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

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


Yachad: (60957). “Togetherness/Community/Union.” This is the term that the sectarian priests of the Dead Sea Scrolls sect used to describe their fellowship. The term, however, refers to vertical as well as horizontal unity, for the Qumran priests believed that they experienced periodic mystical unity and intermingling with angels through their ritual and liturgy (4Q405). SEE SONGS OF THE SABBATH SACRIFICE.

Yagel, Abraham: Renaissance physician and sorcerer (Italian, ca. 16th century). A proponent of scholarly magic in the style of the non-Jewish Hermetic schools, Yagel reconciled those ideas with many Jewish esoteric traditions. He believed knowledge of sorcery to be the apex of a philosophic education. He wrote extensively on spiritualism—demonology, spiritual healing, dreams, and the influences of the stars on human health—as it relates to medicine and the sciences. He is the author of Beit Yaar ha-Levanon, which exists only in manuscript form.1 SEE ASTROLOGY; MAGIC; SORCERY.

1. Ruderman, Kabbalah, Magic, and Science.

Yah, Yahu: (60975). A shortened version of the Tetragrammaton, it appears occasionally in the Bible, as in hallelu-Yah, and in Hebrew names, like Eli-Yahu. It is a divine name that is frequently integrated into incantations and amulets. SEE NAMES OF GOD.

Yahoel: (60977). “Yah is God.” A powerful angel that appears in Hechalot literature and on protective amulets.

Yalkut Shimoni: A medieval Midrash collection containing many supernatural and fantastic elements.

Yannai, Rabbi: Talmudic Sage and theurgist (ca. 3rd century). He once caught a witchwho tried to poison him with scorpions that had been magically disguised as a beverage. Turning the tables on her, he gave her a potion that shape-changed her into a donkey, which he then rode to the marketplace (Sanh. 67b).

Yashar, Sefer: A lost book mentioned in the Bible. Sefer ha-Yashar (or Toldot Adam) is also a chronology of history from Adam until the Exodus. It incorporates many rabbinic legends and fantastic elements.

Yechudaim: Guardian angel of the Righteous. He keeps images of the righteous in heaven (Zohar III:142a-b).

Yechidut: (60998). A Chasidic spiritual consultation.

Yeddioni: (61000). “Wizard/Medium.” Derived from the Hebrew “know,” the name has the sense of one “familiar with” spirits or the dead. Such a person is punishable by Death in the Bible. According to the Talmud, a Yeddioni is a medium who places a bone in his mouth and then channels the voice of the dead spirit (Sanh. 65b). SEE GHOST; IBBUR; MEDIUM; NECROMANCY; POSSESSION; XENOGLOSSIA AND AUTOMATIC WRITING.

Yedid Nefesh: ( 61002). “Beloved Soul.” Mystical poem by 16th-century Kabbalist Rabbi Elazar Azikri that has become a liturgical standard of Jewish worship. This is usually sung on the eve of the Sabbath and the Seudah Sh’lishit, toward the end of Sabbath.

In common with other esoteric prayers, this piyut features: passionate, even erotic language to characterize the relationship with God; acrostic construction. In this case, the first Hebrew letter of each of the four stanzas combine to form the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God; “light” imagery and synonyms for “beauty” to describe the divine; the occult motifs of things “concealed”and “revealed”:

60979 Soul’s beloved, source of compassion, draw Your servant to your desire. Your servant will run like a gazelle; he will bow before your splendor. Your love is sweeter to him than the dripping of honey, or all tastes.

60981 Splendid, Beautiful, Radiance of the Universe, my soul is sick for Your love. Please, God, heal her [my soul] by showing her the beauty of your radiance. Then she will be strengthened and healed and she will have eternal bliss.

60984 Ancient One [Dan. 7:9], arouse Your mercy, and please have pity upon Your beloved child. For how I have yearned to swiftly see the splendor of Your strength. These are the desires of my heart so please have pity and do not hide Yourself.

60986 Please, reveal Yourself. Beloved, spread over me the shelter of your peace. Illumine the earth with Your glory, that we may exult and rejoice in You. For now comes the time grace us as in days of old.

The language emphasizes the sweetness [both sensuous and sensual] of divine encounter, a recurrent theme in medieval mystical writings cross-culturally; in this composition, it is drawing on the language of Song of Songs. Love sickness is also an image derived from Song of Songs.

Yefeiyah: (61004). “Beautiful One of God.” This angel may be identical with the Sar ha-Torah. He is the angel who actually presented the Torahs to Moses (BhM 1:61). Gedulat Moshe also identifies him as the angel Zagzagel. He is one of the instructors who teach Torah to the righteous dead. SEE YESHIVA SHEL MALAH.

Yenne Veldt: “Another World/Out of this World.” This is a generic term for anything far out of the mainstream, but is also used to refer to spiritual dimensions, forces, and the occult.

Yeshiva shel Malah: (61016). “The Academy on High.” Also in Aramaic, Metivta d’Rekia. One of the rewards awaiting the righteous in the afterlife is to study and understand Torah in its supernal completeness. The realm where this takes place is known as the beit hamidrash ba-olam ha-ba (“The House of Study in the World to Come”) or yeshiva shel malah (“the seminary on high”). The righteous dead will study there under the instruction of the angelic Sar ha-Torah known as Zagzagel, under Metatron, or under God’s own tutelage (A.Z. 18; Gen. R. 49:2; B.M. 86a; Gedulat Moshe; Zohar I:4a-b). SEE DEATH; EDEN, GARDEN OF; PARADISE; RIGHTEOUS, THE.

Yesod: (61018). “Foundation/Phallus.” The ninth sefirah. It is the conduit of divine emanations that flow into the material universe. It is also known as Tzadik. As the divine PHALLUS, it is the source of the vitality and sexuality that energizes this plane of existence, the world of Asiyah (Zohar, everywhere). It is associated with the person of Joseph.

Yetzer ha-Ra: ( 61022). Variously translated as the “Evil Impulse,” the “Evil Desire,” the “Selfish Desire” or just “Desire,” the Yetzer ha-Ra is that aspect of nature, but especially human nature, which drives us to compete, to fight, to possess, but most of all to desire sexual gratification. Every human being is created with two impulses, the Good Impulse and the Evil Impulse (Ber. 61a; Kid. 30b).

Though it is counterbalanced by the Yetzer ha-Tov, the “altruistic desire,” it is nonetheless the source of much of the grief in human life—lust, violence, selfishness, vengeance, and ambition. Every human must learn to manage his or her impulse toward selfishness and evil, but a person should not seek to utterly destroy his or her Yetzer ha-Ra, for the Evil Impulse also motivates a person to pursue worthwhile goals: creativity, marriage, and creating a family:

And [the Sages of the Great Assembly] cried with a great voice to Adonai their God (Neh. 9:4). What did they cry? … Woe, woe, it is he [the Yetzer ha-Ra] who has destroyed the Sanctuary, burnt the Temple, killed the righteous, driven all Israel into exile and is still dancing in our midst … You have surely given him to us that we may receive merit through him. We want neither him nor merit through him. In that moment a tablet fell from the firmament, the word “truth” inscribed upon it [Heaven accedes to the request] … They [the Sages] ordered a complete fast of three day … whereupon he [the Yetzer] was surrendered to them. He came forth from the Holy of Holies like a fiery lion … At that moment the prophet declared, “This is the Yetzer” … the prophet said, “cast him in a lead barrel” (Zech. 5:8) … He [the Yetzer] said to them, “Realize that if you kill me, the world is finished.” They held him for three days, then they looked in the whole land of Israel and not an egg could be found. So they asked, “What shall we do now? …” So they put out his eyes and let him go; this helped in that men became less inclined to incest. (Yoma 69b)

The Yetzer ha-Ra is therefore a critical component in God’s plan for humanity to be cocreators in the world. A person should love God with both Yetzers:

And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good … vehinei tov zeh yetzer hatov, vehinei tov me’od zeh yetzer hara—“good” refers to the Good Inclination but “very good” refers to the Evil Inclination. Why? Because were it not for the Yetzer ha-Ra no one would build a house, take a wife, give birth, or engage in commerce. (Gen. R. 9:7; Sif. D. 32)

The Talmud teaches that the greater the person, the more powerful the Yetzer ha-Ra is within that person (Suk. 52a). One tradition equates the Yetzer ha-Ra with seven terms in Scripture: “evil,” “uncircumcised,” “unclean,” “the enemy,” “stumbling block,” “stone,” and “the hidden.” Other traditions personify it by identifying it with Satan and/or the Angels of Death (B.B. 16a).

In Kabbalah it is characterized as an angel (Zohar I:144b), the arch-demon Samael, a “shadow Adam” (T.Z. 33cd), and Leviathan (Treatise of the Left Emanation).

The mystics treat the Yetzer ha-Ra as a metaphysical phenomenon, locating it not just in the divine order, but within divinity itself. Sefer ha-Bahir (162-64; 195), Zohar I:49a, and Sha’arei Orah VI.5, all establish the status of the Yetzer as a divine attribute, God’s “left hand,” and teach that a person could merge with the Godhead if one could but master it. The imagery of the two inclinations as “right” and “left,” that is to say, superior and inferior (Num. R. 22), yet both essential to the divine goal of psycho-somatic integration, appears in Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona’s commentary on Song of Songs (comment to Song 4:1). Moses Cordovero extends this physiological allegory with his interpretation of Song 2:6: “O that his left hand was under my head, that his right hand embraced me” (Tomar Devorah chap. 6).

In other kabbalistic works, the role of the inclination in human life perceived as more dualistic. Thus in other sections of Zohar, it is taught the only proper human response to the Yetzer is to reject it. The Yetzer is merely of a divine test of human will (II:163a-b), reflecting a more Manichean view than is found in rabbinic tradition (Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodesh, 52).

Like Death, the Yetzer ha-Ra will finally be overthrown in the World to Come (Suk. 52a-b; Gen. R. 21:5). SEE EVIL.

Yetzirah: (61044). “Formation.” The third of the four worlds of emanation. This is the source of all material forms, the domain of angels, and the place from which emotion emerges.

Yetzirah, Sefer: “Book of Formation/Creation.” The most influential book of the Ma’asei-Bereshit mystical tradition, Sefer Yetzirah, was written sometime in Late Antiquity (probably between the 3rd and 6th centuries). Over eighty commentaries to it have come down to us across the centuries, many of them composed by prominent rabbinic figures. The book describes the thirty-two paths of wisdom, consisting of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten sefirot. The book teaches that the letters of the alphabet are the building blocks out of which God constructs creations. The adept who masters the secret knowledge of the letters can also become a “lesser creator” even able to make a golem, or man-made anthropoid. Sefer Yetzirah is also deeply engaged by mystical mathematics. Tradition credits Abraham as its author, though there is no internal evidence for this.


Yichud/Yichudim: (61038). Maimonidesput forward the argument that there is a mitzvat ha-yichud, a Jew is obligated to comprehend God’s unity to maximum of one’s intellectual capacity. By contrast, in Zoharic and Lurianic Kabbalah , yichud is any action or spiritual practice (mitzvah, kavanah, or hanganot) that theurgically effects or enhances the unity of God, either in the lower worlds, or on high (Zohar III:277a-b). It results in a Tikkun, an act of cosmic repair. It usually entails an action or ritual that harmonizes the forces of the sefirot. Isaac Luria would use the term to refer specifically to a ritual of incubation that was often performed at the grave of a Righteous man for the purpose of communing with him (Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodesh 75).1 In later practice, one effects unification in prayer through reciting a kavanah, a short declaration of intentionality, before reciting one’s prayer (sha’ar ha-kavvanot I:78, 213-215). SEE IBBUR; INCUBATION; MEDIUM; POSSESSION, GHOSTLY; THEURGY.

1. Fine, “The Contemplative Practice of Yichudim in Lurianic Kabbalah,” in Green, Jewish Spirituality, vol. 2, 79-80.

Yochanan bar Nappaha, Rabbi: Talmudic Sage and faith healer (ca. 3rd century). The Talmud repeatedly tells of his spectacular beauty; he literally lit up a room. Pregnant women would come to gaze on him in the belief that a measure of his beauty would be transmitted to their unborn children (Ber. 20a). He also had the power to heal with his touch (Ber. 5B). He taught on a wide array of esoteric topics: angels, Creation, astrology, dreams, and the World to Come.

Yod or Yud: (61063). Tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it has the numeric value of ten. Its linguistic value is variable, as it is a diphthong. Sometimes it is “y,” other times it represents a short or long “e,” or even a long “i” sound. It is one of the letters that make up the Tetragrammaton. It is a “form” or “foundation” letter, because other letters are made from its form.1

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 125-32.

Yofiel: (61065). “The Beauty of God.” An angel of revelation, sometimes identified as the Sar ha-Torah (Gedulat Moshe). SEE DINA; YEFEIYAH.

Yoga: Though the term “yoga” derives from Hinduism, the use of posture as a meditative technique is ancient to Judaism. Most famous of these is placing one’s head between the knees for extended periods of time, the so-called “prophetic posture” (1 Kings 18:42; Ber. 34b; A.Z. 17a; Hechalot Zutarti). Kneeling and prostrating oneself are other examples. Judaism also makes extensive use of Body movement in prayer.

Yohani bat Retivi: A Jewish witch. Using acts of sympathetic magic, she tormented women in childbirth by shutting their wombs, only to come to them in their distress and reap rewards for alleviating the condition that she herself created (Sot. 22a; ad. loc., RaSHI comment). She was exposed when a person visiting in her home unwittingly unstopped an enchanted bottle, thereby releasing her victim (Otzer ha-Geonim 11). SEE BIRTH; WITCH AND WITCHCRAFT..

Yom ha-Din: SEE END OF DAYS.

Yom Kippur: ( 61060). “Day of Atonement.” Regarded by many to be the holiest day of the Jewish sacred calendar, it is a time of judgment, contrition, and renewal.

In biblical times, Yom Kippur entailed the dramatic ritual of the High priest entering the Holy of Holies and making an incense offering while speaking the Tetragrammaton. It is also the day on which the scapegoat ritual is performed. Two identical goats are brought before the High Priest. By means of lots, one is selected to be sacrificed, while the other is sent to Azazel (Lev. 16). Whether Azazel is an entity, a locale or something else entirely is never resolved in Jewish tradition (RaSHI’s and Nachmanides’ comments on 16:8; Zohar I:114a).

According to the Sages, Yom Kippur is the only day when Satan is completely powerless (Yoma 20a). In one Midrash, the scapegoat ritual is explained as a bribe meant to co-opt Samael/Satan, who comes every Yom Kippur to accuse Israel before the Throne of Glory. The gift of the goat forces the Adversary (not unlike Balaam) to speak positively of the Jewish people instead (PdRE 46; Me’am Loez).

The ritual of kapparah is performed on the eve of the day as an act of substitution expiation. A lamps or candle can be used to divine whether a person will live through the coming year (Hor. 12a). If one dreams of Yom Kippur, it is an omen that the dreamer should fast in order to prevent some evil future event.

Yored Merkavah: (61073). “One who Descends [upon] the [Divine] Chariot.” This is the term used in Ma’asei-Merkavah to describe a practitioner who makes a spiritual ascension into the heavenly realms. Scholars have been puzzled by the idiom itself; why does one not “go up” in the chariot, rather than “go down?” Certainly the preferred spatial metaphor in Hechalot literature is that heaven is “upward.” There are three proposed answers. First, the idiom may allude to a meditative/trance act that triggers the journey—one must “go down” into one’s self in order to make the ascent. Another explanation is that the mystic uses water as a medium for seeing the vision (the Israelites saw an awesome vision of God while surrounded by water, Ex. 15), so “descending” refers either to looking down at, or partially immersing in, water.1 Finally, it may be that the term does not actually refer to the ascent itself, but only to the moment when the adept is welcomed into the divine Presence and, having achieved a temporary angelic status, is invited to be enthroned in a Chariot-Throne like the one upon which God sits.2 If this latter explanation is correct, then to be designated a “Yored Merkavah” is more than simply being a mystical adept—it is to be counted among the spiritual virtuosos of Torah, a truly elite title. SEE ASCENT, HEAVENLY.; MEDITATION;MERKAVAH; THRONE OF GLORY.

1. D. Halperin, Faces of the Chariot (New York: SUNY Press, 1986), 237. Also see Schwartz, “Book of the Great Name,” in Fine, Judaism in Practice, 340-47.

2. Wolfson, “Yeirdah ha-Merkavah: Typology of Enthronement and Ecstasy in Early Jewish Mysticism,” in Herrera, 13-44.

Yossi, Abba: Exorcist (ca. 2nd century). One of the few Sages of the rabbinic period credited with performing an exorcism, he drove an evil spirit from a water source with the help of townspeople:

Rabbi Berachya said: an incident in our town involved a (female) spirit settled on the spring. Along came a (male) spirit to mate with her and sought to remove her from there. A pious man named Rabbi Yossi Man of Zeitur was there. The spirit revealed herself to him and said: Rabbi, I have been here many years and I have never harmed anybody at noon or at night (or in the day), and now this spirit comes and seeks to remove me and harm the people. He said: What shall we do? She said: Take your sticks and scythes and go attack him at noon and shout ours triumphs! ours triumphs! and he will flee. They did this and chased him away from there. They said; They did not move from there until they saw a blob of blood floating on the water. When the sages heard about it, they said: And if a thing (being) that was not created to need assistance now needs assistance, how much more so human beings. For this reason David said (in psalms) “He sends help from the holy place.” 1

It is both striking and exceptional that that Tanchuma makes a point of distinguishing between types of djinns, beneficent and harmful (Lev. R. 24; Tanh. B.).

1. Bar-Ilan, “Exorcism by Rabbis.”

Yuhasin, Sefer: Also known as Megillat Ahimaaz, this medieval memoir of the life of Ahimaaz ben Paltiel includes accounts of exorcisms, shape changing, zombie making, and spellcasting. It is not to be confused with a later work of the same name by Abraham Zacuto.