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

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



Ibbur: (59987). “Impregnation/Cleaving.” These are generic terms for spiritual possession, usually beneficent, but not always. Also called a maggid, it is related to, but is not to be confused with, a dybbuk. An ibbur coexists inside a living Body, which already has a resident soul, usually for a short period of time (Sefer ha-Hezyonot 46; Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim). Some souls of Righteous saints are able to do this for the benefit of mankind, either to perform a special task through or to reveal a vital teaching to the possessed individual. Sometimes the ibbur does this on its own initiative, but more often a worthy mystical seeker deliberately induces the possession. To achieve this, a period of purification and preparation is necessary. In some ibbur tales, wearing a “sign of the covenant,” such as tefillin, is a prerequisite to such possession. Usually there is some kind of ecstatic practice involved. Isaac Luria preferred using an incubation ritual. A few Safed mystics wrote down testimonies of their ibbur possessions. It also played a role in early Chasidism.1 SEE MEDIUM; POSSESSION, GHOSTLY; SUMMONING.; XENOGLOSSIA AND AUTOMATIC WRITING.

1. Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism, 101-19, 257-304, 404.

Ibn Ezra, Abraham: Biblical commentator and astronomer/astrologer (Spanish, ca. 11th century). Most famous for his rationalist and linguistic commentary on the Torah, Ibn Ezra was also an avid devotee of astrology and wrote Mishpatei ha-Mazzalot (“Rules of the Zodiacal Signs”), a seven-part work about the influence of the stars over the sublunary plane in general and humans in particular. He was convinced of the power of the stars over the lives of mortals, and he believed astrology belonged among the canons of scientific knowledge.

Part of the work was devoted to using astrology in the diagnosis and treatment of illness. He incorporated his theories into his Torah commentaries, including the novel proposal that the Urim and Thummim of the High priest were actually a kind of astrolabe. His fame in these matters was such that a few of his astrological works were translated into Latin. One legend claims he offered a naturalistic interpretation of demons and was punished for his skepticism (Otzar Nechmad 95-96). Though Ibn Ezra taught virtually no esoterica aside from his beliefs in astrology, many legends concerning him as a master of the occult appeared throughout the Middle Ages after his death. There is, for example, at least one tradition claiming Ibn Ezra made a golem (Pseudo Sa’adia commentary to Sefer Yetzirah).

Ibn Yachya, Gedaliah: Rabbi, Talmudist, and exorcist (Italian, ca. 16th century). He is the author of Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah. It contains fantastic and supernatural traditions concerning the heavenly bodies, Creation, the soul, magic, and evil spirits.

Idol, Idolatry: (lsp/pesel; 59989/avodat elilim, also Teref; Shikutz). A physical representation of deity. The refusal to make a visual image of divinity is called “aniconism,” and is most evident in the traditions of Judaism and Islam. Physical representations of the gods were critical to the religions of the ancient Near East, so the Israelite rejection of any physical image of divinity was one of the most revolutionary aspects of the cult of Yahweh. It was so incomprehensible to Pagans that some Greco-Roman writers even accused Jews of being atheists.1

The misunderstanding was mutual. It is clear from the biblical testimonies that the Prophets believed Pagans worshipped the idols themselves as gods. This religious phenomenon, believing an object to be actual genie or spirit, is called fetishism. Clearly, many early ancient “Pagans in the pews” believed this to be the case, with some actually thinking that the idols ate the offerings brought to them and ascribing miraculous powers to the idolatrous object itself.2

More sophisticated classical Pagans, however, understood an idol to be something different—more than a mere representation of a god, but less than the actual god itself. The purpose of making a physical image of a god was, for the sophisticated Pagan, to attract that god’s attention. An idol was a kind of “god magnet,” meant to invite the god’s presence into the shrine, home, or whatever locale where the idol was erected. Another way of imagining an idol is as somewhat akin to a voodoo doll. Whatever happened to or for the idol would be telegraphed to the actual god. Thus, cleaning and clothing the image, burning pleasant smelling incense, making offerings of food, or even human lives, before an idol would please and comfort the god it represented, making him or her more positively inclined toward the devotee.

This is the logic behind the golden calf incident (Ex. 34). The Israelites did not simply decide to make up a new and different god. They were still intent on worshipping YHVH, but they felt compelled to make an idol of God in the form of a calf (a bull, really) in order to attract the attention and ensure the continuing presence of YHVH in their midst, which they felt was missing during the absence of Moses.

From ancient texts of the cultures surrounding Israel, it is clear that for an idol to function, one had to do more than merely construct the image. Idols were “activated” by means of initiation rituals. Thus, in both Mesopotamian and Egyptian magical texts we have a ceremony called the “opening of the mouth” rite by which the idol was activated and the presence of the god was drawn to it.3

The Hebrew Bible is clearly most concerned with the actual making and veneration of images as described above. Yet as religious idolatry has fallen out of fashion in the West, the idea of “idolatry” has taken on a more figurative meaning, being equated with the worship of anything outside God (money, success, sports, and even religious objects) that should not be of ultimate concern.

The impulse toward fetishism, however, remains a universal human preoccupation, and as is evidenced by some of the entries in this book, it is still an issue for some Jews.

1. Schafer, Judeophobia, 21, 23.

2. Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel, 17-20.

3. J. Kugel, The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible (New York: Free Press, 2003), 73-85.

Idra: (60002). “Threshing Floor” or “Goren.” There has been some supernatural import to threshing floors since biblical times. Threshing floors are favored locations for God or angels to become manifest (I Chron. 13:9; 2 Sam. 24:16). The latter site becomes the eventual location of the Temple. In the Zohar, an idra is a mystical assembly in the Galilee, or a conclave of members of a mystical brotherhood that gathers when one of their number is dying and supernal secrets are about to be revealed. The two chapters by this name, Idra Rabbah (Zohar III:127b-145a) and Idra Zuta (III: 287b-296d) included in the printed editions of the Zohar. Chayyim Vital reports having visited the site of the Zoharic conclaves.

Igeret ha-Kodesh: “The Holy Letter.” A medieval mystical sex manual attributed to Nachmanides. It teaches that human sexuality is a mimesis of the divine union that occurs in the Pleroma (literally, merkavot), hinting at the idea that sex serves a theurgic function in sustaining the celestial order:

Such is the secret of man and woman in the ways of Kabbalah. Thus, this [human sexual] union is a matter most elevated [when] it is done properly, and the greater secret is that the merkavot [also] unite, this one to that, in the manner of male and female. (1:49)

To achieve this influence, it instructs the reader about spiritual intention while having sex, sexual positions and their relative merits, even the direction to be oriented while having sex. SEE BODY; ZIVVUGA KADISHA..

Igeret Sod ha-G’ulah: A 16th-century anthology of supernatural and folk tales about the Jewish community written by Abraham Eliezer ha-Levi.

Iggulim v’Yosher: ( 60000). “Circle and Line.” A Kabbalistic term which refers to the “marriage” of divine masculine and feminine attributes. The most vivid example of the spiritual-sexual use of this term is in the Lurianic cosmogony, in which a yosher of divine light penetrates the iggul of empty space created by tzimtzum, giving birth to the created order (Derech Mitzvotecha 76b-77a; Eitz Chayyim, Drash Iggulim v’Yosher). This conceptual model is used to frame a wide range of metaphysical phenomena. SEE ZIVVUGA KADISHA.

Igrat or Agrat: (60015). The night demoness of harlotry, she is a succubus who seduces men in their sleep and gathers their nocturnal emissions. In Kabbalah, she is listed among the four demon queens, the mothers of all demons. Reflecting the rabbinic belief that evil spirits procreate, this demon is sometimes mentioned with a proper matronymic Hebrew name, bat Malkat, “daughter of Malkat.” One tradition proposes that she herself was the product of a human-demon coupling.

In the most elaborate account concerning her, she had intercourse with David, and from his royal semen she gave birth to both the gentile kings who would become his enemies (not unlike Morgan LaFaye and Arthur) and to Asmodeus, the King of Demons:

Then came two women harlots to King Solomon (1 Kings 3:6). They were Lilith and Igrat. Lilith who strangles children because she cannot make of them a veil for herself [having her own demon children does not yield her the merit that comes from fulfilling the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply”] to serve as a hiding place for her. And the second is Igrat. One night King David slept in the camp in the desert, and Igrat coupled with him in his dream. And he had emission, and she conceived and bore Adad [king of Edom]. When they asked him, “What is your name?” he said, “Sh’mi Ad, Ad Sh’mi [My name is Ad, Ad is my name],” and they called him Ashm’dai. He is Ashm’dai, king of the demons, who deprived Solomon of his kingship and sat on his throne [he was Solomon’s demon doppelganger] and therefore he was of the seed of the king of Edom (1 Kings 11:14), for he came from the side of the kingdom of evil … All [the four queens of the demons, Lilith, Igrat, Mahalath and Naamah] and all their cohorts give birth to children, except Lilith … 1

She is mentioned in the Talmud as a demon who communes with witches. The spiritual interventions of Chanina ben Dosa and Abaye curbed her malevolent power over humans (Pes. 110a and 112b; Num. R. 12:3; Bachya’s comments on Gen. 4:22).

1. Patai, Gates to the Old City.

Illusion: Some Sages ascribe the magical feats seen among the gentiles to feats of illusion—what we today call stage magic. Others regard such wonders to be real, but inferior to the miraculous feats credited to biblical and rabbinic heroes (Sanh. 65a). The Sages rule that those who use only sleight of hand to perform magic are not technically wizards, and therefore not subject to the penalty for witchcraft:

A sorcerer, if he actually performs witchcraft, he is culpable; but not if he merely creates illusions. (M. Sanh. 11.1)


Image, Divine: (60017/Dimyon). According to Genesis 1, humanity shares a commonality with God not found in other parts of God’s Creation; humanity is made in God’s likeness (demut) and image (tzelem). Almost all schools of Jewish mysticism teach that there is a unique affinity between God and man, that there is more continuity than disjuncture between divine and human nature.

Still, the exact nature of the divine “image” that God granted humanity is a matter of debate in Jewish occult tradition. In Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, Sages accept that the divine glory often appears in anthropomorphic manifestations:

A man’s wisdom lights up his face (Eccles. 8:1). Rabbi Yudan says, “Great is the power of the prophets, who compare the image of the dynamis above to a human image.” “I heard a voice from the middle of Ulai calling out”(Dan. 8:16). Rabbi Judah ben Rabbi Simeon, “There is another verse clearer than this: ‘and on top, upon this resemblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form.’ ” (Ezek. 1:26)1

But it is less clear about what is the fundamental resemblance between God and the human being. While non-esoteric rabbinic texts focus on the soul as an analogy for God (Ber. 10a—the soul fills and animates the body just as God fills and animates the universe), Sefer Yetzirah seems to regard speech, and the capacity that grants us for creativity, to be the unique way man mirrors God. Shi’ur Qomah implies that the actual physical shape of humanity is a kind of homunculus of the divine form. The Circle of the Unique Cherub similarly considered the human form to be made in the image, not of God proper, but in the image of the divinely emanated image of the Unique Cherub (Baraita de Yosef ben Uziel). Only slightly less anthropomorphic, the Zohar regards the human shape to be a microcosm of the sefirot, the divine emanations, rather than of God in actuality.2 Eleazar of Worms claims there are ten divine features in every human being: the soul, facial expressions, the senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, speech, walking upright, wisdom, and insight (Sodei Razaya). SEE ADAM; ADAM KADMON; BODY; FACE OF GOD; GODHEAD;VISION.

1. Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines, 37.

2. J. Dan, “Imago Dei” in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, Cohen and Mendes-Flohr (New York: Free Press, 1987), 473-78. Also see Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines.

Imagination: To the Jewish rational philosophers, the imaginative faculty is inferior and (should be) subordinate to the intellect. In some cases, they even regarded imagination to be a problem, an impediment to accurate theological understanding (Moreh Nevukhim I:73; II:34). For the Jewish mystic, however, imagination is the key to the ecstatic experience.1 It is through imaginative visualization, sometimes called reiyat ha-lev, that the practitioner is able to comprehend the true nature of the sefirot and to experience visions of divine glory (Zohar I:103a; Shir Ha-Kavod; Ber. 6a). SEE CHERUB, THE UNIQUE.; FACE OF GOD; HEART; MEDITATION.

1. G. Hartman, “Imagination,” in Cohen and Mendes-Flohr, Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, 452-72. Also see Wolfson, Through a Speculum that Shines.

Immersion: (60024/Tevilah, also Mikvah). Immersion in water for the purposes of ritual purity is part of the system of priestly purity outlined in the Torah, which includes partial (the hands) and total Body immersion, as well as the immersion of objects used in ritual contexts. Originally, being in a state of ritual purity was important only in the sacred areas of the Israelite camp in the desert and to the tabernacle at its center:

For the man who is unclean must … bathe himself in water, and by evening he will be clean. If an unclean man fails to purify himself in this way, he must be cut off from the community for he will defile the sanctuary of the Eternal. (Num. 19:17-19)

Such places were, in effect, an extension of heaven (or the Garden of Eden) that intrudes into mundane space, so one had to be pure enough to operate in these heavenly spheres (Yalkut Reubeni 31b). Initially such rules of immersion mostly affected the priests and Levites who had to work in these zones. The one exception was that the whole Israelite community was required to immerse in anticipation of receiving the Torah. In time some aspects of ritual purity were applied to other Jews (Yev. 47b; Nid.).

Mayim chayyim, or living water, is necessary to effect such purification. In practice this means either a natural body of water (sea, lake, or river) or a mikvah, a ritual pool drawing part of its water directly from a natural source, like rainwater. The fact that human hands do not draw such water, that it flows uncontaminated directly from the higher realms, is the source of its power. Thus contact with this heavenly flow cleanses one and prepares one for contact with other heavenly forces,

[H]ow is it possible to catch sight of them [the angelic hosts] and see what RWZNYM Adonai God of Israel does? He will complete it [preparatory immersion ritual] every day at sunrise and will wash himself from sin and from wrong … 1

Chasidism adds to this other interpretations, such as that the water signifies the sefirot, the divine overflow, or that it represents the totality of undifferentiated oneness. It also stands for the womblike watery olam ha-tohu, “world of concealment,” prior to new birth/creation (Reshit Chochmah, Sha’ar ha-Ahavah 11; Sefer Ha-Chinuch 173).

The underlying logic of ablution, that one must be in a state of purity when in contact with divine space or things, was eventually extended to both the quest for mystical union with the divine and even the encounter of the soul with God in the afterlife. Thus in the Hechalot literature, an initiate seeking to ascend into heaven would undergo ablution as part of the ritual purification beforehand. The process of taharah, purifying a corpse in preparation for burial, follows the same logic. 2

Ablution for the soul as well as the body is also a feature found in some mystical and non-canonical Jewish documents. According to these texts, souls of the dead must go through purification by ablution in the Nahar DeNur, the celestial River of Light, before entering Paradise (Reshit Chochmah chapter 11, #30; I Enoch 17:5).

Ritual immersion can also be used for magical purposes beside preparatory purification (Hechalot Rabbati; Sefer ha-Malbush). It also has magical properties. One Chasidic tradition teaches that if a man immerses himself while his wife is in labor, he will ease her birth pangs.3

1. N. Janowitz, The Poetics of Ascent: Theories of Language in a Rabbinic Ascent Text (New York: SUNY Press, 1989), 33.

2. Dennis, “Purity and Transformation,” 51-64.

3. Klein, A Time to Be Born, 93, 144.

Impotence: The quest to overcome impotence is a major preoccupation of men throughout history, and there is a large corpus of potency spells, potions, and rituals that have come down to us from antiquity. Jews, too, shared in this preoccupation.1 The Song of Songs, with its erotic themes, provided a lot of the language that appears on amulets, with fraught phrases such as, “I say: I will scale the palm; let me grip its branches” (7:9). Full-blown incantations appear in many magical books, such as this formula manual found in the Cairo Geniza:

To release someone who is “bound”: Let him write on a leaf of pomegranate, and drink it in wine. This is what you should write (magic figures and letters) “You, holy symbols and characters, loosen and make fit the big sinew of Ploni ben Ploni …” (T-S K 1.91) 2

1. W. Davies, “Magic, Divination, and Demonology Among the Hebrews and their Neighbors,” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 15 (1899): 35.

2. Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, 178.

Incantations, Spells, and Adjurations: (60036/Kishuf; 60034/Lachash, also Kesem; Chever; Mashiva). An incantation or a spell is a spoken word, phrase, or formula of power, often recited as part of a larger ritual, which is recited in order to affect a magical result. Most cultures have some idea about words having supernatural constructive powers, but nowhere is this belief stronger than in Judaism.1 Both the Bible and Jewish mysticism emphasize that God created the universe by means of a series of “speech acts” (Gen. 1-2; Ps. 33:6). Humanity is regarded to be the only one of God’s mortal creations with the power of speech (excluding the occasional miraculous donkey), implying that our words can, under certain conditions, have the same constructive (and destructive) power.2

Jewish belief in the efficacy of spells, or “constructive language,” is premised on three assumptions:

1. There is special power inherent in the names of God.3

2. There is special power in the words and phrases that God speaks (i.e., the words of the Torah and the Hebrew Bible).4

3. The Hebrew alphabet itself is supernatural in origin, which means that using Hebrew letters in certain combinations is a source of special power, even when it has no semantic value to the adept.5

Spells may be either “theurgic” or “magical” in character. Usually, the belief underlying the use of theurgic spells is that God has in some way delegated that power/authority to the adept, or that one can arrogate or alter the will or functions of God. An example of this appearing in the Talmud is part of a ritual remedy for a persistent fever (a potentially lethal condition in the ancient world) that invokes the divine power over fire:

O thorn, O thorn, not because thou art higher than all other trees did the Holy One, blessed be He, cause His [fiery] Shekhinah to rest upon thee, but because thou art lower than all other trees did He cause His Shekhinah to rest upon thee. And even as thou saw the fire [kindled] against Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah and didst flee from before them, so look upon the fire [i.e., fever] of so-and-so and flee from him. (Shab. 67a)

“Magical” incantations, by comparison, are “autonomous”; they do not explicitly involve spiritual entities at all. Often a magical spell or incantation is simply addressed to the object to be influenced. Thus, a truly magical incantation most closely parallels the word power of God Himself. This curative spell for freeing a bone lodged in the esophagus appears in the same passage as the above theurgic incantation: One by one go down, swallow, go down one by one (Shab 67a).

Incantation phrases are also a form of “heightened speech,” not unlike poetry, as illustrated by this spell against an abscess:

Let it indeed be cut down, let it indeed be healed, let it indeed be overthrown; Sharlai and Amarlai are those angels who were sent from the land of Sodom to heal boils and aches: bazak, bazik, bizbazik, mismasik, kamun kamik, thy colour [be confined] within thee, thy colour [be confined] within thee, thy seat be within thee, thy seed be like a kalut [species unknown] and like a mule that is not fruitful and does not increase; so be thou not fruitful nor increase in the body of So-and-so. (Shab 67a)

As such, there are a number of distinctive stylistic features present in incantations. These can include: divine names of power, rhythm, nonsense words, foreign words, and reversals.

Repetition, usually done three or seven times, or by another number symbolically relevant to the issue at hand, is the premier aspect of constructive words of power (Shab. 66b). Thus we find a teaching in the Talmud, for example, that reciting a verse containing the phrase “Voice of the Lord” seven times thwarts evil spirits at night.

An incantation meant to undo the effects of a given event or phenomenon will often include elements of reversal, reciting a word or phrase backwards in some fashion. An example would be this adjuration for shifting a fever from the victim to an inanimate receptacle,

Thy burden be upon me and my burden be upon thee.

In Pesachim 112b, we read that one afflicted with an ocular disease should recite the word shabriri (blindness) repeatedly in the phrase: “My mother has cautioned me against shabriri.” With each repetition, the speaker should reduce one letter from the word: shabriri, shabrir, shabri, shabr, shab, sha … magical ritual of reducing the word is intended to yield a parallel reduction in the severity of the illness (also see Zohar I:1179a; Keter Paz ad loc).

Spells can include rhymed or nonsense phrases that have minimal or no semantic value (voces mysticae). Rather, rhythmic meaningless arrangements of words and phrases are used for the illocutionary or mantra-like effect, or for a sympathetic result, or because these words are understood to be meaningful to heavenly powers, if not the adept. For example, to fend off an evil water spirit, the Talmud recommends intoning this:

Lul shafan anigeron anirdafon, I dwell among the stars, I walk among thin and fat people. (Pes. 112a)

While the second clause of this spell is strange enough, the first clause of the spell is neither Hebrew nor Aramaic; by all indications it is just gibberish. This feature, common to Greco-Roman magic, emerges in Jewish circles in late antiquity. 6

Akin to nonsense phrases, incantations often include nomina barbara, the use of foreign words, especially nouns/names. This feature of Jewish spells goes back to the Babylonian tradition of using archaic Sumerian words in their incantations, and becomes characteristic of Jewish incantations by the Greco-Roman period. With the later decline of Hebrew and Aramaic as a spoken language, these languages themselves become lingua magica for many spell casters, both Jewish and gentile. RaSHI explains that an integral part of spell casting involves reciting words that may be incomprehensible to the enchanter (Commentary, Sot. 22a).

The use of names of power is a pervasive aspect of all Hebrew/Jewish spells. The names of God, angels, the righteous dead, even one’s mother, are considered critical to giving an incantation efficacy (Shab. 66b). Often the names are encrypted in Atbash form or in other occult methods. Spells from late antiquity are often promiscuous in the powers they invoke, freely mixing Jewish and Pagan entities. One Greco-Egyptian spell calls upon “First angel of [the god], of Zeus, Iao, and you, Michael, who rule heaven’s realm, I call, and you, archangel Gabriel. Down from Olympus, Abraxas, delighting in dawns, come gracious who view sunset from the dawn.”

Magical incantations that appear in the Talmud (and are therefore presumably sanctioned by at least some Sages) mostly serve the functions of healing and protection. In tractate Shabbat 67a-b, one Sage gives explicit sanction to the use of magic if it is done solely for the purposes of healing. Outside the Talmudic/Midrashic tradition proper, there are spells for summoning angels, love spells, and “binding” spells intended to curse or thwart a rival in love, business, or other personal matters. While rabbinic authorities have never endorsed the latter forms of incantations, they are more tolerant of spells that enhance goals the Sages endorse, such as healing, or spells meant to enhance the learning of Torah. These latter two types are perhaps the most common in Jewish literature.

Tolerance for the use of spells can vary between different Jewish communities or geographic regions. The Babylonian Talmud preserves multiple examples of spells, mostly of a medicinal nature (see especially tractates Pesachim, Shabbat, and Berachot), while the Palestinian Talmud has virtually none. We know that at least some Jews in Palestine engaged in spell casting, because we have a few magical texts from that region and period. Evidently, the difference between the two Talmuds reflects something of the respective “official” attitude among the Sages of those regions toward spellcraft.

The types of incantations recorded continue to expand in number and variety of purpose throughout the Middle Ages. In some theurgic manuals like Sefer Razim and Book of the Responding Entity, there appear a number of spells based on astrological power (what Renaissance adepts would dub “natural magic”).

In expressly magical texts, like Sefer Raziel, there occasionally appear incantations of personal power, to “receive all desire.” These spells completely parallel gentile magic, involving magical materials, fire and water, invoking the names of governing angels, and throwing something of value with magical names and phrases inscribed on it into the proper element (fire, seas, etc.). Treasure-locating spells also appear in medieval magical manuals. What status many of these spells had in “normative” Jewish circles that sanction “beneficent” adjurations is almost impossible to judge. Again, spells recorded in the works of later religious authorities tend to be limited to the same areas tolerated by Talmudic authorities: incantations for better memorizing Torah, invoking an angel or ibbur, and for protection against medical or supernatural misadventure. SEE AMULET; LANGUAGE; MAGIC; RAZIEL, SEFER; RAZIM, SEFER HA-; SEGULAH Or Segulot; SORCERY; SWORD OF MOSES; WITCH AND WITCHCRAFT.

1. Lauterbach, “The Belief in the Power of the Word,” 287-89.

2. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, 166-67.

3. J. Dan, The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 101-4.

4. Janowitz, The Poetics of Ascent, 85-87.

5. Janowitz, Icons of Power, 45-61.

6. P. C. Miller, “In Praise of Nonsense,” in Classical Mediterranean Spirituality, A. H. Armstrong (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 481-504.

Incantation Bowls or Demon Bowls: These are amulets used by the Jews of Mesopotamia and Syria in late antiquity to protect their homes from evil spirits. The bowls that have survived to this day, the largest cache being recovered at the site of ancient Nippur, are ceramic and covered with magical incantations, usually in Aramaic, but sometimes in Hebrew, Mandaic, or Arabic. This famous Aramaic example, which invokes the protection of Metatron, is directed primarily against Lilith, though like many other examples, there is something of a “shotgun” approach, also demanding protection from other classes of demons, curses, witches and witchcraft,

You are bound and sealed, all you demons and devils and Liliths, by that hard and strong, mighty and powerful bond with which are tied Sison and Sisin … The evil Lilith, who causes the hearts of men to go astray and appears in the dream of the night and in the vision of the day, who burns and casts down with nightmare, attacks and kills children, boys and girls—she is conquered and sealed away from the house and from the threshold of Bahram-Gushnasp son of Ishtar-Nahid by the talisman of Metatron, the great prince who is called the Great Healer of Mercy … who vanquishes demons and devils, black arts and mighty spells and keeps them away from the house … Vanquished are the black arts and mighty spells, vanquished the bewitching women, they, their witchery and their spells, their curses and their invocations … Vanquished and trampled down are the bewitching women, vanquished on earth and vanquished in heaven. Vanquished are the constellations and stars. Bound are the works of their hands. Amen, Amen, Selah.1

As shown in the translation above, the bowls are usually tailor-made for a specific individual or family, and all the people to be protected are named in the text of the incantation. Often the home and property are also included. The incantations usually consist of curses against demons, spirits of illness, the evil eye, witches, and/or all generic misfortunes.2 In these spells, God and/or a variety of protective Angels are adjured to enforce the curse and guarantee the efficacy of the protective charm. Usually written in a spiral pattern on the inside surface of the bowl, permutations of the names of God and/or magic squares and circles are often part of the protective formulae. Some bowls will have crude illustrations of demonic figures, often portrayed as shackled, contained by a drawn box or border, or otherwise trapped.


Incantation bowl

The exact rituals by which these bowls were created and activated are now lost, but there is a hint that preparation may have involved using a cemetery, either as a source for the clay or as the grounds on which the bowl was prepared.

Some of these caldrons have been discovered by archaeologists buried under the doorways of excavated homes. They were either buried inverted, or made in pairs and buried against each other lip to lip, evidently creating a space to “catch” any demons rising from the underworld. In some homes, there were multiple installations. Other rituals associated with the bowls apparently involved writing the name of an offending demon on the bowl with a series of binding adjurations and then breaking it.

Even though the custom of burying demon bowls disappeared from Jewish custom (and Jewish memory) by the time of the Middle Ages, stepping on a threshold is still considered bad luck, reflecting an ongoing anxiety about liminal zones, such as doors and windows, places of transition where malevolent forces can gain entry.

1. Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 229.

2. Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls, 15-20, 124-98.

Incense: (60045/Ketoret; Bosem). Incense had a significant role in the sacrificial cult of YHVH. Part of its function was symbolic, a mimetic rendering of the clouds that once blanketed Sinai. God was revealed there. In the Temple, the cloud of incense also served as a shield against the High priest seeing too much of God’s glory (Ex. 30; 1 Kings 7; M. Suk. 4:5; Suk. 43b).

According to the Talmud, the incense used in the Temple was made in quantities of 368 maneh (measures); one measure for each daily offering during the year, with three extra measures for Yom Kippur >(Ker. 6a). The Book of Jubilees describes it as made up of seven ingredients: frankincense, galbanum, stacte, nard, myrrh, costum, and spices (16:21-31). An alternate list from apocryphal literature is: saffron, spikenard, reed, cinnamon, myrrh, frankincense, and mastic. Rabbinic tradition specifies twelve (M. Tam. 6:2; Yoma 1:5). One tradition claims the Angel of Death gave the formula to the Jewish people (Shab. 89a). Any attempt to duplicate the Temple formula for incense was forbidden after the destruction of the sanctuary by the Romans.

In Zohar, incense is a physical symbol of Chesed, which is an ascendant in the morning, which is when the priests are instructed to burn it (III:8a, 11a, 30b).

Incense also served as a component in theurgic rituals. In the book of Numbers, Aaron used incense in his effort to combat a supernatural pestilence that was decimating the Israelites (chapter 17). It draws the sefirot together and unites them harmoniously, one to another (Zohar I:230a; II:219a-b; III:105a). Since incense seems to be soothing to and/or have power over evil entities (Zohar, ibid.), it is sometimes used for both demons summoning rites and exorcisms. This very reason is sometimes given as the rationale for why Jews should not wear perfumes during the period of mourning—mourners are spiritually vulnerable to demonic attack, so one should avoid doing (or emitting) anything to attract demonic interest.

Incubation: (60049). The practice of sleeping, usually in a sacred location, in order to induce a divinatory or veridical dream, or for the purpose of communing with a numinous entity. Those seeking to commune with God, Angels, divine voices, or the dead, use incubation techniques to do so. The practice of incubation has a long, multicultural history (see, for example, the Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East by Oppenheim). And methods vary greatly. In the ancient Near East, dream incubation usually involves a preparatory ritual (often an offering or sacrifice) and sleeping in a place of known numinous power (a shrine, a temple, or a sacred water source). Incubation was widely practiced in all the societies around ancient Israel, and it should not come as a surprise that Israelites also engaged in this practice. There are multiple such events in the Bible, either described, or alluded to, such as the “covenant of the chunks” in Genesis 15.

The key word to look for in the Hebrew Bible is darash, “inquire,” as in “David inquired of the Lord.” Darash is a technical word for “divined” or “performed an augury.” There were several ways to do this—sacred lots (the Urim and Thummim), consult a living oracle (a Prophet or “man of God”), or perform an incubation (see 1 Sam. 28:6 for the complete list). The most complete description of an incubation ritual appears in 1 Kings 3, where Solomon goes to a shrine at Gibeon and, after making sacrifices, sleeps there and receives a divine promise concerning his monarchy. There are many variations on this found elsewhere in the Bible. Jacob has an unsolicited dream vision while sleeping on the future location of an Israelite shrine [Beth El] (Gen. 28). Samuel has a comedic incubation while an attendant sleeping in the tabernacle at Shiloh (1 Sam. 3). Other likely, if not explicitly, incubations occur with Abraham (Gen. 15); Zechariah (Zech. 4); David (2 Sam. 12:15-23); Nathan (2 Sam. 7); and Isaiah (Isa. 6). Zechariah experienced multiple dream visions, but it is unclear whether he elicited them (Zech. 4).1 Apparently some Israelites also used incubation for the purposes of necromancy by sleeping on or at graves. The prophet Isaiah roundly condemns this practice (Isa. 8:19-22, 19:3).

The Talmudic Sages believed that omens and revelations could be derived from dreams, but did not encourage or document any methods for intentionally producing such experiences. The Merkavah mystics did: techniques called she’ lot chalom, “dream questions,” for drawing down the Sar ha-Torah, “[Angelic] Prince of the Torah” and the Sar ha-Halom, “The Prince of Dreams,” or the angels Azriel, Ragsiel, and/or Rabyoel. A number of such incubation techniques are recorded in the Hechalot literature and they were replicated and elaborated upon by medieval Kabbalists.

After the destruction of the Temple, incubations were sometimes attempted by sleeping overnight in a synagogue, though most practices do not specify a particular location (SCh 80, 271, 1556). Magical textbooks such as Sefer ha-Razim and Harba de-Moshe describe similar practices. Isaac Luria was an avid practitioner,2 and it was a familiar practice mentioned in early modern European texts (Shivhei ha-BeSHT 1, 7). And, of course, a prophetic dream (sort of ) is key to the plot of Fiddler on the Roof.

Preparatory techniques for incubation include fasting and immersion, the reciting of Prayers and psalms, summoning angels, and incantations. SEE DIVINATION; POSSESSION, GHOSTLY

1. F. Flannery-Daily, Dreamers, Scribes, and Priests: Jewish Dreams in Hellenistic and Roman Eras (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2004), 269.

2. L. Fine, “The Contemplative Practice of Yihudim in Lurianic Kabbalah,” in Jewish Spirituality, Green, vol. 2, 70-98.

Incubus: (60053). A male spirit who copulates with human females, usually while they sleep (Nishmat ha-Chayyim, III:16, 52c-53b). The most famous example of this is Genesis 6:4. In rabbinic literature the signal case is Samael:

[I]t says “the serpent was the most cunning of the wild beasts” (Gen 3:1). [The serpent] looked like a camel, and Samael mounted and rode it [i.e., possessed it] … [Then] the serpent had relations with Eve, and she conceived Cain … Because she realised [the serpent] was not an earthly creature but a heavenly being, she said “I have gained a man with God.” (PdRE 17, 21)

Often the demons will appear in a familiar form, usually the husband (but sometimes not) in order to get the woman’s cooperation (She‘lot u’Teshuvot of Meir Lublin, #116). Demonic offspring can result, as well as banim shovavim, impish children or changelings. The most famous example in Jewish tradition involves women having intercourse with the fallen angels.


Bookplate by E. M. Lilien

Intercession: The request that a saint, an Angel, a dead meritorious ancestor, or other spiritual intermediary intervene with God on one’s behalf.1 It is widely held belief among Jews today that intercessors and intercessory Prayers are not a part of Judaism, but this is inaccurate. The Sages call attention to numerous times where the Prophets following Moses speak in defense of Israel. Some argue that no prophet is worthy of the name unless he is willing at some point to step in between God and Jewish people. As it turns out, keeping us out of trouble in more than a full time job. Abraham, Rachel, and other virtuous ancestors, we are told, are still occupied with this advocacy long after they’ve died (LOTJ 4:304-10).

Among angels we are told, in various sources, that Michael (Ex. R. 18:5), Gabriel (Sanh. 44b), and even an eponymously named angel, Israel (Mid. Teh. 8:6; PdRE 37), is our people’s guardian spirit and advocate. Least known, however, is the Ruach P’sak’nit.

Hechalot Rabbati describes a class of angels who plead the Jewish people’s case before God. In medieval Europe, there arose a custom of professional intercessors studying Torah on behalf of a pregnant woman as a means of prophylaxis. Intercessory prayer has been present in Judaism since late antiquity, but has become more accepted over the centuries, possibly because of exposure to Christian and Islamic saint veneration. Chasidism, for example, seeks the intercession of both living and dead tzadikim. SEE ANCESTORS; RIGHTEOUS, THE

1. Klein, A Time to Be Born, 37, 145-46.

Invisibility: The power to vanish is only occasionally mentioned in Jewish literature. Both Isaac Luria and the Baal Shem Tov reportedly could render themselves invisible (Toldot ha-Ari; ShB 180).

Ir El Giborim: A liturgical poem (piyut) by Amattai ben Shaphatiah recited on the holiday of Simchat Torah. It tells the story of Moses's miraculous ascent into the seven heavens to claim the Torah, based on a Midrash (PR 20).


Iron: (60070/Barzel). Evil spirits are believed to have an aversion to metal, particularly silver and iron (T. Shab. 6:13). Exodus 7:19 reports that Egyptian vessels of “wood and stone” were ruined by the plagues, implying that iron implements were impervious to supernatural forces. Thus we read in one Midrash that a Sage summoned locals with iron tools to drive out a demons that had haunted a well (Lev. R. 24). Iron objects, such as knives, are also used in rituals to combat fevers (Shab. 67a). To this day, some Jews will carry a small iron object, such as a safety pin, to ward off malevolent spirits.1 The supernatural power of iron is derived from its Hebrew name, BaRZeL, which is believed to be an acronym for the four Matriarchs of the twelve tribes: Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah. Their merit imbues iron with its protective quality (Kav ha-Yashar 47; Da’at Moshe, Balak). SEE SWORD.

1. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 46, 49, 160.

Isaac: Isaac was the second son of Abraham, the only son by Abraham’s beloved wife Sarah. He was the bearer of all God’s promises to Abraham to make his descendants a mighty nation. Isaac himself was born of a miracle , being conceived decades after Sarah’s menopause. Three angelic visitors, later identified as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, came to Abraham’s camp and heralded Isaac’s conception (Gen. 18). God later commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved son, and only the intervention of an Angel prevented him from doing so (Gen. 22).

Rabbinic literature adds more miraculous details to Isaac’s life. His birth triggered the sun and the moon to shine more intensely, a phenomenon not to be repeated again until the Messianic Era. Moreover, the blind regained their sight, the deaf could hear, and barren women became fertile. A general sense of well-being, unknown since Eden, swept the world (Tanh. Gen. 37; Gen. R. 3). Sarah’s breasts were filled with such bounty that she not only nursed Isaac, but all the children that attended his weaning party.

According to some Midrashim, God ordered the offering of Isaac in response to Satan taunting, much like the incident in Job. On the basis of the Bible’s own chronology, the Sages conclude Isaac was actually thirty-seven at the time of his binding, that Isaac submitted willingly to God’s test, and that he actually underwent Death at the hands of Abraham, only to be resurrected afterward (Lam. R. petichta 24; PdRE 31; Tanh. Vayera 23; Seder Olam). During the period of his demise, his soul ascended to heaven, where he studied Torah (which had yet to be given to humanity) in the yeshiva shel malah, the heavenly academy (Gen. R. 56; Sefer ha-Yashar 43a-44b). Having done so, he returned to his Body with an extraordinary knowledge of its contents. When he was about to be sacrificed, the angels starting crying; some of those tears fell in Isaac’s eyes, leading to his eventual blindness. Another version has the blindness result from Isaac looking directly at the divine glory (described in Gen. 28; Gen. R. 65:10; Deut. R. 11:3; PdRE 32).

When he finally did die, his body did not decay and was not consumed by worms. Like the others laid to rest in the Cave of Machpelah, his body was perfectly preserved (B.B. 17a-b).

In the system of sefirot, Isaac is the manifestation of Gevurah, of God’s strict justice (Toldot Adam, House of Faith 1). His near sacrifice tempers them both, making it possible for him to sire Jacob, the balancing principle. The dimming of his eyes (Gen. 27:1) represents the muting of judgment in the world (Sha’arei Orah I:231).

Isaac ben Jacob ha-Kohen: Kabbalist (Spanish, ca. 13th century). He wrote several mystical treatises. His Treatise on the Left Emanation was a groundbreaking study of demonic metaphysics and paved the way for the Zohar.1

1. Dan and Kiener, Early Kabbalah.

Isaac ben Samuel of Acre: Kabbalist (Israel, ca. 13th-14th century). Isaac is most remembered for his travels and contacts with other notable mystics of his day. He wrote Otzar Chayyim, a spiritual diary of his experiences and practices, especially the use of tzerufim, word and letter combinations, as a meditative device.

Isaac ben Samuel of Dampierre: Talmudist (French, ca. 12th century). Rav Isaac approved of the summoning of spirits for purposes of divination and benevolent magic. His disciples believed that he himself received his insights from angelic instruction.

Isaac, Testament of: Apocryphal work about the death of Isaac. On his deathbed, God grants him a revelation of the afterlife. It includes what may be the first reference to the Nahar DeNur, the River of Light that flows between Eden and Gehenna.

Isaac the Blind or Isaac the Pious: Isaac ben Abraham of Posquieres was a Kabbalist (French, ca. 12th-13th century). As the possible author of the Bahir, he can be regarded as the first of the classical Kabbalists. He was also the teacher of the first generation of great mystical writers of the Spanish/Provencal tradition. One tradition claims Elijah was his angelic teacher. He is the first to openly teach the concept of reincarnation in Judaism. Some of his writings also offer mystical insights on colors and light, suggesting that his blindness came later in life.

Isaiah: This Prophet of ancient Israel is credited with the longest prophetic book in the Bible, the eponymously named “Book of Isaiah.” In it, the prophet-priest records a spectacular (and typically priestly) vision of God that appears to him in the Temple in which he sees YHVH seated on a throne in glory, attended by serafim. This revelation becomes the archetype for subsequent Jewish Hechalot literature.

In a famous sign from God given to King Ahaz of Judah, Isaiah predicts that a pregnant woman known to both men would bear a son (Isa. 7-8). In 2 Kings, Isaiah foretold that God would smite the Assyrian army of Sennacherib besieging Jerusalem, an event that unfolded as predicted shortly thereafter, relieving the city. Aside from these, there are no supernatural events associated with the life of Isaiah in the Bible. The Talmud repeats the legend from apocalyptic literature in which Isaiah attempts to flee persecution by invoking the Tetragrammaton and disappearing into the trunk of a tree, only to have it cut down by order of King Manasseh (Yev. 49b).

Iscah: Another name for Sarah (Meg. 14a; Sanh. 69b).

Ishbi-Benob: A biblical giant (2 Sam.) and one of the four brothers of Goliath. He was the equal of 70,000 ordinary Israelite warriors (Mid. Tehillim 18:30). According to the Midrash, he once captured David and devised an ingenious Death for him, but God miraculously delivered David in an action-packed, humorous supernatural duel (Sanh. 95b; Gen. R. 59).

Ishchak ben Yacub Ovadiah Abu Isa Al-Isfahani: Failed Messiah (Persian, ca. 7th century). He led a revolt against the early Islamic Caliphate (the Umayyads), a venture that ended in total defeat and the death of Abu Isa.

Ishim: (60109). “Men.” A class of angels with bodies half of snow, half of fire (Gedulat Moshe).

Ishmael: The son of Abraham and Hagar, in the Bible, Ishmael’s life is saved by God, who sends an Angel to intervene when he and his mother were dying in the wilderness. In rabbinic literature, his vulnerability in the desert was the result of Sarah putting an evil eye upon him (Gen. R. 53:15). The well that the angel shows them is in fact the miraculous well God created on the sixth day of Creation, the same one known as the well of Miriam that would move with the Israelites during their forty years of wandering (Avot 5:6). In rabbinic rhetoric after the 7th century, Ishmael is often a figurative stand-in for Islam.

Like other personalities in the Bible, the Kabbalah renders Ishmael a symbolic exemplar of metaphysical forces, usually those of judgment, and held to be in an intermediate status of mixed good and evil, between the holiness of Israel and the evil of idolatrous Esau (i.e., Christianity) (118b), but also sometimes Ishmael is ascribed a more frankly infernal nature (Zohar I:110a; ZCh 47a). Interestingly, it seems to be the Islamic practice of circumcision that earns Ishmael the most merit in the Zoharic worldview (II:87a).

Ishmael ben Elisha ha-Kohen: Mishnaic Sage and mystic (ca. 2nd century). After his mother struggled many years to conceive, Ishmael was born because of the intervention of the angel Gabriel (another tradition claims it was Metatron) and at his birth he was recognized as one of the seven (or ten) most beautiful infants in the world. He was one of the ten martyrs killed by the Romans and the unjust killing of this righteous soul nearly caused the foundations of the Earth to crumble. Seeing his beauty, the daughter of Caesar asked that he be spared. Instead, Caesar ordered that his face be peeled from his head and presented to her. When his soul finally departed, Gabriel escorted him to his eternal reward (Mid. Eleh Ezkarah; BhM 2:64-65). The face of Rabbi Ishmael went on to become the source of miraculous healings. This may be the only example of a relic taken from the Body of a martyr in Jewish tradition.

Ishmael is regarded as a virtuoso in the methods of mystical ascent and the Ma’asei merkavah, having learned the proper techniques from Rabbi Akiba (Ma’aseh Merkavah). As such, he appears in a remarkable passage of the Talmud (Ber. 7a) having a conversation with Akatriel-YaH. In this divine manifestation, Akatriel-YaH asks Ishmael to bless him. After such a report, it is not surprising that Ishmael is the central figure in a number of mystical texts, including Ma’aseh Merkavah, Pirke Hechalot, and Sefer Raziel. SEE DECREE, DIVINE; RIGHTEOUS, THE; YORED MERKAVAH.

Israel: (60106). “Yisrael.” This term can refer to two esoteric concepts:

1. The people Israel: The name bestowed upon Jacob after he wrestled with a divine being. The name, along with its power, becomes the title of his descendants, the B’nai Yisrael, the “Children of Israel.” The name can be translated as either “God wrestler,” “Prince of God,” or “Upright of God,” but using gematria, the name YiSRAeiL can be read as YeiSH 231, “There are 231 [gates],” referring to the 231 power permutations of the alphabet described in Sefer Yetzirah. The name is also numerically equal to the phrase sechel ha-poel, “understanding the workings.” This teaches that Israel has theurgic authority—both the capacity and the occult knowledge to use the alphabet for creative purposes, imitating what God did in creating the world, as well as commanding spirits (Ginnat Egoz 57b). The people Israel are God’s “inheritance” and “portion” (see Deut. 30-34). While the celestial governance of other peoples is delegated to Angels, God rules over Israel directly. SEE ISRAEL, LAND OF; NATIONS.; RIGHTEOUS, THE.

2. An angel of the heavenly firmament. The name of Israel is inscribed on his forehead, and each day he greets the dawn singing God’s praises, paralleling what the people Israel do on earth (Pirke Hechalot). He is sometimes represented as Jacob’s guardian angel, and the angel who wrestled him by the river Yabbok (PdRE 35). This angel elsewhere thought to be the transubstantiated Patriarch Jacob, who is identified in several texts as a quasi-divine being (Mid. Teh. 8:6; PdRE 36, 37).

Israel ben Eliezer (the Baal Shem Tov or BeSHT): Mystic and founder of the Chasidic movement (Ukrainian, ca. 18th century). He became known as the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name) or the BeSHT, by his disciples. Many legends, healings, and miracles are attributed to him, including curing barrenness, combating werewolves and demons, shifting mountains, and others too numerous to mention. He was a clairvoyant and an amulet maker, a practice associated with Chasidism to this day. The power of his amulets, interestingly enough, derived not from the use of God’s name, but from his own name in their construction (Shemot ha-Tzadikim). He wrote little himself except for some letters, and almost everything we know of his teachings were written down by his followers in collections like Shivhei ha-BeSHT (ShB), which overflow with stories of the paranormal and fabulous. The one collection of letters that is widely credited to him does include his description of experiencing a Ma’asei merkavah-like mystical ascent.1

1. Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, 234-38. Also see Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, 182-91.

Israel, Land of: (60115/Eretz Yisrael, also Eretz ha-Kodesh; ha-Aretz). The Land of Israel is holy. It is God’s own Earth, just as the people Israel are God’s own special allotment, and people may dwell there as tenants only so long as their righteousness merits their presence. Eventually the land vomits out the wicked. The Canaanites lost their right to the land for this very reason (Gen. 12), and though the land has been promised to the Children of Israel in perpetuity, actual occupation of the land is still contingent on the people’s moral condition. Living on the land grants a kind of grace to the inhabitant, that assures his or her place in the World to Come (Toldot Adam, House of Wisdom II). The Earth of Israel is full of spiritual power, atonement, and forgiveness. Therefore the fate of Jews who die in the diaspora was of great concern:

Why did the Patriarchs so dearly love burial in the land of Israel? … For the dead of Israel live first in Messianic days and eat during the days of the Messiah … Therefore Jacob said, “do not bury me in Egypt” … [For the rest] what does the Holy Blessed One do? He makes tunnels in the earth and they roll until they reach the land of Israel. When they have reached the land of Israel, the Holy One, Blessed be, He puts in them a spirit of life and they arise, for it was stated, “And I will bring you up from your graves, my nation, and I will bring you to the land of Israel” (Ezek. 37:12) and afterwards “and I will put my spirit among you and you will live.” (Tanchuma, Va-yehi 3)

Many believe that to be buried with a bag of earth from Israel will ensure that a Jew, wherever he or she may be buried in the world, will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment to forgiveness and vindication. According to Kabbalist Abraham Azulai, there is an umbilicus connecting heaven and Israel that bypasses all the four worlds. The land is, in effect, the gateway between heaven and earth (Chesed L’Avraham). The Righteous that die in exile undergo gilgul (“rolling”); they journey via underground causeways to the Land of Israel, where they will experience immediate resurrection.

Iyyun Circle: A mystical school of southern France (ca. 13th century). The group produced some thirty texts, though most of them still exist only in manuscript form. Sefer ha-Iyyun is the most well known and most studied of these.

Iyyun, Sefer ha-: “The Book of Speculation/Contemplation.” A text of mystical theosophy. It builds much of its teaching around the version of the Tetragrammaton that appears in the theophany at the burning bush (Ex. 3), eHYeH, “I will be.” There are a few printed versions and many manuscript versions of this work, all marked by significant variations in content.