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

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



Face: (59272). The Hebrew terms for face, panim, p’nei, partzuf, can also mean “presence,” and the term “face” and “face of God” is a frequent idiom for the divine presence. The Lurianic doctrines of the Partzufim, the “five [divine] countenances,” are the most formal and elaborate development of that concept. Medieval Jewry developed techniques for interpreting character from lines of the forehead and facial features. SEE FACE OF GOD; METOPOSCOPY;PHYSIOGNOMY.

Face (or Countenance) of God: (59269/Panei Elohim also Partzuf ). A metaphor for the divine presence, as expressed in Numbers 6:24-26:

Adonai bless thee, and keep you.

Adonai make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you.

Adonai lift up His face upon you, and give you peace.

This passage exemplifies the notion of the “face” as a sign and bearer of beneficent attention. Conversely, the “turning away” or “hiding” of God’s face signifies abandonment or loss of providential care (Ezek. 7:22; Ps. 27:9).

There is a tension, beginning in the Bible and continuing through Jewish literature, as to whether it is actually possible to “see” God. The Bible itself gives contradictory testimony. In one passage we are informed, “For no man shall see Me and live” (Ex. 33:20). Yet in contrast we are told, “I saw the Eternal sitting upon a throne” (Isa. 6:1), and “So Jacob named the place Peniel [“face of God”], for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved’ ” (Gen. 32:20).

Some interpret Exodus 33 to indicate that there are aspects of God that can be apprehended with the senses, just not God’s “countenance” (literally, “face”). Exodus 33:14 also offers the possibility that the “countenance” is an angel, rather than a divine feature. This is buttressed by the circumstances of Jacob's claim in Genesis 32, yet a passage later in the Torah (Deut. 34), describes Moses as one who knew God panim el panim (“face-to-face”).

This tension carries into the post-biblical period; the Midrash declares that not even the angels may see God (Num. R. 14:22) and that God sees all things yet is not seen (Mid. Teh. 91:1; Num. R. 12:3). However, Hechalot texts indicate that the well-prepared adept can view what is even unseen by the angels who surround God’s throne, “the King in His Beauty” (Hechalot Rabbati). Some Kabbalistic passages, the circle of mystics convened in esoteric Torah study is the means to experience the divine face directly.1

Jewish prophetic and mystical texts consequently bequeath to the tradition three types of mystical encounters with God: the aural encounter, involving hearing divine voices; the ineffable encounter, in which there is no sensory comparison to be made; and the visionary encounter, in which God is manifest to the eyes, often in a dream. Yet even those who believe in the possibility of the last type still suggest that such manifestations are more a product of reiyat ha-lev, “the seeing of the heart,” of mortal imagination, than an accurate reflection of the appearance of God. The German Pietist make the distinction that what is seen is the divine glory, rather than God in essence. This distinction is often described in terms of God’s “clothing” and is helpful in making sense of the many detailed yet diverse images of God that appear in both Scripture and mystical literature—the visionary sees only what surrounds God and these “garments” are borne of his or her own imagination. What is more, the image chosen is almost always an anthropomorphic one, hence God’s “face.”

Lurianic Kabbalah also describes five divine faces, the Partzufim, though these are not visible per se, and they may be something akin to the divine speculum described in other sources. Two of the countenances especially, Arikh Anpin and Zer Anpin, are sometimes described more like “surfaces” that reflect the divine effluence through the channels of the sefirot. This is the self-regulating feedback mechanism God builds into creation after the Shevirat ha-Kelim, the collapse of the primordial vessels of light. SEE COUNTENANCE, PRINCE OF THE; GLORY; GODHEAD; IMAGE, DIVINE; PLEROMA.; VISION.

1. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines, 368-377.

Fae: Mischievous fairy creatures mentioned in medieval European Jewish texts. Like the name, the concept is of non-Jewish origin. Jews fuse the tradition of fae being changelings with the rabbinic legend of Adam’s sexual dalliance with succubae during a period of separation from Eve. SEE BANIM SHOVAVIM DEMONS; KESILIM.

Falk, Chayyim Samuel Jacob: Alchemist and magician (Polish-English, ca. 18th century). Known in English as Samuel de Falk, he was also referred to as the Baal Shem of London. The Polish-born Falk had to flee Germany because of accusations of sorcery. He settled in London in 1742 and was famed as a wonderworker and alchemist. He had a sidekick, Hirsch Kalish, who kept a record of his exploits. SEE ALCHEMY.

Fallen Angels: The tradition of a revolt in heaven ending in the expulsion or fall of the rebellious angels is a major theme in Greco-Roman Jewish writings.1 The locus classicus for the claim that angels fell, or were expelled, from heaven is Genesis 6:2 and its brief report that divine beings copulated with mortal women, producing the primeval giants and superheroes. Psalm 82 also has been interpreted as recounting an angelic expulsion from heaven. The prophetic oracle pronounced against the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14, “How you have fallen from heaven, O shining one, son of Dawn!” was also sometimes interpreted to be a reference to an angelic fall.

In apocalyptic works like I Enoch and the Book of Giants, these cryptic passages are expanded with fuller accounts of angelic disobedience and divine punishment. These books also teach that it is from these angels that humanity first learns many occult and impure crafts: magic, the lunar calendar, and astrology (I Enoch 6, 8, 10; Jubilees 4-5). These angels are central to the dualistic theology of the sectarian priests of Qumran (Community Rule II, III; Damascus Document II; War Scroll XIII; 11Q11).

Because of their expulsion from heaven, these angels become the principal demons, thereby offering a rationale for why there are infernal forces at work in a creation that is otherwise regarded to be wholly the work of a beneficent God. The fallen angels most singled out by name are Samael, Shemchazi, and Azazel, though I Enoch ultimately names eighteen “Princes.”


Angel losing his wings bookplate by E. M. Lilien

While both Christian and Gnostic traditions embrace and elaborate on these stories (Interpreting Isaiah 14 as an account of the fall of Satan, for example, becomes a fixed, almost doctrinal reading), the main stream of Jewish thought preserves, yet marginalizes, the pre-rabbinic notion of fallen angels, though the theme reappears in snippets of Jewish Midrashic and mystical literature (Gen. R. 26; PdRE 22; BhM 5; Yalkut Gen. 44; Zohar I:58a). The majority of commentators, however, interpret the term b’nai Elohim that appears in Genesis 6:2 to mean “men of prominence,” or “notables” (RaSHI, Nachmanides, and Abarbanel, comments to 6:2). SEE ANGEL AND ANGELOLOGY;FLOOD, THE; GIANTS; GIANTS, BOOK OF; SATAN.

1. B. J. Bamberger, Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan’s Realm (Philadelphia, PA: JPS, 1952).

Farbrengen: (59286). “Gathering.” A kind of spiritual-communal rally held by CHaBaD Chasids. Functionally identical to the rebbe’s tish practiced by other Chasidic groups, the farbrengen features long discourses on mystical teachings of Torah, interrupted by chanting, song, and dance.1 The crowd is also loosened up by a liberal supply of liquor present at all such events. The event of a harmonious assembly of Jews is seen as having a metaphysical function, creating an intercessory moment that curries and cultivates divine favor.

The power of a farbrengen is in the inner love and affection between Chasidim and is derived from the fact that we all have one Father. This causes pleasure On High through the souls of our righteous rebbes, who devoted their lives to the spiritual and physical well-being of the Chasidim. This in turn causes a threefold blessing of compassion to be bestowed, in the areas of children, health, and livelihood, to any member of the companions who devotes himself to carry out and practice all that our holy rebbes have taught us. (Igrot Kodesh, Rayatz 3:411)

It is commonplace for a chasid facing some sort of difficulty to report a favorable change of fortune after attending a farbrengen. SEE REBBE.

1. Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, 125.

Farfir Lichter: (59297). “Purple/Attractive Light.” A mischievous spirit that misleads nighttime travelers. It can be thwarted by reciting Job 2:2 three times.

Fasting: (59299). Fasting is a traditional act of penitence, as well as being a method of spiritual purification, in both religious and magical rites (Ex. 34; 1 Sam. 28). The Talmud states, that fasting is sinful yet those who fast are called “holy ones” (Tan. 11a-b).

In all its applications, it functions as kind of existential sacrifices, offering a part (usually characterized as one’s “fat and blood”) of the self up to God (Ber. 17a; Zohar II:20b, 153a). Solomon fasted in order that God would grant him exceptional wisdom (Mid. Mish. 1:1). During Talmudic times, whole communities would undertake fasting for rain—an entire tractate of the Talmud, Ta’anit, is devoted to the issue. Sages would fast in order to be granted better retention of the Torah lessons they learned (B.M. 85a). Fasting was also a spiritual preparation for performing mystical ascent (Otzer ha-Geonim 4). Fasting is regarded as a remedy for a range of evil omens and supernatural threats, such as bad dreams or dropping a Bible. Isaac Luria advocated fasting as a tool of tikkunei avonot, "rectifying transgressions," for minor offenses against the Partzufim (Sha’ar Ruach ha-Kodesh 40-60). Since it is most associated with negative circumstances, fasting before a joyous occasion, such as a Wedding, is practiced as a way to deceive the evil eye (Shab. 21b; Tan. 8b, 10b).

Fat: (59292). Animal fat was a featured part of the offerings made to God in the sacrificial cult. Later kabbalistic writing argues that the blood and fat forbidden by Torah is “divine food,” possessing more supernal qualities than the other things humans consume (Zohar II:62a; Or Yakar). After the sacrificial services ended, fat continued to have a role in the making of medicines, potions, and magical formulae (ShR). Unlike their Christian and pagan counterparts, Jewish magicians avoided the use of human fats in potions and remedies, both because of issues of ritual purity and because of Jewish attitudes toward the respectful treatment of corpses.

Fate: (59294/Goral, also Mazzal; Hashgacha; Te’udah; Yiddish: Bashert). While belief in free will is the bedrock of Judaism (Deut. 30), various fatalistic beliefs are found in Jewish tradition. The belief that there is a person one is destined to marry is one example (Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim 8). Belief that poverty or prosperity is fated to certain people is another. A general belief in providence, both general and individual, is evident throughout Jewish thought. Humans, however, have the power to change their doom. Thus in the High Holiday liturgy it is declared that God records “who will live and who will die” each Rosh Hashanah in the Book of Life, but also it affirms that “Prayer, repentance, and charity avert the severe decree.” Rabbi Akiba expresses it as a paradox: “All is foreseen, yet free will is given” (Avot 3:15).

Belief in fate is also evident in Jewish thought through astrology, and even the Talmudic Sages occasionally remark that the stars determine some human circumstances. And as for the ultimate form of fate, Death, the fundamental belief that there is a universal doom attached to being mortal is implicit in all Jewish thought—but even this destiny is undermined, or at least mitigated, by the possibility of eternal life. (M.K. 28a; Tan. 25a; Suk. 53a; Meg. 25a; Nidd. 16b).

The priests who authored some of apocalyptic literature and, especially, the Dead Sea Scrolls, had a particularly fatalistic worldview. They spoke of te’udah, of preordained heavenly statutes that not only determined the cycles of the seasons and the order of nature, but also determined history (Thanksgiving Hymns, XII). Two millennia later, the Chasidic master Mordecai Joseph of Izbeca also claimed humans have little or no control over their own actions or what befalls them.1 SEE FREE WILL.

1. Rabinowicz, Encyclopedia of Hasidism, 134.

Feminine, Divine: Despite a long-standing perception, largely shaped by the rationalist (and andro-centric) traditions of Judaism, the idea that God possesses or participates in feminine attributes, is a belief that goes back to biblical times. Archeology in the Land of Israel has clearly established that, at least for some Israelites, YHVH was the male aspect of a divine syzygy (complimentary forces) that included a female consort. Iron Age inscriptions (graffiti, really) found at Khirbet el Qom and Kuntillet Arjud, contain phrases like “Yahweh of Teman … his asherah” and “Yahweh of Samaria and his asherah.” The structure of these phrases clearly makes the “asherah” the possession of YHVH. The most conclusive is that “asherah” in this context is not a proper name. Some therefore posit this means that it is a cultic object, like a sacred [totem] pole. But “l’ashrt” may actually mean “His consort,” a subordinate female divine force, complimentary to, but not on par with, the God of Israel. P. D. Miller alternatively suggests that “asherah” is actually the hypostatized female aspect of the God of Israel.1 Crude graffiti that accompanies one of these inscriptions showing two similar figures, a larger and a smaller, is suggestive in this regard. Asherah worship existed, for at least a while, in the highest royal circles, see 1 Kings 15:13 and 2 Chronicles 15:16. Some passages suggest it to be the norm, rather than the exception: 2 Kings 18:4, 21:7, 23:4-6. The Prophets spend a good part of their oratory reproaching their fellow Israelites for both their worship of other gods and their chronic failure to serve YHVH correctly.

In fact, the prophets never actually discard the notion of God having a feminine consort. They simply displace it by declaring the collectivity of Israel, it’s “spirit” as it were, to be the true Bride of God (Jer. 2:2; Hos. 12; Ezek. 16).

Post biblically, the Sages speak of similar notions in somewhat different terms. Elaborating on the biblical notion of divine Kavod residing in the Temple and among the people (Zech. 2), they begin to speak of “God’s Presence,” a divine aspect that never departs from Israel, rests with it whenever it is gathered in kinship, watches over the sick, remains with Israel even in its failings, even going into exile along with the people (Sanh. 39a; Ber. 6a; Shab. 12b; Yoma 56b; Meg. 29a). This presence is usually termed the Shekhinah (“Dwelling”), a feminine noun. This Presence is even described parabolically as a woman. One can also see a distinctly maternal imagery in some of the dynamics between her and Israel. While not usually understood as the “spirit” of the Jewish people per se (She is more akin to the Greek notion of Parousia or the Christian concept of the “Holy Ghost”); in places she is in fact equated with the people by being called Knesset Yisrael (“Assemblage of Israel”). She is at times linked to another feminine hypostatic entity, the Torah. When Israel studies Torah, it draws the Shekhinah closer.

A shift in thinking about the meaning of Shekhinah and its relationship to the Godhead starts to emerge in the Middle Ages. In Bereshit Rabbah, an early Midrash, for the first time we see an expression that clearly distinguishes between God and Shekhinah:

The Holy Blessed One … He withdrew Himself and His Shekhinah …2

The Spanish Kabbalists go further, reviving the theme of the divine feminine in a way not seen since those early biblical times. But rather than placing a female deity next to the God of Israel, the mystics expound on the male and female forces within God (a kind of di-theism or di-ity).3 Thus traditional terms for God with some “masculine” connotation, such as ha-Kodesh Barukh Hu (the Holy One, Blessed be He) signifies the masculine side of God, while Shekhinah comes to represent the feminine side of God. These two polarities are harmonized via a constant and dynamic process of heiros gamos, of intra-divine union.

In the Kabbalistic model of the sefirot there are a cascading series of complimentary male and female structures: Chochmah and Binah, Chesed and Gevurah, Netzach and Hod, and, closest to material existence, Yesod and Malchut.

In the Zohar, the Shekhinah is central. No other aspect of the sefirot receives the level of interpretive energy this feminine entity does. The Zohar even uses the term Metrona or Metronit (“Lady”). Higher (and more abstract) in the divine order is Binah, the “mother” of all. It is her, with her male counterpart Chochmah, which “births” all the structures of positive existence.

In some parts of the Zohar, the notion of Partzufim (“[Divine] Countenances”) is further developed by Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria. Chief of these “divine faces” is Ima, the supernal “Mother,” which corresponds a little ambiguously, even confusingly, with the Zoharic role of Binah.

Thus the divine feminine is embedded if both abstract notion of generativity and more intimate motifs of lover, mother, and caretaker.

1. P. D. Miller, “The Absence of the Goddess in Israelite Religion,” Hebrew Annual Review 10 (1986), 239-248.

2. E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1979), 64.

3. Idel, Kabblah and Eros, 66-67.

Fertility: Fertility, both agricultural and human, was a major concern of all peoples of the ancient Near East. Pagan religions universally featured fertility rites and rituals. Fertility-related gods, such as Baal, enjoyed special prominence. In Israelite religion, YHVH is the guarantor of life and its continuation. Though the Earth is rendered less fertile by the transgressions of primeval man (Gen. 3), the earth retains its fundamental capacity to be fruitful. Human barrenness and fertility is a recurrent theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Much of the Abraham saga, for example, can be read as telling of YHVH’s fulfillment of the promise to make the barren Abraham and Sarah, and all their progeny after them, a wellspring of fecundity (Gen. 15, 22). The need to have a child has had such a grip on the Jewish mind that childless men in the early Middle Ages would engage in a legal fiction of symbolically “purchasing” a child from another family (without actually adopting the child) in order to avoid any divine opprobrium arising from not fulfilling the mitzvah of being “fruitful and multiplying.” Later authorities would accept that formal adoption in the sense we think of it today fulfills the obligation to procreate (SA Even ha-Ezer 1; Chochmat Shlomo ad loc.).

Thus, despite this guarantee of fertility to the Jewish people, the use of amulets, incantations, and fertility symbols have been widespread. Specific foods and herbs, such as eggs, fish, milk, and garlic, are considered aphrodisiacs or sources of potency. Medieval Jewish tradition includes many examples of theurgic rituals, primarily name magic involving Angels, astrology , and the zodiac, for ensuring the fertility of people, of agricultural lands, and of cattle. Numerous medieval texts provide love incantations and recipes for love potions. Chief among the arsenal of folk cures, rituals, and devices to combat prolonged bouts of infertility include:

✵ Mandrakes, which have a biblical warrant (Gen. 30:14-16). This root is incorporated into varied cures across the centuries.

✵ Consuming rubies appears as a treatment in medieval medical texts.1

✵ Visiting the grave of Rachel outside Bethlehem, to ask for the Matriarchs intervention. The burial places of other deceased worthies, such as Hasidic masters, are also sought out.

✵ Mizrachi (Asian) Jews would place a cup of water under the chair set out for Elijah at a circumcision ceremony (brit milah). Following the ceremony, barren women would drink this water in hope of aiding in pregnancy. A related practice would be to drink from a Kiddush cup that had just been used at a brit milah. In Europe, women would meditate upon the knife used to perform a circumcision. All this was inspired by the hope that the fertility embodied in the newborn boy that permeated the ritual would prove contagious.2

✵ The exact reverse of this association, and one probably adopted from surrounding gentile cultures, involved having a woman stand in close proximity to a corpse, or sprinkle themselves with the water used to purify a corpse (European gentile women would stand under a gallows or even a hanging criminal).

✵ Incantations and kemiyiot (amulets) were common and widely circulated. Most amulets included verses from Scripture that promise to counter barrenness (Isa. 30:19, for example, or Ex. 23:26).3

✵ Most startling is a practice forbidden by the rabbis, but nevertheless reported in several communities—infertile women consuming the foreskin tissue from a circumcision (perhaps not so weird if we think of the occasional modern practice of women eating the afterbirth, but still shocking). Not surprisingly, keeping the foreskin as a talisman was more common.4

The mystical sex manual, Igeret ha-Kodesh, emphasizes that time of day, state of purity, state of mind, and even the orientation of the bed (a kind of Jewish tantric feng shui) have an influence over fertility. A major focus of the miraculous powers of Baal Shems has been their gifts for overcoming infertility, usually through the method of segulot.

The Jewish holiday most intimately engaged with themes of fertility is Sukkot, with its Prayers for rain, the waving of the lulav, the four species, and the (now defunct) water libation ritual.

In the World to Come, the hyper-fertility that once existed in Eden will be restored. women will, painlessly, bear children every day (they envisioned this as a good thing; perhaps they were being hyperbolic). The Sages have even more to say about the fruitfulness of the earth in messianic times: trees will bear ripe fruit daily, and even wild trees will become fruit bearing. Wheat will grow as high as palms, and wheat grains as big as kidneys. A single grape will require a wagon to move and people will simply tap them for juice as they would a keg (Ket. 111b; Shab. 30b; Nidd. 31b; EY; Sefer ha-Raziel; Igeret ha-Kodesh).

1. Klein, A Time to Be Born, 41.

2. Sperber, The Jewish Life Cycle, 16, 452.

3. Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, 160-161.

4. R. Patai, “Folk Customs and Charms Related to Childbirth,” Talpiot 6 (1978).

Fevers: In the past, the common (but often deadly) fever has been interpreted as a form of demonic attack, perhaps because of the link between demons and the infernal regions. Consequently, considerable Jewish pharmacology, remedies, and healing incantations are devoted to their treatment.

Fevers can be treated by reciting biblical verses, especially Moses’s plea for the recovery of Miriam (Num. 12:13) and/or the verse, “there was a bush all aflame, but it was not consumed” (Ex. 3:5). The Talmud offers folk remedies for many different kinds of fevers, almost all of which include magical elements (Git. 69a-70a). One recipe, using analogous magic symbolism, involves using iron, string, and a bush (think “burning bush”) (Shab. 67a).

Hebrew magico-medical manuals found in the Cairo Geniza, like the Talmud, distinguish many types of fevers and offer different treatments for each.1 One medieval text recommends a reversal incantation, reciting the word Ochnotinos, reducing the word one letter with each repetition, thereby reducing the fever (SCh).

1. Naveh and Shaked, Magical Spells and Formulae, 177, 185-87, 199, 202, 221.


Finger: (59325). Metaphorically, at least, God has “ten fingers.” These are the ten utterances God made at Creation (Gen. R. 4:4; SY 1.3). The fingers of the human hand have a number of occult associations. According to the Testament of Solomon, demons will vampirically suck the thumbs of children, causing them to waste and die. The use of fingernails for the purposes of divination is a longstanding Jewish practice—one uses the light of the Havdalah candle (used for a
ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath) to gaze into one’s own nails. Young girls do so in hopes of seeing the face of the man they will marry, but earlier authorities held that all kinds of omens, for good or for ill, could be detected in the reflection. Conversely, there is a belief that cutting one’s nails can adversely affect memory unless a specific order of trimming is followed: starting with the left hand, begin with finger four (ring) and end with one (thumb), and avoiding doing any two in sequence; right hand two to five. Fingernails can be used in magical formula and, most dangerously, in witchcraft. The careful disposal of trimmings is therefore imperative.

If a pregnant woman comes in contact with fingernail parings, the impurity adhering to the parings will adversely affect the fetus. White spots on the nails are considered a good omen. SEE HAND.

Fire: (59332/aish, Ara, nura). Fire is one of the four elements in classical physics, and is sometimes grouped as one of the three foundational elements of Creation:

The rabbis taught: “Three things were made before the creation of our world: Water, Wind, and Fire. Water birthed darkness, Fire birthed light, and Wind birthed wisdom.” (Ex. R. 15:22)

Fire is both a symbol of beneficence and destruction, as well as a manifestation of the numinous. It is also a symbol of passion and regeneration.

According to one rabbinic tradition, fire was created on the second day of Creation (Pes. 54a). Another tradition claims that a primordial fire preceded light, and gave birth to it. Talmud teaches that there are “six varieties” of fire, some natural and some supernatural (Yoma 21b). It is, along with water, the material that makes up the heavens. Fire was first introduced to humanity at the end of the Sabbath, when God taught Adam how to use a flint (Pes. 54a; Sanh. 38b).1

Fire is frequently a manifestation of divine wrath, but also of divine Presence (Deut. 5:4). God makes the promises to Abraham in the form of fire (Gen. 15). Sodom and Gomorrah meet a fiery end (Gen. 19). God appears in a burning bush (Ex. 3), rains fiery hail down upon the Egyptians (Ex. 8), and sends a fiery angel to protect the Israelites from pursuit by their former masters (Ex. 13) and later to guide the people in the desert. Elijah is closely linked to fire, being able to smite soldiers of King Ahaziah (1 Kings 1) and ignite offerings (2 Kings 18) with heavenly fire.

The theurgic sacrificial offerings of ancient Israel were performed using the medium of fire. Aish zara, “alien fire,” however, was forbidden in the sacrificial cult. The exact nature of this fire, whether it was fire introduced from an outside source or fire offered at unsanctioned times, is not clear. Its use by Nadav and Abihu triggered their fatal punishment by divine fire from heaven (Lev. 10:1-2). According to the Midrash, subsequent to this disaster, the altar fire descended from heaven to consume the sacrificial offerings (Yoma 21a-b). This celestial fire transferred to the Temple and burned uninterrupted, rain or shine, until the apostasy of King Manasseh, a positive manifestation of the same power that killed Nadav and Abihu. Sages experiencing revelatory moments appear to be ringed in fire (Lev. R. 16:4; Zohar II:14a-15a).

The Bible describes God as a “consuming fire.” In the seven heavens, fire serves in the place of matter as the fundamental substance that gives form to reality. The divine chariot is wreathed in fire. Many angels, such as Metatron and Gabriel, are composed of fire. There is a special class of fiery angels called serafim, and the sweat that pours from them in their labors creates the river of Light that flows around heaven. The palaces of heaven are made of supernal fires. Even the primordial Torah itself is made of white fire and letters of black fire. Torah study is compared to fire in that one who stays too far from it freezes, but one who draws too close is burned. When a person has a revelatory experience, that event may be accompanied by manifestations of supernal fire (Deut. 5:4; III Enoch; Zohar III: Naso; Lev. R. 16:4; Chag. 14b; Zohar I:94b).

On the infernal side, the fire of Gehenna burns sixty times hotter than earthly fire. There are five different kinds of fire in Gehenna: fires that consume but do not drink; fires that drink but do not consume; fires that drink and consume; fires that neither drink nor consume, and a fire that consumes fire (BhM 1:147). Demons also can have a fiery appearance, while RaSHI claims that fire is one of the things demons eat for sustenance.

Fire may be used as part of a cursing ritual (burning up the written name of the intended victim) or for divination. As a source of light, fire drives away demons. Salamanders are a creature born out of fire and, according to some traditions, their blood provides protection from burns (Pes. 54a, 118a-b; Zev. 61b; Sanh. 38b; Ber. 57b; PdRE 4; Chag. 27a; Ex. R. 15:22; Num. R. 2:23; J. Shek. 6:1; SCh 547-48). SEE ANGEL AND ANGELOLOGY; DEMONS; LAMP;LIGHT; PHOENIX; SACRIFICE; SALAMANDER.

1. Frankel and Platkin Teutsch, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, 53-54.

Fire, the Seven Angels of: According to the Book of the Great Name, there are seven angels of fire: TRMWM, Uriel, Afiel, Gabriel, Nuriel, Paniel, and Serafiel. Invoking them will protect the adept against being burned. SEE SERAF OR SERAFIM.

Firmament: (59343/Rakia). God placed a rakia, “spread out/expanse,” between the waters of Earth and the waters of heaven to separate them (Gen. 1). The Rabbis speculated at length as to the nature of this barrier:

It was taught in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua: The thickness of the firmament is as the width of two fingers. But Rabbi Chanina disputes this, as Rabbi Acha said in the name of Rabbi Chanina: It says, “Can you help Him tarkia the heavens, firm as a mirror of cast metal?” (Job 37:18)—Tarkia means that they were made as a thin sheet of metal … Rabbi Yochanan says: Ordinarily, when a person stretches out a tent, it sags after time; but here, “He stretched [the heavens], like a tent in which to dwell” (Isa. 40:22), and it is written “firm” (Job ibid.) Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says: Ordinarily, when a person casts vessels, they eventually rust; but here, “like a mirror of cast metal”—that at every moment, they appear as new. (Chag. 12b)

Some Sages argued there are two firmaments, based on a biblical verse (Deut. 10:14), but most teach that there are seven. Later traditions identify the word rakia as referring to just one of the seven heavens, the level that holds the heavenly bodies (Chag. 12b; Pes. 94a-94b). SEE CURTAIN OF HEAVEN.

Firstborn: (59347/bechor also reishit). God was forced to destroy the firstborn males of the Egyptians, both cattle and human, on Israel’s behalf (Ex. 12). All of the ten plagues are interpreted as a response to some aspect of the suffering endured by the Israelites during their enslavement, and the plague of machat bechorim, of slaying the Egyptian firstborn, is retribution for a crime mentioned explicitly in the Exodus narrative: the slaying of Israelite boys on Pharaohs orders (Ex. 2). Still, because God is required to destroy a part of Creation for Israel’s sake, God acquires title to the firstborn males of Israel, animal and human, in perpetuity. This means that every male creature that “opens the womb” must either be given over to the sanctuary, destroyed, or redeemed from God in a cultic ritual (Ex. 13:13). In the ceremony of Pidyon ha-Ben, a firstborn son is brought on the thirty-first day after birth before a priest and “redeemed” with a donation of money to charity (Ber. 47b). A firstborn with two heads needs only one redemption price (Men. 37-37b. Also see B.M. 61b on God’s concern with knowing the firstborn).

Fish: (59345). Fish are a symbol of both good luck and fertility in Judaism. They are considered a good luck food to eat on the Sabbath (B.B. 133b; Shab. 119a). This is based on the language of Genesis 1, where God uses the identical wording to bless the fish as is used to bless the Sabbath. In Zohar II:30b, fish are understood to be a symbol for Angels. A fish is also a good omen since a sea creature, Leviathan, will be the main course at the messianic banquet (B.B. 73a-75a). These associations also make fish popular food on the Sabbath, which itself is a foretaste of the World to Come. A mystical tradition teaches that the Souls of the righteous are sometimes reincarnated as fish (Megillat Setarim; Yismach Moshe 29b; ShB 108).

In accordance with the food prohibitions found in the Torah, only fish with fins and scales are considered fit to eat. It was also held in Talmudic times that eating fish and meat in combination could bring on leprosy (Pes. 76b).

Ever since the account found in the book of Tobit, where the hero defeats a demons by burning the heart and liver of a rotten fish (Tobit 6), fish have been considered a potent defense against evil spirits and the evil eye. The evil eye, in particular, has no power over them because they dwell in the sea and so are covered from its view (Ber. 20a, 55b; Sot. 36b; B.M. 84a; B.B. 118b). For those reasons, fish images frequently appear on amulets. For the same reason, European families often gave their sons the name Fishl as a protection against bad luck. Fish parts also are required in a variety of folk remedies. Because fish are so numerous, they are also considered a fertility food. Fish are also used in segulot (folk remedies). Perhaps the most unusual involves placing a live fish under the sole of the foot as a treatment for jaundice (Shemesh Tzedakah, no. 23).


Flies: (59369). Flies symbolize decay and corruption. They constitute one of the ten plagues God inflicts on Egypt during the Exodus. Flies are also linked to the demonic; Beelzebub is sometimes known as “Lord of the Flies.” Materials from flies can be used to treat hornet stings (Shab. 77b).

Flood, the: (59367). The biblical account of God flooding the entire world in response to the wicked devolution of Creation (Gen. 6:5-9:17). God is effectively reversing the creative process, releasing the watery chaos (the “floodgates” of heaven and the “fountains” beneath the Earth, Gen. 7:11) that was contained in the Creation account of Genesis 1, and the result constitutes the first apocalyptic destruction story in the Bible.

Occupying a large place in the Western imagination, the biblical account is not even 100 verses long. A wholly miraculous tale, its supernatural aspects include not only the rain, but also the marvelous assembly of all the earth’s animal species, their management on the Ark, and forty days of continuous rain.


The Ark upon the void by E. M. Lilien

Post-biblical apocalyptic and rabbinic literature adds many fantastic details. The Talmud provides a laundry-list of offenses committed against God and each other in the ante-diluvian world. Aside from the human arrogance and violence, which seemed inadequate justification for wiping out all of [land-bound] creation, the Sages, based on the wording “all flesh had corrupted …” (6:12) assert the corruption was so complete that even animals sought to have sex with different species (Sanh. 107b-108a).

The generation of the Flood felt no need to repent, because they believed their mastery of magic would protect them. Later they made various attempts to prevent the flooding, including plating the earth in iron and using a miraculous sponge (I Enoch 6:2, 7:5; Gen. R. 30:7; Tanh. Noah 5, 12; Sanh. 108a-b). The race of giants refused to repent because they believed they could simply stand above the floodwaters (PdRE 22). Some giants did in fact survive, most notably Og of Bashan. God mingled the rain water (which is male) with the water of the abyss (which is female) to procreate even more floods. The Land of Israel, however, was spared from the flood waters (Gen. R. 26; MhG; Zev. 113a; Midd. 61a). The generation of the Flood will not be judged and have no place in the World to Come (Sanh. 107b), a teaching which inspired later interpreters to conclude that demons are the restless Souls of the diluvian dead. SEE FALLEN ANGELS; GIANTS; NOAH.

Foetor Judaicus: Among the many pernicious myths circulating about Jews in the Middle Ages, the claim that Jews have a particular repugnant odor was one of the most popular.1 Sometimes this smell is identified as sulfur and brimstone, the odor of hell. In popular Christian imagination, baptism resolves this particular hygiene problem permanently (Martin Luther, That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew), but evidently bathing in Christian blood also gives temporary relief (Franciscus of Piacenza, Sermons). This latter explanation also conveniently helps resolve the problem of why some Jews actually lack this congenital stink—Jews who don’t smell are ritual murderers. The Jewish “stink,” thematically tied to the Jewish “nose,” became a major trope of 19th- and 20th-century anti-Semitism, and even found its way into European philosophy (Arthur Schopenhauer, On Religion).2

1. H. Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil (New York: Free Press, 1992), 84, 110.

2. Eilberg-Schwartz, People of the Body, 249-254.

Food: (59376). Food is emblematic of life and blessing, as the Zohar declares, “Blessing does not rest on an empty table”(II:88a). Jewish food spirituality is three-fold. It is grounded in kashrut/“fitness,” berachah/“blessing,” and Seudah/“[celebratory] meal.” The essence of these things, expressed in manifold and varied ways by different Jewish groups is: thinking about the kinds of foods eaten and under what conditions, gratitude for the blessings of food, and using food as a medium by which Jews celebrate life.

The Jewish rules of kashrut (fitness) are the most extensive set of food taboos found in any culture, rivaled perhaps only by the Hindu Laws of Mani. Most attempts to explain these laws appeal either to rational explanations, such as hygiene, or to holiness, the effort to distinguish Israel from the surrounding peoples. Though it is rare that Jewish interpreters offer occult explanations for these rules, from the beginning it has been clear that food has metaphysical significance. A good example would be the biblical teaching that the life-vitality of an animal resides in its blood, so that blood had to be spilled rather than consumed, in order to return the life force to God (Gen. 9).

The Sages of the Talmud characterized the dining table of the Jewish home as a mikdash me’at (a “small altar”), elevating the mundane business of eating to a sacerdotal level. The idea of a meal punctuated with Torah study also goes back at least as far as the Talmud (Avot 3:4; Tan. 5b). Yet the Rabbis were most concerned with the practical impact food has on the person, as well as defining the proper parameters of what, when, and how to eat that honors the divine mandates and prohibitions. Certain foods can affect people in ways beyond mere nutrition. Too many olives, for example, can adversely affect memory. On the other hand, foods eaten at certain propitious times can have positive influence over one’s fortune. Thus the Talmud advises eating pumpkin, fenugreek, leek, beets, and dates at the New Year (Hor. 12a). Pomegranates eaten on the New Year will enhance fertility. The consumption of sweets at special occasions (bar mitzvahs, Weddings, and the like) portend of success and happiness; the cradles of newborns are sometimes sprinkled with sugar and sweets before the child is first placed in it.1

Food is also used for medicinal purposes. herbs especially were used in Jewish folk healing. While the fitness of a food has always been an issue, from the time of the Mishnah on, any food thought to be of medicinal value, even forbidden food, should be part of the healer’s arsenal (M. Yoma 8; Shab. 67a). Thus a healing poultice or remedy could include noxious foodstuffs. Abraham Yagel even prescribed crawfish cooked up in a potion to treat a mental illness.

The Talmud teaches that food left out unattended attracts demons and evil spirits. Isaac Luria and his followers also taught that the prohibited foods were manifestations of the Sitra Achra and, unlike kosher foods, their nitzotz, their holy “spark,” could not be released through consumption. Chasidic teachings include the belief that a damaged Soul may be reincarnated as an animal or plant, toward the eventuality that the food made from those things will be eaten by a saintly person, at which point the soul achieves release (Likkutai Torah; Tanya; Megillat Setarim; ShB 108).

Kabbalism offers the first fully developed metaphysical discourse on food. It defines different levels of sustenance, though all food flows from on high. There is “divine food,” “higher food,” or “angel food,” in addition to coarser human food; then there is the food of impurity, which corresponds to the foods forbidden by kashrut. This last category carries a demonic cast. Divine food, exemplified by the manna eaten by the Israelites, conveys not only nutrition, but wisdom, it is gustatory revelation, as discussed in this famous passage of Zohar:

Adonai said to Moses, “Look, I am about to rain down bread for you from heaven” (Ex. 16:4) … Come and see every single day dew trickles from the Holy Ancient One to the Short-Tempered One, and the whole Orchard of Holy Apples [lower world] is blessed. Some of that dew is drawn to those below, and holy angels are nourished by it, each and every one according to his diet, as is written: “Man ate the bread of the mighty” (Ps. 78:25), for of that food Israel ate in the wilderness. Rabbi Shimon said: Some people are nourished by it now. And who are they? These Companions, engaging in Torah day and night … When Israel entered and cleaved to the King by revealing the holy seal, they became worthy eating other, higher bread—higher than at first, when they went out of Egypt, eating the bread called matzah. Now they entered and proved worthy of eating other, higher bread from a high place … Highest food of all is food of the Companions, those engaging in Torah [i.e. they are nourished by Wisdom] … They eat food of spirit and soul-breath, from a distant, supernal place, most precious of all. Happy is their portion, as is written: “Wisdom gives life to its possessors” (Eccl. 7:12). Happy is the share of the body that can be nourished by food of the soul! (Zohar II:61b-62a; Also see IV: 328-334)

Mystical sources find great metaphysical power in the act of eating, usually inspired by the example of the sacred meal eaten by Moses, Aaron, and the Elders in God’s presence on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24). In texts such as the Zohar, there appear many mystical food rituals. Thus the food on the Sabbath (the day when Israel received double manna in the desert) takes on great importance. One must eat three meals over the course of the day in order to receive the additional soul granted each Jew on the Sabbath and to draw closer the angelic realms. A precise ritual, even involving the arrangement of the foods on the table in relationship to each other, must be followed for each meal. Failure to do the rituals correctly puts you at the mercy of the demonic.2 Eating food from the tish of a righteous man is also considered a source of supernatural blessing and protection.

Performing the ritual blessing food as prescribed by tradition theurgically stimulates the divine potencies, yielding continuing food abundance:

Look, I am about to rain down bread for you from heaven” (Ex. 16:4) … All the inhabitants of the world await, lifting their eyes to the Blessed Holy One. Therefore, every single day all those scions of faith should request their food from the Blessed Holy One, offering their prayers for it. Why? Because whoever offers his prayer to the Blessed Holy One for his nourishment causes that tree containing all nourishment [The cosmic “All-Tree” described in the Bahir] to be blessed every day through Him. The meaning of the matter is: “Blessed be Adonai day by day” (Ps. 68:20). Even if one has it, he should make a request before the blessed Holy One, offering his prayer for food each day, so that blessings will prevail [for all] every single day above. (Zohar II:62a-b)

Providing food for the poor, an important biblical obligation, also serves the sefirot, keeping the male (giving) and female (receiving) aspects of God in balance (Zohar I:17b).

At least one Sage, Eleazar, could even make food (cucumbers, to be precise) magically materialize (Sanh. 68a). In Sefer ha-Razim, a long list of foodstuffs are used for a variety of magical purposes, medical and otherwise. SEEFASTING; HEALING; HERBS AND VEGETABLES; PHARMACOPOEIA.

1. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 184, 213.

2. J. Hecker, “Food Practices in the Zohar,” in Judaism in Practice: From the Middle Ages through the Early Modern Period, L. Fine ed., (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 353-63.

Footstool: (59381). A footstool was a symbol of status in the ancient world, and the appearance of the word in the Bible becomes the occasion for considerable metaphysical speculation. Given God does not literally have “feet,” what does the term mean to convey? The authors of the biblical books variously identify the world (Isa. 66:1), or Jerusalem, Mount Zion, or the Temple as God’s footstool (I Chron. 28:2; Ezek. 43:7; Ps. 99:5; Lam. 2:1). Hechalotliterature tends to identify heaven, or one of the seven heavens, as the footrest of God (Synopsis, Hechalot Rabbati 153). German Pietist , by contrast, regarded the Torah to be God’s “foundation.” This myth conveys the idea that the Torah is, as it were, the part of the Throne of Glory that projects into this dimension, providing the rationale for liturgical bowing in the direction of the Torah during a service (SCh 1585). The Kabbalist Jacob ben Sheshet regards the phrase the “earth is my footstool” to be a metonym—the “[humanity on] earth is my footstool,” (i.e., God’s stability rests upon humanity). 1 When people strive for union with the Godhead, they uphold God’s creation. In Bachya’s commentary to the Torah, he identifies the harom with the sefirah of Yesod, the male generative principle (comment to Gen. 17:13).

1. Dan and Kiener, The Early Kabbalah, 106-108.


Fortis, Abraham Isaac: (Polish, ca. 18th century). Physician and amulet maker. Professionally trained in Western medicine, yet conversant in amulets and segulot, Fortis was a celebrated doctor who embraced both Jewish folk healing practices and the emerging naturalistic theories of medicine.

Fortunetelling: SEE DIVINATION.


Forty-Two Part Name of God: SEE NAMES OF GOD.

Foundation Stone: (59385/Even ha-Shetiyah). This rock is the capstone of Creation. Under this stone God trapped the floodwaters of the abyss (Isa. 28:16; Sanh. 29b), the source of the entire world’s water . All the world’s winds also originate from there (Otzer Ma’asot, 121). This stone sits under the Temple mount. It is the axis mundi, the navel of the cosmos:

As the navel is set in the center of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world … situated in the center of the world, and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel, and the sanctuary in the center of Jerusalem, and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary, and the ark in the center of the holy place, and the Foundation Stone before the holy place, because from it the world was founded. (Tanh. Kedoshim 10)

The stone was cast into the abyss and the universe coagulated around it (Zohar I:231a). One tradition identifies it as a piece of God’s Throne of Glory and inscribed with the Tetragrammaton (Sefer ha-Zichronot 1.6). When the name of God is misused, the name on the stone fades, weakening the world:

For when the Blessed Holy One planted the world, He sank into the depths a single stone, engraved with this Name, plunging it into the deep. When the [primordial] waters desire to rise, they see the mystery of the Holy Name engraved on the stone, and they retreat and subside, turning back … When human being swear an oath truly, that stone rise to receive it … the world endures … when a humans swear a false oath, that stone rises to receive it … the letters fly through the depths and scatter … (Zohar II:91b)

A chunk of the stone was used by God to make the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. God moved this stone only once, to unleash the Flood of Noah's day. When King David tried to move the stone into the Holy of Holies, chaos was unleashed and it was only by using the theurgic power of reciting the psalms that he was able to drive the waters of the abyss back to their proper place (Suk. 53a-b). Other traditions claim the rock levitates in a cave beneath the Temple Mount, and when it finally falls the coming of the Messiah is imminent (Suk. 49a, 53a-b; J. Sanh. 10:2, 29a;
M. Yoma 5:2; J. Yoma 5:4, 8:4; Yoma 54a-b; PdRE 35; Zohar II:152a).

Fountain of Elisha: A spring, also called the “Eye of the Sultan,” found outside of Jericho that was miraculously cured of tainted water by the Prophet (2 Kings 2).


Four Craftsmen: Four allegorical figures mentioned in a vision of the prophet Zechariah (2:3). The historical and/or messianic identities of the four vary from commentator to commentator. The most famous list appears in Sukkah 52b, which identifies them as Messiah ben David, Messiah ben Joseph, Elijah, and the Righteous priest.

Four Kingdoms: The four beasts that appear in Daniel’s dream (Dan. 8) are allegories of four empires that oppressed the Jews, but exactly which four is debatable. Most Jewish commentators choose from among these five due to their historic roles in oppressing Jews: Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and/or Rome. Genesis Rabbah claims that the same four kingdoms listed in Genesis 14 will also be the four kingdoms Daniel saw, pitted against the messianic Jewish kingdom at the end of time (Gen. R. 42.2).

Four Sages: In one of the most discussed texts of Jewish mysticism, Talmud tractate Chagigah 14b relates a cryptic parabolic story of four Sages who entered 66741 Pardes, “paradise.” The four Sages were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Abuyah, and Akiba ben Joseph. The Talmudic tale reads as follows:

The Rabbis taught: Four entered Pardes. They were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them, “When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say, ‘Water! Water!’ for it is said, ‘He who speaks untruths shall not stand before My eyes’ ” (Psalm 101:7). Ben Azzai gazed and died. Regarding him the verse states, “Precious in the eyes of G-d is the death of His pious ones” (Psalm 116:15). Ben Zoma gazed and was harmed. Regarding him the verse states, “Did you find honey? Eat as only much as you need, lest you be overfilled and vomit it” (Prov. 25:16). Acher cut down the plantings. Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace. (Chag. 14b)

Exactly what “entering Pardes” means is the greatest of all the mysteries associated with this story, though the “marble” passage is surely the most obscure feature. Some say “entering Pardes” involved mystical ascent. Others say it involved esoteric interpretations of the Torah (see Pardes), yet others take it to refer to the study of Gnosticism. Whatever the reality behind the event, it proved catastrophic for three of the four men. Much speculation of the nature of mystical ascent springs from this legend, which exists in several variant forms (T. Hag. 2:3-4; Gen. R. 2:4; Lev. R. 16:4; S of S R. 1:10).

One tradition elaborates on the story thusly: Ben Azzai was so captivated by what he saw he could not give it up and refused to return to his Body. Ben Zoma became so immersed in the mysteries he had seen that he ceased to be able to function in life. Ben Abuyah saw Metatron. Thinking he had seen another deity besides God, he declared “there are two powers in heaven” (he embraced Gnosticism) and turned against the Torah (Chag. 15a; J. Chag. 77). In general, the story is treated as a cautionary tale about engaging in certain kinds of religious speculation and/or experiences. The exact nature of the harmful pursuit is ultimately left to the reader and/or commentator.

Four Species: (59409/Arbaah Minim). The Torah specifies that four plant species be gathered for the celebration of the Sukkot harvest festival (Lev. 23). The Torah is not explicit as to the identity of two of the species, but the Sages have established the four species as the palm, the willow, the myrtle, and the citron. The branches of the first three species are bound together to form a bouquet called the “lulav,” while the citron (etrog in Hebrew) is held apart. During the holiday, these four species are used in a mysterious ritual: the species are held together in two hands and waved toward six directions: the four compass points, up toward the sky, then down to the Earth.

A number of homiletic explanations are given for this ceremony, but there are also some sodot, esoteric explanations, usually based on the belief that these four species symbolize and activate different forces of the divine sefirot. The most prominent of these esoteric interpretations highlight the phallic appearance of the bouquet when the lulav and etrog are held together; in doing this ritual, humans perform a mimetic ritual of bringing together the feminine and masculine forces in God in a kind of hieros gamos (“a sacred union”). This is apparent in Kabbalistic interpretations of the ritual:

He [God] planted an etrog among them [the male plants] … the etrog is female (Bahir 172) … The lulav is male … (Bahir 198. Also see Sha’ar ha-
Kavvanot 5
; Sefat Emet, comment on Sukkot)

Additionally, the morphology of the lulav, with its shaft-like branches clutched together with the round (womb-like/breast-like) etrog, points to an obvious fertility theme. This interpretation is quite overt in Kabbalah, where the lulav is a symbol of Yesod and/or Tiferet, the male sexual dimension of the Pleroma (Zohar III:121a, 255a).

Not coincidentally, the holiday of Sukkot is the holiday that marks the beginning of the rainy season in the Land of Israel. Given that Israel has no year-round rivers aside from the Jordan, the coming of rain—essential water for the crops—is a central theme of the Sukkot holiday. In the Jewish liturgical cycle, this is the time to initiate the daily Prayers for rain. Related to this, there was the ceremony of water drawing libation performed in the Temple on Sukkot in which the altar and its surrounds were splashed with water, in which the waters of the sky and the aquifers are summoned to come together.

So applying this logic to the lulav, one realizes that dryness and moisture are denoted in each of the objects. The palm core is rather dry. The willow is a water-needy plant, and the willow branch of the lulav notably withers over the course of the week. The myrtle, by contrast, retains its fresh appearance. And the etrog is the ultimate fruity reservoir of moisture. Aside from water, the only notable feature of all four species is that they are all largely inedible. Water is the most meaningful marker associated with each. The Jerusalem Talmud hints at this when it comments “they come as intercessors for water” (Tan. 1:1). Most striking of all, when the lulav is waved as prescribed, it’s rustling makes a noise that mimics rainfall, suggesting the waving ceremony was meant as a sympathetic ritual of power, inspiring the urge to rain in all parts of the earth, from the sky to under the earth (filling wells, rivers, and lakes), sort of the way the sound of running water can stimulate in people the need to urinate.


The fours species in ritual array

By directing it across the earth toward all the cardinal spacial orientations, again, has a strong theurgic logic to it. This too is a continuation our water theme, for, as the Bahir also teaches, “The concept of water contains both male and female aspects … (86).” This notion of masculine (atmospheric) and feminine (ground) waters that combine to fructify the earth occurs throughout traditional Jewish thought.

Many traditional Jews keep the lulav and etrog after the holiday season, believing that their ritual use has now imbued them with kedushah, a beneficent spiritual power. They are subsequently used as talismans and in folk medicine.

Four Worlds of Emanation: (59420). According to classical Kabbalah, the universe is a progressive unfolding resulting from an overflow of divine energy from the Ein Sof. Four “worlds” or supernal realms result from this emanation: Atzilut (Emanation), Beriyah (Creation), Yetzirah (Formation), and Asiyah (Action). These are often expressed by the acronym, ABiYAh. The biblical justification for this metaphysical model is Isaiah 43:7, “Every one that is called by My name and for My glory, I have created, I have formed, even I have made.”

Different traditions elaborate on each of these, arguing they correspond to the structure of the Soul, the angelic hierarchies, categories of liturgy, and various spiritual and material realities. SEE EMANATION; KABBALAH; PARTZUFIM;SEFIROT.

Fox: (59425/Shual ). This most cunning of animals frequently appears in Jewish fables as a trickster (S o S 2:15; Sot. 10a; Ber. 61b; Sanh. 38b-39a; Yalkut Ex. 56a; Hedar Zekenim). Its appearance on a person’s left side also portended an ill omen. A foxtail wards off the evil eye (Tos. Shab. 4:5). Its tooth was used as a treatment for insomnia, although the Sages do not elaborate on the specific method to be followed (Shab. 67a).

Francesca Sarah of Safed: Medium (Turkish, ca. 16th century). Francesca was famed for her prophetic visions and was frequently consulted by leading rabbis and even Kabbalists (Sefer ha-Hezyonot 18; Divrei Yosef, 264-366).

Frankincense: (59433/Levunah). An aromatic incense used in the Temple cult (Men. 8a-8b, 52a, 59a-59b, 106b). It is a resin extracted from the Boswellia Thurifera bush found in Arabia, Somalia, and India. It also has psychotropic properties and was used to sedate individuals facing execution (Sanh. 43a).

Frankists: A heretical occult sect that arose among the Jews of Poland in the 18th century. Evidently influenced by the Kabbalistic teachings of Shabbatai Tzvi, a Polish Jew named Jacob Frank claimed to be the reincarnation of the Patriarch Jacob and created a secret circle of followers. Frankist ritual gatherings were antinomian and appear to have involved the conscious violations of the commandments in order to fulfill Frank’s teaching that “One must nullify the Torah in order to fulfill it.” These violations included, most sensationally, sexual rites and rituals. Only slightly less outrageous was the belief that Frankists should convert to Christianity, because this would allow the Frankists to conquer the Christians from within. Although placed under a cherem by rabbinical authorities, the Frankists found sympathetic gentile authorities that protected them for a while. The group did eventually convert en masse to Christianity, only to find themselves in trouble with the Church for their continuing bizarre and heretical activities. Though Frank served an extended prison term for his Christian apostasy, his influence continued throughout the rest of his life. His daughter continued as the sect leader after his death, and though the group perpetuated the belief that Frank never actually died, the Frankists gradually declined and disappeared by the late 19th century.1

1. Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, 133; Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 315-18.

Freemasons: A secretive fraternal society. Though Freemasonry espouses an ideal of universal brotherhood and a nonsectarian notion of God, acceptance of Jews among their ranks varied from country to country, and in some places, like Prussia, Jews had to form their own segregated Jewish lodges. The pernicious myth that Freemasonry was an arm of the “Jewish conspiracy” for world domination emerged in Europe in the mid-19th century. This may be the combined result of Masonry’s reputation as a “secret society” and its liberal ideology of universalism that favored the liberal political notions of citizenship, enfranchisement, and the efforts of Jews to gain full rights and equal status in Europe. This conspiracy theory of a “Masonic-Jewish” alliance was first widely disseminated during the Dreyfus Trial in France in 1870.This supposed plot was enshrined in the Protocols of the elders of Zion and has been a staple of anti-Semitic paranoia ever since.

Free Will: (59438/Ratzon chofshi). The power to choose freely is one of the organizing myths axiomatic of Judaism (Gen. 2-3) and one of the distinctive characteristics of the God of Israel, because unlike the gods of Pagan theology, God’s freedom is not impinged upon by fate, shimtu, norns, or any other notion of destiny. In mystical theology, will is a function of the highest of God’s attributes, Keter.

Human free will is a critical way in which we bear the “image of God” (Deut. 30). But how human autonomy is to be reconciled with God’s omnipotent authority remains an intellectual puzzle, and there are multiple Jewish answers to that.

Post-biblically, Philo of Alexandria (d. 40 CE) addresses human freedom allegorically, finding it in the figure of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and evil (Allegory 1.60-62, commenting on Gen. 2:9).

The rabbinic tradition largely amplifies on the biblical themes of personal liberty (Mekhilta Mishpatim) and national freedom from foreign rule (Ex. R. 32:1). The rabbinic sources adhere to the biblical notion that the Children of Israel achieve true freedom only by choosing to serve a divine, rather than human, master. Thus, in the interpretation of Exodus 32:16, “the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets,” Avot 6:2 teaches, “Do not read [the verse as] harut (“engraved”) but rather heirut (“freedom”), for no person is free except one who engages in the study of Torah” (also see Avot 3:5; Sanh. 91b).

Conversely, the Sages also adhere to those limitations on freedom that are assumed by the Bible. So, for example, like the Bible, slavery is taken for granted as a social and economic reality, and the Talmud focuses on the regulation of the practice, rather than its abolition.

Despite such contemporaneous realities, the Rabbis repeatedly affirm the ideal that a Jew should value liberty over subservience to another, even another Jew. This finds vivid affirmation in the exegesis Exodus 21:6, which commands a person who willingly enters perpetual servitude to have his earlobe punctured. He must do this, say the Sages, using the same organ that heard God proclaim his freedom at Sinai, as a reminder he is giving up God as his master in exchange for a mere mortal (Kid. 22b).

The most significant outgrowth of the rabbinic period is that of freedom of thought, which emerges from the Sages’ incipient ideology of free inquiry. While some rabbinic passages try to proscribe the holding certain ideas (M. Sanh. 10:1), looming over specific citations is the rabbinic method for reading the Bible, a method that both implicitly and explicitly endorses intellectual freedom. Over many centuries the Sages offer frequent and elaborate justification for the honoring of differing and dissenting opinions (Chag. 3b; Ber. 58a; Eruv. 13b; Tos. Sot. 7:12; Tanchuma Buber, Pinchas 1). In this the Sages use the object of the Bible itself, simultaneously with its contents, as the grounds for justifying freedom of interpretation (Sanh. 34a). This philosophy of intellectual tolerance with regards to diverging interpretations of scripture serves as the foundation and precedent for later Jewish theories of freedom of conscience, and remains one of the hallmarks of Jewish intellectual culture that derives from the Bible.

Medieval explorations of freedom otherwise centered on the on-going experience of exile and Jewish subjugation to foreign nations. These discussions mostly conceptualize freedom in terms of a messianic restoration of Jewish life, monarchy, and sovereignty in the Land of Israel, as described by the Hebrew Prophets. See, for example, Maimonides’s use of multiple biblical texts in his description of the messianic era (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 11-12, especially 12:4).

Recently added to the confluence of the Bible and modern Jewish ideologies of personal liberty is the venerable rabbinic concept of kavod ha-briyot, “the dignity of [human] creatures.” Avot 4:1 finds a biblical basis for this in 1 Samuel 2:30, and the principle has been invoked in Jewish tradition to mitigate, or even negate, onerous or humiliating aspects of rabbinic regulation, communal conventions, and even biblical law (Ber. 19b; Sif. D. 192). In a contemporary context this principle is being applied in arguments against discriminatory attitudes and prohibitions within the tradition directed at the disabled, women, and, most recently, homosexuals. SEE FATE.

Fringes: (59450/Tzitzit). God commanded the ancient Israelite men to wear tzitzit (“fringes”) on the corners of their outer garment, or tallit (a toga-like wrap). These fringes are both symbols of devotion and, more magically, receptors of spiritual energy and inspiration. Each fringe consists of eight strands made from four strings, five knots, and four groups of twists between each knot; the four groups consist of seven, eight, eleven, and thirteen windings. One thread was to be blue, the rest white. Today, when all clothing is tailored, observant Jews will wear their fringes on a special garment, a square Prayer shawl also called a tallit and/or a poncho-like undergarment called a tallit katan.

The required blue (techelet) strand had to be made from a special source, from the extract of a creature known as the chilazon. When the identity of this animal was lost, sometime during the disruptions between the Byzantine and Islamic empires, the use of a blue thread ceased. The chilazon is probably the Murex Trunculus shellfish found off the coast of Lebanon. Until recently, it was only known how to extract a purple dye from the creature, but a method for turning the purple dye a deep sky blue has been recovered, and it may be possible once again to restore the ancient blue thread to the tzitzit.1

One esoteric teaching holds that the dangling threads represent both the undone work of Creation and the divine shefa (or emanation), which flows “downward” into the Four worlds. Therefore the fringes are actually a kind of metaphysical conduit, directing divine energy to the wearer from on high. The knots represent the power of the commandments to “bind” sin, or even demons. Based on this, the Sages occasionally credit the fringes with a supernatural ability to prevent one from sinning. In one tale, the fringes literally slap their wearer in the face when he is about to transgress. In at least one example, a tallit has been credited with producing miraculous healings and was kept by an eastern European community for several generations. A seriously sick child will be wrapped in the tallit with the hope of a cure (Bachya’s comments on Num. 15:38; Num. R. 17:9; Zohar I:23b; Sifrei Num. 15:41; Men. 44a; Etz ha-Chayyim, Sha’ar ha-Chashmal 2). SEE HAIR; KNOTS; ZER ANPIN.

1. A. Kaplan, The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology (New York: NCSY Press, 1998), 166-223.

Frogs: The second plague God sent against the Egyptians in the Exodus story. Rabbah bar Channah claimed to have seen a frog the size of a castle (B.B. 73a).

Fruit: Various fruits symbolize supernal higher realities in Judaism. Kabbalah frequently refers to human Souls as the “fruits” of the sefirot, the “Tree of Life ” (Bahir 14; Zohar I:15b, 19a, 33a). Other associations with Jewish occult lore include the following:

Apples: Apples are a symbol of occult knowledge; the mystics and philosophers speak of secret wisdom as “golden apples concealed in silver filigrees.” The state of enlightenment is known as the orchard of holy apples.

Figs: Fig is the fruit most widely regarded by the Sages to have been the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil eaten by Adam and Eve. This is because only a few verses later it is described how God made garments of fig leaves (Gen. 3:7). According to Talmud, Berachot 40a, consuming the leaves of the Tree of Knowledge is the source of the knowledge of sorcery. Hechalot text includes a ritual for summoning the Sar ha-Torah that involves writing an incantation on a fig leaf and then eating it.

Grapes: According to some, grapes were the forbidden fruit Eve ate in the Garden. More notoriety comes with Noah, who was the first to plant vines and brew wine from its fruits (Gen. 9). The twelve spies sent by Moses into Canaan brought back a cluster so big that two men had to carry it (Num. 13). Because of that association, grapes are a symbol of bounty and joy, and as a result, grapes are one of the foods that has been given its own blessing to be recited before it is eaten. In the World to Come each grape will grow so large it will require a wagon to transport it. People will tap each grape as one would a barrel and no less than thirty kegs of wine will flow from each (Ket. 111b).

Pomegranates: The pomegranate is a symbol for the Torah, because it supposedly contains 613 seeds, equaling the number of commandments in the Five Books of Moses (Chag. 15b). Pomegranates decorated both the Temple and the robes of the priests. It is eaten during the High Holidays in the hope that the coming years will be as full of blessings as the fruit is full of seeds.

Fumigation: A technique for EXORCISM, entailing exposing the spirit to incense or a noxious smoke, such as sulfur (Shushan Yesod ha-Olam; Divrei Yosef ).