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

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


Vampire: (60755/Arpad; 60757/Aluka; Yiddish: Estrie). A blood-lusting monster. The earliest reference to what may be a vampire appears in the Bible, where it is called an aluka (Prov. 30:15). The earliest explicit reference to a vampiric creature occurs in a text of Late Antiquity, the Testament of Solomon:

Behold, when the Temple of the city of Jerusalem was being built, and the artificers were working thereat, Ornias the demon came among them toward sunset; and he took away half of the pay of the chief-deviser’s little boy, as well as half his food. He also continued to suck the thumb of his right hand every day. And the child grew thin, although he was very much loved by the king. So King Solomon called the boy one day, and questioned him, saying: “Do I not love thee more than all the artisans who are working in the Temple of God? Do I not give thee double wages and a double supply of food? How is it that day by day and hour by hour thou growest thinner?”

But the child said to the king: “I pray thee, O king. Listen to what has befallen all that thy child hath. After we are all released from our work on the Temple of God, after sunset, when I lie down to rest, one of the evil demons comes and takes away from me one half of my pay and one half of my food. Then he also takes hold of my right hand and sucks my thumb. And lo, my soul is oppressed, and so my body waxes thinner every day.”

Solomon responds to this threat by constructing a magic ring with which he enslaves this demon and, subsequently, higher orders of demons. In the end, the king uses these demon-slaves to help him construct the Temple.

Later, and very different, vampire traditions appear among the Jews of medieval Rhineland, not far from the areas where flourishing Christian beliefs in blood-sucking creatures would become the basis for Bram Stoker’s story. These passages come from the “Testament of Rabbi Judah” section of Sefer Hasidim (“The Book of the Pious”), a wide-ranging tract on Jewish piety that includes stories about ghosts, Liliths, and other paranormal events:

1465: There are women that are called estrie … They were created at sunset [before the first Sabbath before creation]. As a result of this, they are able to change form. There was one woman who was an estrie and she was very sick and there were two women with her at night; one was sleeping and one was awake. And the sick woman stood up and loosened her hair and she was about to fly and suck the blood of the sleeping woman. And the woman who was awake screamed and woke her friend and they grabbed the sick estrie, and after this she slept. And moreover, if she had been able to grab the other woman, then she, the estrie, would have lived. Since she was not able to hurt the other woman, the estrie died, because she needs to drink the blood of living flesh. The same is true of the werewolf. And since … the estrie need to loosen their hair before they fly, one must adjure her to come with her hair bound so that she cannot go anywhere without permission. And if an estrie is injured or seen by someone, she cannot live unless she eats of the bread and salt of the one who struck her. Then her soul will return to the way it was before.

1466: There was a woman who was suspected of being an estrie, and she was injured when she appeared to a Jew as a cat and he hit her. The next day she asked him to give her some of his bread and salt, and he wanted to give it to her. An old man said to him (Eccl. 7:16) “Be not overly righteous.” When others have sinned one must not show kindness, for if she lives, she will harm people. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He created her for you [as a test]. This is similar to Amalek and Saul. Saul was punished for saving Amalek’s life. [1 Sam. 15]

The nature of these vampires is strangely indeterminate. In the beginning of the passage, they are identified as demonic spirits, as in the Testament of Solomon. On the other hand, the end of the passage suggests that this is an ordinary woman (apparently, she has a soul) living within her community. Other passages in Sefer Chasidism convey that same idea. Perhaps the resolution of this puzzle is that vampirism was understood to be a kind of demonic possession, though this is never stated explicitly. A estrie wounded while in monstrous form would die unless she was able to acquire bread and salt from the assailant while in human form. There is also one example of a judicial proceeding being conducted against a suspected estrie. Not surprisingly, conviction results in a death sentence. Apparently killing an estrie presents no particular challenge, but there is a potential post-mortem complication:

When an estrie that has eaten children is being buried one should observe whether her mouth is open, if it is, she will persist in her vampirish pursuits for another year unless it is stopped up with earth. (cf. Sefer Hasidim 5) (Toldot Adam v’Havah 28)

Vav: (60770). The sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It has a vocalic value of “v/w” or “o” and the numeric value of six. It is one of the letters that make up the Tetragrammaton. It denotes physical completion. In the case of some biblical personalities, such as Jethro (formerly Jether), a vav is added to their name to symbolize a spiritual fulfillment.1

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 94-103.

Vestments of the High Priest: For his service before God in the tabernacle, and later, in the Temple, the High priest was required to wear an elaborate set of vestments (Ex. 28, 39). These consisted of nine objects: a ketonet (fringed tunic), michnasayim (breeches), mitznefet (turban or beret), avnet (sash), hoshen mishpat (breastplate of judgment), ephod (decorative poncho or cuirass), me-il (long robe), tzitz (a diadem or frontplate for the mitznefet), and the Urim and Thummim (M. Yoma 7:5).

According to the pseudepigraphic writings coming out of priestly culture, the garments of Adam God made for the first couple at their expulsion from Eden prototypes of the priestly vestments that allowed them to perform sacrifices and that were passed down through the generations. Each item imbued the wearer with a different virtue (Jubilees 3:26-27; Testament of Levi 8:1-2). According to Philo, the vestments were a microcosm of the world (Life of Moses 2.23-26. Also see Wisdom of Solomon18:22-24). This notion is reiterated in the Midrash (Tanh. B Toldot 12).

The garments represent the whole people, and each object serves to atone for a different sin found among the people Israel (J. Yoma 44b-c). The garments also facilitate his angelification during the service (Emet mah Nehedar piyut).1

1. Swartz, The Signifying Creator, 33-54.

Vilna Gaon: Talmudist and Kabbalist (Lithuanian, 1720- 1797). Though most famous for his opposition to Chasidism, the Vilna Gaon (Elijah ben Solomon Kramer) was a prolific writer on Kabbalistic topics, including commentaries to the Zohar and Sefer Yetzirah . He also wrote a commentary on the book of Jonah that treats it as an allegory for reincarnation of the soul. Some admirers ascribed miracles and wonders to him, though the Gaon himself made no such claims for himself.

Vilon: (60788). The lowest of the seven heavens, it serves only as a membrane between day and night. The name is derived from Isaiah 40:22 (Chag. 12b-13a).

Virility: Potions for virility and potency are commonly found in Hebrew magico-medical texts. One is even mentioned in the Talmud (Git. 70a). SEE SEX.

Vision: (60783/Chazon, also Ra’aya). There are three kinds of mystical encounters with divinity recorded in Jewish tradition: the ineffable experience, in which nothing experienced is in any way describable; the auditory, in which a voice (a Bat Kol, or maggid, for example) addresses the person(s); and the visionary experience, in which the person has some kind of visual impression of the encounter. And since, by definition, the first does not lend itself to be put into writing, it is not surprising that the latter two are by far the best documented in Jewish tradition. Of the latter two, purely auditory experiences appear to be the basis for the many poetic oracles of the literary prophets, but are not the primary interest of this entry. Though vivid in their descriptions, few truly visual experiences are recorded in biblical prophecy, though these visions almost always include an auditory manifestation.

Ocular paranormal visions, whether recorded by prophets, mystics, or ordinary Jews, generally fall into one of these three types: a manifestation of God’s glory on Earth (Ex. 19-22; Ezek. 1), an angelic or demonic visitation (Gen. 18; Num. 24), or an unveiling of the occult cosmos (I Enoch; Sefer Hechalot; Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodesh, Mavo; Divrei Yosef 364). The three types frequently overlap, as in the case of Isaiah's or Zechariah's visions. These visions can be experienced while asleep or in a waking state.

The most common elements that appear in these visions are light, clouds, fire, numinous beings (whether anthropomorphic or hybrid in appearance), and/or the chariot-throne of God (Ber. 7a; Meg. 24b; Zohar I:103b). SEEAKATRIEL-YAH; CHERUB, THE UNIQUE.; DREAM; FACE OF GOD; IMAGINATION; MALACH ADONAI; REIYAT HA-LEV; SHEKHINAH; SHI’UR QOMAH.

Vital, Chayyim: Kabbalist (Ottoman, 1542-1620). A leading disciple of Isaac Luria, Vital experienced many fantastic visions and personal revelations. Elijah and other righteous men of the past appeared to him. He performed healings, exorcisms, dowsing for water, and at one point declared himself the Messiah. He also believed he had undergone multiple incarnations and, for example, had the soul of Rabbi Akiva (Sefer ha-Hezyonot I:10). His writings, including Etz Chayyim, Otzerot Chayyim, an Sha’arei ha-Gilgulim not only provide some of the most complete accounts of Luria’s mystical cosmology, but also give us detailed information about reincarnation, ghostly possession, divination, and dream interpretation.

Voodoo or Magical Dolls: The use of figurines for magical ends was known to the Babylonians and was a mainstay of Greek magic. It is a feature of only a very few ritual in Hebrew magical texts. Sefer ha-Razim, for example, includes only one ritual involving making a figurine as part of a magical incantation to drive away lions.