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

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



Da’at: (58732). “Knowledge/Union.” In the Torah, Da’at can mean a variety of things, from simple understanding to sexual intercourse (as in Genesis 3, “and he knew his wife and she conceived …”). In Jewish mysticism, Da’at is a mysterious (even for Kabbalah) harmonizing principle that is sometimes included as part of the sefirotic system, though often not. In some systems, it is an aspect of Keter, balancing Chochmah and Binah. In others, it is the offspring of the two, the merging of wisdom and insight. These lead some systems to equate it with Torah.

In other interpretations, drawing on its sexual connotation in biblical parlance, Da’at is the principle of hieros gamos, unifying the higher sefirot Chochmah and Binah in their purpose of giving birth to the lower sefirot and directing the effluence from the higher sefirot into the lower ones (Etz Chayyim 39:7, 72b-c). Da’at is perhaps most prominent in the theosophy of the Hasidic ChaBaD movement. Some Kabbalistic models, on the other hand, do not speak of Da’at at all.1

1. Scholem, Kabbalah, 107; M. Idel, “Sexual Metaphors and Praxis in Kabbalah,” in The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory, D. Kraemer, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 209.

Dagim: (58734). “Fish/Pisces.” The zodiac symbol of the Hebrew month of Adar. It signifies opposites, disparity, night, moisture, and the ascendance of the feminine principle. The festival of Purim falls under this sign. The arch-villain of the Purim story, Haman (Book of Esther), used his knowledge of astrology to choose Adar to implement his plan to eradicate the Jewish people because, as the last month of the biblical calendar, it was a time when the Jews were particularly vulnerable. His plans went awry because he did not understand the special providence of Israel that protects it from the adverse influence of the stars. The fact that Haman was undone by a woman, Esther, would be characteristic of the feminine power manifest under this sign.1

1. Erlanger, Signs of the Times, 245-63.

Dalet: The fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The word dalet means “door.” It is associated with the sefirah of Malchut, the “lowest” of the sefirot. Thus dalet can signify lowliness, humility, and poverty. It has the numeric value of four in gematria.1 SEE NUMBERS.

1. Munk, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet, 78-84.

Damascus Document: Versions of this mysterious sectarian text have been found only among the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls and the medieval Cairo Geniza. Scholars remain puzzled over this long history (over a thousand years) of otherwise invisible transmission. Who cherished this document enough to continue copying it for a millennium? Why are there no other traces of it during that time span, or beyond? It was clearly important to the Dead Sea Scroll community (fragments of eight copies were found at Qumran) and reflects the priestly ideology of that group, but it is never quoted or cited in traditional Jewish sources, so what group of Jews continued to use this document, unknown to the Jewish world at large? A number of theories have been floated, none of them terribly satisfactory.

Beyond a series of arguments about Jewish law and custom that are pointedly at odds with the way they are treated by rabbinic Judaism, the most notable occult ideas found in the document are a dualistic doctrine that the world is divided between Children of Light and Children of Darkness who are in perpetual war, the teaching that God has deliberately led the gentiles of the world astray, and the belief that there will be two messiahs, an Aaronide, or priestly Messiah, as well as a Davidic, or royal messiah.1

1. Schiffman and VanderKam, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, vol. 1, 166-70.

Dan: The biblical tribe descended from Jacob’s fifth son. Guilty of idolatry (Judg. 18) and other faults, according to the biblical accounts, Dan became associated with sinister and malevolent forces. Some texts of apocalyptic literature and midrashim regard Dan as a source of darkness and conflict. Early Christian tradition, evidently picking up on this theme, expresses the idea that the Antichrist will be a Danite. On the other hand, in the Talmud, tractates Sanhedrin and Shabbat contain a tradition that the general of the Messiah’s armies will be from the tribe of Dan. SEE ESCHATOLOGY; MESSIAH.

Dance: (58752/Machol, 58750/Rikod). “Praise Him with timbrel and dance” (Ps. 149:3). Dance is a spiritual technique used by humans across the globe, particularly for inducing altered states of consciousness. It is also closely tied to eroticism, spiritual or otherwise.1 Ecstatic dance is a very ancient Jewish practice, being mentioned several times in the Bible, particularly in the books of Samuel (1 Sam. 10:10-11, 19:20-24; 2 Sam. 6:14-16).

There are multiple theurgic uses for dance. According to Pseudo-Sa’adia’s commentary on Sefer Yetzirah, dancing in circles is a necessary element in the animating ritual for a golem (42b). Dance and incantations for protection are part of the ceremony of the new moon. Dance can also be therapeutic. women would dance and sing for those suffering from spirit possession.2 In the medieval text Ma’avar Yabbok, it is explained that ten pious men can destroy any demonic offspring made by a man in his lifetime if they dance in a circle seven times around his corpse.

Basing the practice on the verse “All my bones shall say, ‘Who can be likened to You?’ ” (Ps. 35:10), Chasidism has a celebrated tradition of dance as a spiritual discipline. Some Chasidic masters taught mass group dances of yichudim (“unification”) meant to draw down the Shekhinah and the presence of Angels (ShB 61). In the Zohar, the Kabbalists celebrate the Torah wisdom of a child prodigy by dancing him around on their shoulders (I: 240a). Dancing with Torah is a recurrent metaphor for study and devotion to study (Tiferet Uziel, 125). Acrobatic dancing at Weddings and other celebrations is also a noted Chasidic custom. Dance continues in modern Judaism, mostly associated with the holiday of Simchat Torah, when Jews gather to dance with the Torah scrolls.

Even the angels dance; each day the Chayyot dance before the Throne of Gloryduring the hours of Prayer (Synopse #189; Seder Rabbah d’Bereshit; Hechalot Rabbati). Dance will continue in the World to Come, as described in Song of Songs Rabbah (End), when the righteous shall join God in an eternal dance of joy. SEE MUSIC.

1. E.Wolfson, Circle in the Square: Studies in the Use of Gender in Kabbalistic Symbolism (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1995), 130.

2. Zimmels, Magicians, Theologians, and Doctors, 83.

Daniel: Carried off into exile as a child and raised in the Babylonian court, Daniel is the protagonist of the biblical book of Daniel. Daniel is one of only two figures (the other being Joseph) associated with magic that the biblical authors view in a favorable light. It may be significant that both men’s extensive involvement with magical practices occurs in the context of exile to a foreign court.

According to the book of Daniel, because of his extraordinary ability to scry the king’s dream without being told its content, the King of Babylon appoints Daniel “chief prefect over the wise men of Babylon” (2:48). This elicits tremendous jealousy among the professional magical class of the court. Interestingly, the book of Daniel never actually credits Daniel with another miraculous act, though miraculous things happen for his benefit, such as God shutting the mouths of the lions when he was cast into their den. His chief talent seems to be oneiromancy, interpretation of dreams, and he is vouchsafed a series of highly symbolic visions of apocalyptic content. Puzzlingly, unlike other biblical figures, the Sages do not elaborate much on the biblical accounts of Daniel, nor do they credit him with many additional supernatural feats. SEE APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE.

Dargesh: (58748). A good luck charm for a house, apparently a bench or a bed. It was believed that a bed not slept in overnight was a good omen, so a dargesh (or sometimes, a “bed of Gad”) provided perpetual fortune (B. Ned. 56a; Sanh. 20b; M.K. 27a). Ancient Mesopotamians would keep a “ghost chair” in their homes, so perhaps the dargesh was likewise intended to signal to beneficent spirits that the home was a welcoming rest spot. The “Chair of Elijah” present at a circumcision conveys a similar message. In Sefer ha-Hezyonot 22, we learn that spirits expect seating to be provided when they visit the living. SEE ELIJAH; GHOST; HOSPITALITY.

Darkness: (58756/choshek). The original state of the universe before God brought forth the cosmos; darkness is also a creation of God:

The rabbis taught:

“Three things were made before the creation of our world: Water, Wind, and Fire. Water birthed darkness, Fire birthed light, and Wind birthed wisdom.” (Ex. R. 15:22, also Isa. 45; PdRE 3)

The Hebrew Bible sometimes likes to use darkness as an antipode and as a contrast to life and good. It is the lurking place of evil spirits (Ps. 91:5; Pas. 111a-b). Darkness is often a symbol of ignorance, dread, or evil, especially in eschatological imagery (Am. 5). Darkness is one of the ten plagues that afflicted Egypt during the Exodus. It is the lurking place of evil and unclean spirits, which is why both the Bible and the Talmud teach that night is a spiritually dangerous time. demons even dwell in certain kinds of shade—that of a lone palm tree, a jujube, a caper, and thorny bushes with edible fronds (Pes. 111a-b). In the Kabbalistic work Galya Raza, the fact that darkness preceded light signifies that evil has dominance over good in Creation, a remarkably pessimistic worldview for a Jewish document.

Just as often, however, darkness is understood dialectically, as a complement to light and is exalted and celebrated, as evidenced by the daily Prayers Yotzer Or and Ma’ariv Aravim. In the Zohar, darkness is a fiery primordial substance and a manifestation of the sefirah of Gevurah (I:16b, 112b).

Kabbalah builds on this dialectic, teaching that just as the Body is a garment for the Soul, darkness is a garment for light. And just as the body is an expression of the divine as much as the soul (Igeret ha-Kodesh I), so too darkness is as much representative of God as is light. In the words of the Zohar:

And God said, “Let us make the human in our image, according to our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). “In our image—this means Light; According to our likeness—this means Darkness, for Darkness is the garment of the Light no less than the body is the garment of the soul.” (Gen. I:22b)

Complementing “darkness” is “night,” which signifies Shekhinah, the lowest sefirah that does not emit its own supernal light, yet is critical to the harmony of the cosmos. Darkness has its own governing angel (PR 20:2, 53:2). SEECHAOS; MIDNIGHT; NIGHT; SEFIROT; TWILIGHT.

David ben Jesse, King: Warrior-poet and Israel’s archetypal king. While the biblical accounts of King David are decidedly naturalistic and almost completely (with the exception of his encounter with an Angel described in 1 Chronicles) bereft of supernatural events, many legends of the fantastic are told about David’s life in other Jewish literature.

According to Midrash, when Adam was shown the generations that would descend from him, God revealed to him that David was destined to die shortly after birth. Adam was so saddened to see this great Soul cut short that he gave up seventy years of his own life span for the future king of Israel (Gen. 5:5; PdRE 19).

Like Samson, David was exceedingly strong, and slew many wild beasts with his bare hands (Mid. Sam. 20). His extraordinary musical gifts were Orpheus-like, and he possessed a magical harp that played by itself (B.B. 3b-4a).

During his battle with the giant Goliath, he performed several miracles. The five stones he selected actually came to him of their own accord. When he touched them, they merged into a single wondrous and deadly missile. During their face-off, David cast the evil eye on Goliath, paralyzing him. After Goliath fell, an Angel helped David in delivering the coup de grâce, as the shepherd was too small to lift the giant’s weapon by himself.1

He encountered other fantastic beasts during his life, including the brothers of Goliath, a giant re’em, and talking animals. When he was elevated to kingship by Samuel, the oil of his anointing turned to gemstones as it dripped from his head (Mid. Teh. 22:22, 34:1; Sot., 42b; Lev. R. 10:7, 21:2; Ruth R. 4:1; Tanh. Emor 4; Mid. Sam. 20:106-8; Zohar III:272b).

David had an ongoing spiritual association with stones. Later, he would uncover the even ha-sheyitah, the Foundation Stone of the cosmos, and on that stone his son Solomon would build the Temple. There are several legends revolving around David and the foundation stone.

Numerous miracles are recorded in rabbinic literature surrounding his military campaigns. His death, which was foretold to him, had to be carefully contrived by the Angel of Death in order to outwit him. According to one legend, David studied Torah continuously and Death had to create a distraction before he could seize David’s soul (Shab. 30a-b). Another claimed David actually fled to the mystic city of Luz, where the power of Death did not extend, and the Angel had to trick David into leaving the sanctuary of the city. In a unique legend, he never actually left the city, and lives on there to this day, like King Arthur in Avalon. This is at odds with the bulk of tradition, which records his death in detail. At his funeral, his son Solomon summoned eagles to gather and use their wings to shield his Body from the sun (Ruth R. 3:2).

On the Day of Judgment, he will arise from the grave and once again sing his psalms, which will be heard from one end of the universe to the other. Those sinners in Gehenna who respond “Amen” to his words will be redeemed instantly (Ruth R. 1:17; PdRE 19; Mid. Teh. 92:10; Num. R. 14:12).

David’s eventual restoration to kingly power over Israel is symbolized by the moon—though it wanes, it waxes once again (RaSHI’s comment on Ps. 89:38; R.H. 25a; Zohar I:192a). David is destined to be the biological ancestor of the Messiah. In later Kabbalistic circles, it became accepted that the Messiah will in fact be David reincarnated. This belief is derived from the Talmudic phrase (now a popular song) David Melech Yisrael (“David, King of Israel”), which includes the refrain, Chai, chai, v’kiyyam (“[he] lives, lives, and endures”). In the system of the sefirot, David represents Malchut , the tenth sefirah.

1. L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vol. 3 (Philadelphia, PA: JPS, 1968), 537-38.

Day: In the Zohar, “days” is a Kabbalistic term for the “lower” seven sefirot.

Day of Judgment: SEE JUDGMENT, DAY OF.

Day of the Lord: SEE JUDGMENT, DAY OF.

Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS): An ancient library of scrolls found in various Caves between 1947 and 1964 around the ruins of Qumran in the area of the Dead Sea. The collection was hidden away by an unknown collective of Jews, probably sectarian priests who had been driven from power in the Temple, possibly the group known as the Essences, in the centuries before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

The collection consists of both biblical and non-biblical documents. The DSS are far and away the biggest and most ancient collection of Jewish documents in existence, and their importance is hard to overestimate.1 The documents are now largely translated, after many decades of delay, and each document is usually known by a number-letter designation, based on the cave in which the text was found. For example, 4Q561 means [Cave] 4, Q[umran, document number] 561. Larger finds were occasionally given names by their translators, such as the Community rule, the Damascus Document, or the War Scroll. Some smaller, damaged fragments still need to be matched up, read, and interpreted.

Many of the non-biblical works in the DSS reveal aspects of ancient Jewish spirituality previously unknown to the world. The documents also contain myths, traditions, practices, and other information that gives us new perspective on the Hebrew Scriptures we have today, and even add background to the ideas found in the Christian Scriptures, though there were no actual Christian texts found among the DSS. Because of this potential to create controversy over the history of Judaism and, especially, the origins of Christianity, the fact that the documents largely remained in the exclusive control of a small circle of scholars for the first forty years spawned multiple conspiracy theories and rumors of the shocking revelations they contained. Since their full publication in the 1990s, many of the grander paranoid theories have evaporated, but the DSS still contain many things of interest to the student of the esoteric.

Among the non-biblical texts, there is a particular affinity for stories of Enoch, a human who ascends into heaven to become an Angel and, conversely, for the fallen Angel traditions of divine beings that come down to corrupt humanity, suggesting the authors championed a kind of dualistic angel mysticism.2 There is also a pronounced number mysticism revolving around groups of fours and sevens. The authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were advocates for a solar calendar they believed was given to humanity by the angels, and opposed the lunar-based calendar being used by the rest of the Jewish community.3

Besides the documents of priestly spirituality and mysticism, among the texts in the DSS collection there exist several magical books—books of spells (4Q510, 4Q511, 11Q11), divination (4Q561), and astrology (4Q318). For example, 4Q560 is a fragmentary text of magical adjurations against injurious spirits. 4QCryptic, also known as 4Q1861, is a fragmentary work of physiognomy (divining based on a person’s physical features).4 Angelologies and demonologies are present in many documents, along with several elaborate accounts of the eschatological battles to be expected at the end of time. SEE BRONTOLOGY ; HOROSCOPE ; APOCRYPHA.

1. Schiffman and VanderKam, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, vol. 1, vii-x.

2. Ibid., 249-52.

3. Ibid., 108-16.

4. Ibid., vol. 2, 502-4.

Death: (58778/Mavet). Death entered existence through the sin of the first humans, who by their disobedience lost access to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3). Initially, people lived for many hundreds of years each, but God shortened the life span because of the long-term human inclination to devolve into violence (Gen. 6).

According to the Talmud, there are 903 ways to die (Ber. 8a). The Bible speaks repeatedly of karet, being “cut off,” a heavenly punishment, and al pei Elohim (“death by the kiss of God”). Sudden death is a sign of divine displeasure, as is death before age fifty.

The Sages do not consider child deaths in the same way (Shab. 32b). No righteous person dies until another is born.

Omens of death include the barking of and the appearance of owls, ominous dreams, and seeing human that lack the head. The dying can see Adam, the Angel of Death, and/or the Shekhinah. If a man dies smiling, or with his face uplifted, it is a good omen that he will have ease in the afterlife, as is dying while facing people, on the eve of the Sabbath, or at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. If a person dies weeping or with the face downcast, it is a bad omen. Likewise, if one dies with the face turned away from people, at the end of the Sabbath, or on the eve of Yom Kippur, it is a bad sign. rain at the time of death and/or burial is a sign of divine pleasure, and it is a good omen for the deceased (Hor. 12a; SCh 1516).


The Execution of Haman by E. M. Lilien

Some who are dying achieve a capacity for clairvoyance or Prophecy (Gen. 49, 50:24; Deut. 31:28-29; Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs; Testament of Job).

The Soul of the dead escapes through the mouth and at that moment its voice can be heard from one end of the universe to the other (Gen. R. 6:7). The windows in the place where a corpse rests should be opened to allow the spirit to move freely. Based on Job 14:22, the Rabbis teach that the soul remains conscious, some say until the interment, while others claim the dead can hear the living until the final decomposition of the Body (Shab. 152b). Some teach that the disoriented soul hovers about the body for three days (others claimed seven) seeking to reenter it (Lev. R. 18:1; PdRE 34). According to the Zohar, the soul of the newly dead wanders between its earthly residence and its grave (I: 226b).

Since the souls of the dead stay close to their bodies until their transition to Eden, ghosts are mostly limited to the confines of the cemetery (Shab. 152b). The soul’s separation from the body is a painful one, a process called chibbut ha-kever, “the torment of the grave.” One Sage asserts that worms feel like needles to the dead (Ber. 18b). This tradition is based on the belief that the grave itself is atonement for the sins committed in life (Ket. 111a).

Kabbalists who taught the doctrine of reincarnation believed that the souls of the dead, or at least parts of a soul, transmigrate from one living body to another, and the souls of the disturbed dead can possess the body of a living being. The souls of the Righteous can be temporarily recalled to this world to help the living (Kav v’Yasher; Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim).

Despite the belief in moral accountability through death, because Jews have not been burdened with the fear of “eternal damnation,” Jewish teachings have generally viewed death with great equanimity. The Kotzker Rebbe compared death to “moving from one home to another.” A. J. Heschel spoke of it as a “homecoming.” SEE BURIAL; DYBBUK; ETERNAL LIFE; GHOST; IBBUR; POSSESSION, GHOSTLY; WORLD TO COME.

Decrees, Divine: In the imagination of the Sages, God’s decisions resemble royal decrees. Each decree written on high is sealed. A decree may be nullified by repentance, Prayer, and charity (R.H. 16b). The piety of the Righteous is so great that they have the individual power to reverse a divine decision (Suk. 42a). Thus, playing on the epithet for Moses, Ish Elohim (which can mean “Man of God” or “Husband of God”), Midrash psalms notes that Moses could nullify God’s decrees, just as a husband can nullify his wife’s vows (90:5).

If God’s decision is sealed, however, then the matter is fated, and humans cannot change its outcome (Eleh Ezkarah). If the righteous pit themselves against a fated decree, it can place the very existence of the world in jeopardy, so in all such cases the pious have chosen to accept the divine judgment rather than uproot the world (R.H. 16b; High Holiday Machzor; Aggadat Esther; Midrash Eleh Ezkarah). SEE JUDGMENT, DAY OF; ROSH HASHANAH.


Demiurge: “Craftsman.” The evil creator god of Gnostic myth. Derived from the philosophy of Plato, the Gnostics reimagine him as a malevolent force that imprisons spirit in the material world. Some Gnostic thinkers (Valentinus, Maricon) claim the demiurge is none other than the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.1 SEE GNOSTICS AND GNOSTICISM, ANCIENT.

1. Couliano, The Tree of Gnosis, 115-116, 125.

Demons: (58788/Sheid, also Mazzik; Ruach Ha-ra; Se’ir; Malach Mashchit). Demons are spirits that act malevolently against human beings, usually in the form of disease, illness, confusion, or misfortune. Judaism has not produced one uniform attitude toward the demonic, its origins, nature, or functions. Jews do have traditions of demonic creatures which are ontologically distinct from humanity (Such as Samael, Asmodeus, and Lilith), yet an equally large body of Jewish thought regards these same evil spirits to be malevolent byproducts of humanity: incomplete human Souls, the malevolent dead, or spirits spawned by human action. While there are a few pre-existent spirits, demons are usually understood to be spiritual byproducts of human criminal and immoral sexual activity. Moreover, it is not until the Middle Ages and the rise of classical Kabbalah in the 13th century, that one can read of demons that fit the Christian mold of hell-spawn that threaten the very fabric of the cosmos; the majority of sources from antiquity view shedim, mazzakim, and kesilim as other traditional cultures have imagined djinns, sprites, and elves—cruel, mischievous spirits who afflict humanity with miseries, both great and small.

While the Hebrew Bible devotes remarkably little attention to demonology, it does make mention of evil spirits (Lev. 16:10; 1 Sam. 16:14-16; Isa. 13:21, 34:14), including satyrs and night demons, but does not provide a great deal of detail. In fact, the language of the Bible is so ambiguous, it is often difficult to discern whether the author is referring to a named demon, or poetically reifying an abstract concept, such as Death, plague, or pestilence (Jer. 9:20; Hab. 3:5; Ps. 91:6).

Clear-cut and more elaborate stories about demons appear during the Greco-Roman period. The Gospels, which provide us with a comparatively detailed picture of Jewish life in 1st-century Palestine, record several accounts of confrontations between Jesus and demonically possessed people (Mark 5). Select demons—Belial and Masteman—are mentioned repeatedly in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Josephus also includes some reflections on the subject (War 7; Ant. 8:2, 8:5).

The existence of demons, while widely accepted, has always presented a theological difficulty for Jews. Since all things are ultimately the creation of the one God, the question of why evil spirits should exist at all has greatly exercised Jewish thought. Drawing upon the cryptic passage about the “sons of God” found in Genesis 6:1-4, apocalyptic literature offers the first attempt to explain their existence in a monotheistic context by claiming demons are really fallen angel, or the offspring of the union between humans and fallen angels.1 This explanation introduces an enduring strand of thought, recurrent throughout Jewish literature, that demons are actually somehow, at least in part, the byproducts of human beings.

Rabbinic literature, particularly the Talmud, provides the most extensive source for Jewish demonology, though the information is scattered through many sources, and throughout those sources several explanations for the existence of demons are offered (Pes. 111a-111b; Ber. 5a, 60b; Git. 70a; Shab. 151b; Suk. 28a; Eruv. 100b; B.B. 73a).

The Talmud begins by asserting that they are a creation of the twilight of the sixth day (M. Avot 5.6). The suggestion is that these spirits are partly formed souls, unfinished beings left over from God’s creative process. The Talmudic sources do not specify whether demons are an independent creation, or whether they first appear as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, which in some traditions also happened at twilight of the sixth day. Whatever the case, they are tied to humanity, for they cannot procreate on their own; they used semen from Adam in order to make more of their own kind (Eruv. 18b). A celebrated elaboration on this tradition is that of Lilith, the first woman, having transformed herself into a witch-demon using the Tetragrammaton, takes the nocturnal emissions of men she seduces to procreate demons (AbbS). Eve was also seduced by incubi, producing a line of malevolent offspring, beginning with Cain (PdRE 21; Targum Pseudo-Jonathan 4:1).

Midrash Tanchuma picks up further develops a talmudic theme on demon origins, declaring them to be souls without bodies, creations that were as yet unfinished when the day of rest commenced (Bereshit 17). Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer (34), by contrast, teaches that demons are the disembodied souls of those who died in the Flood (also see Yalkut Isa. 429). Another strand of tradition asserts that the sins of a person are inscribed on their bones, and when they die, demons are a kind of postmortem metaphysical emission, like the release of the soul (SCh 770, 1170; Kitzur Shelah). The Zohar likewise claims that some demons are the souls of the wicked dead (I: 28b-29a, 48a; II: 70a; III: 25a), perhaps setting the stage for the later development of the dybbuk tradition.

One anonymous medieval rationalist even attempted a more naturalistic interpretation of demons, describing them as a noxious product of the interaction of sunlight with smoke and vapor that then clings to the Body, causing illness (Sefer ha-Atzamim). Menachem ben Israel also argues for what we would describe today as a “naturalistic” explanation of the demonic.2

In classic Kabbalistic thought, the demonic is a necessary part of creation, a product of the Sitra Achra, the “other side” of the divine emanations (specifically gevurah) in the material universe. Medieval mystics who accept that evil spirits are an intentional feature of the divine order often characterize demons as “destructive” or “punishing angels,” a way of emphasizing that demons, too, are part of God’s Creation and subject to the divine will. Mystics also clarify and elaborate on the Talmudic position that demons are the byproduct of human sin; Samael and Lilith are spawned by the existence of Adam and Eve (Treatise of the Left Emanation).

With regards to their nature, demons occupy an intermediate place between mortals and angels:

Six things have been said about demons … In three ways they are equal to the ministering angels: They have wings as do the ministering angels, they fly from one end of the world to the other as do the ministering angels, and they hear the future as it is foretold beyond the supernal curtain as do the ministering angels. In three ways they are equal to men: they eat and drink as do men, they sexually reproduce as do men, and they die as do men. (Chag. 16a)

They are invisible, except under special conditions.

Tractate Berachot has perhaps the most information on demons of any part of the Talmud. There we learn that demons are pervasive:

It has been taught: Abba Benjamin says, if the eye had the power to see them, no creature could endure the demons. Abaye says: They are more numerous than we are and they surround us like the ridge round a field. R. Huna says: Every one among us has a thousand on his left hand and ten thousand on his right hand. (Ber. 6a)

Demons tend to congregate most often, and people are most vulnerable to them, in the wilderness, in ruins, and in other places not normally frequented by people (Isa. 13:21). It also describes a “diagnostic” ritual for detecting the presence of the demonic: ashes spread around one’s bed at nighttime will reveal demon tracks in the morning, and demons can be rendered visible by grinding up the ashes of a black cat’s afterbirth and then sprinkling the powder in one’s eyes (Ber. 6a).

While the amulet and magical traditions of antiquity assume that there are many varieties of evil spirits, RaSHI is one of the earliest writers to try and formally classify demons, distinguishing between Ruchin, Mazzikim, and Lilin. The German Pietist Judah he-Chasid taught that at least some demons actually study Torah and adhere to Jewish law. Based on this understanding, demonic attacks can occur only when the victim has transgressed in some way (Sefer Or Zarua). It is interesting to note how much Judah’s teaching parallels medieval Islamic ideas about the spiritual life of djinns.

The malevolent effects of demons are many: they cause illness and death, especially for the vulnerable (children, women in childbirth), they trouble and deceive the mind, and they cause contention in the community of mortals.

The appearance of demons varies, but is always terrible. In keeping with ancient Near Eastern beliefs about evil spirits, and contrary to the Christian notion of being hooved, demons are usually portrayed as having bird talons for feet in addition to wings. At night, demons can appear in human form (Meg. 3a).

Demonic power waxes and wanes according to the time of day, the week, the seasons, meteorological conditions, topographical features, and other natural factors (Yalkut Chadash, Keshafim 56; Num. R. 12:3; Pes. 3a-b,112a; Shab. 67a). The informed person can use this information to minimize the threat of this power.

Around human habitations, they frequent rooftops, outhouses, and drainage gutters. Strangely, demons are attracted to synagogues. The Angel of Death, for example, is said to keep his tools there. There are even stories of Sages doing night battles with demons in the synagogue (Shab. 66b).

Prominent demons have names, usually derived from their particular power. Reshef, for example, means “pestilence.” Some demons, like Samael, have theonymic names like angels. Occasionally demons can have surprisingly mundane names, like “Joseph.” The name Lilith means either “air” (Akkadian) or “night” (Hebrew) and has its roots in Mesopotamian aerial spirits called “lilu.”


Image of rabbi battling demons by Alfred Feinberg

There are numerous strategies to stop the predations of demons. Reciting certain psalms repels evil spirits (Pss. 29, 91, 121), as do other key verses of Scripture (Num. 7:4-6). Magical phrases and incantations have also been recorded that can combat their malevolent effects, such as these examples:

Thou were closed up; closed up were you. Cursed, broken, and destroyed be Bar Tit, Bar Tame, Bar Tina as Shamgaz, Mezigaz, and Istamai [these are, alternately names of demons and protective angels]. For a demon of the privy one should say: “On the head of a lion and on the snout of a lioness there is the demon Bar Shirika Panda; at a garden-bed of leeks I hurled him down, [and] with the jawbone of an ass I smote him.” (Shab. 67a; also see Pes. 100a; 112a)

The bells on the skirt of the High priest evidently drove them away. Drinking water only from white containers turns away night demons (Pes. 3a). mezuzah, tefillin, and ritual fringes are credited with the power to ward off evil spirits (Ber. 5b). The Jews of Mesopotamia additionally protected their homes with incantation bowls. Temporary protection can be obtained through the use of magic circles. amulets of nearly infinite variety have been created across Jewish history to combat demonic assault. Demons can be bribed with food or money (PdRE 46; T. Shab. 7:16; Ber. 50b) or frightened off with shofar blasts, unpleasant smells, or spitting. There is also the gesture commonly known as “the fig”:

If a person forgot [to bring suitable protection] and went out [only to come under attack], what should he do? He should clasp his right thumb in the fingers of his left hand, and vice-versa, and say, “I and my fingers are three.” If he hears a voice say “You and I are four,” he should respond “You and I are five” and so on, until the demon gets angry and leaves. (Pes.110a)

guardian angels are the best defense, and are acquired every time one performs a mitzvah (Ex. R. 32).

Intriguingly, there is a strand of tradition that holds a mortal can work constructively with demons, if one knows the proper rituals of power to control them. This idea premised on the implications of absolute monotheism—all things are created by God purposefully. This belief that man can direct demonic energy to beneficent purposes is first articulated in stories about Solomon controlling demons (Testament of Solomon). One Sage in the Talmud permits demon summoning, provided one does not violate Torah in either the manner of the summoning or what is asked of the spirit (Sanh. 101a). Eliezer of Metz (ca. 12th century) permitted the use of imps in spells and amulet writing: “Invoking the demons to do one’s will is permitted … for what difference is there between invoking demons and angels?” Demons can be turned against other demons (Lev. R. 24). Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague permitted communication with demons, but solely for the purpose of divination (B’er ha-Golah 2).

Sometimes the demon will help a human willingly, which is taken as evidence that even demons serve God, however inscrutably (Pes. 106a), but usually spirits must be controlled magically, captured, and coerced to do the will of the adept. By the same token, anything that smacks of demon veneration or worship, such as making offerings or burning incense to a demon, is expressly forbidden (Sanh. 65b). SEE LAW AND THE PARANORMAL.

1. G. Nickelsburg, “The Experience of Demons (and Angels) in 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and the Book of Tobit,” Minutes of the 1988 Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins, http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/psco/ year25/8803a.shtml, 1-20.

2. J. Dan, “The Concept of Evil and Demonology in Rabbi Mannaseh ben Israel’s Nishmat Hayyim” (Hebrew), Dov Noy Jubilee Volume (1983): 263-74.


Depository: (58798/Machon). One of the seven heavens, it is the level that warehouses all celestial precipitations: rain, snow, hail, dew, as well as the winds, storms, and vapors (Chag. 12b-13a).

Destiny: SEE FATE.

Devekut: (58806). “Clinging/Cleaving.” The experience of mystical communion or union with God, usually as an outcome of meditative Prayer or spiritual exercises. The term originally expressed a more mundane notion of binding one’s self to God through good deeds and meticulous ritual practice:

For if you shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways and to cleave unto Him … (Deut. 11:22)

This sense of the term is widely used in the Talmud (Ket. 111b; Tanh. Matot 1; Num. R. 22:11), but it could also refer to the desire to draw close to God (Sanh. 64a, 65b; Sifrei, Shoftim 173; Gen. R. 80:7).

The term is now most intimately associated with various kinds of mystical ecstatic practices. This esoteric development of the term may reflect the sometimes “erotic” aspect of the mystical experience. The first use of the word, after all, appears in Genesis, in association with the union of man and woman: a man … shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2:24).

Isaac the Blind is one of the earliest mystics to make extensive use of the term, mostly in the context of achieving fullest possible communion with God by focusing on the sefirot during prayer.1 Moses Cordovero described a magical-theurgic dimension to devekut, in that the act of “clinging to God” can be used to influence the direction of divine forces in the higher worlds (Pardes Rimmonim 75d). Chayyim Vital and Chasidism sometimes use it as term for beneficent spiritual possession 2 as exemplified by this passage:

And how is this mystery of cleaving performed? Let a righteous person stretch out on the grave of one of the Tanna’im, or one of the prophets, and cleave with his lower soul to that of the tsaddiq, and with his spirit to his spirit. Then the Tanna begins to speak with him as a person talks to a friend—and answers all that he ask, revealing to him all the mysteries of the Torah.3

In Chasidism, the term is used to refer to a general attitude, often linked to cultivating the emotions of love and fear, of keeping one’s attention constantly focused toward God. In this way, devekut can be achieved while at prayer, studying, performing daily mitzvot. Chasidism both affirms the need for everyone to pursue devekut and the need to be engaged with the world by teaching that the ordinary tasks of living are, with the right intention, the stepping stones to greater attachment with God.4 This is because, throughout most of its history, the term has not been used in a way akin to monastic mysticism or any other kind of denial of worldly life. Jewish mystics both affirm the need for everyone to pursue devekut and the need to be engaged with the world by teaching that the ordinary tasks of living are, with the right intention, the stepping stones to greater attachment with God (Or ha-Ganuz L’Tsaddikim, 73). However, this sense of a worldly devekut breaks down in some mystical systems, where it is explicitly described in terms of “separating” oneself from the material world (Reshit Chochmah 4:23; Sha’ar ha-Kedushah 4:21).

1. G. Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, translated by A. Arkush (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1987), 300-301.

2. Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism, 257-304.

3. L. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and his Kabbalistic Fellowship (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), 283.

4. Wolfson, Along the Path, 89-90.

Devekut B’otiyot: (58821). “Cleaving to the Letters.” A mystical Prayer technique taught in early Chasidism. It involves carefully and fervently articulating each syllable of the words of prayer. The effect is to create a mantra like chant with little or no interruption in sound.

Dever: (58823). “Pestilence.” The demon of plagues (Hab. 3:5; Ps. 91:5-6). Some Bible commentators regard the ten plagues described in Exodus to each be a demon unleashed by God, Dever being one of them.

Devir: (58825). The innermost compartment of the Temple, the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 6:5, 8:6). According to the priests of Qumran, there are seven heavenly devirim that correspond to the one earthly one (Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice). SEE HOLY OF HOLIES; SEVEN HEAVENS.

Dew: (58828/Tal). Dew is more than mere precipitation in Jewish tradition, it is a symbol and a metaphor for divine emanation (Shir ha-Kavod; Zohar I:88a).

There are dews of beneficence and dews of destruction stored in Machon, the sixth level of heaven. In the seventh heaven, Aravot, there resides the very special tal shel techiyah, the “dew of resurrection,” which will revive the dead on the Day of Judgment (Chag. 12b; Shab. 88b; J. Ber. 5:2; PdRE 34). God has had to deploy this dew once already, at Mount Sinai, when the whole people Israel died of fright from hearing God speak (S of S R.; Targum S of S).

Though it seems understood in most texts that dew is a precipitation from the sky, in some Jewish teachings, dew is part of the underworld waters—it rises from the Earth (Gen. 2:6). As such, it is the “feminine” waters, the counterpart to the “masculine” rainfall. Only when the two waters combine can the earth truly fructify. In the Zohar, dew signifies all manner of divine emanations from on high, including manna, which is a kind of dew (I: 95b; II: 61b).

Deyokan or Deyokna: (ˆqwyd). “Form/Template/Portrait.” The ideal form of a person. This elusive term refers to an image, seemingly shared simultaneous by God and a person.1 It is philosophically related to the Platonic notion of “forms,” of idealized templates of all existent things that dwell on high simultaneously with the realized object in the lower world. As the Zohar puts it, it is the “Likeness that includes all likenesses.” RaSHI uses the term, commenting on Genesis 1:27:

God as Judge, alone without the angels, created the human being … In a mold which was a tzelem deyokan of God, God created the human being, one being both male and female and which was subsequently divided into two beings, God created them.

In Zohar, it is described as something that is bonded to the Body at birth. It appears to a couple in sexual union and, if the relationship worthy, imprints upon the seed of the child generated by that union (III:104b). Though invisible, the righteous can interact with their deyokna, even see through its “eyes,” which gives the person the special sight of Prophecy. There are a number of cognate notions of an ethereal body or spiritual membrane that accompanies the material body which also appears in Kabbalah: Guf ha-Dak (“The sheer body”) and/or the Tzelem (“image”) (Zohar I:7a, Zohar I:224a-b; Miflaot Elohim 48:6; Nishmat Chayyim 1:13). It is unclear to what degree these terms are synonyms or describe discreet phenomena.

1. G. Scholem, On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead (New York: Schocken, 1991), 251-270.

Din: (58839).“Judgment.” The divine attribute of strict justice. In rabbinic teachings, God’s attribute of Din is associated with the divine name Elohim. In biblical stories that refer to God by that name, the power of severe justice is most present in the world during those episodes. It is from the attribute of Din that the rigorous, harsh, and even demonic aspects of the world emanate.

In Kabbalah, Din is synonymous with the sefirah of Gevurah. It is personified by the angel Gabriel. SEE SEFIROT.

Dina: (58842). “Law/Religion.” Another name for the Angel of the Torah. SEE YEFEIYAH; YOFIEL.

Directions: Each of the cardinal compass points is overseen by a princely Angel: Michael (south), Gabriel (north), Uriel (east), and Raphael (west). East is the source of light, north of darkness, west the snow and hail, and south the rains and dew. (Num. R. 2:10; Zohar I:149b). God assembled Adam from Earth taken from the four corners of the world (Tanh. Pekudei 3). As early as Sefer Yetzirah, mystical texts begin to talk of vav kitzvot, “six directions—north, south, eat, west, up, and down, which often function in subsequent Jewish literature as a merism for “totality” or “everything.” Elijah Gaon equates these with six sefirotic qualities: love, power, beauty, endurance, glory, and foundations, as well as the six days of creative process (Biur ha-Gra Sefer Yetzirah 1:5). Zer Anpin bears the divine quality of this dimensionality. In the ritual of waving the lulav on the holiday of Sukkot, the lulav and etrog are held together in the hands waved to the six directions, to draw waters to the Land of Israel from every point. SEE EAST; NORTH; SOUTH; WEST.

Disease: The prevalent attitude found in the Hebrew Bible is that disease, like all other things, comes from the will of God. Some passages in the Torah also show God using disease as a retribution for sin. At the same time, God also declares “I am the one that heals you” (Ex. 15:26). Though this aspect of the Bible could have led Jews to believe, like Christian Scientists, that human intervention in disease is a violation of God’s will, that is not how Judaism has dealt with the issue. The Sages, for example, blame some disease on demonic forces and therefore permit the use of virtually any remedy, whether natural or supernatural. Today, virtually all Jews accept scientific theories of natural pathology. It is promised that in Messianic times, all disease will be curable with the “living waters” that will flow from Jerusalem (Zech. 13- 14). SEE DEMONS; HEALING.

Divination: (58844/Simanut, also Nichush; Kesem; K’shafim). “Who is wise? He who foresees the results of his deeds” (Tam. 32a). Across human cultures, it has been widely believed that the gods and spirits close to them (the dead, for example) have privileged knowledge of what will unfold in the mortal realms. The ability to gain such supernatural insight has been prized by humans since (and probably before) the dawn of written history. All divination can be divided into the quest for one of two kinds of knowledge: knowledge of the future (manticism) and knowledge of present, but hidden, events (clairvoyance).

Jews are no exception in their desire for this knowledge, and throughout history many Jews have accepted the reality of divinatory events and experiences. Moreover, Jews have been practitioners of many different diviner’s arts across time and geography. Starting with the testimony of the Hebrew Scripture, however, Judaism has manifested an ambivalent attitude toward divination and from earliest times Jews have struggled to distinguish between licit and illicit forms of divination.

The generic biblical words for divination are kesem and nahash. In the ancient Near East, three types of divinatory practices are documented: serendipitous omens, impetrated omens, and mediumistic divination. The first consists of the reading and interpretation of omens and prodigies in naturally occurring phenomenon, such as the weather, abnormal births, or astral signs. The second practice consists of asking questions by means of divinatory devices, such as casting lots or reading entrails, and the third involves the consulting of human oracles or divine forces channeled through a person, such as Prophecy.

Within these general rubrics, the books of the Hebrew Scriptures make reference to myriad forms of mantic practices, both licit and illicit. Among the accepted means of divination are prophets and seers of YHVH (Deut. 18:14-22; 1 Sam. 9:6; 2 Kings 3:11), oneiromancy (dream interpretation) (Gen. 37:5-9; Dan.), Urim and Thummim, the casting of lots (1 Sam. 23:10-12), music (2 Kings 3:15), lecanomancy or hydromancy (reading patterns in liquid) (Gen. 44:5), and word omens (1 Sam. 14:9-10).

Illicit methods, condemned by biblical authors, include terafim (consulting idols; Zech. 10:2), hepatoscopy or extispiciomancy (reading animal entrails; Ezek. 21:26), necromancy (communing with the dead; 1 Sam. 15:23), belomancy (casting or shooting arrows; Ezek. 21:26), and astrology (Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2). At times, the biblical witnesses are not always in agreement about what constitutes legitimate mantic practice. Thus, for example, despite the cases of exemplary practitioners like Joseph and Daniel, the prophet Zechariah condemns oneiromancy along with other forms of divination (10:2). 2 Kings 13:15-19 recounts a case of what appears to be prophetically endorsed belomancy.

Clairvoyant divination (revealing a hidden current reality) is less common, though veridical dreams are acknowledged as a way for mortals to understand God’s will (Gen. 20:3; 1 Sam. 3:3-10; 1 Kings, 3:5-15). Other acceptable forms of clairvoyance include the casting of lots to determine who enjoys God’s favor (1 Sam. 10:20- 24) and conferring with a seer to find a lost possession (1 Sam. 9:6), though the evidence is more ambiguous here. Given their narrative context, careful readers must decide whether we are meant to regard these two practices as efficacious, or merely ruses by the prophet to further God’s inscrutable purpose.

Many types of diviners are mentioned in Scripture. Under the general category of oracular prophets, there is the navi (prophet), the roeh (seer), and the ish Elohim (man of God). There are also several terms for mantics separate from the Israelite institution of prophecy, all of them being targets of condemnation: Baal Ov, itztzim, kosem kesamim, menachesh, meonen, and yeddioni. The exact meaning of these terms is tentative, as the usage and meaning may well have changed within the time frame of the thousand years over which the Bible was composed. And, as in English, some terms may not even reflect technical distinctions, but are merely synonyms, often borrowed from other languages.

The Talmudic Sages were extremely sensitive to serendipitous omens, and were avid observers of the stars, the trees (Suk. 28a), and the behavior of birds (Git. 45a) and other selected animals. Biblical verses elicited from children can be read as signs. All the same, the Rabbis condemned those forms of operational divination they associated with kesem/nahash (sorcery/witchcraft). An extended discussion of witchcraft and divination appears in Sanhedrin 65b. In that passage, “performance” or impetration, such as the use of divining rods, is the primary criteria for determining that a form of manticism is illicit. The Sages are not consistent on these points, and the line between licit and illicit forms of divination is often blurred beyond useful distinction.

The medieval Sefer Chasidim continues with this ambivalence, condemning forms of impetrated divination while recording dreams and omens and teaching their interpretation (237, 441, 729, 1172). In his book Chochmat ha-Nefesh, Eleazar of Worms lists a variety of bodily omens and their meaning. Chayyim Vital consults witches, sorcerers, and visionaries in dizzy variety in his quest to confirm through paranormal means his own spiritual genius (Sefer ha-Hezyonot). The dead continue to be regarded as an excellent source of mantic knowledge, even though necromancy is roundly condemned. Here the distinction seems to be that when the dead initiate the communication, it is acceptable, but if the living attempt to initiate a séance, it is not (this too changes under the influence of Spanish Kabbalah).1 astrology, lamps, cocks, Bibliomancy, and mirrors were all acceptable sources of advanced knowledge by the Middle Ages. Though condemned by the Talmud, the use of divining rods was also tolerated by the late Middle Ages.

Most specifically, Jewish divination practices have all but vanished from modern communities, though some pietistic groups still practice the custom of scrying the fingernails at Havdalah and/or employ Bibliomancy. Most Jews who are interested in such things today make use of techniques popular in the general culture, such as horoscopes and Tarot cards. Jews can still be very attentive to serendipitous omens. SEE FINGER; GEOMANCY; MEDIUM;NECROMANCER NECROMANCY; PROPHECY AND PROPHETS.

1. J. H. Chajes, Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 13-18, 30-31.

Divining Rod: Sticks or staves can be used for purposes of divination (rhabdomancy). It is a very ancient practice. The art of belomancy, the use of arrows for determining a course of action, is an example of rhabdomancy mentioned in the Bible. The first mention of a Jew actually using a staff as a divination rod appears in the Talmud, where the technique is for a diviner to hold it upright and release it. The direction in which it falls determines the course of action. The Talmud condemns this as witchcraft. Nevertheless, divining rods resurface among European Jews amidst the craze for dowsing buried treasure that seized Europe in the High Middle Ages. Jewish magical recipes exist that explain the type of tree to be used (usually hazelwood or myrtle), when the rod is to be harvested, and the incantations and rituals surrounding its use. SEE DIVINATION; ROD.

Divri ha-Yamim shel Moshe: “Chronicles of the Life of Moses.” It is a medieval collection of tales about Moses that includes many more miraculous details than are found in the biblical accounts.

D’li: (58857). “Pail/Aquarius.” The zodiac sign for the month of Shevat, the late winter month in the Land of Israel. It is a sign of purification, wealth, benefit, and the Torah. The holiday of Tu B’shevat, the “New Year of Trees,” is celebrated this month, when the winter rains are falling and helping fructify the Earth. This reflects the wealth and abundance associated with this sign.

Dog: Like many peoples of the Near East, Jews have historically had an ambivalent attitude toward dogs.1 The few images of dogs found in the Bible are negative. Only the apocryphal book Tobit offers a positive portrayal of a dog.

The book of Deuteronomy specifically prohibits the religious use of the “wages of a dog.” In the past, this obscure law has been regarded as an oblique reference to male sacred prostitution. Recent archaeological digs, however, have uncovered an enormous healing cult among the Philistines that involved the sacrifice of dogs. It seems more likely that Deuteronomy is referring to this phenomenon.

Dogs were regarded as highly sensitive to the presence of the spirit world. Thus both the Talmud and medieval Jewish literature regard the behaviors of dogs as ominous. Frolicking dogs signify good tidings, and may even signal the presence of Elijah in the vicinity. Barking dogs mark the presence of the Angel of Death. Witches and demons can take on canine form. Dog fur is listed among items to be used for medicinal amulets in the Talmud. In the Zohar, “dogs” is a circumlocution for demons (I: 6b). The Souls of the wicked are often transmigrated into dogs (ShB 108). Many of the later supernatural beliefs about canines appear to come directly from the folk traditions of non-Jewish neighbors (B.K. 60b; SCh 1145-46). SEE ANIMALS.

1. G. Miller, “Attitudes Toward Dogs in Ancient Israel: A Reassessment,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32.4 (2008): 487-500.

Domah or Dumah: (58861). “Silence.” The angel of the grave. Domah is a punishing angel of the afterlife (Ber. 18b; Shab. 152b; Sanh. 94a). He comes with an angelic court to visit the Soul of the dead once the Body is interred. At that time, Domah, wielding a flaming scepter, asks the soul its Hebrew name, reviews its deeds while living, and pronounces the first judgments upon the dead (PR 23:8). In the Zohar, he is one of the principal angels of Gehenna (I: 8a-b, 94a, 102a). SEE ANGEL OF DEATH ; BURIAL; CHIBBUT HA-KEVER; DEATH; NAME, HEBREW.

Donmeh: A secret heretical sect, once scattered across the Ottoman Empire, which arose from the followers of Shabbatai Tzvi.1 Outwardly maintaining the practice of Islam, the Donmeh cling to many Jewish observances and the belief that Tzvi is the Messiah. They continued to expound their own sectarian variety of Kabbalah. Once virtually moribund, the group has found renewed life on the Internet as “Neo-Sabbatean Kabbalah.”

1. Y. Leibes, Studies in Jewish Myth and Messianism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), 98-101.

Doubles: SEE PAIRS.

Dove: (58879/Tor or 58876/Yonah). The dove, specifically the turtledove, is a symbol of purity, peace, the Messiah (Yoma 44b; Zohar II:8a-b), the people Israel (Brachot 53b; S of S R. 2:14; Targum S of S 1:15, 4:1), and the Shekhinah (Chag. 15a; RaSHI comment of Gen. 1:2). According to the Vilna Gaon, the dove is also a symbol of the Soul (Commentary to Jonah 1).

It is a dove that brought an olive sprig, a message of hope to Noah that he would find refuge on dry land. Thus it becomes a symbol of peace and future redemption. A dove is one of the clean animals that may be offered in sacrifice in the Temple. SEE DOVE, GOLDEN.


Dove by E. M. Lilien

Dove, Golden: Based on the imagery of Psalm 68:14, the Messiah becomes identified with a celestial golden dove, which serves as his messenger (Yoma 44b; Zohar III:196b). This same idea appears, in variant form, in the Christian Gospels associated with Jesus (Mark 1). SEE BIRD’S NEST.

Dragon: (58895/Tannin, also Teli). An archetypical monster usually resembling a serpent. With only a few vague references in the Bible, the term tannin is open to various interpretations, the most mundane being the crocodile. More imaginative readers understand it to refer to a monstrous serpent or dragon that dwells in water and is a menace to navigation (Neh. 2:13; Isa. 27:1; B.B. 74a-b). At times the word becomes synonymous with Leviathan. Daniel is credited with battling a dragon and killing it by filling its mouth with pitch (Bel and the Dragon). Rabbi Acha defeated a seven-headed serpent with Prayer (Kid. 29b).


Ancient Near Eastern illustration>of a multiheaded dragon

In the apocalyptic literature, there is a dragon of monstrous dimensions in Sheol that feeds on the Souls of the wicked (III Baruch 4-5). demons can take the form of dragons (Kid. 29b), and some demons, such as Samael, are given the title “serpent.” In Kabbalah, a cosmic blind dragon, Tanin’iver, serves as the steed of Lilith. (Daniel, Septuagint version; III Baruch; Treatise on the Left Emanation).

In medieval writings Teli becomes another idiom for a dragon, and in some texts it becomes the term for either the constellation of Draco, or the Milky Way, because of the sinuous, elongated appearance of these things (Zohar I:125b).

Drash: (58891). To “inquire [of God].” SEE DIVINATION.

Dream: (58893/Chalom). Clairvoyant and prophetic dreams have a long and honored role in Judaism. The Bible identifies numerous Patriarchs, kings and prophets who have dreams of ominous import (Gen. 28:12, 31:10, 37:5-9; Dan. 2; Zech. 1:8). Prophets and dreamers, in fact, are often listed together (1 Sam. 28:6; Deut. 8:2). It also acknowledges certain individuals, such as Joseph and Daniel, as having a talent for interpreting dreams. The Bible assumes that both dreams and the ability to interpret them come from God.

The Sages of the Talmud express diverse attitudes towards the mantic potential of dreams. While there are several examples of Sages who dismiss their ominous value, the overwhelming bulk of the Rabbis take dreams quite seriously. The most popular notion (Ber. 57b) seems to be that dreams are “one-sixtieth of Prophecy.” Even when God “turns his face” from Israel, She still speaks in dreams to individuals (Chag. 5b). Dreams are also considered “one-sixtieth of death,” and it is interesting to note that both prophecy and Death are phenomena that the Sages believe give a person access to the divine mind.

By the same token, the Sages note that “Neither a good dream nor a bad dream is completely fulfilled” (Ber. 55a, 57b). There is a perpetual suspicion that dreams have mixed sources, and therefore mixed reliability—good dreams come from the agency of Angels, while false dreams are the work of demons (Ber. 55b; Zohar I:183a).

There is considerable rabbinic material concerning the meaning of dreams, including the stories of individual Sages and a short list of dream symbols and their meanings (Ber. 56b-57b). The Talmud even mentions a professional dream specialist, the Baal ha-Chalom, who is necessary because interpreting one’s own dreams is discouraged (Yoma 28b). There is also an angel in Jewish tradition called Baal ha-Chalom. There are multiple stories in rabbinic literature of the dead returning to address the living in their dreams. An unsolicited dream vision of the dead apparently does not violate the prohibition against necromancy, and such visions are generally treated as a valid source of occult knowledge (SCh 237, 705, 708-10, 729, 1129).

The Zohar is cautious about the value of dreams, seeing them as an admixture of prophecy and the dark forces of the Sitra Achra:

What is the difference between prophecy and dream? Prophecy derives from the [trustworthy] world of the male, dream from the [ambiguous] world of female. (I: 149a; also see I: 183a)

A major interest of Jewish mystical/magical literature is how to induce revelatory dreams. Various Hechalot texts include incubation practices for receiving dream revelations. Sefer ha-Razim has an entire section devoted to dreams and getting dream questions answered; doing so involves a period of ritual purification, going to a body of water , burning incense, and performing an incantation to the Sar ha-Chalom, the angel of dreams. After three nights, the angel will appear and answer questions.

Medieval works, such as Sefer Chasidim and fragments of the Cairo Geniza, continue this interpretive tradition. Chayyim Vital kept a diary of veridical dreams (both his own and the dreams of others) concerning himself. The most complete Jewish work of dream interpretation is Pitron Chalomot by the Turkish rabbi Solomon ben Jacob Almoli.

Chasids considered dreams to be very important. There are innumerable stories of dead Chasidic masters appearing to their families and/or disciples in dreams, dispensing advice and revelations. Some masters also recorded their own dreams, relating them to their followers with appropriate interpretations. Chasids frequently bring their own disturbing dreams to their rebbes for interpretation and counsel in dealing with their ominous implications.

There are several traditions about the angel who is in charge of dreams, the Sar ha-Chalom. This angel is sometimes identified with Gabriel, the angel of revelation (Zohar I:149a).

There are various remedies for bad omens revealed in dreams, including fasting (Shab. 11a; Tan. 12b; SCh 226, 349), giving charity (B.B. 10a), or reciting talismanic verses from Scripture upon waking (Ps. 30:12; Jer. 31:13; Deut. 23:6; Zech. 10:2). There is also a Prayer for defense against ominous dreams, Hatavat Chalom, which is recited before a priest while he is pronouncing the Priestly Blessing (Ber. 55b). Sefer Chasidim teaches one should only reveal the contents of a dream to someone who loves you (447). Based on a popular belief that a dream comes true “as it is interpreted,” an individual may enlist three friends to magically nullify a bad dream by relating the dream and reciting the phrase, “It is a good dream,” to which the friends respond, “Yes it is good, may it be good, may God change it to good.” SEE BAAL HA-CHALOM; DIVINATION; INCUBATION; NECROMANCER NECROMANCY; TA’ANIT CHALOM.

Du Partzufim: “Two Faces [of Divinity].” This term, cognate to the Greek term syzygy, signifies the primordial duality that makes creation possible: the attributes of strict justice and mercy; male and female; even the written and oral Torah.1 SEE EROTIC THEOLOGY; IMAGE, DIVINE

1. Idel, Kabbalah and Eros, 53-59.

Dumah: (58923). “Silence.” An alternative name for Domah, the Angel of the grave and/or Egypt (Ber. 18b; Chag. 5a; Shab. 152a). In some sources, he functions as a psychopomp. In Zohar II:18a he is declared “head demon of Gehinnom.” Dumah is also a name for one of the compartments of Gehenna, based on Psalm 94:17.

Dumiel: (58920). Guardian angel of the Persians and/or a gate guardian of heaven (Hechalot Rabbati).

Dwelling: (58918/Maon). One of the seven heavens. It is the level that holds all the lower ranks of Angels and the heavenly choir. Here Israel’s praises are sung before God every day (Chag. 12b-13a).

Dybbuk: (58916). “Clinging/Possessing Spirit.” A dybbuk mi-ruach ra, a “clinging of an evil spirit,” also referred to as a ibbur ra, is a ghost or disturbed transmigrating Soul that possesses the Body of a living person. While demonic possession has a history going back to the Bible, the idea of possession by the souls of the dead has a more sporadic record. Josephus clearly alludes to the experience of the living being possessed by “the spirits of wicked men” in the 1st century CE (Wars 7:184-185). Subsequently, there are vague and non-specific connections between demons being revenants of the dead, and another that links demons to human illness to be found Jewish writings of antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Yet, explicit reports of pneumatic possession of the type that Josephus offers are absent in Jewish literature for more than a millennium. Even the term dybbuk is a late phenomenon—early accounts simply speak of ruchim, “spirits.” Dybbuk accounts historical coincide with the spreading belief in reincarnation among Jews from the 13th century on:

If there is even one organ in which the Holy One does not dwell, then he [the person] will be brought back into the world of reincarnation because of this organ, until he becomes perfected in his parts, that all of them may be perfect in the image of God. (T.Z.)

It is this belief that human souls can move from Body to body, yet may be retarded in their progress by sin, that parallels a rise reports ghostly possession.

According to pre-Lurianic Jewish mysticism, the dybbuk is a sinner who is seeking refuge from the punishments of the afterlife or who for some reason has been unable to continue its journey to its resting place in the Treasury of Souls. While the theoretical possibility of spirit possession is mentioned in the 13th century Sefer Zohar, usually in association with Jewish figures of the past, the return of spirit possession to recorded Jewish history had to wait until the 16th century, when accounts of possessions and exorcisms suddenly proliferate. Quite a number of notable Jewish figures from this time forward fill the role of exorcist, including Yosef Karo, Isaac Luria, Chayyim Vital, Isaiah Horowitz and the Chafetz Chayyim.

In Lurianic Kabbalah, the dybbuk phenomenon is more closely linked to the biblical fate of karet, being “cut off,” and because of its sin the dybbuk has been exiled from its next proper stage of reincarnation. Thus it finds refuge in a living victim and must be exorcised. In most of these accounts, the dybbuk is a soul whose offenses have brought some intolerable punishment or caused the soul to wander, unable to complete its next cycle of transmigration. Occupying a living person either brings some relief from its torments or serves the dybbuk as an instrument to correct the offenses it committed while alive.

Therefore, in Luria’s teachings, exorcism is a doubly therapeutic event, both relieving the possessed person and releasing the dybbuk to continue its journey into the afterlife (Sefer ha-Brit).


The dead haunting the living by E. M. Lilien

Eventually, many documented incidents of dybbuk possession are reported in Sefer ha-Hezyonot, Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodeshim, Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, Emek ha-Melech, Sefer Nishmat Hayyim, and other sources:

The spirit which took possession of a young man was the spirit of one who, in his life, had sinned egregiously and that thereafter could find no peace. It had entered the youth’s body after having been forced to flee its previous abode, the body of a cow which was about to be slaughtered. (Ma’aseh Buch)

Dybbuks mostly attack those who are spiritually vulnerable. It enters, for example, into a home with a neglected mezuzah because it knows someone resides there who is lax in spiritual practice and development. The dybbuk causes the victim to act out social inappropriate behaviors:

[The dybbuk named] Samuel raised her [the victim’s] legs and lowered them one after the other, with great speed, time and again. And with those movements, which he made with great strength, the blanket that was upon her fell off her feet and thighs, and she uncovered and humiliated herself before everyone’s eyes. They came close to cover her thighs; but she had no self-consciousness in the course of any of this. Those who were acquainted with her knew of her great modesty … (The Great Event in Safed, Sec. 21) 1

Dybbuks are also disproportionately male and disproportionately possess women, though there are also accounts in Jewish legal literature of men being possessed (Darkhei Teshuvah 4, no. 52). In some accounts, there is a sexual dimension to the dybbuk’s choice of victim.2

The resolution of this affliction is an exorcism, usually performed by a rabbi, Kabbalist, or other recognized spiritual authority. SEE DEATH; GHOST; POSSESSION, GHOSTLY

1. Y. Bilu, “Dybbuk and Maggid: Two Cultural Patterns of Altered Consciousness in Judaism,” AJS Review 21, no. 2 (1996), 348-66. Also see Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism, 45-54, 64-68, 313.

2. J. Chajes, “City of the Dead,” in Spirit Possession in Judaism: Cases and Contexts from the Middle Ages to the Present, M. Goldish (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003), 138.