened contemplate [words of Torah] but they do not contemplate the word alone. Rather, they contemplate the place upon which the word is dependent, for there is no word that is not dependent on another supernal mystery. He finds in this word another matter of the supernal mystery. From the speculum that does not shine a person can find and see the secret of the speculum that shines … This is [the import of] “like the splendor of the sky,” that is the sky which is known [that stands] upon the creatures below, for from within that sky one can contemplate that splendor that shines, the splendor of the supernal splendors, the splendor that comes forth from the supernal point, shining and sparkling with the radiance of the other lights to every side. (ZCh 105c) 1

The Righteous can in turn gaze through the same sefirot and discern the future, divine intentions, and other occult truths (Perush ha-Aggadot 33).

1. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines, 390.


Spitting: Spitting, essentially an act of expulsion, is a common Jewish defensive act against the evil eye. Most often, it is done three times in concert with reciting a protective phrase, such as kenahora, or with a passage of Scripture. According to the Testament of Solomon, spittle combined with the right ritual has the power to drive away demons . Conversely, the Talmud forbids spitting while reciting biblical verses, apparently assuming that the two in combination are intended to perform a magical ritual (Shev. 15b).

It is interesting to note that even as early as the 1st century, saliva was used against spiritual threats; Jesus of Nazareth used spit to remove a demon that caused a man to stammer (Mark 7:32-35). A similar practice is mentioned in PdRE 33.

Staff: SEE ROD.

Study: Torah study is one of the central devotional activities of Judaism, equal to worship (Avot 1:3; Shab. 127b; Pes. 50b). In fact, it is a form of worship. Moreover, it is like a re-experiencing of the revelation at Sinai, even to the point of having some of the visionary elements, like fire and heavenly voices, manifest themselves (Lev. R. 16:4; B.M. 59b). Other miracles are triggered by intensive Torah study, such as creating ambulatory trees and destroying interfering animals (Chag. 14b; Suk. 28a; Zohar I:243a). If performed with the right kavanah, Torah study causes the Shekhinah to be restored to its place on high (Zohar I:10b).

Substitution: Substitution is the belief that one can deflect or redirect a detrimental condition or event by transferring it to a substitute object or entity. This is the logic behind folk beliefs about offering sacrifices, but especially the Yom Kippur scapegoat offering (PdRE 46). Another prime example in Jewish lore of a substitution ritual is Kabbalah , in which one ritually transfers one’s sins to a birds, slaughters the bird, and then donates the meat to the poor. If one suffers a sudden foreboding about an unknown menace, one should remove oneself from the spot by four cubits and recite the phrase “The he-goat at the butcher’s is fatter than I” (Meg. 3a). A person suffering a fever was directed to go to a crossroad, find an ant carrying a burden, collect it in a copper tube and intone “What you carry on me, that I carry on you” while shaking the tube (Shab. 66b). Medieval Jewish segulot include many remedies that involve affecting a substitution.1 SEE REVERSAL; SYMPATHY.

1. Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians, and Doctors, 121, 139-40.

Succubus: A female demon that enters the dreams of sleeping men, arouses them, and causes nocturnal emissions (Nishmat Chayyim 3:16). The semen so released is used to breed new demons, a belief that is repeatedly explored in the Zohar (I:19b, 55a; III:76b).

Anonymous succubae appear in Jewish literature. The most notable are the orgy of demonesses who copulated with Adam for 130 years:

Rabbi Jeremia ben Eleazar said, “During those years [after their expulsion from the Garden], in which Adam, the first man, was separated from Eve, he became the father of ghouls and demons and lilin.” Rabbi Meir said, “Adam, the first man, being very pious and finding that he had caused death to come into the world, sat fasting for 130 years, and separated himself from his wife for 130 years, and wore fig vines for 130 years. His fathering of evil spirits came as a result of nocturnal emissions.” (Eruvim 18b; also see Tanh. Bereshit 26; Gen. R. 20:1)

Tradition identifies several succubae by name, most famously Lilith, Igrat, and Naaman.

Sukkah: (60277). “Hut.” This temporary structure, erected for the seven-day holiday of Sukkot, is a multivalent symbol. It represents the Clouds of Glory that shielded the Israelites during their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness (Suk. 11b). The sukkah occupies material and supernal space simultaneously. As one contemporary Chasidic master put it:

“The sukkah is over our heads as the Shekhinah hovers over us like a mother over her dear children …” 1

According to Isaac Luria the sukkah is a potential “frame” for the Shekhinah, uniting the feminine Shekhinah with the masculine divine principle of Tiferet. The sukkah is the womb which draws together Jewish souls>, both living and dead (Sha’ar ha-Kavvanot, drash 5).

1. J. Lewis, “The Jewish Goddess(es),” Tel Shemesh, 2004, accessed 2008, http://telshemesh.org/fire/the_jewish_goddesses_justin_lewis.html.

Sukkot: (60279). The holiday of Sukkot, which celebrates the harvest and reminds Jews of our forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, has a number of mystical-theurgic elements associated with it. One of the overarching themes of Sukkot during Talmudic times was to pray for the continued fertility of the Earth, now that the year’s harvest has been gathered. Thus Jews begin seasonal prayers for rain. While the Temple stood, there was a corresponding ritual to “draw up” the subterranean waters called the water libation ritual (Tan. 25b).

Thematically linked is the waving of the lulav, the four species. The four plants, held together in a grouping suggestive of a phallus , is waved in the four compass directions, up toward heaven (the upper waters?) and down to the earth (the lower waters?) (Zohar III:255a).

Finally, there is the famous custom of the ushpizin, inviting the ancestral ghosts to sit in the sukkah with us (Zohar III:121a).

A number of other less conspicuous occult elements are all associated with Sukkot. Perhaps because of the theme of fertility for the whole world, Sukkot is the holiday most focused on the well-being of the entire world. There were other rituals performed that were understood to benefit all humanity, such as the seventy bull offerings made, one for every nations in the world (Num. 29; Suk. 55b; Lam. R. 1:23; PdRK 28:9).

Sulam: (60281). “Ladder/Staircase/Ramp.” This word, which appears only once in the TaNaKH (Gen. 28:12), is the mechanism by which angels descend and ascend between heaven and Earth. The Talmud claimed it had cosmic proportions, being “8000 parasangs” wide (Chul. 91b). In the Zohar, it is seen as yet another synonym for the sefirot, specifically the Shekhinah which rise or falls based on human deeds (Zohar I:149a-b). R. Yehudah Ashlag named his commentary to the Zohar the Sulam.

Sulfur: A popular component in the practice of alchemy. It is also a materia magica used in Jewish exorcisms. SEE PHARMACOPOEIA.

Summoning, Angelic: In psalm 68:19 it is written, “You ascended on high, having taken captives …” Rabbinic tradition understands this to be referring to Moses, and this verse becomes the prooftext for the belief that, like Moses, mortals can summon and harness angels to their service. At the root of this practice of power is a tradition that the angels opposed Moses receiving the Torah. When God and Moses won out and the Torah was given to humanity, the angels submitted themselves to Moses, even giving him their names and revealing incantations that would allow him to command the angelic hosts. These spells Moses then bequeathed to the Children of Israel, and a worthy sage of the Torah can likewise command angels (Sword of Moses).1

The actual act of summoning is preceded by a long period of preparatory purification. Five elements are present in most mystical/magical purification practices: a set period of time (three to forty-one days), avoiding sex and seminal emissions (and in the case of men, avoiding women), fasting and food restrictions, immersion, performing certain rituals/incantations, and washing one’s clothing:

The one who binds himself by the Sar ha-Torah (“the Prince [Angel] of the Torah”) should wash his clothes and his garments, and make a strict immersion. He should enter and sit for twelve days in a room or attic. He should not go out or come in. He should not eat or drink except in the evening. When he eats his bread, it should be bread from [his] clean hands. He should drink water, but not taste any kind of vegetable. He should fix this Midrash of the Sar ha-Torah in prayer three times a day, after the prayer [the Amidah prayers] that he should pray from its beginning to its end. And after that he should sit and repeat it repetitively all twelve days, days of his fasting, from morning to night, and he should not be silent. He should stand on his feet and adjure the servants by their king, and he should call twelve times to each prince. And that he should adjure them by the seal, each one of them.2

Besides repeatedly cleansing oneself and one’s clothing in the living waters of heaven (in at least one case, the adept must be immersed in water at the time of angelic visitation), fasting or reducing the kinds of foods one eats also makes it easier to move in divine realms and/or deal with divine beings, for it makes you less human and more angelic (angels don’t eat).3

As the purification rites draw to a close, the time has come to use the mashiva, or summoning incantation. This involves a series of repetitive commands and praises that incorporate the names of the angels and long strings of nomina barbara, apparent nonsense words that were understood to be the “language of heaven,” comprehensible on high.

The combination of severe and ascetic purification rites, physical and social isolation, constant concentration, and mantra-like repetitions of incantations and divine names evidently induce a trance that allows the adept to commune with the angelic beings (Otzer ha-Geonim 4:2:1).

Once the angel has been successfully summoned, the texts are unclear on the exact nature of the angelic manifestation. One text states the angel will appear “like a man” and converse with the adept “lovingly.” 4 Others state that one will hear a voice but see nothing, possibly meaning that the angel possesses the Body of the adept, but this is never explicitly stated.5 Often, the angel will come clothed in a dream. Witnessed accounts of angelic possession of humans do not appear before the 16th century.

There are also traditions about religious wunderkinds who could summon animals to do their bidding, and stories of attempts to summon the Messiah himself. SEE MAGGID.; MEDIUM; MESSIAH; SAR HA-TORAH.

1. M. Gaster, The Sword of Moses (New York: KTAV, 1971), 2.

2. Lesses, Ritual Practices to Gain Power, 193-195.

3. Ibid., 117-58.

4. Swartz, “The Book of the Great Name,” 340-47.

5. Lesses, Ritual Practices to Gain Power, 85.

Sun: (60297/Shemesh). The sun was widely worshipped as a god in the ancient Near East. The Torah expressly forbids such worship (Deut. 4), but that does not mean that Jews have not regarded the sun as a source of numinous power. The sun is generally considered a benevolent force (Mal. 3), but also has the power to harm (Ps. 121). On two occasions in the Bible, God alters the course of the sun: once for the benefit of Israel (Josh. 10) and once as a signs to King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20).

For the sectarian priests who authored many of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the sun was central to their mystical-priestly ideology. In contrast to the rabbinic tradition, they observed a solar calendar. To them the sun signified divine constancy and purity.

In Hebrew magical texts such as Sefer ha-Razim, the influence of the sun is a matter of some interest. In certain Hebrew magical texts from Late Antiquity, Pagan sun deities, such as Helios/Sol, are subsumed into a kind of “inclusive monotheism” that demotes them to the status of angels but still retains their names as numinous beings subservient to the God of Israel.

The Talmud suggests that the sun is sentient (Ned. 39b). Rabbinic thought teaches that, like all other celestial bodies, the sun has an animating intellect or angel. The sun comes to rest in the Garden of Eden each night. It burns red in the morning because its light is seen through the roses of Eden; it burns red at sunset because it passes behind the fire of Gehenna (B.B. 84a). An eclipse of the sun signifies a bad omen for the non-Jewish nations.

The Sages teach that the sun will shine more brightly in the Messianic Era. They also promise that the sun’s true supernatural power will become evident in the World to Come; it will heal the Righteous and burn up the wicked (Ned. 8b; B.B. 4a; Pes. 12a-b; Eruv. 56a). SEE ASTROLOGY; ZODIAC.

Suriel: (60309). A Sar angel mentioned in Berachot 51a and in Hechalot texts. He offers advice to mortals to protect them from demons .

Susiel: (60307). An angel mentioned in amulets.

Sword: (60305). A symbol of power, force, and punishment, God has a sword of judgment which is given to the angels; it makes its first appearance in the hands of the cherubim that guard the way back to Eden (Gen. 3). This may be the same sword that is wielded by the Angels of Death. Right now it “sleeps,” but woe to the world should God ever awaken it (Mid. Teh. 80:3). God will use a “mighty and hard” sword, presumably this same one, to slay Leviathan at the end of time (Isa. 27:1). This “sword” is sometimes a figure of speech, referring to Divine speech (Deut. 32:41; III Enoch 32). Magical swords in the hands of humans are much rarer. It is actually the staff of Moses that serves as the Excalibur of Jewish folklore, though tradition indicates that passed through Noah ’s hands, also. Nevertheless, swords inscribed with divine names wielded by humans in supernatural combat are mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls (The Children of Light will have such swords during the final apocalyptic battle against the Children of Darkness). In Midrash Abkir, Methuselah subdues demon changelings that torment primordial humanity with a divinely empowered vorpal blade:

When the First Man saw that death had come upon him by the hand of Cain … he separated from the Woman and slept alone, so that a lilit that was named Piznai found him and aroused his lust with her beauty … and she bore him djinns and lilin. She bore him 92 thousand multitudes of djinns and lilin, and the first born [changling or demonoid child] of the First Man was named Agrimas. So Agrimas went and took the lilit Amarit; she bore to him 92 thousand multitudes of djinns and lilins, and the first born of Agrimas was named Avalmas. He went and took the lilit Gofrit, and she bore for him 88 thousand multitudes of djinns and lilin. The first born of Avalmas, his name was Akrimas. He went and took Afizana daughter of Piznai (an older woman?) and … [eventually] The Holy Blessed One gave over the Wicked Ones to Methuselah the righteous, who wrote the explicit name of God upon his sword and slew 900,000 in a single moment, until Agrimas, the first born of the First Man, came to him. So he stood before Methuselah and he appealed to him to receive him. And he (Agrimas) wrote and gave to him the names of the djinns and lilin and [in turn] they (the shedim) gave them (humans) iron to restrain [spirits] and they gave their letters in protection, so the remnant (the surviving spirits) concealed themselves in the remotest mountains and in the depths of the ocean. (Malachei Elyon 204)

This sword, inscribed with divine names, does not appear again after this (LOTJ 411). In Jewish magical practice, a sword was sometimes a compoenent in rituals to treat impotence.1SEE LANGUAGE; SIXTEEN-SIDED SWORD OF THE ALMIGHTY; WEAPONS.

1. Elkes, The BeSHT, 15


Cherub with flaming sword at the gate to the Garden

Sword of Moses: The Charba de Moshe is medieval manual of theurgy. This short book provides the most detailed description available of the rituals used by Jewish sorcerers to summon angels. The “sword” in the title is the power God gives over to mortals to fulfill “every desire.” The manual begins with its theurgic philosophy, recounting how God adjured the angels to serve all humans who summon them properly, just as the angels served Moses. According to the text, the teaching contained in the Sword Of Moses. was given to Moses at the burning bush. The book describes the steps of purification and then gives the incantations that must be recited to command the angels to “adhere” to the sorcerer:

And when you conjure him he will attach himself to you, and cause the other five Chiefs and their Chariots, and the lords that stand under them, to attach themselves to you just as they were ordered to attach themselves to Moses, son of Amram, and to attach to him all the lords that stand under them; and they will not tarry in their obeisance, and will not withhold from giving authority to the man who utters the conjuration over this “Sword,” its mysteries and hidden powers, its glory and might, and they will not refuse to do it, as it is the command of God X [ABDUHU] saying: “You shall not refuse to obey a mortal who conjures you, nor should you be different to him from what you were to Moses, son of Amram, when you were commanded to do so, for he is conjuring you with My Ineffable names, and you render honour to My name and not to him. If you should refuse I will burn you, for you have not honoured Me … If you wish to use this ‘Sword’ and to transmit it to the following generations, (then know) that the man who decides to use it must first free himself three days previously from accidental pollution and from everything unclean, eat and drink once every evening, and must eat the bread from a pure man or wash his hands first in salt (?), and drink only water; and no one is to know that he intends using this ‘Sword,’ as therein are the mysteries of the Universe, and they are practised only in secret, and are not communicated but to the chaste and pure. On the first day when you retire from (the world) bathe once and no more, and pray three times daily, and after each prayer recite the following Blessing: Blessed art thou [QUSIM], O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who opens the gates of the East and separates the windows of the firmament of the Orient, and gives light to the whole world and its inhabitants, with the multitude of His mercies, with His mysteries and secrets, and teaches Your people Israel Your secrets and mysteries, and has revealed unto them the ‘Sword’ used by the world; and You say unto them: If anyone is desirous of using this ‘Sword,’ by which every wish is fulfilled and every secret revealed, and every miracle, marvel, and prodigy are performed, then speak to Me in the following manner, read before Me this and that, and conjure in such and such a wise, and I will instantly be prevailed upon and be well disposed towards you, and I will give you authority over this Sword, by which to fulfill all that you desire …” 1

Like other Hebrew magical texts, Sword of Moses is crammed with divine names, the names of hundreds of angels, and permutation mantras. The book includes an elaborate angelology, though most of the angelic names that appear in it are not names conventionally appearing in rabbinic texts. Even more peculiar is the fact that some of the angelic names are patronymic (they consist of the angel’s name and the name of the angel’s father). On the face of it, this contradicts other authoritative Jewish texts on the origins of angels.

Unlike other Hebrew magical texts that adhere more closely to rabbinic prohibitions against the methods of sorcery and witchcraft, Sword of Moses revels in rituals and activities more characteristic of Pagan magic—the use of magical materials, animal sacrifices, and even the consumption of blood from ritually impure animals. The Sword contains a fine list of the pharmalogia of medieval magic. Some of these include rose oil, eggs, live cocks, worms, grasshoppers, fingernail parings, donkey meat, dust of ant hills, olive oil, camphor oil, lion’s blood, gall, human bones, and the dura mater of a ram's brain, as well as various broths made from substances soaked in water (hemp, radishes, laurels, etc.).

Some of the powers promised to the adept who employs the power of the Sword include destroying demons , healing disease, freeing prisoners, stopping a ship at sea, overthrowing kings, killing enemies, communing with the dead, and having supernal secrets revealed. And of course, it offers advice on the construction of amulets. It is striking that at one point in the text, the author of the work felt the need to assuage more traditionally minded Jews by claiming that Moses used the Sword to combat witchcraft:

In truth, this is the [“Sword of Moses”] with which he [Moses] accomplished his miracles and mighty deeds, and destroyed all kind of witchcraft; it had been revealed to Moses in the bush, when the great and glorious Name was delivered to him. Take care of it and it will take care of thee.


1. Gaster, The Sword of Moses, 2-3.

Sympathy: Sympathetic influence is one of the underpinning assumptions of magic. Sympathetic magic is based on the metaphysical belief that divine forces are clothed in ordinary things and like affects like; that there are analogies to be made between symbolic acts and real events and that if things can be mentally associated, they can magically influence each other.

Sympathy is the basis for many forms of Jewish divination. bones are used to summon dead spirits to séances. Adepts summoning angels will purify themselves in water direct from heaven and then dress themselves in white. The shapes and patterns in oil on water or thrown stones, or smoke curls, or the behavior of animals, are understood to parallel events in the empirical world.

It is also the basis for cursing rituals such as tying or burying figurines representing enemies and for healing practices such as reciting a word of power backwards to reverse an illness. Sympathy is clearly the logical basis for Jewish homeopathic remedies and remote healing (what in Latin is called similia similibus curantur, “like cures like”). Thus one 18th-century Jewish manual advised drinking a solution made from the brain of a hanged man as a treatment for epilepsy (apparently because, unarguably, hanging had quickly cured the executed man of his twitching and thrashing). Such examples of sympathetic rationales for Jewish theurgic and healing practices abound, though this is not the only way to think about the symbolic behavior found in Jewish magical traditions.1

Sympathy is also at work in the relationships between the higher and lower worlds. Thus when a Kabbalist wishes to effect a change in the divine sefirot, for example, he may opt to dress in the color of the particular sefirah he seeks to influence. SEE CURSE; PHARMACOPOEIA. ; SORCERY; VOODOO OR MAGICAL DOLLS.

1. Kern-Ulmer, “The Depiction of Magic in Rabbinic Texts,” 291-92; Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians, and Doctors, 114-15.

Synagogue: (60323/Beit Knesset, also Beit Midrash; Yiddish: Shul). Since Judaism does not have the concept of terra sancta, with the accompanying belief that such Earth provides sanctuary against evil, this means that synagogues are as vulnerable to demonic assault as any other place (ShB 84). Thus archaeologists have uncovered several examples of amulets being incorporated into synagogue walls, floors, and even placed within the ark.1 At times the ark and other accoutrements and furnishings could themselves become the objects of magical or prophylactic beliefs and practices.

This is not to say synagogues have not been treated as places of numinous power. Synagogues have long served as centers of healing. In ancient and medieval times, this would entail the use of segulot (quasi-magical remedies), lechishiot (healing incantations), and amulet making on or around the synagogue premises (Sword of Moses). Though such activities may have been marginal in the eyes of Jewish authorities, there are very few opinions recorded in Jewish law objecting to such activities. This suggests that these were, at the very least, tolerated uses for the synagogue.2 Some golem traditions specify that earth from a synagogue is a necessary component in making one, while others indicate the actual construction of a golem must take place within a synagogue.3

1. Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls, 14.

2. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue, 274-75.

3. Idel, The Golem, 61.