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

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



Eagle: (58941/Nesher). The eagle is a symbol of divine presence and favor, as well as a creature of mystery (Prov. 30:19; PdRK 26.4). Scripture compares God to an eagle that guards her young (Deut. 32). It also signifies Chesed in sefirotic theosophy.

An eagle is one of the four faces that Ezekiel sees among the holy creatures that make up God’s chariot (Ezek. 1). Eagles served Solomon and performed many wondrous deeds in service to him. The Ziz, a mythical bird, is sometimes described as an eagle of giant proportions (B.B. 73a-74a). Protective words and phrases arranged in the image of an eagle occasionally appear on Jewish amulets. Maimonides is sometimes called “the great eagle.”

Ears and Earring: The ears, as the organ of hearing, have great symbolism in Jewish rhetoric (Deut. 32:1). In the ordination of the Israelite priesthood, the right earlobe was one of three body parts sanctified with blood during the ritual (Lev. 8:22-14). The ears “breath,” and ears of Adam Kadmon, which correspond to the sefirah of Binah, emanate supernal light. Their duality represents the separate divine attributes of “insight” and “discernment” (Etz Chayyim, Heichal Adam Kadmon, 4). The Kabbalist Abraham Azulai taught that a “demon of desire” resides in the right earlobe. In the biblical period, earrings were either amulets or symbols of devotion to Pagan gods, as indicated by Jacob’s decision to bury them along with some idols in his possession (Gen. 34:4). SEE BODY.

Earth: (58945/Eretz, also Adamah; Tevel; Archa). Earth is one of the four elements that make up the world (Chag. 12b). In Israelite cosmogony, the earth was created on the third day. It rests upon mighty pillars and floats above a watery abyss below its crust (Pss. 24:2, 74:4, 104:5. 136:6). The earth was conceived as flat (Isa. 40:22), with an axis mundi, or navel (Ezek. 38:5; Jubilees 8; PdRE 11) and the edges or “ends” lined by mountains (MdRI 1). Sefer Yetzirah, following Job 26:7, understands the earth is suspended in space. According to the Sages, there are actually seven dimensions of the material world: Eretz, Adamah, Arka, Harabah, Yabbashah, Tevel, and Heled. An alternate list gives Neshiyya and Tziyya in place of Harabah and Yabbashah (Lev. R. 29:11; Mid. Teh. 9.11; SY 4:12; Zohar III:9b-10a; ZCh 89c; LOTJ 15). Mankind, being a microcosm of the world, is made from dirt drawn from the “four corners” of the earth, which explains why humanity comes in so many colors (PdRE 12).

According to the Bible, the earth is cursed by both the disobedience of Adam and Eve and the crime of Cain (Gen. 3). Still, the earth manifests God’s will. It fails to yield produce for those who ignore God’s will and can even swallow up those who offend God, as it did Korach ben Izhar and his supporters (Num. 16:32). And it continues to have a sacred status: in order to enter a zone of holiness, Moses must first shed his sandals, walking on the earth without a barrier made of death (leather) (Ex. 3).

According to the Sages, the earth lacked stability until the building of the Mishkan (PdRK 1.4-5). The earth can also protect those whom God would save. Thus in one legend, the Hebrew babies in Egypt were delivered from Pharaoh’s decree by the earth opening up and hiding them from their would-be killers (Sot. 11b; Ex. R. 1:12).

The Land of Israel is holy and the earth of that land possesses special power. Creation began at the Temple mount and radiated out from there, making Jerusalem the center of the world (Tanh. Kedoshim 10; PdRK 26.4; PdRE 35). It is the soil from the grounds of the future Temple that God used to make Adam (Targum to Gen. 2:7). Soil from Israel binds a believer to the Holy Land and to God (2 Kings 5). When Jacob experienced his veridical dream promising him the whole Land of Israel (Gen. 28:13), God enfolded the entire Land of Israel and placed it beneath his Body (Chul. 91b). Being buried in the Land of Israel has some atoning power and so is a factor in resurrection. For that reason, pious Jews will insist on being buried with a small amount of dirt from Israel scattered in their coffin (Ma’avar Yabbok; commentary to Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim, V).

Some conceived of the earth as having awareness or intelligence through its own principle Angel (Num. R. 23:6). According to legend, King David once unleashed the waters trapped beneath the earth by moving the Even ha-Shetiyah, the Foundation Stone, which is found beneath the bedrock of the Temple.

Soil within the precincts of the Temple possesses special power. It is used in the trial by ordeal described in Numbers 5:17 to divine whether a wife has been unfaithful to her husband (M. Sot. 2:2; Sot. 17a). In the golem traditions, the creature must be partly constructed from earth within the confines of a synagogue. Ordinary earth stuffed in the mouth of a vampire that has died will prevent it from becoming the undead. Earth thrown over the shoulder after a funeral discourages the evil eye. SEE BURIAL; DIRECTIONS; MOUNTAIN.

East: (58953/Kedem, 58951/Mizrach). The east is a symbol of spatial, temporal, and spiritual antiquity. Like the sun, time and primeval forces emerge from the east. Thus Eden(and therefore Paradise) is in the east and it is from there that primordial man migrates to Israel, which is at the center of the Earth (Gen. 2, 11). It is therefore also a realm of power. It was a measure of Solomon's power that he “surpassed the wisdom of the Children of the East” (1 Kings 5:10). The people of the East were famed for their knowledge of magic and astrology (Eccl. R. 7:23; PdRK 4:3; Tanh. Chukkat 6).

Kabbalah treats the word for “east,” MiZRaCH, as an acronym: Mi-tzad Zeh Ruach Chayyim (“From this side comes the spirit of life”). The Bahir calls the east the “seed,” the place from which generativity flows. The Zohar associates it with the sefirah Tiferet (I: 85a). It is personified in the angel Uriel.

The wind that parted the sea for Moses and the Israelites blew from the east. The ancient Temple faced east, with the Holy of Holies oriented to the west, so the rays of the rising sun would enter the building as it ascended. Jewish homes often have a “Mizrach,” a printed amulet with protective images and verses, sometimes in microscript, which is mounted on the eastern wall of the house, in the direction of Prayer. SEE DIRECTIONS.

East, Children of: SEE CHILDREN OF THE EAST.

Eating: Since Judaism considers the material world to be the great theater of divine purpose, and the human Body in particular is the vehicle of that purpose, the consumption of food plays a central role in all areas of Jewish thought, and has significance both exoteric and esoteric.1 More than just fuel and nutrition, eating is both a social imperative and spiritual discipline (Zohar II:153a, 255a; Zohar III:189b). Eating often is equated with joy (Deut. 16:11, 26:11), nonetheless, from the very beginning of Hebrew literature, Jews have a paradoxical relationship with eating (Gen. 2:16, 3:17-19); Adam and Eve cover themselves with the leaves from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, from which they just ate, symbolic of eating’s dual capacity to enlighten and degrade (Zohar I:36a-b). At the very end of history, the eschaton will be marked with a feast (Isa. 25:6-8). Food is often associated with the miraculous (Num. 11:31-34; 1 Kings 17:12-16).

The rules of kashrut (Lev. 11; 17:13-16; Deut. 14:21) imbue select edibles with potential holiness, and others with the burden of impurity. Eating is a metaphor for acquiring knowledge of Torah (MdRI I:171; Ber. 64a; B.B. 145b; Zohar III:33b). Dining can be the occasion for revelation (Ex. 24:4-11; Zohar II:62b-63a). This is particularly true in the mystical tradition.

Eating does not just benefit humanity. Failure to eat the prescribed meals on the Sabbath brings harm to the upper worlds (Zohar II:88b). Conversely, satisfaction with a meal is a mimetic experience of the sefirah of Chesed, of being filled with “goodness.” (Sefer ha-Rimmonim 104-105). SEE BREAD; FOOD.

1. J. Hecker, Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah (Detroit, MI: Wayne State Press, 2005), 1-18.

Ebed Melech: A foreign courtier, an Ethiopian, in the court of King Zedekiah. One tradition claims this is just another name for Baruch, the prophet Jeremiah’s secretary. According to the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, the righteous gentile Ebed Melech slept through the entire sixty-six years of the Babylonian exile. Rabbinic legends credit him with entering heaven alive, like Elijah and Enoch (Yalkut 2:367).

Eclipse: (58988). Both lunar and solar eclipses are considered ill omens (Isa. 3:26, 13:10). Because the moon is a symbol of the Children of Israel, a lunar eclipse is particularly ominous for Jews, while a solar eclipse bodes ill for gentiles. On the other hand, the Talmud expounds that the sun is eclipsed when a great rabbi dies and is not honored, indicating Jews are in a state of spiritual decline, for Baba Batra 75a compares “the face of Moses to the face of the sun.” So a solar eclipse signals an “eclipse of the [spiritual] sun.”

In Talmud, tractate Sukkah 29a preserves the teaching that the appearance of an eclipse, along with its exact location in the sky, can be read to know the specific type of blight (famine, war, etc.) and/or the population who will be most affected. SEE ASTROLOGY; DIVINATION; OMEN.

Ecstasy: ( 58984/Hitpaalut, also Hishtapchut ha-Nefesh). A state of transcendent exaltation; enthusiasm. In the Bible, it is associated with the prophetic experience (Num. 19; 1 Sam. 19). In Talmudic times, ecstatic dancing was a central part of rituals such as the water libation ceremony. Later Judaism considers it a desirable state of mind for Prayer and worship. Chasidism, especially, creates worship services and spiritual gatherings (tish and farbrengen) conducive to ecstatic worship 1 and Jewish spiritual practices for achieving a state of ecstasy include chanting, dance, music, weeping, and meditation. SEE JOY AND HUMOR.

1. Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, 100.

Eden, Garden of: (58981/Gan Eden). The mythic realm of primordial humanity, over time the term has become synonymous with “Paradise.”

In the Bible, God situates the Garden on Earth between four rivers: the Tigris, Euphrates, Gihon, and Pishon (Gen. 2:8). The Garden is technically east of Eden. At its center grew two cosmic trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. After the sin of Adam and Eve, humanity is expelled from the Garden, and the route back is barred by two Cherubim armed with a single fiery sword (swords evidently being in short supply).

In the rabbinic writings, Eden, like Jerusalem, is simultaneously located on earth and within the precincts of heaven (M. Ber. 5:3). The Sages describe an earthly garden, Gan Eden shel ha-Aretz, which mirrors (imperfectly) the heavenly Garden, Gan Eden shel Malah or shel Elyon. Eventually there evolves an idiomatic and symbolic distinction between Gan and Eden. Gan is the earthly portion, while Eden is the locality where the dead reside (Shab. 119a; Ber. 18a; Ket. 103a; Zohar III:182b).

The Cave of Machpelah is the entryway to the higher Eden (Mid. Teh. 92:6). Its entrance is guarded by myriads of Angels, who welcome the righteous dead, garbing them in glory. Each dead Soul rests beneath their individual canopy and partakes in delicacies. Each heavenly day, the person undergoes a complete life cycle, being a child in the morning, a youth in the afternoon, and a mature adult in the evening. Every variety of fruit and spice tree grows there, each of unsurpassed beauty and fragrance (Yalkut Bereshit 20; Ber. 34b).

The medievals elaborate on the image of the celestial Garden, describing it as a walled enclosure of astronomical proportions, filled with precincts and palaces. There are many such realms, usually seven (corresponding to the seven heavens), each serving as the residence for different categories of meritorious souls. Thus there is a palace for those who were martyred, another for the young, and another for those women who cared for the ill and aged for many years (SGE). There angels attend upon the dead, who are refreshed by the fragrance emanating from the Tree of Life .

In addition to imagining Eden as a garden, rabbinic literature often describes it as a yeshiva shel malah, an academy on high, where the dead study Torah and where the secrets that eluded our understanding in life are revealed at last (Gen. R. 49:2; Num. R. 17:6).

Gehenna abuts directly on the Garden. SEE ADAM; ETERNAL LIFE; EVE; GUF HA-DAK; HECHALOT.

Edom: The name of the tribal nation dwelling southeast of Israel, regarded in Israelite tradition to be the descendants of Esau. In rabbinic literature, the word became an encoded term, an occult reference first for the Roman Empire, and later for Christendom that arose in its place (Gen. R. 63:13, 65:9; LoJ 5:272).

Egg: (58992/Beitzah). Eggs are virtually universally seen as symbols of life, immortality, and mystery and are therefore filled with magical potential. Two eggs produced by the same hen on a single day is a bad omen (it is certainly a bad omen for the chicken, as the quickest remedy for averting that particular prodigy is to kill the hen that laid them).

eating the roasted egg that is part of the Passover Seder plate brings good luck. Eggs were used in folk medicine, as well as the preparation of protective talismans. For the latter, the egg would be inscribed with a magical formula and then consumed, either as a means of purification for the amulet maker, or as part of the amulet-making process itself (Sefer Rokeach).

Eggs were an important ingredient in love potions and memory incantations. They could be consumed or buried near the target person or at a location of power, such as a crossroads. Eggs are also aphrodisiacs, stimulating virility. Eggs have a guardian spirit that may be consulted for purposes of divination. Presumably, this involves breaking the egg and studying the pattern created (Sanh. 101a).

Egoz: SEE NUT.

Egypt: (58998/Mitzrayim). “Ten measures of witchcraft were given to the world; nine measures went to Egypt” (Kid. 49b). The land of Egypt has been associated with mystery and the occult since earliest Jewish history, with tradition viewing it as a breeding ground for magic and witchcraft (Sanh. 104b; Kid. 49b). The biblical contest between Moses and Pharaoh's sorcerers (Ex. 7:8-8:15) sets the tone for all subsequent Jewish attitudes toward Egypt.

Because of its biblical associations, as well as its exotic status in the Greco-Roman imagination, Egypt continues to be regarded as a place of sorcery and arcane knowledge throughout Jewish tradition.1 Two of the most famous Jewish alchemists, Maria Hebraea and Moses of Alexandria, hail from there. The Sages characterize Egypt as the “capital of witchcraft” (Gen. R. 86:5). The fact that the Neo-Platonic theurgists—precursors to the practical Kabbalists of the Middle Ages—first appeared in Egypt only reinforces the image of the country as a place of magic and supernatural power.

1. G. Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic (Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 2008), 196-197, 357.

Ehyeh: (59000). “I Am/I Will Be.” Self-referential and cryptic name for God (Ex. 3:14). Most often linked to the sefirah of Keter.

Eight Kings of Edom: Listed in Genesis 36:31-36, these historical/mythic characters are included to account for the generations of Esau. This elaborate ellipsis in the biblical narrative invites interpretation by its very oddity. Starting with Zohar, and more fully developed by Isaac Luria, mystical tradition interprets these kings to actually be objects in a cosmic allegory. Zohar reads this not as an account of an ancestral branch off from the tree of Israel, but as a cosmic revelation, a figurative retelling of what preceded Creation (Zohar III:128a, 135a-b; Sefer ha-Gilgulim 15). The hermeneutic key is the phrase, “who reigned … before any king reigned over the Israelites.” The “king” here is taken to refer to the God of Israel. Prior to this creation, then, there were forces that disrupted God’s effective rule of the earlier worlds. The references to the “death” of each king refer to God’s undoing of these worlds. The key to the flaw in these primordial worlds is revealed in the word edom, (“red”): they were dominated by, “red [blood].” These worlds were too filled with strict judgment and lacked the balancing [matkela, in the language of the Zohar] quality of mercy in sufficient proportions for the cosmos to endure.1 Another source interprets this overweening judgment as the meaning of the “darkness” that existed before the light of creation (Galya Raza MS II, 102b).

Significantly, the last generation of Edom includes the mention of Hadar’s wife, Mehetabel, though no wives were cataloged before that. This is taken to mean the last iteration of judgment has a feminine counterpart added, which makes it balanced enough to not die, and so serves as the basis for judgment in this world:

You must know the that [this] world is founded upon the side of the feminine and that heaven is revealed on the side of Darkness … and that its descendants [the earliest stages of divine creation] … they are ruled by that side which has no shame … and that is the prince of Esau, and therefore the Blessed Holy One established this world on the side of the feminine … 2

To correct for past mistakes to the ordering of this world, God ensured this creation would continue by introducing Abraham, who embodies loving mercy (chesed), only then followed by Isaac, who personifies justice (din), as does his first son Esau, who was born red (Gen. 25:24), but finally harmonizes the two forces with Jacob, the ish tam (“perfect man”—Gen. 25: 27), which is why, the Kabbalists reason, the earlier failed worlds get recounted in the midst of his saga.

Despite the damaging nature of pure judgment, mercy is not to be considered superior to justice, but its complement. As evidence of this, Luria cites the verse “Do not hate the Edomite, for he is your brother” (Deut. 23:8). Mercy needs judgment; Jacob needs Esau, even if they are in conflict. The essential point, made in mythological terms, is that the world requires a balance between these qualities for it to succeed (Zohar III:127a-145b; Etz Chayyim, Gate I).

1. Scholem, Kabbalah, 116-117; G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism (New York: Schocken, 1965), 112.

2. R. Elior, “The Doctrine of Transmigration in Galya Raza,” Essential Papers on Kabbalah, Lawrence Fine, ed. (New York: SUNY Press, 1995), 248-249.

Ein Sof: (59014). “Without End.” Ein Sof is the term used in Kabbalah for the true but hidden essence of God, which is perfect, unchanging, impassive, entirely unknown and unknowable to humans. Ein Sof is mystical Jewish version of the causa causarum, “the Unmoved Mover,” at the heart of the via negativa model of God in scholastic philosophy. In the two-fold model of Kabbalistic divinity, all human knowledge of God is really knowledge of the ten emanated sefirot, the divine potencies “beneath” and “outside” Ein Sof. SEE ELOHIM; FACE OF GOD; NAMES OF GOD; PARTZUFIM; TETRAGRAMMATON.

El Adon: ( 59010). “Lord God.” El Adon is a mystical Prayer found in Jewish liturgy, a praise of God’s celestial power that came from the circle of Jewish ecstatics known as the Merkavah mystics.1 Like other mystical poems, such as Shir ha-Kavod, this is an alphabetic acrostic poem. This prayer, however, focuses not on the theology of the glory (though it does mention it), but on the angelic hosts and their equivalences to the celestial bodies. The association of Angelswith stars and planets was common in late antiquity. It is, for example, a major feature of the Hebrew magical text Sefer ha-Razim. This idea provides a monotheistic rationale for the otherwise Pagan astrological belief that the stars influence the mortal realms—the stars and constellations, these writers are saying, are actually angels and messengers of divine will. The Merkavah adepts were obsessed with angels, their titles, and their powers. Hechalot texts focus on how the angels praise God and how the initiate can both imitate and manipulate God’s angelic agents. It is also interesting that there are carefully crafted numerological features to this prayer. Verses have 10, 8, or 12 words. The first two stiches of five words, making a verse of ten equals the ten utterances that God made to form Creation (Avot 5.1). The nine lines in the middle consist of eight words, adding up to seventy-two, a number signifying the most powerful of God’s names. The final two stiches are six words each, the complete verse of twelve represents the total houses of the zodiac, summarizing the celestial theme of the poem:

God, Master of all creation/ Blessed and praised is He by all that breaths

His greatness and goodness fill the universe/knowledge and wisdom surround him (Prov. 3:19)

He is exalted above the holy beasts/and adorned in glory above the chariot (Ezek. 1:1-28)

Merit and Justice stand before His throne/Love and Mercy are before His glory (Ps. 89:15)

Goodly are the luminaries which our God created/made with Knowledge, Wisdom and Insight

He gave them power and energy/to have dominion over the world/

Full of splendor they radiate brightness/beautiful is their brilliance throughout the world

They rejoice in their rising and exult in their setting (Ps. 19:6)/performing with reverence the will of their Creator (Ps. 103:21)

Glory and honor do they give to His name, and joyous song to his majestic fame

He called forth the sun, and it shone/ He saw fit to regulate the form of the moon

All the hosts of heaven give him praise (Ps. 148:2-3);

Splendor and Greatness, the Seraphim and Ofanim and Holy Beasts.

An important feature of this poem are the reified figures of abstract values (wisdom, insight, merit, justice, love, and mercy) which are described as arrayed around the throne; some interpret them as if they are angelic beings. It is also not uncommon to find an element of animism/spiritism, such as appears in the descriptions of the heavenly objects. The psalms speak of mountains, rivers, and other geographic features as sentient beings. Here the sun and the moon are conscious of their roles and as consciously offering praise to their creator. Personification is, of course, a common literary technique, but this goes beyond rhetoric. A more philosophically oriented reading would call such language poetic panentheism. The last line of praises and angels is awkward, linguistically speaking. That’s because the key words—Shevach notnimkol tz’va marom … were selected so each word starts with the initial of one of the five planets visible to the ancients: SHabbatai, Nogah, Kokhav, TZedek, and Mo ‘dam were the Hebrew names for Saturn, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Mars. The string of angelic titles at the end adds three non-astrological angelic entities to the mix, yet lists of angels, seemingly include for no clear purpose, is actually a mark of authorship by the merkavah mystics.

1. M. Bar-Ilan, Sitrei Tefillah v’ Hekhalot, (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1987), 115-120.

Eldad and Medad: Two elders in the Israelite camp who become seized with the spirit of Prophecy (Num. 11:26-29). According to rabbinic tradition, their prophecies included apocalyptic visions concerning the Messiah and Jerusalem (Sanh. 17a). These were purportedly recorded in an apocryphal work bearing their names, but that text has not survived. Given the rather florid and piquant biblical story, these two figure are remarkable in the neglect they receive from later commentators.

Eleazar: Talmudic Sage (ca. 1st-2nd century). Eleazar was a great spiritual virtuoso. He could make food (cucumbers, to be precise) magically materialize. He met with Elijah, who introduced him to the Messiah. He had many insights into the higher worlds, and when he expounded on them, he was engulfed in supernal fire. He was also a clairvoyant who could interpret when the actions of animals revealed them to be messengers of heaven (Sanh. 68a; Zohar I:98; Zohar II:28; ZCh).

Eleazar, Abraham: Alchemist (Unknown nationality, ca. 15th-18th century). Author of Uraltes Chymisches Werk. Despite the influential nature of this work, it is impossible to fix the dates of his life. But since his book was published in 1760, yet it contains quotes from known alchemical treatises from only as late as the 14th century, the window of his lifetime can be narrowed to roughly a 300+ year period. SEE ALCHEMY.

Eleazar bar Shimon: Talmudic Sage and mystic (ca. 2nd century). The son of Simon bar Yochai, he lived in a Cave with his father for thirteen years, studying the secrets of Torah. When he finally emerged, his vision had become so purified that it burned any imperfect thing he saw on the outside, so he was forced to return to the cave (Shab. 33b-34a; Gen. R. 79:6; J. Shev. 9:1).

Eleazar ben Judah of Worms: Ethicalist and mystic (German, ca. 13th century). Also known as Rokeach, Eleazar was a leading light of the Chasidei Ashkenaz, the German Pietist mystics. He experienced visions and could perform great acts of theurgy. He used his knowledge of divine names, for example, to slay an evil gentile prince who threatened the Jewish community (Ma’aseh Buch). He wrote numerous works pertaining to mysticism, gematria, and magic, including Sefer ha-Chayyim, Sefer ha-Rokeach, and a commentary on Sefer Yetzirah.

Eleazar the Exorcist: A 1st-century-CE exorcist of some renown mentioned by Josephus. He performed these deeds by means of herbs, in the name of Solomon, and according to a method credited to the king of Israel (Ant. 45-49; War 7:196-207).

Elect of God: (59033/Bechir Eloha). A mysterious figure mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is a mantic figure, with secret knowledge of the zodiac, occult books, and Scriptures.

Eliezer: The servant of Abraham. A former prince, he bore a remarkable resemblance to his master (PdRE 16; Gen. R. 59:8). He had many fantastic adventures in the service of Abraham during which he demonstrated heroic wit and cleverness (Sanh. 109b). He was the only person to accompany Abraham in the rescue of Lot (PdRK 8.2). The angel Michael accompanied him on his journey to find a bride for Isaac (Gen. R. 59:10). He is counted as one of nine people who entered Paradise without having to undergo Death. In one surprising tradition, he is identified as the giant Og (PdRE 16).

Eliezer of Metz: Talmudist (German, ca. 12th century) and author of Sefer Yereim. He is virtually unique among rabbinical authorities in his granting legal permission for Jews to summon both Angels and demons to achieve benevolent purposes.

Elijah: Also frequently called Eliyahu ha-Navi, “Elijah the Prophet,” this Prophet of ancient Israel (ca. 9th century BCE) is one of the most celebrated heroes in Jewish lore. In his earthly mission he performed numerous miracles in his war against Israelite idolatry (1 Kings, 17-21). He was carried from Earth in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2).

Rabbinic literature elaborates on many of his feats. He never died (B.B. 121b; Gen. R. 31;5; PdRK 9.4), instead, having ascended to heaven on a divine chariot, he became one of only a few select mortals who have been elevated to the status of an Angel, and is henceforth known as the “Angel of the Covenant” (Mal. 3:1; Ber. 4b; ZCh Ruth 2:1). Unlike Enoch, however, Elijah retains his material Body. On high, he fulfills essentially the same function that Peter does in popular Christian imaginings, directing the Souls of the dead to their proper destinations (Seder Olam 7; PdRE 15).

Another Jewish tradition claims he has always been an angel, specifically Sandalfon, and he only briefly takes human form (Yalkut Reubeni; Pardes Rimmonim 24:4; Emek ha-Melech 175c). A cognate tradition holds that he has had multiple earthly incarnations, most famously as Phineas, the zealous grandson of Aaron mentioned in the book of Numbers, a figure who predates the historical Elijah by hundreds of years (PdRE 29). In subsequent Jewish tradition, Elijah fulfills three roles:

1. Angelus Interpresrevealing heavenly secrets to mortals in this world.

2. Psychopomp—the spirit who guides souls in the World to Come.

3. Herald of the Messiah and Malchut Shaddai, the Kingdom of Heaven.

In countless Jewish stories, Elijah appears wandering the earth, performing wonders, intervening on behalf of the poor, teaching, and giving divine insight to those who recognize him (B.B. 121b; B.M. 59b). He is present at every circumcision, and a chair is set aside to welcome him (PdRE 29; SCh 585; SA 265:11; Zohar I:13a). In the absence of the spirit of Prophecy, it is a visitation of Elijah, along with the Bat Kol and the Ruach Elohim, which now provides humanity with knowledge of the divine will (PdRE 1). The phenomenon of xenoglossia is sometimes understood to be an Elijah visitation.1 He also appears to people in visions and dreams. Kabbalistic texts frequently cite him as the source for various mystical teachings (Zohar I:2a).

Based on the verse in Malachi mentioned above, Elijah is understood to be the herald of the Messiah, as well as the figure who will restore the power of prophecy to the people Israel. Therefore his presence is invoked at every Passover Seder (Haggadah). It is he who will sound the great shofar of salvation, marking the start of the Messianic Era. One tradition states he will perform seven wondrous feats at that time: resurrecting Moses and the Generation of the Wilderness, bringing up Korach from the earth, resurrecting the Messiah ben Joseph, restoring the Ark of the Covenant and the other vessels of the Temple, displaying God’s scepter, flattening the mountains in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and resolving the many unanswered questions and unresolved disputes concerning Jewish tradition. His permanent return to earth is a recurring theme in Jewish Prayer and liturgy (Eruv. 45a; M.K. 26a; PdRK 9:76; Gen. R. 21:5).

1. Bilu, “Dybbuk and Maggid,” 355.

Elijah ben Solomon: SEE VILNA GAON.

Elisha: Israelite Prophet and disciple of Elijah (ca. 9th century BCE). He received the mantle of Elijah (literally), as well as a “double portion” of his spirit. He performed numerous miracles, many of them variations on the miracles performed by his master, including feeding the poor, purifying water, healing a leper, and resurrecting the dead. A little testy about his personal appearance, he had a group of boys mauled by she-bears after they ridiculed his baldness, though he was punished with a chronic illness for this particular misuse of his prophetic power (Sot. 47a). Even his bones had miraculous powers (2 Kings 13:20-21). The Talmud claims he did exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah.

Elisha ben Abuyah: Talmudic heretic (ca. 1st-2nd century). Also known by the euphemism Acher, “The Other,” this student of the Sages lost his faith and is remembered as a provocateur and enemy of Judaism. The Talmud contains a couple of versions of his apostasy, but by far the most intriguing is the cryptic account of his involvement in the incident of the four Sages who entered Pardes/Paradise (Chag. 14b). The Talmud credits his apostasy to seeing the Angel Metatron sitting on a throne and concluding, “There are two powers in heaven” (Chag. 15a). Chagigah declares Elisha kofer ha-ikkar, “cut the root,” possibility meaning he rejected the essence of faith (the oneness of God) because of that experience. When he died, he was doomed to a state of limbo. He was not punished in Gehenna for his sins, but neither was he allowed to enter the World to Come. His disciple R. Meir finally used his spiritual merit and power to burn his Body. Smoke rose from his grave for many years, until R. Yochanan used his spiritual merit to release him into the World to Come (Chag. 15b; M.K. 20a; Nazir 44a). SEE CHIBBUT HA-KEVER.

Elohim: (59056, also 59059 /El; 59061 /Eloha). “God.” The generic Hebrew word for divinity, it appears thousands of times in the Bible. The use of this name for God in a biblical passage is understood to denote that God’s attribute of strict justice is forefront in that moment. In sefirotic metaphysics, Elohim is equated with Gevurah, the attribute of strict justice. Oftentimes, mystical texts will speak obliquely of Elohim being subordinate to Ein Sof, or of Elohim being the first creation of Ein Sof. The most common form of the word, Elohim, has been the subject of much sectarian and polemical speculation and over its interpretation because it appears to be in the plural form (“gods”). This is actually not a problem linguistically, as there are other examples of a majestic singular form with the yud-mem ending in Hebrew, such as mayim (“water”) and shamayim (“sky”). SEE NAMES OF GOD.

Elyon: “Most High/Exalted.” A epithet most often associated with God. It can also mean the “highest aspect” (Gen. 14:22; Num. 24:16; Deut. 32:8-9; Pss. 73:11, 107:11). SEE NAMES OF GOD.

Emanation: (59075/Atzilut also Shefa). In classical Kabbalah, the material world comes into existence through the unfolding emanation of divine light, involving a progressive series of shielding or reducing that light in order for discrete bodies to emerge from the undifferentiated oneness of divine being. Duality and multiplicity as we experience it is only possible because the supernal light is increasingly “clothed” in garments of lower reality (i.e., the sefirot). This notion of divine “concealment” is fundamental to Jewish occult thought (Pardes Rimmonim 5:4, 25d; Ketem Paz 1:124c). It is markedly different, however, from the Lurianic teaching of tzimtzum, in which positive existence emerges in the absence of divinity, rather than in its concealment.1 Later disciples of Isaac Luria craft elaborate accounts trying to reconcile the classical doctrine of emanation with their master’s myth of divine withdrawal. De Vidas equated divine emanation with love (Reishit Chochmah, Sha’ar Ahavah 2, 1:367). SEE ADAM KADMON; CREATION; FOUR WORLDS OF EMANATION; PARTZUFIM; SEFIROT.

1. D. Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1 (New York: KTAV, 1984), 162; also compare D. Matt, trans., The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 90-93.

Emek ha-Melech: “Valley of the King.” An influential 17th-century book of Kabbalah, with numerous accounts of reincarnation and spiritual possession, written by Naftali Bacharach.

Encryption: Much of Jewish religious literature has features to it that can be characterized as “encoded,” from its often terse and elliptical style to its pervasive use of polysemy, “Janus” words (words with dual valid meanings in context, such as appear in S o S 2:12), anagrams (Gen. 6:8), acrostics (Prov. 32), notarikons (Shab. 105b on Ex. 20:1), and symbolic numbers.

One form of systematic encryption found in Jewish writing, called Atbash, consists of inverting the values of the letters of the alphabet “mirror” style. Thus, in an atbash word, alef stands in for Tav, bet stands for Shin, etc. This may in fact be the earliest recorded method of encryption. It is already evident in the Bible, where the name Sheshach (Jer. 25, 51) is “Babel” (Babylon) in atbash code. This same method appears on the talismanic version of the Sh’ma, which is written on the reverse side of the mezuzah sheet.

There is another method of alphabetic substitution mentioned in Talmud known as the “Alef-Bet of Chiyya” (Suk. 52b) that was used to secretly teach Judaism during the time of Babylonian persecution. Later this method would be known as temurah. The use of “invisible ink” for sending secret messages is also discussed (Shab. 104a-b). The extensive use of abbreviations (roshei teivot) is a simple and pervasive form of encryption that is adopted and extensively applied in amulet making.

Of course, gematria—finding hidden meaning in the numeric value of letters, words, and phrases—is the most famous and prevalent form of code in Judaism. SEE HAFUCH; MYSTERY; TZERUF/Tzerufim.


Endor, Woman of: Often incorrectly described as “the witchof Endor,” this necromancer performed a séance for King Saul, despite his own royal prohibition against such practices (1 Kings 28). The episode is cryptic and short on details, but evidently the woman performed the ritual at night using an underworld god to raise the spirit of Samuel from the grave, who then spoke either through her or as a disembodied voice. Samuel pronounces doom upon Saul, confirming his worst fears that divine favor had withdrawn from him.

According to the Rabbis, a necromancer can see the summoned spirit, but only the one seeking an augury can hear its message. They also posit that she recognized Saul as the king because spirits arise differently for royalty than they do for commoners. The Midrash identifies the woman as Zefaniah, the mother of Abner, David’s general (Lev. R. 26). SEE DIVINATION; NECROMANCER NECROMANCY; WOMEN.

Enoch: (Chanoch). One of the primordial ancestors of humanity. He was, significantly, seventh in the first ten generations of humans listed in Genesis. According to Scriptures, Enoch was the most Righteous of the antediluvians and “went with God … and he was not, for God took him.” From this minimal information, much is extrapolated. He appears as an important figure in a slew of apocryphal works (I Enoch; Jubilees; Book of Giants). He is credited with the creation of writing, astrology, and receiving from Angels the solar calendar so precious to the priests who collected the Dead Sea Scrolls. To them, he was the prototype of all scribes, sages, and priests (I Enoch 12, 14, 80-82, 106-7; Jubilees 4). He was also an oneiromancer (Book of Giants). In places, his role is so exalted that he functions as the principle conduit of divine knowledge to mortals.

Some Jewish traditions held that Enoch ascended bodily into heaven, where he was transubstantiated into the princely angel Metatron (III Enoch), though there is at least one tradition that rejects this claim (Targum Onkelos, Gen. 5:24; Gen. R. 5:24). Along with the name change, his material Body is consumed and replaced with a body of supernal fire. He is known by several angelic titles and names, including Sar ha-Panim, the Prince of the DivineCountenance and/or Bar Enosh, “Son of Man.” Hebrew texts about Enoch and his angelic translation include Sefer Hechalot, Hechalot Rabbati, and Sefer Chanoch. SEE ENOCH, BOOKS OF.

Enoch, Books of: Multiple books exist in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic associated with the name of Enoch, such as III Enoch, the Book of Giants, and Sefer ha-Razim de Chanoch. Several others have been preserved only in translations (Slavonic and Ethiopic). There are many variations between the texts, and some contradict one another, but the cluster of elements that overlap in different versions are the story of his earthly role prior to the Flood, his ascension into heaven, his experience of apocalyptic revelations there, his involvement in the affairs of (fallen) angels, and his translation into an angel. SEE APOCRYPHA; ASCENT, HEAVENLY.

Enoch, First Book of: (I Enoch). A book that exists only in two variant translations, Greek and Ethiopic. The Hebrew original is not known to exist anymore, though we have found Hebrew/Aramaic fragments among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Ethiopic translation is an apocalypse that is divided into five books: the Book of the Watchers, the Book of Similitudes, the Book of the Course of the Heavenly Luminaries, the Book of Dreams, and the Epistle of Enoch. It includes the legend of the fallen angel, dream visions, visions of the final judgment, and other literary flotsam and jetsam. The Greek version shares some texts, and is only one-third the size of the Ethiopic version.

Enoch, Second Book of: (II Enoch). A Jewish pseudepigraphic work, probably written in Egypt, from the 1st century CE. Only Old Slavonic manuscripts (in two versions) have survived to this day. This rather cryptic book is also an apocalypse, revealing the workings of heaven, hell, and the end of the world. The book is one of the first to expound on the seven heavens and to give a detailed description of the pleasures of Paradise (and the first to associate the heavenly afterlife with Eden) for the righteous dead.

Enoch, Third Book of: (III Enoch). Also known as Sefer ha-Hechalot, Sefer Chanoch, or “Hebrew Enoch,” it describes the process of mystical ascent. Unlike the early Enoch books, which reflect more purely a priestly spirituality, this work is also clearly rooted in rabbinic Judaism. A Talmudic Sage-Priest, Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha ha-Kohen, is the central figure, and the work is most likely a product of merkavah mystics. It has been lumped together with the other, earlier Enochean books primarily because R. Ishmael encounters Enoch in heaven, in his angelic form of Metatron. This text narrates the mystical ascension of R. Ishmael into the seven heavens and his encounters there with angelic beings. It details the steps of angelification and transubstantiation of Enoch. It includes a description of the guf ha-briyot, the Treasury of Souls, and the transmigration of souls. SEE HECHALOT; HECHALOT RABBATI.

Enoch, Fourth Book of: (IV Enoch). A fragmentary Aramaic work found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, it includes many parts of other Enochean books, and may in fact be the earliest version of these works that we now have. The Book of Giants may also belong to the Enochean library.

Ephod: (59107). An embroidered garment of blue, red, purple, and gold (perhaps a short tunic or poncho) worn by the High priest and associated with oracular and cult functions (Judg. 8:26-27, 17:5; 2 Sam. 6:14; 1 Sam. 21:9). The Ephod was made from the interweaving of cloth with threads of gold metal, giving it a somewhat rigid, mail-like quality (Ex. 28:6-30; Yoma 71b). The High Priest’s breastplate was mounted on its front. It was evidently important that the High Priest wear it while fulfilling his oracular duties (1 Sam. 21-23; 30). When the High Priest wore it, all Israelites were forgiven any sin of idolatry (Zev. 87b). SEE URIM AND THUMMIM.

Ephraimites: The tribe descended from Jacob's eldest grandson. The Prophets among the Ephraimites enslaved in Egypt miscalculated the time of God’s deliverance by thirty years. When they attempted to leave, they encountered the Philistines, who slew 200,000 to 300,000 of the men (PdRE 48). SEE EXODUS.

Erelim: (59110). A category of angels. Their existence is derived from Isaiah 33:7, which reads: “Behold the valiant [erelam] shall cry out, the angels of peace shall weep bitterly.” While there may be a progressive parallelism intended here (i.e., “both mortals and divine beings weep”) esoteric readers of this verse draw a straight parallel between the erelam and the “angels of peace”—the verse is taken by many commentators to refer to two types of angels.

Maimonides lists Erelim among the ten classes of angels (Hilchot Yesodei ha-Torah 2:7). They are ascribed a number of overlapping functions in different sources. They seem to be closely tied to moments of Death and destruction. Thus Chagigah 5b reiterates the Isaiah passage regarding the destruction of the Temple, while Jewish mystics make them witnesses to the humiliation of the Shekhinah (Zohar I:182a; also see Lam. R. proem 24 and 1:23).

Erelim apparently have the responsibility to retrieve the Souls of the righteous dead. Thus in the account of the death of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, during which the Sages attempted to keep him alive via continuous Prayer, a disciple finally admits defeat by saying:

Both the Erelim and the mortals held on to the Holy Ark [Rabbi Judah]; but the angels overpowered the mortals, and the Holy Ark has been captured. (Ket. 104a)

Notice the militaristic turn of phrase, an allusion to the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 11. Since Erelim are linked to war and destruction elsewhere, perhaps there is a Valkyrie-like element to them.

They also have a strong predisposition to cry; in Genesis Rabbah 56:6, the Erelim that weep over the thought that Abraham will go through with the divine instruction to kill his son. They personify divine pathos. Paradoxically, given what appears above, they are also associated with life. In Midrash Konen, they are the angels described as the genius of foliage, impelling plant growth (2:25).

Eretz: “Earth.” Conventionally a term for “land” or “Earth,” but in the Zohar, Eretz is the second of the seven worlds. Adam was expelled there from the Garden of Eden. It is a realm of darkness. Adam was released from there when he repented his sin against God.

Erotic Theology: An ideology, discourse, or other religious rhetoric that views human gender, desire, and sexuality as a, or the, appropriate analogy, metaphor, or symbol for the relationship between God and the Creation. It is most often used in framing divine-human relations. While martial, and even erotic, imagery is used by the prophets in various passages (Jer. 2:32; Hos. 3, 9:1; Ezek. 15), the locus classicus for relating to God via the language of Eros is the Song of Songs. This biblical book serves as the springboard for a long and varied tradition of erotic theology appearing in textual interpretation, liturgical poetry, and religious parable. Kabbalah develops a metaphysics that is totally steeped in eroticism. SEE BRIDE OF GOD; PHALLUS; SEX; ZIVVUGA KADISHA.

Esau: Son of Isaac, brother of Jacob (Gen. 25-34). According to the Midrash, he possessed the magical garments of Adam, which gave him power to slay or capture any animal (PdRE 24). Because of this, an Angel had to interfere in his hunting expedition (Gen. 28) in order to give Jacob more time to pull off his deception of Isaac and receive his father’s blessing. Later, filled with bloodlust, Esau attempts to kill the returning Jacob by biting him in the neck and sucking his blood (PdRE 37), but is foiled when God turns Jacob’s neck to ivory (or marble). Later, he attempted to seize control of the Cave of Machpelah from Jacob and was slain by Chushim, the son of Dan, in the ensuing confrontation (PdRE 39).

In time, Esau comes to be regarded as the archetype of Israel’s enemies, particularly Rome. Many Midrashic stories featuring Esau are actually encoded criticisms of Rome and, later, Christianity. His guardian angel is Samael (Tanh. Vayishlach 8). The Zohar calls him “a true offspring of the serpent,” a demonic figure (I: 145-146a; 166a). SEE PATRIARCHS AND MATRIARCHS.

Eschatology: Greek, “Study of end things.” Eschatology is the branch of esoteric knowledge involving the end of the world, usually encompassing the final divine intervention into history, the apocalyptic fate of Israel, the establishment of the Kingdom of God, the resurrection, and the Day of Judgment.

One of the beliefs that distinguished Israelite religion from the pagan religions of the ancient Near East was the novel Israelite notion of time that history not only goes in cycles, but also advances to a unique conclusion.1 By contrast, most polytheistic peoples had a notion of mythic time, in which history moves primarily in reiterating cycles, with a limited concept of an unfolding future that was essentially different from the past. The biblical prophets taught that history was advancing toward an end that would be unlike that which had preceded it.2 They also taught that there will be a divine realm transcending earthly existence in which all humans would participate.

Major biblical sources for eschatological teachings include Daniel, Zechariah, the last quarter of Ezekiel, and Isaiah 40-66. As expounded in numerous post-biblical writings (most famously in the many apocalyptic books of late antiquity, but also in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Talmud, Midrash, and kabbalistic texts), the exact details of the end are very much up for grabs.

Jewish accounts of “the end” encompass four related issues: personal salvation and national redemption in this world (Resurrection and Messiah), the fate of the Soul, and the collective afterlife beyond this world (eternal life and the World to Come).3

These four topics are usually articulated through these specific mythic motifs:

1. The restoration of the people Israel to the Land of Israel, usually including the return of the ten lost tribes.

2. The reestablishment of the ideal institutions of Israelite religion: the rebuilding of the Temple, and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty through the Davidic dynastic, personified by the person of the eschatological Messiah.

3. The end of chaos in the social and natural order; the final triumph and reign of God over all.

4. The radical transformation of the world order: the end of the world (really, the end of history) and the fate of the dead.

Most classical Jewish writings on these themes are impressionistic and episodic. Themes and descriptions often overlap, or are conflated together, giving the impression that various teachers and texts contradict one another. It was not until well into the Middle Ages that commentators would provide comprehensive and summary descriptions of Jewish eschatological teachings. The many nuances of individual visions and variations among the teachers of Israel are too numerous to catalog. SEE MESSIAH; WORLD TO COME.

1. Y. Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (New York: Schocken Books, 1960), 358-59.

2. K. Koch, The Prophets, vol. 1 (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1992), 1-6.

3. P. S. Raphael, Jewish Views of the Afterlife (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996), 18-20.

Esdras, the Books of: Apocryphal books of the Greco-Roman period attributed to the scribe Ezra. Keeping track of the various texts is a discipline unto itself. I Esdras is also known in some circles as III Esdras. II Esdras is also known as IV Ezra. This confusing situation arose when early Church Fathers designated the biblical books Ezra and Nehemiah to be “I and II Esdras.” Thus I and II contains the biblical accounts of Ezra. III and IV (or I and II) Esdras, on the other hand, are apocalyptic texts full of eschatological visions, including the fate of Israel, the return of the ten lost tribes, and a calculation of the end of times. SEE APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE.

Essenes: Meaning uncertain; possibly either Aramaic, Chasayya (“Pious Ones”) or Greek, Hosiotes (“Holy Ones”). A mysterious Jewish sect of the Greco-Roman period mentioned by the contemporary writers Philo, Josephus, and Pliny. Their respective accounts of the Essenes are somewhat contradictory, and while the Dead Sea Scrolls offer us new possible understandings of the sect (assuming they were the owners of the DSS library), there is still much we do not understand about them. The sect was a closed society, dominated by hereditary priests, requiring a period of initiation and trials before being accepted through oaths and ritual purification. The full teachings of the group were a secret, with discipline being enforced by a court of one hundred initiates. At least some initiates were celibate and lived in communal quarters.1 Essene teachings include a profound interest in Angels and eschatology, the latter of which centers on a priestly messianic figure, the “Teacher of Righteousness.” They were masters of divination and in the making of medicines and potions (War 2:119-61; Ant. 18:11, 18-22). SEE COMMUNITY RULE; DEAD SEA SCROLLS; MANUAL OF DISCIPLINE.

1. F. G. Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill/Eerdmans, 1994), lii-lvi.

Essingen, Samuel: Noted Baal Shem (German, ca. 18th century). He was a folk healer, amulet maker, and exorcist.

Esther: This savior of Persian Jewry, a central figure in the biblical book bearing her name, was vouchsafed many miracles during her life. One of the four most beautiful women in all history, she was an orphan taken in by her uncle Mordecai. God gave Mordecai the ability to nurse the baby from his own breast. Once the King singled her out from among his harem to be Queen of Persia, the Holy Spirit enhanced her already legendary beauty (Targum Esther Sheni). To bring about a favorable outcome in her efforts to save the Jews, Angels orchestrated her encounter with King Ahasuerus to plea for the life of her people. She retained her beauty throughout her life and never appeared to age (Es. R.).

Esther, Apocrypha of: This Greek language account of the events of the biblical book of Esther includes descriptions of Esther’s prophetic dreams not found in the Bible.

Esther, Book of: Built entirely around an acute and absurdist meditation on anti-Semitism written in the form of a court farce, the book of Esther includes some pointed borrowing from mythology in telling its story. Esther and Mordecai, the “Persian” names of the Jewish heroine and hero, are seemingly derived from the ancient Near Eastern deities, Ishtar and Marduk (alternatively, in the case of Mordecai, the Sages think it may be derived from mor dror, “dripping myrrh” [Meg. 10b], which the Rabbis connected to myrrh, a popular contraceptive substance. Esther’s Hebrew name is Hadassah, “myrtle,” a tree used medicinally in the ancient world for its contraceptive effect, offering a possible parallel to Mordecai’s name.)

In fact, the book of Esther reminds the mythologically minded of the myth of Myrrha, the woman unhappily married off in an incestuous-rape relationship to her father the king, where she suffers drunken sexual assaults until the gods take pity on her, transubstantiating her into the myrrh tree. The tree’s oil, which drips from the branches like tears, was also a prime contraceptive substance (Notice the six-month treatment of the virgins with myrrh prior to their night with the king in Esther 2:12).

There are some striking parallels between the myth and the book of Esther:

a. Incest—What was Esther and Mordecai’s relationship? The Rabbis suspected it was more than “uncle” and “ward” (Meg. 13a-13b);

b. A transgressive marriage—in Esther, both she and the king are forbidden to each other by both Jewish law and Persian royal taboos; A drunkard king (Esth. 1:10); rape (Esth. 7:8);

c. And finally, death and salvation through a tree (Esth. 7:9-10). [Translated as “stake,” or “gallows” in Hebrew execution device is consistently called an eitz, “tree,” in the four places it is mentioned.]

All of which suggests that the story of Esther may have as much basis in myth, the deliberate Judaic reworking of Pagan mythology, as it does in any historical event.1

The book of Esther is the only biblical book not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Perhaps, given the Qumran community’s obsession with ritual purity and ambivalence toward sexuality, a book that makes a heroine out of a Jewish woman who willingly becomes a concubine and then queen to a gentile was just too much to accept. Given the eccentric features of the book, which never mentions God, the Talmudic Sages debated whether to include this profane book, in the biblical canon, but did so anyway.

1. J. Prouser, “As the Practice of Women,” Conservative Judaism (Winter 2001).


Et: (59146). This linguistic feature of Hebrew, called a direct object indicator and spelled alef-tav, it is never translated when it appears in a text. Thus in Genesis it reads, “When God began to create [et] the heavens and [et] the earth …” This purely grammatical device that appears thousands of times in the Bible, however, has been interpreted to be of occult significance. According to the interpretation of Akiba, et encompasses everything in between (Men. 29b). For example, in the case of Genesis, the et refers to all the created things in heaven and on Earth that are not explicitly mentioned in the Creation accounts, such as Angels (Pes. 22b; Chag. 12a).

In the Zohar, it signifies Shekhinah (I: 29b, 53b, 247b). Thus, in early Jewish mystical thought, et symbolizes totality, because alef is the first and tav the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Eternal Life: Jewish tradition has always taught that mortals have, or will have, a continued existence after Death. In Isaiah 25, the Prophet promises that a time will come when death will disappear entirely. The Bible describes an underworld realm of the dead called Sheol (grave), where Souls dwell in dark silence. In Greco-Roman times the first descriptions of a heavenly afterlife start to appear in Jewish literature. In Berachot 34b it is taught:

R. Hiyya b. Abba also said in the name of R. Johanan: All the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah, but as for the world to come, “No eye has seen, oh God, beside Thee.”

But even this did not prevent the continued development of a rich mythic tradition about the nature of eternal life.

In rabbinic imagination, Torah is synonymous with the Tree of Life, which was lost as a consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve. Thus, the giving of the Torah at Sinai restores the possibility of human immortality. In addition to this, because of their immersion in Torah, Saintly men are also immune from most (but not all) forms of death (Shab. 55b). The souls of the Righteous are escorted to their reward by three companies of Angels, each uttering their own message of comfort. For the wicked, three myriads of destructive angels serve as escort, quoting Scriptural verses of reproach (Ket. 104a). The quality of the afterlife an individual has is based on moral criteria: the righteous will enjoy eternal favor and ease, the wicked face annihilation, and those of us in between, the Beinonim, must face trials and punishment for our sins, to ensure that in the end we will enjoy reconciliation with God. Descriptions of what eternal life entails vary across Jewish tradition and sources.

The belief in resurrection, the bodily restoration of the dead in the End of Days, is based on Ezekiel 37, Daniel 12:2, and Isaiah 65:17. Resurrection has been the predominant way that Jews understand and envision the afterlife (II Maccabees, Talmud, and the Gevurot Prayer of the daily liturgy). Exceptionally righteous figures, however, can be translated directly into heaven, where they become celestial luminaries and angels (I Enoch 102). Examples of such individuals include Enoch, Elijah, and Serach bat Asher.

Under Greek influence, there also arises a belief in a disembodied eternal existence (Jubilees 23; I Enoch 103-4; IV Maccabees 14). Later rabbinic tradition eventually reconciles these competing traditions of bodily resurrection and disembodied heavenly existence.

Finally, Jewish mysticism teaches that there is a mechanism involving transmigration of souls that is not the terminal fate of the soul, but is also part of the journey toward eternal life. SEE BURIAL.; CHIBBUT HA-KEVER; DEATH; EDEN, GARDEN OF; JUDGMENT; REINCARNATION; WORLD TO COME.

Etrog: (59171). A citron. An etrog is one of the arba minim, the four species Jews are commanded to gather for the celebration of the holiday of Sukkot (Lev. 23:40). As the spherical element in the otherwise linear/phallic lulav bouquet, the etrog symbolizes the female aspect of fertility when joined to the three branches representing the male force:

“He [God] planted an etrog among them [the male plants] … the etrog is female … The lulav is male …” (Bahir 172, 198; Also see Sha’ar ha-

Etrogim (pl.) have multiple magical uses. Pregnant women eat etrogim that have already been used during Sukkot to protect them and ease their pain during childbirth. The stem from an etrog is sometimes placed in the bed to help with a difficult labor. Sefer Raziel advises using an etrog in the purification ritual before the preparation of an amulet. To accomplish this, a magic formula is written on the etrog. The message is then wiped off with wine and the etrog consumed.

Eve: (59167/Chavah). “Living [thing].” The mother of all humanity (Gen. 2-3:20), who actually is never mentioned again in any other book of the Hebrew Canon. According to one interpretative tradition, she was not the first woman God created; Alef-Bet of ben Sira claims Lilith came before her. The bulk of Jewish tradition, however, does not ascribe to the Lilith tradition. Instead, it teaches that God created Eve by dividing the androgynous Adam in half, separating his masculine and feminine aspects (Ber. 61a; Eruv. 18a; Gen. R. 8:1; Sefer ha-Likkutim 5b). God erected ten bejeweled canopies to serve as her bridal chambers. Angels were the witnesses and musicians at her Wedding to Adam (PdRE 12).

The demons Samael, in the form of a serpent, seduced her both mentally and physically while her guardian angels were away (Sot. 9b; Shab. 196a; AdRN 1:4). The corruption he ejaculated into her continued on down through the generations, adversely affecting humanity until the giving of the Torah, a myth that becomes prominent in Kabbalah (Zohar I:37a, 54a). Samael persuaded her to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and to induce Adam to do the same. She bore Cain and Abel on the same day; Cain was the child of her demonic lover, while Abel was the child of Adam.

After the birth of Abel, she and Adam separated for 130 years. During that time, incubi had intercourse with her in her sleep and she bore them many demons (Gen. R. 20:11). Some traditions hold that her third son, Seth, was actually her first child by Adam (Gen. R. 22:2, 23:5; PdRE 13). She was buried with her husband in the Cave of Machpelah (PdRE 20).

In Hebrew amulet traditions, Eve’s name is frequently invoked in amulet incantations. Despite her besmirching by later interpretations, this tradition regards her to be a meritorious ancestor whose name offers protection.

Even ha-Shetiyah: (59187). SEE FOUNDATION STONE.

Even Maskit: (59185). A demoness, the concubine of Rahav.


Evil: (59183/Ra). The most persistent conundrum for monotheism is the question, “Why is there evil?” If there is only one supreme power in the universe—God—and God is beneficent, how is it possible for evil to exist? There are essentially three solutions to this mystery, and arguably they can be collapsed into just two. Answer number one is that God’s power is not supreme, whether by God’s own will or some outside necessity, so evil is the manifestation of something outside God. This answer has the problem of walking a slippery slope toward dualism, and many monotheists have fallen hard down that slope. Thus some Christian sects explain evil through the existence of the Devil, whom they regard to be effectively a kind of “anti-God,” operating independently of God’s will. Most Christian theologians are aware of this trap, and avoid taking the logic of the devil quite so far, but many rank-and-file Christians have difficulty with the notion that God actually creates evil and/or controls the devil on some level.1

Most Jews (at least since late antiquity) have remained firmly monotheistic and almost universally rejected this argument. Judaism does not concede that any independent force can exist outside of God’s power—leaving the problem of evil intact.

A second solution is to regard evil as a byproduct of human free will. Some would argue that that is really just a more limited version of the “God is not the only power” argument. This argument posits that God has conceded some power to humanity by granting us free will. As such, we can choose to behave evilly if we wish. God’s power is constrained for our sake, but the reason for God doing this is a great mystery. Variations of this argument are found in Jewish circles, particularly among rationalist thinkers.

The third (or second) position argues that the appearance that evil has an independent existence is illusionary and all that appears “evil” from a human perspective is in fact truly subordinate to God, serving God’s purpose in some inscrutable way. Thus in many forms of Jewish mysticism, evil is a integral part of creation, a malignant byproduct from the “other side,” or Sitra Achra, of the divine emanation. “Evil is the chair for the good,” as the Baal Shem Tov put it, and suffering, misfortune, and sin are necessary outcomes of existence. In this argument, even evil entities, such as demons, are really on some level subject to, and agents of, God’s purpose. Thus Chasidic teaching emphasizes that there is no absolute ontological evil. It is common for mystics to call demons “destructive angels” to emphasize that they remain obedient to God in some sense. For this reason, one can read in Jewish literature of demons accepting the authority of and studying Torah, adhering to Jewish law, and even helping pious sages. It is based on this also that a few Kabbalistic authorities permit a pious adept to summon demons in order to have them perform beneficent services for humanity. At the same time, humans are not permitted to willfully participate in evil through such entities, or bring evil into being.

In concert with such notions of the demonic, Judaism teaches that humanity’s own evil impulse, the Yetzer ha-Ra, serves a critical function in God’s universe and for this reason the Sages teach that humans should not try to destroy or negate our selfish and destructive desires, such as ambition, lust, or revenge (Yoma 69b). Rather, we should sublimate them and harmonize them with God’s intention (Da’at v’Emunah 10). Thus ambition becomes creativity, lust becomes a desire for marriage and children, and revenge is redirected toward the goal of ensuring justice is done. In interpreting “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a helpmate for him” (Gen. 2:18), the Koretz Rebbe offered this: “There can be no goodness in man while he is alone, without a Yetzer ha-Ra within him; I will endow him with the ability to do evil, and it will be as a helpmate to him, to enable him to do good, if he masters the evil nature within him.” SEE DEMONS

1. G. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001), 421.

Evil Eye: ( 59193/ayin ha-ra, also eina bish). Literally “eye of evil.” The reification of envious desire and ill will. Belief in the evil eye has ancient roots in the Near East and extends across many cultures. It has been the most widely accepted notion of witchcraft to be found in Jewish societies across time and geography. The effects of the evil eye include illness, misfortune, and even Death. In all cases, believers regard those subjected to its attention to be vulnerable to harmful forces both natural and supernatural.

Readers both ancient and modern have attempted to locate the evil eye in biblical literature. The construct phrase “eye of evil” appears in the books of Deuteronomy (15:9, 28:54, 56) and Proverbs (23:6, 28:22). In each case it serves as an idiom for “stingy” or “parsimonious.”

More connotatively, “eyes” and “seeing” serve as a literary motif for feelings of jealousy. Rhetoric of looking appears in passages describing the rivalries between Sara and Hagar (Gen 17:4-5; 21:9) and between Saul and David (I Sam 18:9). In a more overtly magical context, the antagonistic King Balak and his wizard-for-hire Balaam each in turn “see” and gaze upon the people Israel (Num. 22-23). The leitmotif reaches its apotheosis in the sorcerer’s unintentional blessing, “No harm is in sight for Jacob/No woe in view for Israel” (Num. 23:21).

None of these examples point to a belief in the witchcraft eye among Israelites. In all cases, the “eye evil” in TaNaKH is a synecdoche for greed, jealousy, and angry people. The “eye” has no life of its own apart from the human viewer. Whether this absence from biblical literature is attributable to the absence of the belief in Israelite society or to editorial censorship is a matter of continuing debate.

By late antiquity the belief in a supernatural malevolent gaze had thoroughly permeated Jewish communities. The ayin ha-ra as spiritual phenomenon is repeatedly discussed across the tractates of the Talmud, both with and without a biblical context. Some passages assume it is inflicted unintentionally (B.M. 84b). Others indicate it is deliberate witchcraft. At times, the ayin ha-ra is characterized as an independent demonic force, seeking its own victims. Most intriguing, several passages regard it to be a power the righteous can wield to just ends (Shab. 33b-34a; B.M. 58a; B.B. 75a). The Rabbis believe there is no end to its malicious power. One Sage goes so far as to say, “Ninety-nine perish by the evil eye; only one by natural causes” (B.B. 107b).

Seen as pervasive in their own time, the Sages assumed the ayin ha-ra would have a role in the lives of the biblical worthies and their antagonists. The midrashim introduce the ayin ha-ra into many stories in the TaNaKH. The eye is used as a weapon in the rivalry between Sara and Hagar (Gen. R. 53). Fear of attracting its attention inspires Jacob to instruct his children to each enter a city by a different gate (Gen. R. 91.6).

A debate appears in the Talmud (Sot. 36b) over Joshua’s instruction to the Joseph tribes to settle in a forest (Josh 17:15). One Sage theorizes this was done to conceal their prosperity from the eye, but he is refuted by others who, citing Genesis 49:22, insist Joseph and his descendants are immune from its baneful gaze. The proof text proffered in this pericope is derived from a wordplay on Jacob’s dying blessing to his son. It plays a key role in shaping the Jewish ayin ha-ra tradition. Characteristic of midrashic discourse, this “Josephite immunity” is derived from a philological “occasion,” a linguistic ambiguity in 49:22. First, the word ayin means both “spring” and “eye.” The second ambiguity is the question regarding the word before ayin. Centuries after the Rabbis, the Masorites would vocalize this key word as a preposition, alei: “Joseph; a fruitful bough upon a spring.” But by reading it vocalized as ole, it reveals a different message: “Joseph; a fruitful bough [that] transcends [the] eye.” This only slightly more fanciful reading is reiterated frequently in rabbinic sources (Ber 20a, 55b; B.M. 84a) and over the centuries beyond, earning it a central place in Jewish efforts to neutralize the eye’s power.

Yet even this late in antiquity, the term “evil eye” does not always carry a supernatural connotation, as evidenced by a passage from Tractate Pirke Avot, “Rabbi Yehoshua said: An evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of others remove a person from the world” (2:16). From the context it is clear that “evil eye” has a strictly psychological connotation here.

The 17th-century work Nishmat Chayyim 3:27 claims there are three sources of the evil eye:

1. Intense attention from others.

2. It is projected by another with evil intent (witchcraft).

3. It is triggered by the jealousy of demons.

Inspired by Talmudic and popular concern with the ayin ha-ra, both later midrashim and the systematic exegetes identify its presence at work in numerous biblical passages. Of all the commentators, the French exegete RaSHI gives the most attention to the ayin ha-ra, but he is largely content to repeat and amplify rabbinic exegesis on the eye in the Abraham and Joseph cycles (Gen 16:5; 42:5), in the Balaam saga (Num. 24:2), and in the conflict between David and Saul (I Sam 18:9). Yet occasionally he finds the eye present in previously overlooked narratives of the TaNaKH. The chief example is his comment that the plague that followed David’s census was a manifestation of the eye, for “… the evil eye rules over counting” (Comment to Ex 30:11, c.f. I Sam 24:1). This idea took deep roots in Jewish consciousness, creating an aversion to counting people that persists into contemporary times.

The theme of counting related to the eye is further explored the Zohar (Zohar II:105a), though, all in all, the ayin ha-ra it is not a significant topic in the major works of theosophical Kabbalah. References more commonly appear in Hebrew magical literature of the period, such as Sefer ha-Raziel and Havdalah de-Rabbi Akiba.


Supernatural eye by E. M. Lilien

By the close of the medieval period, concerns about the evil eye even come to have a minor role in shaping Jewish law. The Babylonian Talmud (B.M. 59b) discourages using what we would describe as supernatural or paranormal phenomena as a rationale for determining the Halakhah (literally, “the way to go”). Yet in later legal digests, concern over the effects of the ayin ha-ra become a factor in determining what is permitted and prohibited. This is especially true in the influential law digest Shulchan Aruch of Joseph Caro (16th century). In section Yoreh Deah 249:1, for example, the minimum amount of charitable donations is specified in order to avoid creating an evil eye.

In another section, Choshen Mishpat 378:5, a Jew is prohibited from admiring a neighbor’s farm crop for the same reason. Other examples of behavior prohibited out of concern for the ayin ha-ra appear in sections Orach Chayyim 141:6, 154:3, 305:11; Even ha-Ezer 63:3; and Yoreh Deah 265:5. It is notable that these rules focus entirely on preventing the unintentional generation of this witchcraft. Still, at no point is the phenomenon in any way criminalized. Medieval authorities never propose a legal proceeding related to an evil eye. Neither is any punishment laid out for an identified perpetrator.

Concern over the evil eye has persisted well into the modern era, particularly among Jewish communities that valorize Jewish tradition en toto, or remain at odds with modernity, such as the North African Mekubbalim (mystics) and the European Hasidic movement. Early modern works like Nishmat Chayyim, by the distinguished Sefardic writer Manasseh ben Israel (18th century), and Sichos MohaRan, attributed to Hasidic master Nachman of Bratzlav (19th century), continue to regard the threat of the eye with utmost seriousness.

Jews have used folk remedies (segulot), rituals (ma‘asim), and amulets (kemiyiot) to defend against the malevolent effects of the ayin ha-ra. Biblical divine names, angelic names, and select biblical texts have been prominent tools in waging this fight. The verses are often chosen because of their semantic content (Ex. 15:6; Num. 6:24-27, 21:17; Pss. 46:8, 12, 91:5-6), while others have been singled out based on magical criteria unrelated at all to the meaning (Num. 21:17-20). One custom requires the use of verses that begin and end with the Hebrew letter nun, such as Psalms 46:5, 77:5, and 78:2. Another biblical text singled out as a resource against the evil eye is the “Priestly Blessing” (Num. 6:24-27; Num. R. 12.4; PR 5).

The complex reasoning behind the choice of an apotropaic verse can be illustrated by examining yet another popular passage from Jacob’s blessing, Genesis 48:16 (MT): “May the angel who has redeemed me from all harm—bless the lad … And may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth” (NJV). This verse is regarded as potent against the ayin ha-ra because of its perceived two-fold power. Clearly, it calls for angelic protection upon the Children of Israel. But it simultaneously bears an added esoteric association. The phrase, va-yidgu larov, “may they be teeming multitudes …” literally means, “may they multiple as fishes …” The Talmud seizes upon this, “Just as fish in the sea are covered by water so that the evil eye does not rule over them, so too the seed of Joseph is not subject the rule of the evil eye” (Sot. 36b). This interpretation makes the verse doubly efficacious. This may also be the rationale for selecting verses framed by the letter nunnun is the Aramaic word for “fish.”

Amulets produced by Central Asian (MiZRaCH) Jews often begin with Psalm 16:8. Angels, both those named in the TaNaKH and others appearing in post-biblical traditions, are commonplace. Some verses are employed because they mention a powerful and virtuous biblical figure regarded to have power over the eye, such as Serach bat Asher (Num. 26:46). Again, verses relating to Joseph are among the most often used for their presumed apotropaic power. Some charm writers thought it enough to only allude to the Patriarch. Many amulets quote Berachot 55b, “I am the seed of Joseph the Righteous, who is not subject to the evil eye.” It is worth noting this is a claim all but impossible to determine by the medieval period; evidently the evil eye is not so perceptive in matters of lineage. Others simply read, “Joseph.”

Of the many gestures and ritualized behaviors Jews have employed over the centuries to fend off the ayin ha-ra, one of the most persistent is the custom of spitting three times. Jews expectorating as a means of exorcism is ancient, and might provide some insight on interpreting the Christian Scriptures, specifically Jesus’s use of spit in his performances of spiritual healing (Mark 8; John 9). Another gesture is forming the “fig,” interlocking one’s hands by gripping the thumbs in the palms of the opposite hands.

Evil Inclination: SEE YETZER HA-RA.

Exile: (59205/G’ulah, also Galut). The two-fold theme of exile and return is the master myth of Jewish thought. The idea that the individual Jew, the Jewish people, and humanity at large, is alienated from its proper place, is a pattern that reiterates itself on the personal, national, and cosmic level throughout Judaism. The issue of exile plays out in Jewish history, myth, and mystical speculation.1

It is a recurring topos throughout the narratives of the Hebrew Bible, from the expulsion out of Eden, through the loss and restoration to the Land of Israel, to the messianic promise of return and renewal predicted by the Prophets.

Rabbinic literature continues and amplifies the topics of exile found in the Bible, adding additional dimensions. The most significant of these is the myth of the exile of the Shekhinah from the Temple on Mount Zion. In the absence of its normal abode, it follows Israel into its national exile, “Every place that Israel is exiled, the Shekhinah, as it were, was exiled with them.” (MdRI Shirata 3:67-73). It will only return when the people are ingathered to their land (S of S R. 4.8).

In Kabbalist thought, the Shekhinah is not merely exiled from its sanctuary, but is actually exiled from the other aspects of the Pleroma, or the higher sefirot (Zohar II:9a-11b).


The Afflictions of Exile by E. M. Lilien

The Belz Rebbe, Yehoshua Rokeach, giving the concept a psychological cast, identified three kinds of exile:

1. Among the nations

2. From other Jews

3. From the self

The Ger Rebbe, Yehudah Lieb, taught that exile contains redemption as a seed contains a plant (Sefat Emet). Consequently, the quest for, and experience of redemption and restoration is the great existential project that extends from the individual, through the world, to the very person and structure of God. SEE ESCHATOLOGY; EXODUS..

1. R. Elior, “Exile and Redemption in Jewish Mystical Thought,” Studies in Spirituality 14 (2004): 1-15.

Exodus: (59210). The biblical account of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt found in the book of Exodus is full of fabulous elements: the confrontation between Moses and the Egyptian magicians, turning staves into serpents, the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the pillars of fire and cloud that led and guarded the Israelites. Rabbinic literature elaborates upon these, with Rabbi Akiba going so far as to demonstrate homiletically that there were not just ten, but really 250 plagues (the Haggadah). There are also stories of God’s interventions to protect the Israelite people against the worst Egyptian abuses during their slavery; when Pharaoh ordered the massacre of the Israelite boys, Angels stood in the midst of the Nile and caught the infants being cast in (S of S R. 2:15; Ex. R. 23:8). Angels also shielded the child Moses until he could mature into the deliverer of the people. When Pharaoh refused him an audience, Moses was teleported into the palace. The Exodus as a historical event, so central to biblical and rabbinic thought, plays a remarkably small role in the kabbalistic sources, which are much more engaged by the problem of exile as a cosmological condition, of which the Exodus was merely a symptom. SEE PASSOVER

Exorcism: (59214/Gerush, also ha-Shavuat ruchot; Cherem; Reigash Shedim). A ritual of power performed in order to drive an evil spirit from a possessed person, location, or object. Over the centuries, Jewish tradition has manifest two distinct possession traditions: demonic possession and spiritual [ghostly] possession. Demonic possession dominated the Jewish imagination from antiquity into the Middle Ages, but changes in Jewish theology with the advent of Kabbalah, particularly the rising belief in reincarnation, has meant that belief in possession by dead spirits has largely superseded the earlier traditions, and even the most traditional Jews no longer take demon possession seriously. With regards to the process of exorcism, techniques for dealing with either kind of possession significantly overlap, and there are few hard and fast distinctions that can be made between them. The earliest accounts, those prior to the Middle Ages, however are often unclear on the nature of the spiritual attack—is the attack coming in the form of an entity in possession of the victim’s Body, or a haunting? For the purposes of this entry, this question will be left open, and instead it examines the issue of getting the attack to cease.

The locus classicus for exorcism in Judaism appears in the Bible, in the youth narratives of David (1 Sam. 16:14-23). But while the biblical David seemed to be able to effect a temporary relief for Saul from his evil spirit by the use of music, it is not until the post-biblical book of Tobit, which is not part of the Jewish canon, one finds the first explicit and detailed description of an exorcism (6:8-17; 8:1-3). Other “outside” sources include Jubilees (10:3-6); Josephus, who reports incidents of possession and exorcism in his Antiquities of the Jews (2, 6, 8, 45-48), and the Christian New Testament, which reports Jesus to have performed numerous exorcisms of demonic spirits in 1st-century Palestine (Matt. 12; Mark 5, 6, 13; Luke 8).1 Patristic Fathers of early Christianity, Justin Martyr and Origen, credit Jews with a special talent for exorcising demons (Trypho 85:3; Against Celsus book 4).

Gideon Bohak divides the methods of exorcism in the Greco-Roman world into three types: expulsion using animal, mineral, or vegetable substances, often noxious in nature (Tobit; PdRK 4); the charismatic holy power of the exorcist (Simon bar Yochai, Chanina ben Dosa, Jesus of Nazareth); exorcism via technique using incantations, scriptural verse, and ritual performance, usually by a physician or other “professional” (we should include Solomon under this category).2

The Dead Sea Scrolls include several exorcism incantations and formulae, mostly directed against disease-causing demons. In particular there is the collection of “four songs for the charming the afflicted with music,” fragmentary exorcism psalms that may have been attributed to David (the partial nature of the texts prevents us from knowing for sure) (4Q510-511; 11Q11). Another potential expulsion text is the highly damaged 4Q560 (4Qexorcism ar.):

and to the heart, as […] and you gave birth to rebellion, begotten (through) the visitation of evil […] he who enters the flesh, the male penetrator and the female penetrator […] iniquity and guilt, fire and frost, and the heat of the heart […] in sleep, he who crushes the male and she who passes through the female, those who dig […] the wicked […] before him and[…] And I, to the spirit of oath […] I enchant you, spirit […] and the earth and the clouds […] 3

A fragment of Genesis Apocryphon recounts how Abraham exorcised the Pharaoh of Genesis 12:17 (1QapGen 20). The anonymous work Antiquities of the Bible includes the psalm David supposedly recited over Saul (60). People who fell under the influence of false prophets and mediums were thought to also require the exorcism of possessing evil spirits (the false prophets and mediums themselves were subject to Death, a sure cure for most possessions, see Zechariah 13).

The Talmud and Midrash mention exorcisms, though at times in a tongue-in-cheek manner (PdRK 1:4, Num. R. 19.8). An extended story in Leviticus Rabbah 24:3 tells of the exorcism of a well of water involving iron implements and shouted formulae. Simon bar Yochai exorcises a demon, a demonstration that assists him in getting the cooperation of Caesar in lifting an oppressive decree against the Jews (Me’ilah 17b). In a medieval Midrash, Chanina ben Dosa is credited with exorcising an evil spirit haunting an old woman, as well as taming the demon queen Igrat (Pes. 112b). Intriguingly, in these accounts, the Sages exorcise demons, even though each of the evil spirits actually behaved in an apparently beneficial fashion.4

The methods used in exorcisms vary over time, and according to the nature of the spiritual attack. The Bible provides one frequently used text which has been used across time as a liturgy of exorcism, Psalm 91, the “psalm of the afflicted [by spirits]” (P. Shab. 6.2; Shev. 15b):

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to Adonai, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.” God will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague, will shelter you with pinions, spread wings that you may take refuge; God’s faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come. You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see. You have Adonai for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold. No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon. Whoever clings to me I will deliver; whoever knows my name I will set on high. All who call upon me I will answer; I will be with them in distress; I will deliver them and give them honor. With length of days I will satisfy them and show them my saving power.

Other biblical texts often used in exorcism formulae are Psalms 10, 16, 121 and Numbers 6:4-7. (SEE Shimmush Tehillim).

Incantation bowls and amulets have been recovered that contain various anti-demonic formulae. Many of these are preventative and apotropaic in their orientation, but several contain incantations directed toward expelling spirits of illness, such as a adjuration inscribed on a silver plate.5 Perhaps the most piquant example of an exorcism text among these is this one seems to be aimed at expelling succubae, incubi, and illness-causing spirits by invoking the rhetoric of Jewish divorce:

Be informed herewith that Rabbi Joshua bar Perachia has sent the ban against you … A divorce-writ has come down to us from Heaven, and therein is found written your advisement and your intimidation, in the name of Palsa-Pelisa [“Divorcer-Divorced”], who renders to thee thy divorce and thy separation … Thou, Lilith, male Lili and female Lilith, Hag and Snatcher, be under the ban … A divorce-writ has come for you from across the sea … Hear it and depart from the house and dwelling of this Geyonai bar Mamai, and from Rashnoi his wife, the daughter of Marath. You shall not again appear to them, either in a dream by night or in slumber by day, because you are sealed with the signet of El-Shaddai … [This is] Your divorce and writ and letter of separation … Amen, Amen, Selah, Halleluyah! 6

By the high medieval period, a considerable body of exorcism texts had accumulated. This is an example taken from Shoshan Yesod ha-Olam, a 16th-century CE collection of rituals:

[t]o remove a demon from the body of a man or woman, or anything into which a male or female demon has entered … Take an empty flask and a white waxen candle and recite this adjuration in purity … I adjure you, the pure and holy angels Michael, Gabriel, Shuviel, Ahadriel, Zumtiel, Yechutriel, Zumtziel … by 72 names I adjure you, you all the retinues of [evil] spirits in the world … that you bring forth that demon immediately and do not detain the mazzik [destructive spirit] of so-and-so, and tell me his name in this circle that I have drawn in your honor … Immediately they will tell you his name and the name of the father and the name of his mother aloud [demons procreate—Chag. 16a, Eruv. 18, AbbS]; do not fear …
I adjure you the demon so-and-so … that you now enter this flask immediately and immediately the flask will turn red [the author reports that bottling up the spirit was commonplace, familiar to western readers through the Islamic Djinn tradition].7

Many exorcisms preserved in written accounts were public events, either performed in a synagogue, or at least requiring the presence of a minyan, a minimum of ten men that normally makes up a ritual quorum (Nishmat Chayyim 3; Divrei Yosef ). Various somatic symptoms (swellings, paralysis, markings, and bodily sensations) were sought in the victim for diagnostic purposes (Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim). Most techniques include interviewing the demon and/or dybbuk, taking a personal history, as it were, in order to understand what is motivating the spirit and so better effect the removal (Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah). Many possessing spirits are evidently quite forthcoming and loquacious. At times cooperation was coerced from the demon by “fumigation,” exposing it to smoke and sulfur, a sympathetic invocation of the infernal realms (Igerot ha-Ramaz). The goal of the interview is to eventually learn the name of the evil spirit.

Key to later Jewish exorcism would be having a charismatic religious personality, an abba, Baal Shem, rebbe, or a rabbi, conduct the ceremony. This is in contrast with earlier Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman practices, which, often as not, use a physician. The process usually starts with the exorcist ritually purifying himself, either according to traditional Jewish practice, or by special means, such as anointing himself with water and oil. Some exorcists may invoke the presence of a maggid, or beneficent spirit, to assist them.

The exorcist then uses the power of the demonic or dead spirit’s own name to “overpower” it, by round after round of scripted ritual actions involving threats and rebukes, getting more intense and invasive with each effort. A few ceremonies on record reached the point of actually “beating” the demon out, but most simply involved verbal coercion.8

Jewish exorcisms are usually “liturgical,” using protective verses such as were shown above. Sefer ha-Gilgulim instructs the patient to recite Psalms 20, 90, and Ana B’choach, an acrostic Prayer made from a name of God. Rituals accompanying the recitations can include the ever-popular fumigation, sounding a shofar or the use of other Jewish objects, such as Candles, Torah scrolls, kvittles, tefillin, or lamps (Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodesh 89; Ma’aseh shel Ruach be-Kehillah). Beginning in the early modern era, exorcism reports include the use of amulets (Minchat Yehudah 47a).

According to Lurianic Kabbalah, exorcism of a possessing dybbuk involves the Tikkun, or “repair” of the ghostly Soul. The tzadik/exorcist accomplishes this by promising the dybbuk salvation, then extracting all its goodness, restoring those resources to the root soul or Treasury of Souls, until the estranged evil consciousness withers and is annihilated. Thus the Lurianic Kabbalist is acting on behalf of both the victim and the dybbuk. The primary sign of a successful exorcism was a bloody fingernail or toenail, the point by which the dybbuk enters and leaves the Body. Occasionally there are reports of spirits violently leaving through the throat, vagina, or rectum. A sudden and dramatic change in the victim’s behavior is also a sure sign of recovery (Igerot ha-Ramaz 24b). Interestingly, Jewish exorcisms occasionally fail, as shown in these excerpts from a famous exorcism performed in Safed:

I was amidst the great gathering, for there were over one hundred people there, Torah scholars and heads of communities. Two men, who knew the adjurations and many matters, approached the [possessed] woman so that the spirit within the woman would speak, by means of the smoke of fire and sulfur that they would make enter her nostrils … by means of the adjurers the voice would begin to be heard … they would quarrel with him … “What is your name, evil one?” He would respond “Samuel Tzarfati.” They asked him, “For which matter do you reincarnate in the world in reincarnation such as these?” He responded, “For many sins I have committed in my life …” They also would petition for mercy upon him [the dybbuk], and pray for him, and blow the shofar … They pressed him with the aforementioned adjurations, and with the aforementioned smoke, and with the [Divine] Names, that the spirit should depart through the big nail of one of her feet … so it was done … [nonetheless, the spirit manifests itself again in a matter of days and the poor woman died eight days later].9

Apparently, reports of misadventures are virtually non-existent in Catholic tradition. Jews, as always, are highly self-critical.

As the number of exorcism reports proliferate, so too the prominent Jews who gain reputations as exorcists—Isaac Luria, Chayyim Vital , Isaiah Horowitz, and Chafetz Chayyim all become recognized for this skill. In a related tradition, it is believed righteous individuals have the power to gather up lost souls who are trapped in this world and release them so they may continue their journey into the afterlife. Figures such as the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, and Rabbi Chayyim ben Attar were famous for doing this. Reports of exorcisms continue to come out of traditional communities both in the United States and Israel, though there has been a marked decline in the number over the past century. SEE DEMONS; GHOST; POSSESSION, DEMONIC; POSSESSION, GHOSTLY; WOMEN..

1. G. Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus (Tuebingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1993).

2. Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, 88-89, 101.

3. Martinez, the Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, 378.

4. M. Bar-Ilan, “Exorcism by Rabbis: Talmud Sages and Their Magic,” Bar-Ilan University Online Articles, http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/exorcism.html, 1-9.

5. Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, 93.

6. R. Patai, The Hebrew Goddess (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1990), 226.

7. Chajes, Between Worlds, 67.

8. Ibid., 57-96.

9. Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism, 367-381.

Expanse: ([yqr/Rakia). One of the seven levels of heaven. It is the level that holds all the celestial bodies: moon, sun, stars, and planets (Chag. 12b-13a).

Explanation of the Four-Letter Name: A brief tract on how the Prophet Jeremiah used the forty-two-letter name of God to construct a golem with the help of his son, Sira.

Explicit Name of God, the: (59224/Ha-Shem; 59226/Shem ha-Meforash, also Shem Hayah; Shem ha-Miuchad; Shem Kodesh; Shem Shamayim; Shem ben Arba Otiyot). In most esoteric contexts, the “explicit name” carries the connotation of “the name [of God as it is] fully pronounced,” meaning with its correct vowel sounds. Since these vowels never appear in writing, the correct pronunciation of all divine names is transmitted orally, from esoteric master to disciple (Kid. 71b). The term “explicit name” is usually referring to the Tetragrammaton, but this is not always the case. In some texts it is also synonymous with other occult names of God, such as the forty-two-letter name of God.1

1. S. S. Cohen, “The Name of God, a Study in Rabbinic Theology,” HUCA 23 (1950): 587-92.

Eybeschitz, Jonathan: A 17th-century German rabbi and amulet maker. A highly controversial Baal Shem, Eybeschitz invoked the power of the false Messiah Shabbatai Tzvi in the wording of his amulets, embroiling him in a very public controversy that eventually required the intervention of gentile authorities to protect him.

Eye: (59232/Ayin). The eye is a powerful symbol of sight, both normal and paranormal. Depending on the context, the eye can be regarded as a positive or negative force. Naturally a covetous eye is bad and may bring about the malevolent force of the evil eye. The Angel of Death is covered in eyes, allowing him omniscient sight.

On the other hand, the eye is also a symbol of the all-seeing God of Israel. Zechariah had a reassuring vision of supernal menorah covered in eyes. chamsa amulets often feature an eye in the center of the palm, invoking God’s constant guardianship.

Ezekiel ben Buzi: The great prophet-priest of the Babylonian exile experienced apocalyptic visions and miraculous encounters. His vision of the merkavah, the divine chariot, is the starting point for all Jewish mysticism (Ezek. 1, 10).

In chapter 37, Ezekiel describes his vision of the dry bones. The Talmud (Sanh. 92b) relates that this was more than just a vision, that the prophet in fact resurrected six hundred thousand Israelites killed by the Babylonians. Other traditions say he resurrected the Ephraimites who died trying to escape Egypt prior to the Exodus. After his death, his burial place in Kifil, Iraq, became a place of pilgrimage, and many miracles are the result of the power of his grave (Sanh. 92b; PdRE 33).

Ezekiel Shem Tov David: (Iraqi-Indian, ca. 19th century). His Judeo-Arabic commentary on the psalms includes a description of each psalms theurgic uses, ranging from combating demons to treating snakebite.

Ezra, Apocalypse of: SEE ESDRAS, THE BOOKS OF.

Ezra, Fourth Book of: This book provides perhaps the most elaborate description of heaven and hell found in apocalyptic literature. SEE ESDRAS, THE BOOKS OF.>

Ezra of Gerona: Kabbalist (Spanish, ca. 13th century). A leading figure among the Gerona mystics, he wrote one of the first explicitly mystical commentaries on the Song of Songs and an explanation of the mystical significance of the commandments.